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By: Efraim Harari

Is the Grizzly Bear Named for
its Grisly and Terrifying Nature?

The grizzly bear is a North American subspecies of the brown bear. Zoologists do not use the term grizzly bear; they call this animal the North American brown bear. But others certainly call it a grizzly bear. Why is it called by this name?

Grizzly bears are very powerful and aggressive. In fact, they are the most dangerous species of bears in North America. Males generally weigh up to 800 pounds and tower at an intimidating height of up to eight feet when standing upright. A grizzly bear can kill a mountain lion with one blow, outrun a horse, and outswim an Olympian gold medalist. It will eat almost anything it can find or catch, from berries to an adult bison.

After reading this brief but scary description of this creature, you probably understand why people might think that this bear got its name from the word “grisly,” which means “horrible or terrifying.”

However, the first known written record of the species was recorded in 1790 by explorer Edward Umfreville. “Bears are three kinds: the black, the red, and the grizzle bear,” he wrote. Since “grizzle” means a mixture of dark and white hairs, Umfreville was referring to the silvery-gray tips on these bears’ brownish fur.

And that is why it is named the grizzly bear — for its “grizzled,” or silvered, fur, not for its grisly habits!


Grizzly bears looking for food are powerful enough to drive wolves away from their kills!

Torah Connection

In the Gemara Megillah(11a), Resh Lakish says:

The lion roars, the bear growls, the wicked man rules over a poor nation. (Mishlei28:15)

“The lion roars”... refers to Nevuchadnetzar…

“The bear growls” refers to Achashveirosh, as it is written [in Daniel's dream, in reference to the kingdom of Persia]: …And afterward was an animal like a bear, and Rabbi Yosef taught that this refers to the Persians, who eat and drink like a bear… and have no rest like a bear.

The Gemara explains that the bear represents Persia in terms of its huge and greedy appetite. Bears eat almost anything, including herbage, fish, rodents, and rotting animal flesh. So, too, the Persian Empire expanded tremendously; they continually fought and conquered, never satisfied with what they already had: They have no rest like a bear [which wanders constantly in search of food].On an individual level, too, the Persians were steeped in hunger and desire: They eat and drink like a bear. Achashveirosh's enormous feast is proof of how busy the Persians were with chasing their desires.

The Jewish people, though, are not supposed to be like this. To the contrary, a Jew in galut, exile, should never get too comfortable; he is supposed to be like a wanderer who has no rest. If the Jew does become too satisfied in galut, then the bear, who “has no rest,” is sent to remind him of his role.

This was the situation in the times of Achashveirosh. The Jews indulged themselves in his feast. Because they were becoming too comfortable in galut, they were attacked by the “bear”; Achashveirosh, king of Persia, turned against them and sealed a decree to destroy them. Only when the Jews returned to Hashem through fasting and prayer was the decree canceled.

Grizzly bear attacks are not like lion or leopard attacks. Those animals only strike when they’re hungry. Grizzly bears, on the other hand, attack whenever they
feel threatened.

Generally, grizzlies do not seek to harm people. They actually avoid contact with humans, and, as long as they do not feel intimidated, are quite passive. However, grizzlies become annoyed easily, and whenever this happens, they react aggressively, in an extremely violent manner.

Most grizzly attacks on people are the result of a person accidentally wandering into the bears’ territory and surprising the animals. The person may have been innocently hiking in the mountains or the forest, but when he comes across the grizzly bear, the bear assumes it is being threatened, as it didn’t hear the person coming and was taken by surprise. It therefore responds by pouncing on the person.

If the bear is a female one, with cubs to protect, then it is especially paranoid and becomes even more dangerous when
feeling threatened.