Where can I find a discussion about the roots of modern nations, in the Umos Haolam mentioned in the Torah and Chazal?

  • 3
    The Gemara tells us that since Sanherev mixed up all the nations by moving them around the world, any (halachic) applications, such as Amoni uMoavi, are moot. Are you looking for a speculative discussion within an eschotological context?
    – Yahu
    Commented Jun 17, 2010 at 14:49
  • Sorry about the spelling. It is eschatological - of or relating to or dealing with or regarding the ultimate destiny of mankind and the world wordnetweb.princeton.edu/perl/webwn
    – Yahu
    Commented Jun 17, 2010 at 14:51
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    I certainly do not mean in a Halacha context. I don't think it is unreasonable to assume that even after Sancheirev there remains a general Umah, just that it is not absolute (e.g. as far as Lo Yavo Amoni). Look at, say, the Chinese, with billions of people, who seem to have virtually no connection to Klal Yisroel. What is their makor in the Torah? That is the idea of my query. Thank you for taking the time to respond.
    – user146
    Commented Jun 17, 2010 at 15:50
  • As far as online discussions go, if you do a search you will end up with many results from evangelical christian discussions which are oftentimes full of sagely stated conjecture and ignorance.
    – Yahu
    Commented Jun 17, 2010 at 23:29
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    That's why I am not searching; I want to know if someone here has an appropriate source.
    – user146
    Commented Jun 18, 2010 at 2:50

4 Answers 4


Aside from those mentioned already, there are quite a few references to peoples, or places, in Tanach that have been identified with modern nations:

  • Tzarefas (Obadiah 1:20) = France

  • Sepharad (ibid.) = Spain (whence the term "Sephardim")

  • Ashkenaz (Gen. 10:5, et al) = Germany (whence "Ashkenazim")

  • K'naan (ibid. v. 6, et al) = the Slavic nations (Rashi refers in several places to the Slavic languages as "lashon K'naan")

  • Philistines (ibid. v. 14, et al) = Berbers (Seder HaKabbalah of the Raavad consistently refers to them as such)

  • Sinites (ibid. v. 17, et al) = China (Daas Soferim to this verse, by R' Chaim Dov Rabinowitz)

  • Amalek (ibid. 36:12, et al) = Germany (attributed to R' Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld in the name of the Vilna Gaon)

- though none of these really have halachic significance, as far as I know.

  • 1
    People and places are very different. While we all agree that Biblical "mitzrayim" is Egypt, the people there then may not necessarily be the ancestors of today's Egyptians.
    – Shalom
    Commented Jun 18, 2010 at 15:26
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    True. Of the ones I mentioned, it sounds like the respective authors are identifying the last four as peoples rather than geographical areas.
    – Alex
    Commented Jun 18, 2010 at 15:30
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    With regard to the first four, it is pretty clear that these were meant as "nicknames" rather than actual identities of peoples or places. For a nice discussion about this, see here: mavenyavinarchive.blogspot.com/2006/12/…
    – Dave
    Commented Jun 20, 2010 at 5:52
  • I could not locate the sefer Daas Soferim. Could you post a scan of the page, please? Thanks.
    – user146
    Commented Jun 21, 2010 at 14:40
  • I haven't got the sefer myself either - I came across it years ago. But the series (it's actually a commentary on all of Tanach, or almost all of it) should be available in bookstores.
    – Alex
    Commented Jun 21, 2010 at 15:49

Many different views of the matter are described here:


Too long and complicated for me to summarize.

There are numerous Biblical place-names which we're pretty sure we can identify (tzarfas, sfarad, etc.); but as far as peoples go:

  • Many halachic sources use the terms "Ishamaelite" or "Hagarite" to mean Muslims. E.g. how halacha views Islam and its practices. That's the terminology.

  • Any halacha regarding actual ancestral peoplehood (e.g. marrying a Biblical "Egyptian", "Moabite", "Canaanite") was rendered moot thousands of years ago, as Sanhereb of Assyria mixed everyone up. That means halachically today, there's just one giant category called "generic non-Jew." For instance, a non-Jew of any extraction whatsoever can marry into the Jewish mainstream if s/he converts.

  • Many rabbis (and laymen) have sought to understood historical events in light of Biblical references, e.g. trying to understand the Nazis by looking to the Torah's commandment to remember Amalek.

    • Some then go further by claiming, for instance, that the Germans are actually descended from Amalek. If that helps your religious life, great; if not (or you're skeptical), that's okay too. It's of no halachic significance today, nor is it one of the 13 Principles of Faith, or any other major belief that's part of normative observant Jewish thought.
    • In fact, (ברוך שכיוונתי, thank you Yitzhak!), Rav Wozner writes similarly (Shevet HaLevi 5:149):

    Regarding the question on the tradition of the Vilna Gaon that the Germans descend from Amalek; if regarding their evil actions, certainly they are similar. But to [actually] judge in today's age is difficult, as ... Sanherib mixed up all the nations ... and if so, regarding an Amalekite, it is certain we don't know.


Look in the Artscroll Gemora- Yoma daf 10. It translates the nations into modern terms, and has a nice map. For more detail and opinions see Artscroll Tanach Series, Bereishis vol. 1 at the end of Parshas Noach. (It might be hard to find this book. If you can't find it in a Beis Medrash or store, it can purchased here https://www.artscroll.com/Books/9780899063621.html). Call of Torah by R. Monk has more vague and general comments about the modern equivents of some of these nations. It should be noted that the medrash and Talmud refer to places, but it possible for people to move. So translating or identifying the place name might not be the most accurate method.

This would be a good project for someone with a good knowledge of history, ancient geography and Jewish sources.

  • Does it mention the deliberate mixing of peoples by Sancheriv?
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 1:39
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    The Gm' Yoma? no. nor do the parallel midrashim. they just list the nations and identify them. Ayin Sham Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 1:41
  • It is mentioned in Yoma 54b. I guess my question was, how does the "modern map" deal with this fact? (I haven't seen it so I am asking)
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 1:54
  • The gemora (Yoma 10) identifies places/nations for the sons of Noach mentioned in the Torah (for example- "Madai zu Makedonia". The Artscroll simply translates the Gemora's identifications into modern terms, based on the commentaries. Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 2:12
  • The Gemora was written after Sancheriv. So you should ask- "why did the Gemorah make these identifications and what did it mean by them?" My two cents- Perhaps as @user146 suggests. Yoma 54b does not mean the nations were so mixed up to no longer exist, only that they are not pure Commented Oct 26, 2023 at 2:13

The Gemara in Meggilah List a nation called GermaMia and the Vilna Gaon corrected the text to read “GermaNia" A plain reference to Germany and this was way before the Holocaust.

Just to explain Alex's refrence about Reb Sonnenfeld. He was once asked why he did not go out to meet the German (Prussian) King to make the Bracha on seeing a King.The Halacha is you should go out of your way to make a Bracha on the king of the other Nations. But he refused to meet with Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany who visited the Old City because he believed that the Emperor was a descendant of the nation of Amalek.His refusal was because he is reported saying he has a Kabbalh from the Gra that Germany is Amalek and you dont Make A Bracha On the King of Amalek

  • 1
    Thanks for the further explanation of my comment. However, for the sake of historical accuracy, your retelling of the story is (as far as I know) not quite correct. The "former Dutch diplomat" you refer to, Yaakov Yitzchak De Haan הי"ד, became a baal teshuvah (and a disciple of R' Yosef Chaim) around 1919 (and was murdered in 1924); the Kaiser's visit to Jerusalem was in 1898.
    – Alex
    Commented Jun 18, 2010 at 21:33
  • You are right I will correct it. Commented Jun 18, 2010 at 22:24

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