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How many tribes of Israel were there and what were their names?

by Rabbi Ari Shishler

  

Library » History » Patriarchs, 12 Tribes | Subscribe | What is RSS?


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There are twelve tribes, originally the twelve sons of Jacob. Jacob married four women, and between them fathered these twelve.

His first wife, Leah’s sons were Reuven (Reuben), Shimon (Simeon), Levi, Yehudah (Judah), Yissachar (Issachar) and Zevulun (Zebulun).
His second wife, Rachel, bore him his two youngest: Yosef (Joseph) and Binyamin (Benjamin).
Jacob’s third wife, Bilhah gave birth to Dan and Naftali and Zilpah, the fourth wife, was the mother of Gad and Asher.

[Just prior to his death, Jacob conveyed tribal status on Joseph’s two sons  Menasheh and Ephraim.1 This entitled Ephraim and Menasheh to certain tribal privileges, most importantly individual portions in the land of Israel.

Technically, that still leaves twelve tribes. Ephraim represented Joseph and G-d separated Levi from the other tribes to serve in the Temple. As such, Levi was excluded from the official census and did not get a portion of land in Israel, like the others.]

We can only trace our lineage to the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Levi. The Assyrians exiled nine of the twelve tribes when they attacked Israel in 722BCE. Prior to that, the tribe of Dan emigrated southward, into Africa, to escape civil war in Israel. To date, we do not know any of their whereabouts.

Also see Who were the twelve Tribes?

Footnotes

  • 1. Genesis 48:5.

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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."
Rachel
Third of the four Jewish matriarchs. Daughter of Laban, favorite wife of Patriarch Jacob, and mother of Joseph and Benjamin. Died while giving birth to Benjamin in 1557 BCE.
Leah
Fourth of the four Jewish matriarchs. Elder daughter of Laban, wife of Patriarch Jacob, and mother of six of the Tribes, including Levi and Judah.
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.
Joseph
Firstborn son of Rachel and Jacob. Because he was Jacob's favorite son, his brothers conspired against him and sold him into slavery He ended up in Egypt where he became viceroy of the land, and eventually brought his entire family to Egypt. Died in 1451 BCE.
Temple
1. Usually a reference to the Holy Temple which was/will be situated in Jerusalem. 1st Temple was built in 825 BCE and was destroyed in 423 BCE. The 2nd Temple was built in 350 BCE and was destroyed in 70 CE. The 3rd Temple will be built by the Messiah. 2. A synagogue.
Levi
1. Name of Patriarch Jacob's third son. 2. A Levite -- a Jew who is a patrilineal descendant of Levi. Levites had special duties in the Holy Temple, and are still accorded special respect.
G-d
It is forbidden to erase or deface the name of G-d. It is therefore customary to insert a dash in middle of G-d's name, allowing us to erase or discard the paper it is written on if necessary.