Are The Ten Tribes the Same as Gentiles?
Ado About Nothing or Little Ado About Plenty?
Brit-Am Commentary to a Late Rabbinical Incident Concerning the Ten Tribes
1. Introduction. Sanhedrin,
Semicha, Revival of the
2. The Incident. The article "Reinstating semichah: In search of the Lost Tribes"
Idea that part of the Ten Tribes still kept the Torah and never lost it.
3. Brit-Am Commentary and Remarks.
Need in our time to find and identify the Lost Ten Tribes. Deranged traveller
Israel. Rabbi Avichail
also mislead by fantasy stories.
and the Children of Moses. Lost Ten Tribes technically have the same legal
status as Gentiles. Ten Tribes will Return.
Return of the Ten Tribes in the Bible.
When the Children of Israel received the Torah, Moses was their leader. Moses
was commanded to appoint seventy elders.
[Numbers 11:16] AND THE LORD SAID UNTO MOSES, GATHER UNTO ME SEVENTY MEN OF THE
ELDERS OF ISRAEL, WHOM THOU KNOWEST TO BE THE ELDERS OF THE PEOPLE, AND OFFICERS
OVER THEM; AND BRING THEM UNTO THE TABERNACLE OF THE CONGREGATION, THAT THEY MAY
STAND THERE WITH THEE.
[Numbers 11:17] AND I WILL COME DOWN AND TALK WITH THEE THERE: AND I WILL TAKE
OF THE SPIRIT WHICH IS UPON THEE, AND WILL PUT IT UPON THEM; AND THEY SHALL BEAR
THE BURDEN OF THE PEOPLE WITH THEE, THAT THOU BEAR IT NOT THYSELF ALONE.
This was the first Sanhedrin. The members of the Sanhedrin were appointed by
Moses who laid (Hebrew "Samakh" from which we get the word vatiously transliterated as "semicha" "smicha", or "semikha")
his hands upon them (Numbers 11:16-25). The elders later appointed their
successors and this appointment is referred to as "semicha" even though they did
not necessarily physically lay hands upon them. This chain of hands-on semikhah
continued through the time of the Second Temple, and at least until the time of
ordination of a Rabbi is called "Semicha"
since it parallels the "semicha"
of the Torah but it is not the same and would not give the person receiving it
the right to be part of a Sanhedrin.]
In Ancient Times, there was a Main Sanhedrin of 71 members: The extra one (i.e.
71 instead of 70) being the Nasi or Prince in the same way that Moses had been
appointed over the original 70. The Main Sanhedrin was usually situated at
Jerusalem. In addition, each Tribe had its own Minor Sanhedrin of 23 members.
Major cities could also, in some cases, have their own Minor Sanhedrin. In
addition there were local courts in which the judges were subservient to the
To make a Sanhedrin 70 members with "semicha" are needed. A member of the
Sanhedrin was considered to have "semicha". He was officially appointed. This "semicha"
brought with it authority to make certain decisions that without "semicha" could
not be made. Someone who has "semicha" can pass it onto others.
"Semicha" is obtained by receiving it from someone who already has "semicha" but
the line has been broken and therefore "semicha" in the Torah sense has ended.
Theoretically "semicha" could be renewed if there was an almost unanimous
agreement amongst the leading Rabbis of the time who agree that one of their
members should be considered as having "semicha" and then he can give it to
others. If he gave "semicha" to seventy others a Sanhedrin could be created.
This possibility however has proven difficult to put into practice.
The concepts of "Semicha" and the Sanhedrin are closely related but not
necessarily the same. Theoretically "semicha" could be revived without the
Sanhedrin. On the other hand, the renewal of the Sanhedrin is dependent upon the
revival of Semicha. There have been attempts in the past to restore "semicha"
and the Sanhedrin.
Rabbi Jacob Berab in 1538 attempted to restore the Sanhedrin in Tsfat (northern
Galilee, in Israel) but since the Rabbis of Jerusalem disagree with him he was
unsuccessful. The Jerusalem Rabbis who opposed this initiative were headed by
Ralbach (Rabbi Levi ben Yakov ibn Chaviv, 1480-1545).
In our Era, a much publicized recent attempt (2004) to revive the Sanhedrin
has not been widely accepted partly because it received no support from leading
Reviving the Sanhedrin could involve matters concerning the Ten Tribes.
Recognition and Acceptance by the Sanhedrin could pave the way for
reconciliation with Judah. Numerous other matters and various problems could be
solved if a Sanhedrin existed. The Sages understood that a renewed Sanhedrin
would precede the Final Redemption. In Judah the unbroken line of appointed
authorities with genuine "semicha" died out due to persecution by the Romans. It
would greatly facilitate matters if instead of having to renew "semicha" a court
could be found somewhere whose members still had it.
The article below speaks of an idea that maybe amongst the Lost Ten Tribes of
Israel there still existed those who had received "semicha" through an unbroken
line going back to First Temple times. If such was the case these people with "semicha"
could appoint seventy worthy dignitaries from Judah and a valid Sanhedrin would
appear! The article involves someone who took it into his head to find the Ten
Tribes and get "semicha" from them.
Our studies show us however that no-one with "semicha" is to be found amongst
the Ten Tribes.
We understand that the Lost Ten Tribes before their Exile had turned entirely
away from the Torah and after their exile were considered completely like
Gentiles from a legal point of view. This is the major and authoritative
opinion. [We will return below to this theme in section. 3. Brit-Am Commentary and
Other ideas however also existed. These ideas may be traced to Eldad HaDani and
those who came after him.
The article below is somewhat surprising. The Rabbinical hero of the story below appears to
have been uninformed as to what the legal-halachic position concerning the Lost
Ten Tribes was supposed to be. He also seems unaware of other factors.
Anyway, please read the account and then see our 3. Brit-Am Commentary and
2. The Incident. Quotes from an article
Subject: Semichah and the Lost Tribes
This article, part of a series on the quest to restore the institution of the
ancient rabbinical semichah ordination, appeared in the 4-3-10 London Jewish
In search of the Lost Tribes
IN this, our final article on the history of semichah, we discuss the attempt to
reinstate semichah a second time in the year 5591 (1831). After a number of the
great talmidim of the Vilna Gaon settled in Eretz Yisroel, Rav Yisroel of Shklov
made a second attempt at renewing semichah. However, he was well aware of the
controversy between the Ri Beirav and the Ralbach 300 years earlier - as
discussed at length last week - so he used a different approach.
The whole idea of needing to reinstate semichah is based on the words of the
Rambam. He writes that we see from the words of the novi [Prophet] that the
Sanhedrin will be reinstated before the final geulah [Redemption] unfolds. Based
on this, the Rambam [Maimonides] was of the opinion that a new line of semichah
can be established based on its acceptance by all Rabbonim [Rabbis] in Eretz
Yisroel [Land of Israel]. As we have discussed at length, this idea did not find
favour with some Rabbonim in the year 1538, so Reb [Rabbi] Yisroel of Shklov had
to think up a new method of achieving the same result, namely that semichah be
brought back into practice.
The semichah introduced by the Rambam was based on starting a new semichah not
really connected to Moshe Rabbeinu [Moses Our Teacher]. The Radvaz (Sanhedrin
4:11), however, suggests that there maybe ways of finding some remaining link to
the original line of semichah, whose chain dates back to the days of Moshe
Rabbeinu. There are three options that are discussed in the meforshim
A. We know that the appearance of Eliyohu Hanovi [Elijah the Prophet] will
precede that of Moshiach, and possibly Eliyohu Hanovi can reinstate the semichah.
Eliyohu Hanovi himself may well have received semichah either from Moshe
Rabbeinu (according to the Medrash that Eliyohu is Pinchos [Pineas]) or from
Achiyah Hashiloni (according to other opinions), and he could thus give someone
else semichah and continue its lineage. It is questionable if Eliyohu will come
before Moshiach [Massiah], but since the Rambam himself writes that he WILL come
before Moshiach there should be no reason not to rely on Eliyohu for the
semichah (Rebbi Yonoson Eibeshitz (Sefer Tumim 1:2).
The Ri Beirav (in Responsa Ralbach) held that Eliyohu is not a viable option for
re-starting semichah since Eliyohu left this world after he received his
semichah, even though he has come back to life. The Ralbach argued that, since
he is resurrected with all his previous wisdom, there should be no reason not to
allow him to give semichah.
Another problem with relying on Eliyohu is that one needs a panel of three
semuchim to give semichah to a new candidate, and Eliyohu will be on his own.
B. When Moshiach makes his first appearance (but not his final one, as some
sources say there will be a time after his first appearance when he will hide
himself again, before making his final appearance with the final geulah) he may
be able to enact the semichah before the final Redemption is set.
The Radvaz [Rabbi David ben Zimra, 1480-1573, Egypt] makes such a suggestion,
arguing with the idea of the Rambam of introducing a new semichah. However,
Rambam in a manuscript not printed in our editions of his work already refuted
this idea of the Radvaz. The Ralbach quotes a manuscript of the Rambam arguing
that since Moshiach himself hasn't got semichah, there is no way he can give
anyone else semichah!
C. The final suggestion offered by the Radvaz is that of relying on the Ten Lost
Tribes becoming revealed before the geulah [Redemption]. They may still have a
link to the original chain of semichah, uninterrupted from the time of Moshe
The first two suggestions, of re-instatement by Eliyhou or Moshiach, are not in
our hands at all: we must just do teshuvah [Repent] and daven [pray] for the
geulah, but we cannot actively start the process. Reb Yisroel of Shklov held
that it is our duty to do hishtadlus [efforts] in anticipation of finding the
Ten Lost Tribes and trying to establish whether their line of semichah has
indeed not been severed over the years of golus [Exile].
In 1831 (5591) Reb Yisroel of Shklov wrote some interesting letters. In one, to
the Ten Tribes, he questions their authenticity and whether they have a proper
semichah that dates back to the original semichah.
Reb Yisroel was indeed convinced that one could contact the Ten Tribes. The
basis of this assumption was from the words of Eldad Hadani who said he came
from the Ten Lost Tribes. In the year 880 CE (4640) Eldad Hadani reported that
amongst the Ten Lost Tribes there was still semichah and they practised all the
halochos which are unique to a Beis Din [Rabbinical Court] which has semichah.
Reb Yisroel also referred to a letter from the year 1646 (5406), that was
apparently written by one of the Ten Lost Tribes, which calls them "Bnei Moshe"
[Sons of Moses] and attests to their having and using semichah.
The problem that followed was finding the Ten Lost Tribes. Where are they? Can
they be reached today?
In Reb Yisroel's letter he lists numerous proofs that they can indeed be located
and reached. Reb Yisroel also outlines - based on many proofs - their location.
Reb Yisroel's burning desire, indeed his ideology, was fuelled by the many
sources in Chazal [Literature of the Sages] that say the Ten Lost Tribes are to
be sought out and returned before the geulah. He even assumed - claiming he had
proof - that the Medrash calling for the search for the Ten Tribes was referring
to his generation.
It took some years before a suitable candidate and funds were found to enable
the dangerous trip to locate the Ten Lost Tribes to be undertaken. Finally a
candidate was found, Reb Boruch of Pinsk. Unfortunately, not very long after his
departure news arrived that Reb Boruch had been killed
Reb Yisroel said subsequently that Reb Boruch had not succeeded since he
deviated from his mission en route, when after two years of fruitless searching
he took up a job as a doctor. Reb Yisroel didn't give up though, and in 1834
(Adar 5594) he was searching for another shaliach [emissary]. There was a
rebellion in [the city of] Tzefas in [the month of] Sivan of that year, followed
by the famous earthquake in Teves 5597 which claimed more than 2000 lives, and
Reb Yisroel and his idea were blamed for these tzoros [troubles].
His mission remains unfulfilled.
3. Brit-Am Commentary and Remarks.
The above article shows the importance of finding the Lost Ten Tribes in the
thinking of some Rabbinical scholars.
"the many sources in Chazal [i.e. Literature of the Sages] that say the Ten Lost
Tribes are to be sought out and returned before the geulah" i.e. The Ten Tribes
must be identified and their Return initiated before the Final Redemption can
# He [i.e. Rabbi Yisroel ben Shmuel of Shklov] even assumed - claiming he had
proof - that the Medrash calling for the search for the Ten Tribes was referring
to his generation.##
Yisroel ben Shmuel of Shklov may or may not have had such a Midrash as he
claimed. It is doubtful and even if he did have, A Midrash is not the same as
Scripture itself. Midrashim may be used to help us understand Scripture or to
clarify doubtful points of interpretation. Midrashim however may well
contradict each other or reflect opinions that are not accepted. In principle
Midrashim are sayings of the Sages not on legal points and without the authority
of the Talmud. Nevertheless, the source of some of the Midrashim is uncertain.
Even so, it is interesting that the idea existed that the identity of Lost Ten
Tribes had to be revealed in his generation. Our own times are not that far
removed and could even be considered to be an extension of the period in
Rabbi Yisroel ben Shmuel of Shklov appears to have been laboring under
misconceptions that may be attributed in art to reports attributed to Eldad
Eldad HaDani was a Khazar.
We have written about Eldad in our book, "The Khazars. Tribe 13".
This book is in our opinion indispensable for understanding Eldad haDani and the
Khazars in general.
Eldad himself was a Khazar. He appeared in the 800s CE. Eldad testified that
the Khazars descended from the Tribes of Simeon and half-Manasseh and from other
sections of the Ten Tribes. The Khazars along with members of the peoples around
them were to convert to Judaism. This took place in stages. In the time of Eldad
some of the Khazars practised full-scale Judaism and some only partially though
later nearly all of the Khazars did fully convert. The actual numbers involved
however were not necessarily that large. The Khazars were descended from the
Ancient Scythians most of whom had already migrated to the west of Europe.
[The case of the Khazars helps prove the Israelite Origins of their kinfolk
amongst the Gentiles in Western Europe and serves as a precedent for the Ten
Tribes in general. That is one of the several reasons why one should acquire our
work, "The Khazars. Tribe 13", on the subject.]
The account of Eldad contains legends and traditions concerning the Lost Ten
Tribes in his region and elsewhere. Several different versions of his account
exist. The earliest version was printed in 1480. Several other versions later
appeared. A collection (with valuable editing and notes) was published by Abraham
Epstein 1891 (Presburg). The different accounts have been edited and added to
and in effect comprise compendiums of extant legends concerning the Lost Ten
Tribes in general, no matter where they were and with no particular connection
The articles says:
also referred to a letter from the year 1646 (5406), that was apparently written
by one of the Ten Lost Tribes, which calls them "Bnei
Moshe" [Sons of Moses] and attests to their having and using
We do not know whether indeed such a letter was written or who wrote it. It
could be that some impostor, eccentric, deranged enthusiast, or someone else had written something that was understood to be a claim that they represented the Children
of Moses or the Lost Ten Tribes.
This phenomenon is known in Jewish history.
After the discovery of the Americas a large number of Christian writings claimed
that the natives of North and South America were descended from the Lost Ten
Tribes. The idea was that via Scythia they had somehow reached the New World.
Many claims were made concerning perceived similarities between the native
customs and those of the Ancient Hebrews. These exaggerations,
misunderstandings, and occasional imaginations were accepted as truth by many
savants of the time. Jews, being naturally well-read and up-to-date, were also
Rabbi Menasseh ben Israel (1604-1657) was mislead by a Jewish traveller,
Antonio de Montesinos, who earnestly swore that a native of Ecaudor had emerged
from the jungle and identified himself as Jewish by uttering the words "Shema
Yisrael" [Hear Israel, Deuteronomy 6:4] in Hebrew. It is now thought that the
person in question may have been suffering from over-exposure to the elements.
People who are suffering from exhaustion, lack of food and water, cold and heat,
physical sickness, etc are liable to imagine things.
Similar cases occur quite frequently concerning the assumed Israelite origins of
the Amerindians. Proofs have been forged. [This does not mean that none of the
Amernindians definitely descend from Ancient Israel only that we should be
aware that not all of the evidence is necessarily reliable. ]
In our day Rabbi Eliyahu Avichail apparently was mislead by all kinds of fairy
tales (still to be found on the Web) about Afghan Pathans keeping Jewish
customs. These fantasies are being perpetuated by all kinds of interested
The Sons of Moses ["Bnei
[ The Sons of Moses in Jewish legend are
at times referred to as being together with the Jewish Exiles in Babylon and at other
times as accompanying or located alongside the Ten Tribes. ]
The above article says,
# Reb Yisroel also referred to a letter from the year 1646 (5406), that was
apparently written by one of the Ten Lost Tribes, which calls them "Bnei Moshe"
[Sons of Moses] and attests to their having and using semichah. #
The letter in question was evidently the work of an over-enthusiastic forger. Nevertheless, the Bnei Moshe
(whether they ever really existed or not) represent genuine traditions involving the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel.
Arab sources (derived from Jewish ones) said that the "Sons of Moses" were in
the far east in Gabrassa and in the far west in Gabalk. Gabrassa relates
apparently to Turkestan in east Scythia where the ancestors of the Anglo-Saxons
and others had sojourned for some time prior to continuing westward in the era
200-400 c.e. with migrants to "Scandinavia" going west later, and those who
remained eventually forming part of the Khazar nation.
"GABALK" was an Judeo-Arabic term for
western Europe especially the Frankish realm of France. Jewish Traditions
existed that the Lost Ten Tribes were in Western Europe as may be seen by the
Commentaries of Rashi (on Obadiah 20:1) and Nachmanides (Sefer haGeulah, part
The Sons of Moses were associated with the Rechabites and the Ten Tribes.
Jewish Sources from the Second Temple Period located the Rechabites in the Blessed Isles.
Similarly later Jewish-Arab traditions also said that the Sons of Moses were
alongside the Sons of Aed (i.e. the Ten Tribes) in the "Isles of the Blessed"
which in Classical Literature referred to the British Isles especially Ireland.
and the Lost Tribes in Britain. The Lost Ten Tribes in Celtic and Arabic Lore.
The Sons of Moses
Rabbi Avraham Isaac haCohen Kook (1865–1935,leading Rabbi of "Palestine" before the founding of
Israel) said ("Mamaari HaRiah" pp.194-6 and Hascomah to "Kol Mevaser") there
are three types of Lost Israelites:
1. Descendants of Jethro (through Yonadav son of Receb) who have become lost but will one day return.
2. The Lost Ten Tribes.
3. The Sons of Moses who formerly developed along their own lines in the North. They had had their own system of
worship and had kept somewhat apart from the rest of Israel. They were exiled as one group and had become lost.
Brit-Am Commentary to Judges 18
The Khazars were partly Jews who had never lost their origin; partly Jews who
had assimilated not long before and were "returning"; and partly descendants of
the Lost Ten Tribes of Israel who still had vague traditions of their Israelite
ancestry; and partly others of possible non-Israelite origin. All these
different elements gave rise to a mixture of traditions and understandings that
Eldad transmitted, and upon which others later imposed all kinds of interpolations.
The Talmud and the Law.
Yebamot 17 a/b says that the Lost Ten Tribes are to have the status of Gentiles
for all intents and purposes.
The Commentary "Keren Orah" (R. Yitzchak of Karlin, 1780s) sums up the case
# From their understanding of Scripture (Hosea 5:7 ) the Sages declared the Ten
Tribes to have the same status as Gentiles for all intents and purposes. They
made this decision through the authority of the Prophets and the Divine
Inspiration they [i.e. the Sages] had...all others [i.e. Jews]
who were assimilated amongst the Gentiles are assumed to have the same status
[as the Ten Tribes, i.e. as Gentiles, but being destined to return. ]#
The Ten Tribes before their exile worshipped idols (2-Kings chs. 17,18). They
were in fact pagans. For Jewish scholars who find this concept difficult to
accept (as many seem to do) it should be mentioned that according to the
Torah (as explained by authorities such as the Vilna Gaon) Israelite inhabitants of an "ir ha-nidachat"
(city whose inhabitants have all committed idolatry, Deuteronomy ch.13) are also all
considered legally the same as Gentiles, regardless of their indisputable Israelite ancestry.
In the future the Ten Tribes will return and will once again receive the yoke of
the Torah. This is confirmed by the simple meaning of the Bible. The Abarbanel ("Mashmia
Yishua") implies that whosoever does not accept the eventual return of the Ten
Tribes in effect is guilty of denying the Truth of Scripture. This is confirmed
by other sources. Rabbi Akiva (Sanhedrin 110b) is often quoted as saying that
the Ten Tribes will not return. He was however (in this case) overruled by Rabbi Elazar who asserted that the Tribes definitedly will return.
Later Commentators (consistent with Rashi) explained even Rabbi Akiva to have been speaking only concerning the Ten Tribes in his own generation
and not those of the future. The Bible (see below) expressly says that the Ten Tribes will return and it is difficult to imagine Rabbi Akiva going against an express
Biblical message. The Sages declared, "Halacha [Lawful enactment see Tosefta] the Ten Tribes will return".
The Lost Ten Tribes will Return.
In the meantime the Ten Tribes have the same status as all other non-Jews. Apart
from the Declared Law there are numerous other reasons why this ruling is
upheld. No living person, for instance, can prove with objective certainty that
they really are descended from the Lost Ten Tribes. At the most, they may (with
the help of evidence such as that produced by Brit-Am) say with a reasonable
degree of probability that they well may be descended from Ancient Israelites.
This is not sufficient for an individual but when dealing with whole communities
in the same situation an authoritative body such as the Sanhedrin may be able to
come up with some kind of solution.
At the moment it seems that all we can do is study the subject, learn the
sources, and do what we can according to the possibilities we have.
Return of the Ten Tribes in the Bible.
A few of the more EXPRESS (out of many explicit and implied) references.
To see the quoted verses go to:
The Return of the Ten Tribes. Selected Sources. Bible References
Isaiah 11:13, 27:13 49:18-20.
Jeremiah 3:18 31:17-19 50:4
Ezekiel 16:53-55 37:15-28, 47:13
Obadiah 1:18, 20
Zechariah 10:10 (cf. Micah 7:14)
cf. Genesis ch.48, Deuteronomy 33 (Blessings to the Tribes in the Last Days).