AHARONI, ISRAEL (1882–1946), Ereẓ Israel naturalist and zoologist. Aharoni was born in Vidzy, near Vilna, and studied at the University of Prague. In 1904 he settled in Jerusalem, where he taught French and German in a Sephardi talmud torah, and later, Hebrew in the newly founded bezalel school of Art. Aharoni's interest in zoology led him to begin a natural history museum and he was among the first settlers in Ereẓ Israel to study the local fauna. His zoological explorations extended over all of Palestine, parts of Syria, and the Arabian Peninsula. In 1924 Aharoni became a staff member of the new Institute of Natural History of Palestine. In the following years he wrote extensively on local birds and made a survey of the mammals of Palestine. Over 30 new species of mammals, birds, and insects were named in his honor. In 1930 he made an expedition to Syria, from which he returned with a pregnant female golden hamster. From the progeny of this single animal a colony was established at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. The golden hamster proved to be a useful subject for biological and medical research and thousands of hamsters, all offspring of Aharoni's original animal, were provided to laboratories all over the world. Aharoni was custodian of the Zoological Museum and taught at the Hebrew University. He influenced the development of biology in Palestine through his pioneering fieldwork, his university teaching, and his textbook, Torat ha-Ḥai ("Animal Life," 1930). (Mordecai L. Gabriel)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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