I had always thought that Europeans descended from Yafet, not Shem, and certainly not Shem, Avraham and Yitzhak. I am aware that it was common in the past to equate Rome with Edom, but I always assumed this was an allegory, likening Rome's treatment of Yisrael with that of Esav's treatment of Yaakov. However, I recently learned that some actually believe the Romans, and European people by extension, are the literal descendants of Esav, the Edomites. Is this true?

EDIT: I am not trying to be offensive, but as a white gentile, I find the view that white people are Edomites offensive because of this verse (Gen 25:23):

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר יְהֹוָ֜ה לָ֗הּ שְׁנֵ֤י (גיים) [גוֹיִם֙] בְּבִטְנֵ֔ךְ וּשְׁנֵ֣י לְאֻמִּ֔ים מִמֵּעַ֖יִךְ יִפָּרֵ֑דוּ וּלְאֹם֙ מִלְאֹ֣ם יֶֽאֱמָ֔ץ וְרַ֖ב יַעֲבֹ֥ד צָעִֽיר׃

And the LORD said unto her: Two nations are in thy womb, and two peoples shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.

If a significant portion of the Jewish community believes white gentiles exist to serve them, how is that not offensive and racist? Please explain how this is not true, as I don't want to become hateful myself. Is it only Orthodox Jews who believe this?

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    adam, Welcome to mi.yodeya, and thanks very much for the interesting question! We'd love to have you as a fully-registered member, which you can accomplish by clicking login/register, above.
    – Isaac Moses
    Feb 24, 2011 at 3:24
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    If the point of the question is "are Jews racist with respect to Esau's descendants", then you don't need the rest of it. That is, whether you as a European are considered to be from Esau or not, someone is (or was), so your question is valid. If, however, the point of your question is genuine curiosity about whom Jews consider descendants of Esau, then you don't need the racism part of it. Do you mean to ask two distinct questions? Should you perhaps separate them into two questions on this site, so the answers can clearly address the one or the other?
    – msh210
    Feb 24, 2011 at 4:39
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    I'm still not sure what the relevance of the equation Eisav = Edom is to this, though. Let's suppose that indeed Edom is not the lineal ancestor of any of the Romans, or of any European nation. Logically, there are some people somewhere in the world who are his descendants, though, no? And then this statement would apply to them. You personally might not be offended then because you'd have no reason to assume that you're one of Eisav's descendants, but that's neither here nor there; European, Asian, black, or white - we're all G-d's chilluns here.
    – Alex
    Feb 24, 2011 at 7:41
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    Adam, to be quite frank (and no I do not descend from the Franks;-) with you, there is no reason to be offended if one does descend from Esav. Korah thought he was destined for greatness in the positive sense because he came from excellent stock. He merited leaving the legacy of being the father of all political squabbling and stands for everything that we do not want. His own children repented and turned around that legacy, the most famous one Samuel! It does not make much difference where one comes from if one repudiates the negative traits of his ancestors.
    – Yahu
    Feb 24, 2011 at 23:48
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    You sound like you are more of a Marcus Aurelius rather than a Tinnius Rufus. So what if someone has evil people up the family tree! Even if you do not descend from Esav, what about the Roman oppressors of Israel? A person has free will and is not subject to being eternally cursed because of the sins of the fathers.
    – Yahu
    Feb 24, 2011 at 23:51

5 Answers 5


As other posters have pointed out, there are indeed various opinions in Jewish sources as to whether the equation of Edom with Rome is literal or metaphorical. I recall also seeing a view (though I can't recall the source) that it's specifically the early Roman patrician families who were descended from Edom, while the rest of the Italian peoples were descended from Kittim, one of the Japhetic nations. According to this view, practically speaking there's no one today who can be identified as an Edomite, since most of the old patrician families were extinct already in early imperial times (and anyway, I doubt very much that anyone nowadays could reliably trace their ancestry back that far).

As for your difficulty with "the elder shall serve the younger," here are a couple of thoughts to chew on.

  • Which one is really the "elder," Yaakov or Eisav? Eisav was born first, but Yaakov was the first one conceived (Rashi to Gen. 25:26, citing a Midrash). Furthermore, Eisav sold the birthright, making Yaakov the legal firstborn. You could then argue equally well that the verse is saying that Yaakov will end up serving Eisav. (I've actually come across this idea recently, although again I don't recall the source.)

  • "Service" doesn't necessarily equal "subservience." As an extreme example to the contrary, Rehoboam's older advisors tell him to "be a servant to the people and serve them... and they will serve you" (I Kings 12:7). He'll be the king and they'll be the subjects, but they'll both be "serving" each other in the sense that each of them is working on behalf of the other's interests.

    In Jewish tradition we have the symbiosis of the tribes of Yissachar and Zevulun, where the Zebulonites worked (as seafaring traders) and used their wealth to support the Issacharites' Torah study, and received part of the Divine reward for that. (Some of the Zebulonites also became distinguished Torah scholars through this association, and they are singled out for praise in Judg. 5:14.) The same could have been true of the relationship of Eisav and Yaakov: rather than being antagonists, they could have been partners - Yaakov with his Torah study, Eisav with his hunting in order to provide for Yaakov's upkeep (and learning from Yaakov's fine qualities in the bargain). Eisav would then indeed be "serving" Yaakov, but not in a demeaning and servile sense, but as one who has the privilege of assisting in an important endeavor.

    And in a sense he does. The Talmud (Avodah Zarah 2a ff) depicts G-d's judgment of the nations in order to determine what acts they've done that deserve commendation. Each one comes in turn - the Romans, the Persians, and so forth - and point out various things they've done to advance civilization - "and all of these we did only so that the Jewish People should be able to engage in Torah." In the narrative, G-d dismisses this claim as foolish: "Everything that you did was for your own good!" The truth is, though, that their argument has merit: all of the discoveries, inventions, creature comforts, etc., that the non-Jewish world has produced can be, and should be, used for G-dly ends - like the computers, the Internet infrastructure, and the StackExchange platform which we're using for this discussion. In that sense, even now "Eisav serves Yaakov" by making more material resources available for Yaakov to serve G-d; what G-d derides as "foolish" is the fact that they don't realize this and come with this claim only when it's too late.

  • Thank you for your thoughtful response, Alex. You've interpreted the story of the two brothers and the verse predicting servitude in a very charitable way. But can you guarantee that virtually all Jews interpret it in a nice way, like you, and that they will continue to do so? If not, can you at least acknowledge that the equating of Edomites with Rome and with modern Europeans or any other existing population can potentially serve as a justification for racism, and should perhaps be reconsidered unless it has historical/scientific proof?
    – user345
    Feb 24, 2011 at 8:07
  • As an example, please look at this: dovbear.blogspot.com/2007/11/esav-enigma.html One commenter likens defending Esav in the way you're doing with defending Hitler! Do you really think I'm being totally unreasonable for taking offense at having my ethnic background tied to Esav (erroneously, as I see it), considering what might follow from it?
    – user345
    Feb 24, 2011 at 8:10
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    adam, If you're looking for a guarantee that virtually no Jews hold racist views that they tie to their interpretation of Scripture, I'm sorry to say that you're not going to get it. The world is full of racists, and the Jewish community is unfortunately no exception. And, Internet comment threads are notorious for letting people present their most offensive views in the most bombastic language from behind a cloak of anonymity. If you encounter Jews who hold racist views in fact, I suggest that your quarrel is with them.
    – Isaac Moses
    Feb 24, 2011 at 14:47
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    @adam, the bottom line is that the commenter you're referring to is not in the mainstream of Jewish thought. It is true that we see Eisav as evil because of how he behaved; it is equally true, as Dov Bear pointed out there, that there are several places where the Midrashim point out his good qualities. The Talmud in fact mentions Antoninus (the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius) as an exemplar of the kind of virtuous person that Eisav could have been - and that this potential too was inherent in Eisav himself. Any descendant of his has the choice which of these potentials to actualize in his life.
    – Alex
    Feb 24, 2011 at 15:26

The verse is not sanctioning racism or racist attitudes. It is a statement about historical destiny based on the choices of these two boys and not about racial superiority. Judaism has a strong belief in the concept that choices made by individuals in the age of the forefathers had strong influence on the destiny of their progeny. The service mentioned here is with regard to service of G-d. It is a statement that Esau's descendants who choose to serve G-d will be secondary and assistants to Jacob's descendants in that endeavor. As a gentile I am sure you have heard of the concept of the "Chosen Nation". If you believe that the idea that G-d chose the Jewish People to be His ambassadors to the world is racist then there is nothing more to discuss. If you understand that it is a statement of the responsibility demanded of the Jewish People and that with added responsibility comes added privilege and greater consequences then you have started to grasp the meaning of the verse.

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    I understand the concept of choseness and that Jews believe non-Jews can easily find salvation by being righteous without converting to Judaism, which is why I didn't mention it in my post. What is news to me is the apparent belief that white gentiles are somehow actually Semites descending from Esav, which, in the most literal context of the verse I quoted, is offensive, at least to me.
    – user345
    Feb 24, 2011 at 6:56
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    Bear in mind that there's no possible way that it could mean "white gentiles" in general; no one claims that Eisav was that prolific, and after all, there are 69 other nations to account for. At most, even if the equation Edom = Rome is meant literally, that covers probably less than 1% of the human race.
    – Alex
    Feb 24, 2011 at 7:15
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    @user345 Upon further investigation I found a source (Nachmanides) that states that the Roman's were originally descended from Yafet. However, he then explains that the Edomites who had entered the Holy Land and had adopted Judaism and then early Christianity, then brought Christianity to Rome. They intermarried with the Romans and eventually Christianity was adopted by most of Europe. He seems to intimate that the ideology of Edom, as embodied in Christianity, as well as the fact that Edom married into Rome, is why we refer to Rome (and perhaps Christianity?) as Edom today.
    – Yahu
    Jan 22, 2014 at 5:36

The Vilna Gaon (in his commentary Eliyahu Rabbah to Negaim 2:1, as explained in Bo'az ibid.) says that Europeans are descendants of Yafet.


To quote the ParshaBlog:

Shadal writes:

ודע כי אדום האמור בתורה ובשאר ספרי הקודש הוא עם השוכן בין ים סוף וים המלח, ומעולם אין הכוונה על מלכות רומי ולא על אחד מגויי אירופה, וכל ימי עמידת הבית הראשון והשני לא נקראו בשם אדום רק בני עשו ממש, אבל אחר חרבן הבית החלו היהודים לקרוא למלכות רומי בשם אדום, והיה זה מפני שהאדומים היו על הרוב צוררים ישראל, על כן היה שם אדום שנוא ומתועב אצלנו, ובפרט אחר שמלך הורדוס שהיה אדומי הרע לישראל מאד, וכשנחרב הבית ביד הרומאים, עברה שנאת היהודים מאדום לרומי, על כן (וגם מפני היראה) כינו את רומי בשם אדום ; ואין הכוונה כלל על בעלי האמונה החדשה, אלא על מלכות רומי שהחריבה את ביתנו, ועל כל המקומות שפשטה שם מלכותם ולשונם. ואל תשמע לדברי ראב"ע שאמר כי בעלי האמונה החדשה נקראו אדום מפני שהראשונים שהאמינו בנוצרי היו מבני אדום ; כי אמנם כל זה שקר וכזב, כי הראשונים שהאמינו בנוצרי היו יהודים ויונים ורומאים, לא אדומים, ושם אדום הוא כינוי לרומאים ולעמים אחרים מצד שהיו בימים ההם תחת ממשלת הרומאים, ולא מצד אמונתם.

And know that Edom mentioned in the Torah and other holy books {of Tanach} refers to the nation which dwells between the Reed Sea and the Dead Sea, and it was never the intent to refer to the kingdom of Rome nor any of the nations of Europe. And all of the days the First Temple stood, and the Second {Temple}, the only one called Edom were the actual descendants of Esav. However, after the destruction of the {second} Temple, the Jews began to call the kingdom of Rome by the name Edom. And this was because in general, the Edomites tormented Israel, and therefore the name Edom was hated and detested by us. And specifically, after the Herod reigned, who was an Edomite who was very bad to Israel. And when the Temple was destroyed at the hands of the Romans, the hatred of the Jews passed from Edom to Rome. Therefore (and also because of fear), they nicknamed Rome with the name Edom. And the intent is not at all to the people of the new faith {=Christians}, but rather to the Roman empire which destroyed our Temple, and to all the places that their rule and language extended.

And do not listen to the words of Ibn Ezra who said that the people of the new faith are called Edom because the first ones who believed in the Nazarene were from the people of Edom. For this is falsehood and lies, for the first one who believed in the Nazarene were Jews, Greeks, and Romans, not Edomites. And the name Edom is a nickname for the Romans and to other nations from the aspect that they were, in those days, under Roman rule, and not because of their {Christian} faith.

Quoting ParshaBlog again, Ibn Caspi says pretty much the same thing:

Thus, nochri and ach are relative to one another, and are a matter of degree and so may be ambiguous in places. And so let us say we are willing to grant that an Edomi, elsewhere referred to as ach, would be encompassed in this prohibition of usury. Even so, the Edomites were obliterated by Nevuchadnezzar, as we see in sefer Yeshaya. And while the hamon am and others like them make this mistake in thinking that people of that country (?France, Spain?) were of Edom, this is indeed an error. There may be a few around Har Seir. And while the Egyptians returned to Egypt, the Edomite nation did not return. Furthermore, this country of Ibn Caspi was settled in the days of Nevuchadnezzar, with a different populace, that of the sons of Yefes, as Josephus notes.

This is also the opinion of Ibn Ezra and Ramban.


The original people of Europe descended from Japeth, but they were conquered by the children of Esau. Basically historians call it the Aryan invasion theory.

Zepho the King at Rome.

There are those that peddle the myths that the Romans were descendants of Zepho the son of Eliphaz the son of Esau the son of Isaac the son of Abraham. The story goes like this:

Esau's eldest son, Eliphaz, had several sons of his own. Eliphaz's third born son was Zepho. When Jacob/Israel, died in Egypt his children carried his remains out of the land of Egypt. Jacob had left an instruction to his sons that they must bury his body where his father's, Abraham and Isaac were bied. On their way to the burial site, Joseph and his brethren were attacked by the Edomites. But, Joseph was by then second from Pharaoh in power. Him and the Egyptian armies that travelled with him, were able to fight back defeat the Edomites. Joseph captured many Edomites and took them back to Egypt as prisoners of war.

Amongst the Edomites who were taken to Egypt, was Zepho, the son of Eliphaz and grandson of Esau. Zepho later escaped from Egypt and crossed the Mediterranean Sea into Kimit, where, through his valour and success in war against African armies that periodically raided that area and robbed the indigenous people of their gold, silver and other valuables, he was made ruler. Zepho established a great kingdom in Kimit and his descendants ruled over this kingdom for generation after generation. Jupiter was a descendant of Zepho that also ruled as king. Jupiter's son, Mars, was the founder of the city of Rome, which became the capital of this kingdom. Thus, the Romans were descendants of Zepho and indeed Esau.


These are the sons of Japheth; Gomer, Magog, Madai, Javan, Tubal, Meshech, and Tiras, seven sons. Jasher 7:2

And the sons of Javan were Elisha, Tarshish, Chittim and Dudonim. Jasher 7:6.

And the children of Chittim are the Romim who dwell in the valley of Canopia by the river Tibreu. Jasher 10:16

These are the children of Esau who were born to him in the land of Canaan; and the sons of Eliphaz the son of Esau were Teman, Omar, Zepho, Gatam, Kenaz and Amalex, and the sons of Reuel were Nachath, Zerach, Shamah and Mizzah. Jasher 36:23

It’s clear that Zepho was a grandson of Esau. It’s also clear that the children Chittim (Kimit) lived in Romim (Rome). Now let the scriptures tell the story:

And the battle was heavy between them, and the sons of Esau were smitten before the sons of Jacob, and the sons of Jacob slew of the sons of Esau eighty men, and not one died of the people of the sons of Jacob; and the hand of Joseph prevailed over all the people of the sons of Esau, and he took Zepho, the son of Eliphaz, the son of Esau, and fifty of his men captive, and he bound them with chains of iron, and gave them into the hand of his servants to bring them to Egypt. Jasher 57:2.

  1. And when the year came round, being the seventy-second year from the Israelites going down to Egypt, after the death of Joseph, Zepho, the son of Eliphaz, the son of Esau, fled from Egypt, he and his men, and they went away. 2. And he came to Africa, which is Dinhabah, to Angeas king of Africa, and Angeas received them with great honor, and he made Zepho the captain of his host. Jasher 60:1-2

  2. And when Zepho the son of Eliphaz saw that Angeas despaired of going forth to battle with the Egyptians, Zepho fled from Angeas from Africa, and he went and came unto Chittim. 13. And all the people of Chittim received him with great honor, and they hired him to fight their battles all the days, and Zepho became exceedingly rich in those days, and the troops of the king of Africa still spread themselves in those days, and the children of Chittim assembled and went to Mount Cuptizia on account of the troops of Angeas king of Africa, who were advancing upon them. 14. And it was one day that Zepho lost a young heifer, and he went to seek it, and he heard it lowing round about the mountain. 15. And Zepho went and he saw and behold there was a large cave at the bottom of the mountain, and there was a great stone there at the entrance of the cave, and Zepho split the stone and he came into the cave and he looked and behold, a large animal was devouring the ox; from the middle upward it resembled a man, and from the middle downward it resembled an animal, and Zepho rose up against the animal and slew it with his swords. 16. And the inhabitants of Chittim heard of this thing, and they rejoiced exceedingly, and they said, What shall we do unto this man who has slain this animal that devoured our cattle? 17. And they all assembled to consecrate one day in the year to him, and they called the name thereof Zepho after his name, and they brought unto him drink offerings year after year on that day, and they brought unto him gifts. Jasher 61:12-17

The story continues:

  1. And at the revolution of the year the troops of Africa continued coming to the land of Chittim to plunder as usual, and Zepho son of Eliphaz heard their report, and he gave orders concerning them and he fought with them, and they fled before him, and he delivered the land of Chittim from them. 24. And the children of Chittim saw the valor of Zepho, and the children of Chittim resolved and they made Zepho king over them, and he became king over them, and whilst he reigned they went to subdue the children of Tubal, and all the surrounding islands. 25. And their king Zepho went at their head and they made war with Tubal and the islands, and they subdued them, and when they returned from the battle they renewed his government for him, and they built for him a very large palace for his royal habitation and seat, and they made a large throne for him, and Zepho reigned over the whole land of Chittim and over the land of Italia fifty years. Jasher 61:23-25


Zepho was not the father of the Romans. He just became a king at Rome after he escaped from Egypt. The Israelites were still in Egypt. The Romans existed before Zepho came to Rome. Romim (the Romans) were the children of Chittim a son of Javan a son of Japheth a son of Noah.

It’s true Zepho had great influence at Rome. It is true that subsequent kings at Rome could have been descendants of Zepho and we know also that Roman army generals imposed themselves as kings in Europe. In 43 AD the Emperor Claudius resumed the work of Caesar by ordering the invasion of Britain under the command of Aulus Plautius. The Romans quickly established control over the tribes of present day southeastern England and extended control over all the English isles.

It is interesting to note that the Romans also colonized Edom when Joshua was old and judge over Isreal:

Jasher Chapter 90:1, 7-11

  1. At that time in the fifth year after the children of Israel had passed over Jordan, after the children of Israel had rested from their war with the Canaanites, at that time great and severe battles arose between Edom and the children of Chittim, and the children of Chittim fought against Edom.

  2. And the children of Chittim continued their pursuit of Edom, and they smote them with a great slaughter and Edom became subject to the children of Chittim. 8. And the children of Chittim ruled over Edom, and Edom became under the hand of the children of Chittim and became one kingdom from that day. 9. And from that time they could no more lift up their heads, and their kingdom became one with the children of Chittim. 10. And Abianus placed officers in Edom and all the children of Edom became subject and tributary to Abianus, and Abianus turned back to his own land, Chittim. 11. And when he returned he renewed his government and built for himself a spacious and fortified palace for a royal residence, and reigned securely over the children of Chittim and over Edom.

The Genealogy of Noahenter image description hereenter image description here

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    Hello Shem, and welcome to Mi Yodeya! I had heard something similar to what you have written here in the past, but I don't have a source for it. Do you know where I can find this written up somewhere?
    – MTL
    Sep 19, 2014 at 13:15

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