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The Holiday When We Became Jewish ^ | For Purim | Rabbi Naftali Silberberg

Posted on 02/26/2007 2:18:15 PM PST by APRPEH

What is the significance of the name "Jew"? Where does the word come from and what does it mean?

The word Jew (Yehudi in the Hebrew) is a derivative of the name Judah (Yehudah), Jacob's fourth son; hence calling someone by this name would seemingly imply that the person is a descendant of that particular tribe. However, as is well known, Jacob had twelve sons, progenitors of the Twelve Tribes of Israel, all of whom comprise our great nation. Why, then, is the entire Israelite nation known as "Jews"?

(The conventional answer to this question is that the majority of Jews today are descendant from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin-—the two tribes which comprised the "Kingdom of Judea." The other ten tribes, the members of the "Northern Kingdom," were exiled to unknown lands. There must, however, be a deeper reason for the fact that the Chosen Nation has been called by this name for close to 2500 years!)

Perhaps this question can be cleared up by analyzing the very first individual to be dubbed "Jew." The first instance of this word appears in the biblical Book of Esther, which chronicles the story of Purim: "There was a Jewish man in Shushan the capital, whose name was Mordechai the son of Yair... a Benjaminite" (Esther 2:5).

That's right: the first "Jew" was actually from the tribe of Benjamin!

An objective study of the Purim story reveals that the whole frightening episode was plainly avoidable. The entire incident was a result of Mordechai's obstinate adherence to a code of behavior which was clearly outdated and inappropriate for the times. Mordechai was an elderly rabbi who yet recalled days – more than half a century beforehand – when the Holy Temple stood in Jerusalem and Torah Law was supreme. His snubbing of Haman might have been condign during that generation. But things had changed dramatically. The people of Israel were in exile. How did Mordechai dare put his entire nation in danger of extinction by slighting the king's favorite minister? Apparently someone neglected to inform this sage that the ability to conform is the key to survival...

Mordechai, however, thought otherwise; and he had a famous precedent supporting his "foolish" actions. Many years earlier, a powerful Egyptian ruler wished to take his ancestor, Benjamin, as a slave. Benjamin's brother Judah wouldn't hear of such a possibility. In what would be his proudest and most defining moment, Judah completely ignored all royal protocol, angrily approached the powerful ruler – who, unbeknownst to him, was actually their brother Joseph – and threateningly demanded Benjamin's release.

Judah is the embodiment of the exiled Israelite who must walk a thin line: While he must live at peace with his neighbors, follow the laws and customs of the land, and "pray for the peace of the regime," he has the courage of his convictions to stand up against all the powers that be in order to defend his ideals. In the words of Rabbi Sholom DovBer of Lubavitch, "Only our bodies were sent into exile; not our souls!"

Mordechai "the Jew" was a proud student of his great-uncle Judah. He knew that Torah law forbids a Jew from bowing to Haman (and the statuette which dangled from a chain around his neck), and for him that was the final word. Indeed, Judah's and Mordechai's actions were vindicated as events unfolded--no harm came to either of them as a result of their brave conduct.

Leading by example, Mordechai succeeded in implanting this sense of pride in the hearts of the masses. When Haman issued his decree of annihilation, not one Israelite even considered abandoning his religion in order to be spared death. At that moment, we all became "Jews." Accordingly, the Book of Esther is the first place where our nation as a whole is referred to as Jews.

The name stuck. Because the next 2,500 years would repeatedly test our "Jewishness." Under countless regimes – both friendly and, as was usually the case, hostile – we struggled against friends and enemies who wished to impose their will upon us at the expense of our relationship with G‑d. Again and again we proved ourselves true to G‑d, earning the name Jew through oceans of blood and tears.

The grand story of history concludes in similar fashion as the Purim story: we are here to tell the tale and our enemies aren't... The joy of Purim is greater than any other holiday because it tells the story of the nation who never allowed its soul to be shackled--the story of the Jew.

TOPICS: Current Events; History; Judaism; Religion & Culture
KEYWORDS: chabad; mordechai; purim; yehudi
By Naftali Silberberg, based on the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe. Rabbi Silberberg, a native of Detroit and a scholar renowned for his sharp wit and vast Talmudic knowledge, is on the editorial team of He resides in Brooklyn, NY with his wife Chaya Mushka and their two children.
1 posted on 02/26/2007 2:18:17 PM PST by APRPEH
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To: APRPEH; Thinkin' Gal
Why, then, is the entire Israelite nation known as "Jews".

I would agree that most people are under this impression, but to those knowledgeable of scripture only the descendants of Judah, Benjamin and a portion of Levi are called Jews. The others are simply referred to as Israelites.

[II kings 16:5-6] Then Rezin king of Syria and Pekah son of Remaliah king of Israel came up to Jerusalem to war: and they besieged Ahaz, but could not overcome him. At that time Rezin king of Syria recovered Elath to Syria, and drave the Jews from Elath: and the Syrians came to Elath, and dwelt there unto this day. Here you see that the Jews (Judah, Benjamin and a portion of levi) are at war against Israel who is in alliance with Syria!

[II Chronicles 11:1]And when Rehoboam was come to Jerusalem, he gathered of the house of Judah and Benjamin an hundred and fourscore thousand chosen men, which were warriors, to fight against Israel, that he might bring the kingdom again to Rehoboam. Same thing.....The Jews against Israel.

This was caused by a rift in the original nation of Israel.....and can be read about in First and Second Kings. [I Kings 11:31] And he said to Jeroboam, Take thee ten pieces: for thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel, Behold, I will rend the kingdom out of the hand of Solomon, and will give ten tribes to thee. And [I Kings 12:19]So Israel rebelled against the house of David unto this day.

There are multiple prophecies in both the Old and New Testaments regarding the futures of both Israel and Judah, some jointly.....and some separately. They are prophesied to become one nation again and you can read about it in Ezekiel 37. The little country in the middle east we affectionately call Israel actually Judah. The ten tribes of the north never returned from their Assyrian captivity [II Kings 17:6] and they are the ones who retained the appellation of Israel. This is why one must be careful in applying prophecy to the Middle East. You may be referring to the wrong people unknowingly.

2 posted on 02/26/2007 4:52:40 PM PST by Diego1618
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To: Diego1618; Jeremiah Jr; the-ironically-named-proverbs2; freema; Eagle Eye; sauropod
Thanks for the Purim ping!

The other ten tribes, the members of the "Northern Kingdom," were exiled to unknown lands. There must, however, be a deeper reason for the fact that the Chosen Nation has been called by this name for close to 2500 years!)

Indeed, as the pattern demonstrates, everyone has presumed that Joseph is dead, having been devoured by a wild beast (Assyrians, assimilation) or lost/imprisoned in a house of bondage.

Joseph is still alive. When this is made known, the spirit of Jacob will revive. That will be a bad hair day for the Islamic hordes.

3 posted on 02/28/2007 5:33:14 PM PST by Thinkin' Gal (As it was in the days of NO...)
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