May 27, 2022

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A shipment of mezuzot on their way to China was stopped at Ben Gurion International Airport by customs agents who noticed something unusual about the holy objects; they were full of ants.

By Jewish law, the containers should contain parchment inscribed with specific Biblical verses so it was surprising when one agent noticed an ant inside one of the plastic tubular containers. Upon further inspection, it was discovered that instead of parchments,16 live ants were contained inside special capsules that were inserted into a hidden compartment in the mezuzot. Israel’s Ministry of Environmental Protection was contacted by border control.  Dr. Armin Ionescu from the Steinhardt Museum of Nature at Tel Aviv University determined that the ants were a species of sandy harvester ants found only in the Negev that cannot be bred in a  laboratory.

“This story is unusual,” Dr. Gal Zagron, Director of the Pests and Pest Control Division at the Ministry of Environmental Protection, told Yedioth Aharonot. “When customs contacted us, we thought a few ants got into the shipment. But this was a planned smuggle.”

Dr. Gal Zagron, director of the Ministry of Environmental Protection’s Pest and Pest Control Division, released the ants into their native habitat near Beer Sheva.

“This whole story is unusual,” Dr. Zagron told Ynet, noting that normally, such things happen in the opposite direction with pests being brought in inadvertently.  This was clearly an intentional attempt at smuggling.  “The queen ants had good conditions in the mezuzah, with holes and cotton wool with moisture.”

Live insects are banned from entering China via mail, and officials said the illegal mailing of the non-native ant species could pose a threat to the country’s ecosystem. There is a growing trade in China for exotic pets including snakes, insects, and lizards.

A mezuzah is a parchment inscribed with the Jewish prayer Shema Yisrael, beginning with the phrase: “Hear, O Israel, the Lord (is) our God, the Lord is One” and recorded in Deuteronomy 6:4–9 and 11:13–21. The parchment must be prepared in a specific manner from a kosher animal and the verses must be hand-written with a specific ink by a God-fearing Jew with a quill.  parchment is then rolled up and placed inside the case which is affixed to the right side of the doorpost. The mezuzah is reminiscent of the lamb’s blood that was painted on the lintels of Jewish homes to protect them from the angel of death before they left Egypt. It is a visible reminder of the covenant the Jews have with God. The back of the parchment is inscribed with the word “Shaddai,” spelled shin, dalet, yod, which is one of the names of God. These are also the initials of the phrase shomer daltot yisrael, the guardian of the doors of Israel.