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Eldad Hadani

Eldad Hadani

(9th century)

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This time we are going to tell you the story of a Jew who made a name for himself as an outstanding globetrotter. Nowadays it requires more money than courage to be a world traveler. But some eleven hundred years ago, when the hero of our story lived, it required a great deal of courage to travel by land and by sea, and many were the adventures and the unexpected dangers that awaited a traveler.

Our story is about Eldad HaDani, the "Danite," and he called himself so because he claimed to belong to the Tribe of Dan, one of the Lost Ten Tribes of the Jewish people. He became especially famous, because he brought news of the Lost Tribes of Israel.

You will remember that after the death of King Solomon, the Land of Israel became divided into two kingdoms: the Kingdom of Judah in the South, with Jerusalem as its capital, and the Kingdom of the Ten Tribes (sometimes called the "Northern Kingdom"), with Samaria as its capital. In the year 3202 (after Creation), that is, 135 years before the Destruction of the Beth-Hamikdosh, Shalmaneser, King of Assyria, invaded the Northern Kingdom and besieged Samaria. The capital of the Ten Tribes fell .three years later, and the Ten Tribes were led into captivity to Assyria. Nothing was heard of the Ten Tribes since then.

According to the story related by Eldad the Danite, who had it told to him by his ancestors, who in turn were told about it by their ancestors from generation to generation, back to those fateful days, the Ten Tribes were not lost at all. Eldad the Danite related that his own tribe, the Danites, did not wait to be exiled. When the Assyrian empire grew strong and mighty, they saw that there was no hope for them to remain free. Moreover, the Kingdom of the Ten Tribes was at war with the Kingdom of Judah, and the Danites did not want to fight against their own brethren. So they decided to leave the Land of Israel and find a safe place for themselves. It was in the eighth year of the reign of Ahaz of Judah, that is, in the year 3191 (fourteen years before the fall of Samaria) that the Danites took their wives and children, their sheep and cattle, and left the Land of Israel. They went by way of Egypt further down the upper Nile River and settled in Ethiopia, in the land of the negroes of East Africa. The Danites were great warriors, and after fighting many battles against native black tribes, they established themselves securely, with a kingdom of their own.

Later on, after the Destruction of the Beth-Hamikdosh, three more tribes joined the tribe of Dan, Eldad related they were the tribes of Naftali, Gad and Asher. The four tribes lived side by side in peace and brotherhood. The region where they lived was a fertile one. The only trouble was that the surrounding black tribes were unfriendly. The four tribes had to fight them constantly. So each tribe went to war for three months in the year, coming back with much spoil and with many slaves, which they divided among all the tribes. Their elders and scholars received a greater share of the produce and riches, so that they could study the Torah in peace and security.

Yes, Eldad related, they are in possession of the Torah. They have the Five Books of Moses and most of the Books of the Prophets. But they did not have the Book of Esther, nor did they know anything about the festival of Purim, because the miracle of Purim happened many years after the Destruction of the Beth-Hamikdosh, and these four tribes were not in Persia at that time.

 

Being separated from the rest of the Jewish people, the four tribes did not know about the great Jewish Sages, the Tanaim and Amoraim, the authors of the Mishnah and the Gemara, and they were not in possession of the Talmud. But they observed all the laws of the Torah and the traditions. As they were taught by their elders and scholars, who in turn received traditions from their ancestors, from generation to generation, back to Joshua and Moses. Indeed, they were always taught by their elders: "These are the words of Joshua, who received the Torah from Moses, who received the Torah from G‑d."

Eldad the Danite spoke only Hebrew, and he said that all the Jews of his tribe, as well as the other three tribes spoke only the Holy Tongue.

Eldad also brought the story of the Sons of Moses who live behind the legendary River Sambation. This was the story he told:

When the Beth-Hamikdosh was destroyed and the Jews were led captive into Babylon, the Chaldeans demanded of the Sons of Moses, the Levites, who were singers in the Beth-Hamikdosh, "Sing to us of the songs of Zion." But the Sons of Moses wept before G‑d and said, "How can we sing the song of G‑d on foreign soil?" And they cut their fingers, saying, "These fingers which played the flutes and harps in the Beth-Hamikdosh shall not play in an impure land." Seeing their great distress, G‑d sent a cloud which carried them with their tents, wives and children and sheep and cattle, to the land of Havilah, the Land of Gold, and put them down there in the middle of the night. The noise which the Jews of the four tribes heard that night was very great. In the morning they saw a great multitude of their brethren, the Sons of Moses, who had landed near by. But a mighty river separated them. The waters of the river flowed with great force, throwing up stones and spray, and creating a mighty roar and rumbling. This went on all week, and no one could cross the river. But when Shabbat came, the river became quieted, and rested calmly. A great cloud descended on it, and again no one could come near the river. They called the river Sambatyon, meaning the "Shabbat River."

Eldad the Danite went on to relate that the four tribes, Dan; Naftali, Gad and Asher, did communicate with the Sons of Moses by means of a pigeon. If they wanted to ask them about a law or a tradition, they used to write the question on a piece of parchment, and tie it on the leg of the pigeon, which carried it across the river. In the same way they received the reply.

About himself, Eldad the Danite related that he was the son of Mahali, and traced his ancestry back to Hushim, the son of Dan, the son of Jacob. That all the men of his tribe are mighty warriors, and they all take pride in the fact that Samson who slew the Philistines was a member of their tribe. The Danites have a white banner, on which, written in black, are the words, "Hear O Israel, G‑d our G‑d, G‑d is One." They take this banner to war, and with the cry "Hear O Israel," they attack their enemies, and scatter them.

Eldad had much to say about his exciting journey. First he went to Egypt, and returned back home. Then he started out on a second journey, in the company of a man from the tribe of Asher. They were tailing in a ship crossing the sea, when a big storm broke out, and the ship was wrecked. Eldad and his friend clung to a wooden board that floated in the water. Until the waves brought them to the shore of a very wild country; which was inhabited by cannibals (man-eating natives). The cannibals seized them. The Asherite was a fat man, so they slaughtered him and ate him up. But he, Eldad, was a lean man, so the cannibals decided to fatten him up before eating him. They kept him prisoner and gave him much food to eat. But he did not eat any unclean (not kosher) food, so he ate very little, praying to G‑d to save him. Soon the tribe of cannibals was attacked and overwhelmed by a tribe of fire-worshippers. They took many captives, among them Eldad. The new masters brought their captives to Azania, in the land of Yemen, to sell them there as slaves. A Jewish merchant, of the tribe of Issachar, bought Eldad and set him free.

Eldad was now able to continue on his travels through the Arabian Peninsula, and he crossed many deserts and mountains. In the Arabian desert he found the tribes of Ephraim and half of the tribe of Manasseh. They lived not far from the Arabian city of Mecca. The Arabs (Eldad called them by their Biblical name - "Ishmaelites") fear them, for they are mighty horsemen and fearless desert fighters.

Eldad went on to the land of the Medes and Persians, which once were ruled by the Assyrians and Babylonians. There, in the mountains, he came across the tribes of Issachar and Zebulun, who lived next to each other. Behind Mount Paran, Eldad met also the tribe of Reuben. About these Jews Eldad related that they spoke Hebrew and Persian; that they have the holy Scriptures, as well as the Mishnah and the Talmud, and that they read the holy Torah every Shabbat in Hebrew and in Persian.

From there Eldad traveled through many lands until he came to the famous city of Kairwan in North Africa. The city about which we have already told you on another occasion, had a large Jewish population, with many scholars. The Jews of Kairwan welcomed Eldad the Danite as a prince, but they did not know whether they could believe him and trust him. So they inquired about him from the Gaon Rabbi Zemach, who was the head of the famous Yeshiva in Babylon at that time. The Gaon Rabbi Zemach replied that Eldad the Danite could be trusted, and much of what he related was true. In some instances his memory and imagination may have been affected by the terrible experiences which he had had. From the enquiry by the Jews of Kairwan, and from the reply which the Gaon sent back to them, which were preserved as written historical documents, we now know the exciting story of Eldad the Danite.

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Marty Kohn March 27, 2013

Wow thats interesting.
1. How/where would I find the original accounts of Eldad HaDani, the original sources? 2. And our Danite brethren in Ethiopian, did they eventually become the Ethiopian negroes? I never heard of any non-negroid Ethiopian Jews in modern times in Ethiopia or Israel (where I use to live) Reply

Rabbi Shmary Brownstein Chabad.org January 30, 2013

To Tzephanyah I think you are referring to the continent of Africa when you say "they were all Negroes." Probably this page is based on a Hebrew account in which this or a similar phrase is used. The context would have been contrasting them with the majority of Jews who lived in Europe or Asia, among non-black populations. Reply

Kozriel Ga June 29, 2017
in response to Rabbi Shmary Brownstein:

Rabbi with all due respect at the Jews at that time from the 2nd temple were Jews of color. When Eldad-HaDani people travels to the land כוש its referring only to the people of the region from Ethiopia to the Sudan not their skin complexion. It's not until the book of Jonah do we the first mention of Europe in the Tnak so to state they "fought the blacks" is totality wrong and should be reworded to accurately fit the historical account. Reply

Tzephanyah January 24, 2013

You said, "They went by way of Egypt further down the upper Nile River and settled in Ethiopia, in the land of the negroes of East Africa." They were all "Negroes" so why make that statement as though they were of a different race? Reply

Hillger October 20, 2009

Non-Canonic non-mishnaic Tribes We would say, the Danites were great black warriors, and after fighting many battles with the “pharaonic” illegitimate tribes of the North, they returned themselves securely, with an ancient kingdom of their own.-

We would also say that: The four tribes separated of the racist and corrupt Jewish people, who supported the accession of Herod the Great imposed on Israel forcibly and sustained in power by imperial Rome. After the tragic failures of Bar Kochbah’s revolt and other previous revolts, they rejected the canon of the Mishnah compiled under the regime of Roman imperialist invaders. Reply

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