My current boring, older-than-me textbook says that there are 10 tribes. My much more often updated teacher say that there are 12. And my friend who reads encyclopedias for fun says 13.

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    Welcome to Mi Yodeya, Jimin. We try to focus only on questions and answers, so I have removed the parts of your post that were not part of the question. Also, separate questions should be asked in separate posts, so I have removed the additional question that you edited in.
    – Alex
    Feb 13, 2019 at 5:04
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    You may want to add more details to elicit a good answer. What is this textbook that you refer to? What kind of school is this teacher at? Are they considered knowledgeable about Jewish history? What about your friend? It can be hard for us to determine why each source may have said what they said, if we know nothing about them. Were all the sources speaking about the same time period? Did they mention how they counted the number of tribes? Etc.
    – Alex
    Feb 13, 2019 at 5:12
  • Welcome to MiYodeya Jimin and thanks for this first question. Great to have you learn with us! You are welcome to ask your second question separately.
    – mbloch
    Feb 13, 2019 at 5:40
  • In what context? Are you talking about the number of tribes in each part of the divided nation after Solomon's time (which leads to the "lost tribes" after the exile of the Kingdom of Judah)?
    – rosends
    Feb 13, 2019 at 11:48

1 Answer 1


Ya'akov Avinu had twelve sons:

  • Reuven
  • Shimon
  • Levi
  • Yehudah
  • Yissachar
  • Zevulun
  • Dan
  • Naftali
  • Gad
  • Asher
  • Yosef
  • Benyamin

The fact is, there are twelve tribes, but technically Shevet Yosef is divided into two parts:

  • Efrayim
  • Menasheh

So when your friend says there are thirteen tribes, he isn't wrong per se, it's just a different way of counting the number of tribes. Because when you seperate Shevet Yosef into two tribes, then it makes thirteen not twelve.

However, some may still only count twelve tribes even when separating Shevet Yosef, because in Bereishit 48:5 we read that Ya'akov "took away" the birthright of Reuven and Shimon and gave it to Yosef's sons, Efrayim and Menasheh.

So it's merely a matter of perspective. Hope this answers your question.

As for the textbook saying there are ten tribes, it might be referring to the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel, who were sent into exile by the Assyrians.

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    If Efrayim and Menasheh replaced Reuven and Shimon, shouldn't there be only eleven tribes? Or are you counting Yosef, Efrayim, and Menasheh as three tribes?
    – Alex
    Feb 13, 2019 at 5:15
  • Could the 10 be referring to Reuven and Gad that stayed on the other side of the Yarden?
    – mbloch
    Feb 13, 2019 at 5:43
  • @mbloch And half of Menasheh. That leaves 9.5 tribes in EY proper. Though some of Shevet Levi was in both portions, so with really imprecise rounding I suppose you can just tack a half onto each to make 10+3? Probably not what he meant.
    – DonielF
    Feb 13, 2019 at 6:45
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    @DonielF yes so if you counted the names of those in Israel you'd get to 10 names (incl Menashe)
    – mbloch
    Feb 13, 2019 at 7:41

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