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Where does the word "Jew" come from?

by Rabbi Shlomo Chein

  

Library » Jewish Identity » Who/What is a Jew? | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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The term "Jew" (Heb. Yehudi) can be used differently in different contexts. In its narrowest interpretation it would mean someone from the tribe of Judah (Heb. Yehudah).1


In a broader sense it refers to anyone from the kingdom of Judah,2 which included within it people from the tribe of Benjamin, Levites and Priests as well. A biblical example of this is Moredechai who is called a Jew even though he was from the tribe of Benjamin.3


In an even broader sense, especially in contemporary times, the word Jew has come to mean anyone who is part of the "Children of Israel", also known as Israelites, descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, or "people of the book", as well as converts to Judaism.


This probably has to do with the fact that the northern kingdom of Israel with its Ten Tribes were exiled and lost. The remaining Israelites were all from the kingdom of Judah.


See also What is a Jew? and Who are the Jews?

Footnotes

  • 1. Judah is one of the twelve tribes/sons of Jacob.
  • 2. After the passing of King Solomon the Davidic dynasty only ruled over southern Israel, which became known as the Judean Kingdom. The northern part of Israel was known as the Israelite Kingdom, and included within it the other ten tribes.
  • 3. Scroll of Esther 2:5

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Abraham
First Jew, and first of our three Patriarchs. Born into a pagan society in Mesepotamia in 1812 BCE, he discovered monethieism on his own. He was told by G-d to journey to the Land of Canaan where he and his wife Sarah would give birth to the Jewish People.
Jacob
Third of the three Patriarchs and father of the Twelve Tribes. Lived most his life in Canaan and died in Egypt in 1505 BCE. Also known by the name of "Israel."
Isaac
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
Judah
1. The fourth son of Jacob and Leah. He was blessed by Jacob to be the leader of the tribes. Consequently, the Davidic royal dynasty is from the tribe of Judah. 2. The southern part of Israel which was occupied by the Tribes of Judah and Benjamin, and always remained under the reign of the kings from the tribe of Judah.