What Tribe Are You From? (<--- Click to listen to the broadcast.)

What tribe are you from? (Transcript)

(Copyright @2009 by Yonko Mali, All rights reserved.)

Jeff, thanks for calling in and thanks for your question. You will be receiving a small gift in the mail for that excellent question, “What tribe are you from?”

You know, I understand from my wife and children who have done more international travelling than me that it is more common for someone to ask you that kind of question in other countries. Especially in the smaller villages of Africa, they will ask you, “What tribe do you belong to?”

Most Americans are surprised by that question and have no ready answer. Answering, “American” or the “United States” does not satisfy them; that’s a country they will say. Many Americans will finally figure out to give their last name as the tribe they are from; which will usually satisfy the questioner.

I suspect that if you ask Jews that question “What tribe are you from?” the answer will vary greatly. First depending on what country you are in and then depending how religious or how knowledgeable the person is about their Jewish religion.

The answer from the average American Jew would properly be that they do not know or do not understand your question. And they will usually have some confusion, hesitancy, avoidance, and/or fear of talking to Christians about anything religious especially if they do not know you very well on a personal basis.

But the answer from some Jews who do answer your question, you may surprise you. They may say, I am a Cohan, or I am an Ashkenazi Jew or I am a Sephardic Jew. And if you explain and press them that you are asking about the original twelve tribes of Israel that they are from like Levi, Benjamin, Judah, Ruben, etc. many will admit that they do not know. The oral tradition of passing down the tribe that they are from - has apparently been lost and the written records, in most cases, have also been lost. But some Jews will know and say they are from the tribe of Levi because the Jews who are Levi or Cohan know they are from the priestly tribe of Levi which has been passed on to them via their oral tradition.

Now Jeff, I am not an expert on the Jewish faith and traditions, but maybe some of our listeners out there may have some feedback but let me attempt to explain about those terms Ashkenazi, Sephardic, and Cohan Jews and the relationship between Levi and Cohans.
This is from the Book of Jewish Knowledge by Nathan Ausubel.

For the sake of convenience, during the Middle Ages, Jews were quite arbitrarily divided into two main categories. Those Jews living in Spain, Portugal and the Provence of France were designated as Sephardim (Plural) or Sephardic (Single); those who lived in Germany and in East European countries where the Judeo-German vernacular, Yiddish, was spoken were called Ashkenazim (Plural) or Ashkenazi (singular). Hence in United States you will mostly meet Jews who will say that they are an Ashkenazi Jew. These two groups, Sephardim or Ashkenazim, also had somewhat different religious customs and practices, including differences in the religious books used, and differences in the order of standard prayers and the music used in the synagogues.

Now the Jews who claim to be a Cohan (COHAN or COHEN) are claiming to be descendants for the original tribe of Levi, the priestly tribe of Israel, specifically the High Priest. The people who say they are a COHAN Jew usually have a COHAN name or one similar to it. The last name varies and it may be Kahn, Kohn, Cahen, Kagan, Kogen, Kaganovitch (in the Eastern European countries). Only such Cohan Jews are privileged to recite the Priestly Blessing while standing before the Ark of the Torah in the synagogue and they enjoy some other privileges in the synagogues.

You know, I thought that this would mean that all or most Rabbis in the synagogues would have last names like Cohan. Nope. In our local area, we have Rabbi Friedman, Rabbi Sager, Rabbi Solomon, Rabbi Yoffi, etc. This was my misconception. Rabbi simply means teacher just like in the old days. Rabbi does not mean priest or imply priestly functions. So while the Rabbi will conduct the service, especially the teaching sermon, the members on the staff or members of the synagogue will recite certain key prayers, poems and songs.

Now one Jew I talked to tried to claim that since 10 tribes of Israel, the two remaining tribes were Judah and Levi. And since the Levies/Cohans know who they are descendant from, all the other Jews are probably from the tribe of Judah. But this is a very, very weak argument.

So the bottom line is that most Jews do not know the tribe they belong to and even the Jews who claim they are Levi or Cohan, have only their last names and oral tradition has proof. I think that even the Cohans would have a hard time tracing their ancestry back for the last 2,000 years by means of written records. Not only were all the records destroyed when the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, subsequent records kept in synagogues were also destroyed over the centuries through various unfortunate Jewish persecutions including of course the great Holocaust.

You do know that the Israeli Jews are planning on rebuilding the Temple in Jerusalem, they are making plans every day. And I am sure that they have already begun the process of verifying various priests for service in the new Temple. It will be interesting to see who they choose for the High Priest. It will probably be as much as a political decision as anything else.

But the majority of Jews do not have a hope for a coming Messiah. The portion of Jews who still hope for a Messiah know that they need to rebuild the Temple before the Messiah would come which is true. No temple, no possibility of a returning Messiah. But the basis for their hope is wanting. Any honest reading of the scriptures and any honest analysis of the prophecies would lead one to the conclusion that if the Messiah did not come around the time of Jesus, he is never coming. Certainly just using the one prophesy of the 490 years by Daniel alone would greatly challenge any belief that the Messiah could come in modern times. That is why the Wise Men came from the East when they saw the star. They knew it was about the right time for the Messiah to be born.

This fact that the Messiah had to come during the time of the last Temple is one of the arguments used by the Messianic Jews to attract new converts to accept Jesus as the Jewish Messiah who did indeed come and He proved to the world that he was the Christ through his great miracles, his message and his resurrection. In fact the rapid growth of the Messianic Jews who believe in Jesus in another proof that we are in the end times.

In my opinion, the Israel Jews will indeed rebuild the temple and the Messiah indeed will come back again. But it will be the return of Jesus. Coming back as the Lion of Judah. Coming back for Judgment, not salvation and only those who have already accepted him as their savior will indeed be saved.

So read the scriptures, analyst the prophesies and see that the Messiah had to come during the existence of the last Temple and that he did indeed come, His Name is Jesus. Accept Him, repent of your sins and receive his great gifts of love, his gifts of salvation and eternal life. Do it today!