Weasel (חֹלֶד, choled, so called from its gliding [Gesen.] or burrowing [Fürst]) occurs only in Le 11:29, in the list of un-clean animals. According to the old versions and the Talmud, the Heb. choled denotes "a weasel" (see Lewysohn, Zool. des Talm. p. 91, and Buxtorf, Lex. Chald. et Talm. p. 756); but if the word is identical with the Arabic chuld and the Syriac chuldo, as Bochart (Hieroz. 2, 435) and others have endeavored to show, there is no doubt that "a mole" is the animal indicated. Gesenius (Thesaur. p. 474), however, has the following very true observation: "Satis constat animalium nomina persaepe in hac lingua hoc, in alia cognata aliud, id vero simile, animal significare." He prefers to render the term by "weasel," as in the Sept. (γαλή), Vulg. (mustela), and the English version. SEE MOLE.
Moles are common enough in Palestine. Hasselquist (Travels, p. 120), speaking of the country between Jaffai and Ramah, says he had never seen in any place the ground so cast up by moles as in these plains. There was scarcely a yard's length between the mole-hills. It is not improbable that both the Talpa Europaea and the T. caeca, the blind mole of which Aristotle speaks (Hist. Anim. 1, 8, 3), occur in Palestine, though we have no definite information on this point. The ancients represented the mole as having no eyes, which assertion later scientific writers believed they had disproved by showing our species to be possessed of these organs, though exceedingly small. Nevertheless, recent observations have proved that a species, in other respects scarcely, if at all, to be distinguished from the common, is totally destitute of eyes, and consequently has received the name of Talpa caeca. It is to be found in Italy, and probably extends to the East, instead of the European. Moles must not, however, be considered as forming a part of the rodent order, whereof all the families and genera are provided with strong incisor teeth, like rats and squirrels, and therefore intended for subsisting chiefly on grain and nuts; they are, on the contrary, supplied with a great number of small teeth, to the extent of twenty-two in each jaw-indicating a partial regimen; for they feed on worms, larvae, and underground insects, as well as on roots, and thus belong to the insectivorous order, which brings the application of the name somewhat nearer to carnivora and its received interpretation "weasel."
Bochart, inclined to recognize the word צַיַּים, tsiyim (A.V. "wild beast of the desert," etc.), as a general term denoting cats, or any kind of wild beasts that frequent dry places, discovered an incongruity when it is opposed to a single species, אַיַּים, iyim (A.V. "wild beast of the islands"), which he translates thoes (Isa 34:14; Jer 1:19). Both words are meant, it seems, to imitate the cry of animals; and if he be right in regarding the first as expressive of the mewing or screaming of wild-cats, with such other animals as the ancients included in the feline tribe, and we now class among Viverridae and Mustelidae, each including several genera, more or less represented by species residing in and around Palestine, we then find the opposition of the two words strikingly just, provided that, instead of the single thoes of Bochart, we make iyim include also the various will canide (dogs) of the same region, amounting to at least twelve species, without including two hyenas.
Such is the vagueness of Oriental denominations, and the necessity of noticing certain species which, from their importance, cannot well be supposed to have been altogether disregarded in the Bible, that in this place a few words descriptive of the species of Viverridae and Mustelidae known to reside in and near Palestine, and supposed to be collectively designated by the term tsiyin, may not be irrelevant. They appear, both anciently and among ourselves, collected, into a kind of group, under an impression that they belong to the feline family; hence we, like the ancients, still use the words civet-cat, tree-cat, polecat, etc.; and, in reality, a considerable number of the species have partially retractile-claws, the pupils of the eyes being contractile like those of cats, of which they even bear the spotted and streaked liveries. All such naturally have arboreal habits, and from their low lengthy forms are no less disposed to burrow; but many of them, chiefly in other hemispheres, are excellent swimmers. One of these species, allied to, if not the same as, Genetta barba.ra, is the Thela Elan, described by Bochart as having "various colors, and as being spotted alike a pard." In Syria it is called sephka, in Arabia zebzeb, and lives by hunting birds and shaphans. There are; besides, in the same region, the nimse, ferret or polecat (Putorius vul, qaris), for these two are not specifically distinct; fertel-heile, the weasel (Mustela vulgaris Afiicana), differing from ours chiefly in its superior size and darker colors. Aparadoxurus, identical with, or nearly allied to, P. typus, occurs in Arabia; for it seems these animals are found wherever there are palmiferae, the date palm in particular being a favorite residence of the species. Two or three varieties, or perhaps species, of nems occur in Egypt solely; for the name is again generical in the Arabian dialects, and denotes the ichneumon. Arabia proper has several other animals not clearly distinguished, though belonging to the families here noticed; but which of these are the sungiiab and the simur, or the alphanex of Ibn'Omar ben-Abdulbar, quoted by Bochart, is undetermined; albeit they evidently belong to the tribes of vermin mammals of that region, excepting .as regards the last mentioned, now known to be a kind of miniature fox (Megalotis zer-da, Ham. Smith), orfennec of Bruce, who nevertheless confounded it with Paradoxurns typus, or an allied species which equally frequents palm-trees; but thefennec does not climb. It is equally impossible to point out the cats, tree-cats, and civet-cats noticed by the poet Nemesianus, who was of African birth, or by the Arabian Darmir, who makes no further distinctive mention of them.
The chôled is described in Le 11:29 as one of the small animals which are thrown together under the general designation of "creeping things," and which appear to include the smaller carnivorous and insectivorous nammalia, as well as the four-footed reptilia. The whole category is prohibited as unclean. The original word, as above seen, is referred by many to the Arabic and Syriac, in which it is said to imply a creeping, insidious motion; and hence peculiarly appropriate to the Mustelidae, which, from their remarkably long, slender, and vermiform bodies and short legs, seem to glide along the earth more like reptiles than quadrupeds, and insinuate themselves into the smallest crevices. Kitto mentions the fitchet or polecat (Mustela putorius) as found in Palestine in the neighborhood of the villages, but says that it is rarely seen in towns. The skill is of no value ill Syria, as the people have not, as in Europe, any means of divesting it of its unpleasant smell (Phyis. Hist of Pales. p. 355). The common weasel is doubtless found there also, as it is spread over Europe; but not the stoat or ermine, the climate being too warm for it. All these animals, but particularly the first-named, are most destructive to other small animals; and from their depredations in the poultry-yard are held in detestation by the farmer, who, however, does not consider the benefit they do him in the destruction of myriads of field-mice, house-mice, and rats. Their appetite for blood seems insatiable; their ferocity and courage prompt them to fly at animals larger than themselves; while their carnivorous organization is developed perhaps even more highly than in the typical cats, and they use their powers with the utmost skill and judgment. They prefer the brain and blood of their prey to the flesh.