I have always wondered if my Jewish friends know what tribe they descend from. If so, do they have any celebrations for their tribe? Are all Rabbis descended from the tribe of Levi?


2 Answers 2


After the reign of Solomon, the nation was divided into 2 kingdoms, North and South (the kingdoms of Israel and Judah respectively). The Northern Kingdom (sometimes called "Ephraim") was composed of most of the tribes while the southern kingdom, Judah, was made up mostly of Judah, Benjamin and some of Levi (though I have heard that there were a few stragglers from other tribes mixed into the southern kingdom). Because its mass was from Judah, a larger tribe, it was known as the Kingdom of Judah.

The northern Kingdom was defeated and the tribes scattered. The southern kingdom was eventually defeated and sent to exile. What remains of modern Judaism came from that southern kingdom, the tribes of Benjamin and Judah and Levi. So priests and levites today are from Levi and everyone else is from the other 2 tribes.

There are a few other nationalities which have tried to trace themselves to other tribes but for most of modern Jewry, one of those 3 suffices. We don't much celebrate this (maybe because it reminds us of such extreme loss) though there are separate laws for those from Levi on a day to day basis, and, eventually, a king will arise from Judah.

  • 4
    And anyone can be a Rabbi
    – Double AA
    Feb 27, 2015 at 15:05
  • Yes, and if I'm not proof of that, no one is.
    – rosends
    Feb 27, 2015 at 15:07
  • "eventually, a king will arise from Judah." As a Christian, I havc some good news for you. :-)
    – Tony Duran
    May 16, 2017 at 3:11

Rabbis today come from all tribes; there are no ancestral requirements for the job. Actually, if your ancestors were Temple priests (see below), you can't attend funerals unless they're of immediate family [Leviticus 21:1]; so many synagogues do not want to hire a rabbi who's of priestly ancestry -- he can't do funerals!

There are special synagogue honors for Levites, so many people today know they are Levites. The Kohen group (i.e. those who had been Temple priests) are a subset of the Levites. (As all Kohens are descended from Aaron, who was himself a great-grandson of Levi.) So many Jews today know they are a Levite or a Kohen. (If the latter, they do the priestly blessing [Numbers 6:22] in synagogue and receive certain other honors; if the former, they wash the Kohen's hands before the blessing and receive other honors.)

No particular "tribe" celebration; though many, many Kohens in Israel make a point of going to the Western Wall and doing the priestly blessing on the Hebrew date of 1 Av (usually mid-to-late July), which is the day that Aaron died.

Most Jews today know they are "vanilla non-Levite", as if you're not a Levite, your tribal ancestry today makes virtually no difference. If you've read through I & II Kings, you'll recall that Israel split into North and South kingdoms. Levi had cities scattered throughout both; but the South Kingdom, which lasted longer, consisted of Judah and Benjamin. And Judah was more numerous. (The population -- and significance -- of Judah out of all the tribes would be something like if you had one US state that was California, New York, Virginia, and Massachusetts combined.) So the average non-Levite Jew you meet today may occasionally know he's a Benjaminite; he may know he's a Judean, especially if he can trace his ancestry to some famous figure who was known to be descended from King David (himself a Judean). Many Ethiopian Jews are said to be of the tribe of Dan (Dan had belonged to the North Kingdom, but when the North Kingdom set up a pseduo-Temple with golden calves, legend has it that a bunch of Dannites said, "forget this! We're going to Ethiopia!"), and a group was recently found in India who said they were from Menashe.

But your average Jew on the street, if he doesn't know he's Levite/Kohen, the odds are probably something like:

70% Judean

10% Benjaminite

10% Levite

10% Other

  • 2
    The proportion of Levites is higher and Kohanim very much higher than expected due to Ezra bringing large numbers of Kohanum back with him to the rebuilt Judah
    – CashCow
    Feb 27, 2015 at 14:04
  • +1. It may be worth mentioning in the answer that (as mentioned in Kings IIRC and in Chronicles) a number of people from the northern kingdom defected to the south.
    – msh210
    Feb 27, 2015 at 20:09
  • Have you ever met someone who knew he's a benjaminite?
    – Double AA
    Mar 1, 2015 at 3:28

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