Was Eisav Jewish? Eisav was born to the same father and mother as Yaakov. It may be possible to say that Yaakov was not Jewish either as it was before Matan Torah, however if Yaakov was Jewish, then was Eisav also?


4 Answers 4


The Gemara (Kiddushin 18a, top) calls Eisav ישראל מומר - an apostate Jew.

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    Interestingly, the gemorah in Kiddushin actually calls Eisav both a Non-Jew and an Apostate Jew.
    – avi
    Commented Jul 24, 2011 at 6:34
  • Not having learned that Sugya, I have to ask: is the Gemara saying 'Eisav was a ישראל מומר (which does not mean Jew, btw, and I think that since we're in a question asking for a definition of Jewish we should be careful not to use similar words with distinct meanings so interchangeably), or is the Gemara using him as the model of a ישראל מומר? I would think, especially since it uses the word ישראל, which is his brother's name given to him later in life, it is likely using 'Eisav as an example for that category, rather than saying he is a Jew. But, again, I haven't learned that Sugya.
    – Seth J
    Commented Jul 25, 2011 at 14:57
  • @Seth: it sounds like it's saying that he personally is considered a ישראל מומר. Here's the context: "R' Yochanan says that a gentile's inheritance from his father is recognized by Torah law, for it says (Deut. 2:5), 'I have given Mt. Seir as an inheritance to Eisav.' - But perhaps a ישראל מומר is different (i.e., he's still considered a Jew who's inheriting from his father, also a Jew, so this proves nothing about a gentile's rights of inheritance)? - Rather, we can prove it from this (ibid. v. 9): 'I have given Ar as an inheritance to the children of Lot.'"
    – Alex
    Commented Jul 25, 2011 at 17:37
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    So you're saying it contrasts his status with that of the children of Lot (who are clearly not Jewish)?
    – Seth J
    Commented Jul 25, 2011 at 20:44
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    @Seth: correct.
    – Alex
    Commented Jul 25, 2011 at 22:22

R. Tzadok ha-Kohen mi-Lublin discusses this in a number of places. Here is what he says in מחשבות חרוץ אות יג:‎

ובקידושין (י"ח א) איתא דעשו ישראל מומר, והיינו דקודם שיצא לתרבות רעה היה עליו שם ישראל ונימול לשמונה אלא שנשתמד, ואף דבישראל גם מומר אף על פי שחטא ישראל הוא, זהו רק בזרע יעקב שכבר נפקע חבל הנחלה בשלושה חוטין דאין יכול לינתק עוד, אבל בזרע יצחק אף דהיה נקרא תחילה בשם ישראל משנשתמד ויצא לתרבות רעה יצא מכלל ישראל

In Kiddushin (18a) it says that Eisav is a ישראל מומר. This means that - before he went off on an evil path - he could still be considered a member of "Yisrael" who had been circumcised at eight days; but he apostasized [and lost this distinction]. Now even though among Jews the rule is that even an apostate, although he has sinned, is still considered "Yisrael" - this applies only to the descendants of Yaakov, since the "cord of inheritance" has already been twined from three strands [the three Patriarchs] and can never be severed. But with Yitzchak's children [this did not apply]: he was indeed at first called by the term "Yisrael," but once he apostasized and went off to evil behavior, he is no longer considered "Yisrael."


The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains the difference between Eisav and Yishmael.

Even though Eisav was evil throughout his whole life and wanted to stop Yaakov from being buried in the Mearas Hamachpeila, Eisav is considered a Jew (though a Mumar, as in Alex's answer).

Yishmoel, though, did tshuva. Yet he was not considered a Jew. Moreover, we see that Eisav, who was wicked, merited to see that his head was buried in the Mearas Hamachpeila. Yishmoel didn't.

The difference between the two is the difference between their fathers. Yishmael's father was Avraham, who functioned in a top-down (chesed) way. His function was to illuminate the world. However, illuminating the world doesn't change it. Therefore, Avraham was able to change Yishmael, but only as long as Yishmael was subject to Avraham's influence. Once the influence ended, he went back to his natural (evil) nature.

Eisav's father was Yitzchak. Yitzchak worked to perfect himself, to reveal within himself the G-dly point. Therefore, in a revealed way Eisav was evil until the end. Yet in his essence (his "head"), he remained connected to Hashem.


First of all, Eisav could not have been Jewish by any standard definition we use today. If you insist on the word "Jewish" then he was not a descendant of Yehuda and therefore not a Yehudi. If you go with "b'nei Yisrael" well he wasn't a son of Yisrael/Yaakov. Chazal and Rashi note that the wording of Torah as to how the zera kodesh is transmitted make it clear that only Yaakov's descendants were entirely part of God's nation. Eisav is no more Jewish than Yishmael or the B'nei Keturah.

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    – Isaac Moses
    Commented Jul 24, 2011 at 19:47
  • See the Gemara quoted in this answer: judaism.stackexchange.com/a/9044/603 -- See the other answers that do indeed make a distinction between Eisav and Yishmael. -- Are you saying that someone from the tribe of Binyamin is not called "Jewish"?
    – Menachem
    Commented Jul 16, 2012 at 18:01
  • @Menachem Mordechai is called Ish Yehudi, and was from the tribe of Binyamin. And Haman would have killed people from his tribe as well as Levi'im. I think the term "Yehudi" originated from the Kingdom of Yehuda compared to the Kingdom of Israel).
    – CashCow
    Commented Nov 4, 2015 at 16:51
  • So Avrohom Avinu, Yitzchak Avinu were not Jewish either?
    – user18155
    Commented Nov 18, 2018 at 8:15

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