Sunday, June 19, 2005

History of the word “Jew”
According to the Marriam-Wesbters website, the word “Jew” is defined as:

1 a : a member of the tribe of Judah, b : ISRAELITE
2 : a member of a nation existing in Palestine from the 6th century B.C. to the 1st century A.D.
3 : a person belonging to a continuation through descent or conversion of the ancient Jewish people
4 : one whose religion is Judaism
It is comparable in that respect to the words “Christian” or “Muslim" in notating a religious identification. Unlike the words "Christian" or "Muslim," "Jew" refers to nation of people, not solely to a faith statement, although belief in an essential component. The word “Jew” wasn’t always the word used to notate a person of the faith that believed that Hashem (G-d) made a covenant with the Jewish people. Before the Torah was given at Mount Sinai, the Jews were called “Hebrews,” a term notating their ethnic and racial identity, which coincided with their belief in the One G-d, hence, historians refer to their religion as “the religion of the Hebrews.” By the time that they entered the Holy Land promised to them by Hashem, their ancestor Ya’akov (Jacob), after wrestling with an angel, was renamed “Israel,” which means “wrestled with G-d.” In the Torah, a name change is common after experiencing direct contact G-d or an angel. The Hebrews were thus “Israelites,” a nomenclature showing the ancestral heritage of their forefather. Jacob, renamed Israel, had twelve sons, and each son composed a tribe, giving way to the name “the twelve tribes of Israel.” The land that Hashem promised them was eventually known by his name, hence “the Land of Israel,” or “Eretz Israel” in Hebrew. Each tribe occupied a piece of land on either the east or west side of the Jordan River.
In 586 BCE, the Bavlim (Babylonians), one of the powerful neighbors of Israel, invaded, destroyed the Temple that King David and Shlomo (Solomon) built, and took captive to Bavel (Babylon, modern-day Iraq) a large percentage of the Israelites. One hundred and thiry six years later, in 722 BCE, the Ashurim (Assyrians), a people to the North of Israel, also invaded, taking captives with them as well. In this second invasion, the only tribe that was able to keep from completely being taken over and assimilating was the tribe of Yehudah (Judah), and for that reason, many of the Israelites clung to it, even taking its name so that they would remain with their identity intact. In Hebrew, somebody from the tribe of Issachar would have been called an “Issachari,” or an “Issacharite,” Menashe (Mannaseh) “Menashi,” a "Mannasite," and so on. Someone from Yehudah would have been called a “Yehudi,” (Judahite) the origin of the word “Jew.” So even though not all Jews are descendants of the tribe of Judah, the word “Jew” is a term for a descendant of Avraham (Abraham), Itzchak (Isaac), and Ya’akov. These are the same people that received the Torah on Mt. Sinai through the hand of Moshe, (Moses) specifically notating a member of those people, now called Jews. It is a nomenclature that identifies one’s identity as coming from this religious background and heritage, regardless of their original tribal affiliation. All Jews today are called Jews, whether their lineage is from Levi, Issachar, Menashe, Reuven (Ruben), Gad, Dan, Shimon (Simeon), Naftali, Benyamin (Benjamin), Asher, Z'vulun (Zebulun), Ephra'im, or Yehudah. That is how Judaism became the name of the religion of the Jews. About eight hundred years later, the Romans would invade Israel and call it by the name "Palestine," which is discussed in the next section.

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