In Genesis 10 (The Table of Nations), the Gentile nations that came from the descendants of Noah are enumerated "after their generations, in their nations". How is a Gentile's membership in a Gentile nation reckoned from the perspective of Judaism? For example, is a Gentile's national identity based on maternal lineage? Paternal lineage? Is it based on percentage of admixture (e.g. a Gentile that has three grandparents belonging to Dodanim and one belonging to Caphtorim would be considered a Dodanimite). Are Gentiles allowed to choose which of their ancestors to derive membership from (e.g. if a Gentile has a strong attachment to their father's mother's mother's mother's father, who was of Lud, then he can declare himself a member of Lud's nation too)? Are the rules of membership decided upon by the authorities of each individual nation considered binding on Judaism (e.g. the modern community of descendants of Magog has the prerogative to include or exclude Gentiles from their family as they see fit, and Jews are obligated to honor such internal family determinations)?

As an aside, I have not been able to find very much information on how to locate or identify modern day officials or leaders of these nations.

I am primarily interested in the theory of how this is, can be, has been done in times past, or could be done if only we still had (or could find) the right records rather than looking for a practical procedure to use to classify any specific modern-day Gentiles. For example, in the time of Abraham, Gentiles presumably had much better access (compared with today) to reliable geneologies linking them back to Noah, so there might have even been cases where someone's membership in a nation was formally documented, assessed, or tracked for some purpose.

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    It should be clarified that there isnt necessarily one parameter for this. In different contexts, different parameters may be meanigful.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 22:05
  • "Unfortunately, I have not been able to find very much information on how to locate or identify modern day officials or leaders of these nations." Why is this unfortunate? Are you assuming that there is some significance to belonging to a particular ancient group?
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 22:06
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    Outside of areas that have some legal significance to Judaism, such as the identities of most Biblical groups and sub-groups, there probably arent any strict rules, or definitions. Rather, presumably the Bible references existing norms. Those who were considered members of a group, are described as being part of that group, just as non-technical language in general follows convention, rather than strict rules.
    – mevaqesh
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 22:09
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    As I recall, it is paternal. However, the only real effect would be when a member of a nation that has limited conversion rights has mixed ancestry. On the other hand some mixtures go by the pagum. For an Egyptian who must wait three generations before marrying into the Jewish people. A child of a first generation convert and a second generation convert is treated as a child of the first generation convert (second generation) rather than the child of the second generation convert (third generation). Since this is from memory, I am leaving it aws a comment. Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 22:24
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    Keep in mind there is a significant difference between nationality and ethnicity. For example, a sub-Saharan black can become a Swedish national but they can never be a Viking. Some people, including Jews, take DNA tests to determine ancient ancestry. Males who take yDNA testing can often trace their male lineage to earlier than ancient times. Males and females can take mtDNA tests to trace their maternal lines as well as a generalised autosomal DNA which factors in bothe male and females lineages. These tests are not perfect but can give a reasonable estimation of ethic origins.
    – JJLL
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 23:18

1 Answer 1


As the comments have stated; Gentile ancestry is tribal, and therefore strictly paternally-traced as far as halacha is concerned. Halacha doesn't really care if someone's a Dudanite or Caphtorite; but it does matter if they're Ammonite, Moabite, Edomite, or Egyptian. Regardless, it follows the father.

However it's kind of a moot point today, as we operate with the assumption that all the ancestral lines as of Moses' time have since been sufficiently mixed up that no one is a certified Ammonite, Moabite, or the like anymore.

From Maimonides' Chapter 12 of Laws of Prohibited Relations:

Any non-Jew, should s/he convert and accept the mitzvot ... is a full-fledged Jew ... and may marry into the Jewish mainstream, with four exceptions: Amon, Moab, Egypt, and Edom -- a convert from these nations is a full-fledged Jew except regarding marrying into the Jewish mainstream.

Amon and Moab -- their converts may never marry into the Jewish mainstream ... however this only applies to a male convert marrying a mainstream Jewish female; the reverse is permitted.

Egyptian and Edomite -- male or female, the first two generations may not marry into the Jewish mainstream.

An Ammonite male convert who married an Egyptian woman, the child is considered Ammonite; if an Egyptian male convert married a Ammonite woman, the offspring is considred Egyptian. This is the rule: the offspring with regards to non-Jewish nations always follows the father. ...

When Saneireb the King of Assyria rose to power, he mixed up all the peoples and exiled them from their places. We assume that the current-day residents of Egypt are different than the "Egyptians" of the prohibition, and the same goes for today's Edomites in Edom. As these four prohibited nations have been mixed up with the other nations of the world, who have no prohibitions -- everything is permitted, as if a single individual comes out of that mix and seeks to convert, it assumed s/he came from the [permitted] majority.

Therefore, when a convert of any ancestry converts today, whether Edomite, Egyptian, Ammonite, Moabite, Kushite -- any nation at all -- male or female -- s/he may marry immediately into the Jewish mainstream.

יג [יז] כל הגויים כולם, כשיתגיירו ויקבלו עליהן כל המצוות של תורה, והעבדים, כשישתחררו--הרי הן כישראל לכל דבר, שנאמר "הקהל, חוקה אחת לכם" (במדבר טו,טו); ומותרין להיכנס בקהל ה' מיד--והוא שיישא הגר או המשוחרר בת ישראל, ויישא הישראלי גיורת ומשוחררת: חוץ מארבעה עממין בלבד, והם עמון ומואב ומצריים ואדום--שהאומות האלו, כשיתגייר מהן אדם--הרי הוא כישראל לכל דבר, אלא לעניין ביאה בקהל.

יד [יח] וכיצד דינן: עמון ומואב--איסורן איסור עולם, זכרים ולא נקבות: שנאמר "לא יבוא עמוני ומואבי . . ." (דברים כג,ד). והלכה למשה מסיניי, שהעמוני הזכר והמואבי הזכר--הוא שאסור לעולם לישא בת ישראל, אפילו בן בן בנו עד סוף העולם; אבל עמונית ומואבית, מותרת מיד כשאר האומות.

טו [יט] מצרי ואדומי, אחד זכרים ואחד נקבות--דור ראשון ודור שני, אסורין לבוא בישראל; ודור שלישי מותר, שנאמר "בנים אשר ייוולדו להם, דור שלישי" (דברים כג,ט). [כ] מצרית מעוברת שנתגיירה, בנה שני; מצרי שני שנשא מצרית ראשונה, או מצרי ראשון שנשא מצרית שנייה--הוולד שני: שנאמר "בנים אשר ייוולדו להם", הכתוב תלאו בלידה.

טז [כא] גר עמוני שנשא מצרית, הוולד עמוני; וגר מצרי שנשא עמונית, הוולד מצרי: זה הכלל--הוולד באומות, הולך אחר הזכר; נתגיירו, הולך אחר הפחות.


... יט [כה] כשעלה סנחריב מלך אשור, בילבל כל האומות ועירבם זה בזה והגלה אותם ממקומם. ואלו המצריים שבארץ מצריים עתה, אנשים אחרים הם; וכן האדומיים שבשדה אדום. והואיל ונתערבו ארבע אומות האסורים בכל אומות העולם שהן מותרים, הותר הכול--שכל הפורש מהן להתגייר, חזקתו שפירש מן הרוב.

כ לפיכך כשיתגייר הגר בזמן הזה בכל מקום--בין אדומי, בין מצרי, בין עמוני, בין מואבי, בין כושי, בין שאר האומות--אחד הזכרים ואחד הנקבות, מותרין לבוא בקהל מיד.

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    Halakha also cares if you are a Hivvite, Jebusite, Hittite, Girgashite, Emorite, Perizite, Cananite, or Amalekite. Just for different reasons. Does this patrilineal rule apply to them?
    – Double AA
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 23:24
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    Note plenty of Rishonim hold Egyptians weren't mixed up (or were mixed and then unmixed) and are still forbidden today, so it might be moot for the Rambam, but not for the Rosh (ShA EH 4:10). The Machloket goes back to the Tosefta which concludes likes the Rosh sefaria.org/Tosefta_Yadayim.2.8
    – Double AA
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 23:25
  • It is odd to consider that, in theory, there are all these members of the nations walking around and not knowing it. That person on the subway might think he is 100% Irishman, but in actuality he might be Halakhally 100% Egyptian because a remote paternal ancestor was a spice merchant who set himself as a foreign trade agent in Rome and whose g'g'g'g'great grandson was a sea captain who was hired by St. Patrick to take him to Ireland and who later married locally, had a son, then promptly died along with his wife, leaving the son to grow up in an orphanage not knowing where his dad was from. Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 23:40
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    @RobertColumbia sure, could be ... halacha just says "the Assyrians mixed up everyone" (well, everyone from Bible lands) and stops worrying about it. Because we can follow majority probabilities, I can assume any given Irishman is non-Egyptian; in fact, Maimonides assumes any given Egyptian is not Biblically Egyptian!
    – Shalom
    Commented Apr 5, 2017 at 23:56
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    @Shalom "Maimonides assumes any given Egyptian is not Biblically Egyptian" That's not a confusing statement. He isn't claiming all Egyptians aren't Biblical Egyptians. Just any one that asks can't be assumed to be of that group.
    – Double AA
    Commented Apr 6, 2017 at 15:04

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