Does the Talmud warn us about this ‘Cocaine Bear’?

Turns out Jewish texts have a bit to say about dangerous bears (if not cocaine)


By PJ Grisar, The Forward

There’s a new movie coming out called Cocaine Bear about a bear who consumes cocaine and goes on a killing spree. The sages predicted this. Sort of.

In the Talmudic tractate Bava Kamma, 15b, which deals with liability and torts, the bear is named as one of the wild beasts that is “forewarned.” 

Essentially, this means, if you encounter a wild bear, you can expect some damage. 

In an email, Chaim Saiman, chair of Jewish law at Villanova University, said that, if someone owns the bear who does damage he “will face strict liability for doing so and does not get the usual warning shots before he is held liable.” 

Bava Kamma goes on to note that, “concerning acts of damage performed with the tooth, the animal is considered forewarned with regard to eating that which is fitting for it to eat.”

Is cocaine fitting for a bear to eat? I’d say no. But, as the actual story that inspired the film makes clear, bears will tear into pretty much anything if given the chance.

Saiman said the cocaine bear calls to mind a troubling anecdote in II Kings, where Elisha, mocked by children on his way to Bethel, curses the little boys who jeer at him. Two she-bears appear out of the woods and mangle 42 of the children. (Judging by the trailer of Cocaine Bear, it looks like at least one child will be imperiled.) 

The nature of the anecdote, and whether the bear or the forest they emerged from were miraculous or natural, is debated in Sotah 47a.

“Further, Mishna Sanhedrin 1.4 debates whether a bear (and other wild animals) who kill a person need to be put on trial before 23 judges, or whether they should just be killed on the spot,” Saiman wrote. 

In the actual 1985 event that inspired Cocaine Bear, the only real miracle was that about $20 million of cocaine fell from a plane in Blue Ridge, Georgia, allowing an unwitting black bear to sample several million dollars’ worth from a duffel bag. The bear was killed on the spot, but not for any rampage: He overdosed, the highest bear since those dancing ones on Grateful Dead shirts. 

Far from being infamous or fodder for Talmudic debate, this bear is such a legend they stuffed him and now keep him at a place called the Kentucky Fun Mall, where he is affectionately known as Pablo Eskobear.

When officials discovered the bear, there was “nothing left but bones and a big hide,” Gary Garner of the Georgia Bureau of Investigation told The Associated Press at the time.

The first people on the scene may have walked away with a riddle (also a film option) reminiscent of another big hairy fella, Samson.

In Judges, Samson challenges his wedding guests to puzzle out what he was possibly talking about when he said “Out of the eater came something to eat, and out of the strong came something sweet.”

He was referring to a lion he killed that, for some reason, had bees and honey in its carcass. It’s not quite the windfall that several million dollars’ worth of cocaine would be, but it was a good nosh for young Samson and his parents.

Will director Elizabeth Banks rehash Samson’s famous stumper? Will the late Ray Liotta, as a drug kingpin, fell the cocaine-crazed brute because he was forewarned? We’ll have to wait till February to find out.

This article was originally published on the Forward.