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Mystery of the Ten Lost Tribes

by Rabbi Mendel Elishevitz


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Of the first things that come to mind when thinking about Moshiach, is the Return of the Ten Lost Tribes who were exiled and separated from the rest of Jewry, thousands of years ago.

The Ten Tribes were exiled during the First Temple Era – over 2,500 years ago, and have been separated from the rest of Jewry ever since. But ultimately, with the arrival of the Messianic Era, they too will be redeemed, and will join the rest of Jewry.

This essay addresses the various opinions expressed in the Talmud regarding the fate of the Ten Tribes, and the big question: Will the Ten Tribes actually return?

Let’s start from the beginning:

Over 1,000 years before the Ten Tribes were exiled, Jacob’s beloved son Joseph was kidnapped by his brothers and was sold as a slave. Ultimately, after many years of separation, he was reunited with his father and brothers. The Torah describes how when Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers he “could not restrain himself... and he cried in a loud voice...”1

This phenomenon was going to repeat itself, on a much larger scale, with the children of Joseph along with another nine tribes.2  

The reunion will also be a tearful one, “With cries they will come, and with mercy I will lead them.”3

The prophet Ezekiel speaks of this reunion:4 

“Now I am taking the sons of Israel from the nations to which they went, and I will gather them from around and bring them to their land.... And one king will rule over them, and no longer will they be two nations.”
“I am taking the rod of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel, his friends. I will put on them the rod of Judah, and I will make them into one rod, and they will be one in my hand... Now I am taking the sons of Israel from the nations to which they went, and I will gather them from around and bring them to their land. And I will make them into one nation, in the land, in the mountains of Israel. And one king will rule over them, and no longer will they be two nations, and they will not be separated into two kingdoms anymore.”

Until now there had been separation within Jewry. First in the form of two kingdoms and later they were separated completely. When Moshiach comes, G-d will make us “into one nation and no longer will we be divided into two nations.”

Rabbi Akiba: The Ten Tribes Will Not Return

Although it seems clear from the aforementioned prophecies that the Ten Tribes will return, when we take a look at the sources, we see that it’s not quite as simple as it seems.

Let us quote the Mishnah:5

"The Ten Tribes will not return as it says,6 ‘And he threw them to a different land like this day.’ Just as [each] day passes and will never return, they, too, will be exiled never to return—these are the words of Rabbi Akiba. Rabbi Eliezer says, just like a day is followed by darkness, and the light later returns. So, too, although it will become “dark” for the Ten Tribes, G-d will ultimately take them out of their darkness.”

Thus, we have two opinions regarding the destiny of the Ten Tribes. The Talmud cites an additional view that their destiny is dependent on their behavior, “Rabbi Shimon ben Judah of Kfar Ako says in the name of Rabbi Shimon: ‘If their behavior continues as it is today (“this day”) they will not return, if they repent, they will indeed return.’”

Representatives from Each Tribe

Let us begin with an analysis of Rabbi Akiba’s opinion that the Ten Tribes will forever be lost. This opinion demands clarification: if Jewry will consist entirely of the remaining two tribes (Judah and Benjamin), how can the verses refer to the union of the “tree of Judah” and the “tree of Joseph”? Furthermore, doesn’t the prophet Ezekiel speak of the future division of the Land of Israel between thirteen tribes?


  • 1. Genesis 45:1-2.
  • 2. Joseph represents the Ten Tribes, since the Ten Tribes’ capital was Mt. Ephraim, which was in the portion of Ephraim, one of Joseph’s sons.
  • 3. Jeremiah 31:8.
  • 4. 33:19-22.
  • 5. Sanhedrin 110b.
  • 6. Deuteronomy 29:8.


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Posted by: Anonymous, Castro, Ca on Feb 23, 2006

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return tribes

Posted by: Rav. Mark Chism, Palmer, NE on Mar 17, 2006

I appreciate the drash. This inescapable topic is often asked about.


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Torah is G–d’s teaching to man. In general terms, we refer to the Five Books of Moses as “The Torah.” But in truth, all Jewish beliefs and laws are part of the Torah.
The Messiah. Moshiach is the person who will usher in an era of peace and tranquility for all of humanity when there will be no jealousy or hate, wars or famine. This is a fundamental Jewish belief.
Usually referring to the Babylonian edition, it is a compilation of Rabbinic law, commentary and analysis compiled over a 600 year period (200 BCE - 427 CE). Talmudic verse serves as the bedrock of all classic and modern-day Torah-Jewish literature.
Jewish Law. All halachah which is applicable today is found in the Code of Jewish Law.
The horn of a Kosher animal. The Shofar is sounded on the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, and is intended to awaken us to repentance. Also blown to signify the conclusion of the Yom Kippur holiday.
(Pl. Midrashim). Non-legal material of anecdotal or allegorical nature, designed either to clarify historical material, or to teach a moral point. The Midrashim were compiled by the sages who authored the Mishna and Talmud (200 BCE-500 CE).
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."
Second of the three Jewish Patriarchs, son of Abraham and Sarah. Lived in Canaan (Israel); b. 1712 BCE, d. 1532 BCE.
Established by King David to be the eternal capital of Israel. Both Temples were built there, and the third Temple will be situated there when the Messiah comes.
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.
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.
1. Major Jewish prophet who lived in the 5th century BCE. 2. One of the 24 books of the Bible, containing the prophecies which Ezekiel transmitted.
First written rendition of the Oral Law which G-d spoke to Moses. Rabbi Judah the Prince compiled the Mishna in the 2nd century lest the Oral law be forgotten due to the hardships of the Jewish exiles.
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.
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.