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Some sources indicate that not all of the Israelites left Egypt during the Exodus. On the other hand, the initial "conversion" of the Israelites to Judaism occurred at Matan Torah at Mt. Sinai during the Exodus.

Are the Israelites who stayed behind in Egypt and their descendants Jews?

I do recognize that identifying these people and especially their modern-day descendants is an exercise in genealogical futility, but suppose hypothetically that someone were to show up today at a synagogue with essentially conclusive proof that they are fully paternally and maternally descended from members of the Twelve Tribes who did not participate in the Exodus and are not maternally descended from anyone who was present at Matan Torah. What is such a person's halachic status as a Jew?

  • Are they a full Jew, eligible to participate immediately on an equal standing with their brethren whose ancestors participated in the Exodus?
  • Are they a full Gentile, eligible to become a righteous Noachide or seek conversion to Judaism at their discretion?
  • Do they occupy some sort of halfway status, halachically Jewish but ineligible to participate in some or all mitzvot unless they "make up" what their ancestors failed to do at Sinai (e.g. through some sort of "conversion-like" process)?
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    In the context in the Mechilta quoted by your source (Alex's answer), it's clear that no Israelites stayed alive in Egypt, they died in the plague of darkness. (The Gemara also quoted in his answer doesn't say so explicitly, but I would have interpreted it the same way.) Is there another source that says that there were living Israelites who stayed in Egypt? – b a Aug 26 at 16:19
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    I always assumed that the 4/5 that were left behind died. – Salmononius2 Aug 26 at 16:20
  • @ba I'm not aware of one. If all of the remaining Israelites died prior to Matan Torah, that would clearly be an answer. – Robert Columbia Aug 26 at 16:21
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    It's still an interesting question on what kind of tumah their bodies convey. – Heshy Aug 26 at 16:21
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Rashi on Shemot 10:22 writes regarding the plague of darkness

And why did He bring darkness upon them? Because there were wicked people amongst the Israelites of that generation who had no desire to leave Egypt, and these died during the three days of darkness so that the Egyptians might not see their destruction and say, “These, (the Israelites) too have been stricken as we have”.

On Shemot 13:18 Rashi writes

Another explanation of חמשים is: only one out of five (חמשה) went forth from Egypt, and four parts of the people died during the three days of darkness because they were unworthy of being delivered

So it appears from Rashi that the Israelites who didn't leave Egypt died there.

  • Dosan and Aviram stayed in Egypt alive (Targum Yonasan 14:3), so theoretically someone else might have also. – Mordechai Aug 27 at 7:36
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    They might have been counted amongst the 20% who left since they rejoined the Jewish people at some point and showed up in the desert – mbloch Aug 27 at 7:48
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    I agree, I'm just pointing out a weak point in your argument. – Mordechai Aug 27 at 7:54
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    If they were at Matan Torah it doesn't negate the argument. If they weren't then there might indeed something to be learned from there – mbloch Aug 27 at 7:55
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  1. The Torah is (seemingly) explicit that all G-d's servants left Egypt (Exodus 12.41):

    וַיְהִי מִקֵּץ שְׁלֹשִׁים שָׁנָה וְאַרְבַּע מֵאוֹת שָׁנָה וַיְהִי בְּעֶצֶם הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה
    יָצְאוּ כָּל־צִבְאוֹת ה' מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם׃

    at the end of the four hundred and thirtieth year, to the very day, all the ranks of the LORD departed from the land of Egypt.

    So this approach appears pretty unanimous.

  2. That also depends if they all did Bris. That would certainly elevate them into the Jews category.

  3. I would theorize about a different scenario: what if some families stayed at the sea or at Marah after crossing it and not going forward to Mt Sinai. I'd speculate that the Matan Torah itself wasn't a conversion event, only Torah receiving, and a Jew that didn't learn Torah is still a Jew.

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    Dosan and Aviram stayed in Egypt alive (Targum Yonasan 14:3), so theoretically someone else might have also. – Mordechai Aug 27 at 7:36
  • @Mordechai Isn't it against what the Torah says? theyeshivaworld.com/news/headlines-breaking-stories/225581/… – Al Berko Aug 27 at 8:36
  • I'm unclear about your new point. Do you have a question on the Targum? – Mordechai Aug 27 at 8:41
  • @Mordechai My point that it's trustfulness against the explicit Torah text is questionable. I don't see it in Shmos 14.3? – Al Berko Aug 27 at 9:58
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Yes, after Sinai they were all Jewish.

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    Is this an opinion or a verifiable answer? We want to know where you're coming from so we would have some chance of agreeing with you! And everywhere else too. – Mordechai Aug 26 at 21:00
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    @Mordechai Before Sinai, no one was Jewish. Abraham, Jacob (though changed Israel) Isaac, Moses, were not Jews. Adam was not Jewish. We were Hebrews. Once, after Sinai, we became Jews. This is basic101 Judaism. Hopes that clears it up. – Turk Hill Aug 26 at 21:05
  • Its not about agreeing with me, but what the Torah says. If that makes sense. – Turk Hill Aug 26 at 21:06
  • Yes, but what makes you think that this is what the Torah says? Do you simply feel this way? Did you read a scholar who claimed this? Did you come to this conclusion yourself after synthesizing several sources? Can you explain your thought process? – Robert Columbia Sep 4 at 15:33
  • @RobertColumbia You know about Revelation at Sinai? Sinai is where G-d gave us the Torah and we all became Jews. Adam, Abraham, Moshe weren't Jewish until we get to Siani. Once we get to Sinai we become Jews. Before then we were Hebrews. Now we are Jews. My source comes from many rabbis. – Turk Hill Sep 4 at 17:00

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