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Are the Ten Lost Tribes Ever Coming Back?

Are the Ten Lost Tribes Ever Coming Back?

The saga of the ten lost tribes of Israel—part 2

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Before discussing where the lost ten tribes actually went, let us first ascertain whether they are in fact ever going to be reunited with the remaining Jews.

There is a recorded dispute between two great sages in the Mishnah as to whether the ten tribes are going to come back:

Rabbi Akiva says, “The ten tribes will not return, as the verse says (Deuteronomy 29:27), ‘And the L‑rd uprooted them from upon their land, with fury, anger and great wrath, and He cast them to another land, as it is this day.’1 Just as a day passes and it will never return, so too, they will be exiled never to return.”

Rabbi Eliezer says, “Just like a day is followed by darkness, and the light later returns, so too, although it will become ‘dark’ for the ten tribes, G‑d will ultimately take them out of their darkness.”2

The Talmud then goes on to cite a third opinion:

Rabbi Shimon ben Yehudah, of the town of Acco, says in the name of Rabbi Shimon: “If their deeds are as this day’s,3 they will not return; otherwise they shall.”4

So, in short, there seem to be three opinions on the matter. Rabbi Akiva holds that the ten tribes are not coming back; Rabbi Eliezer holds that they are; and Rabbi Shimon says that it depends on whether they repent.

Rabbi Akiva: Lost Forever

Upon further analysis, Rabbi Akiva’s opinion needs further explanation, as it seem to contradict clear prophecies about the ultimate reunion of the ten tribes with the rest of Israel.

The prophet Ezekiel describes the ultimate reunion between the ten tribes and the tribe of Judah (the ten tribes are represented by the tribe of Ephraim, because their capital was in the territorial portion of that tribe):

Say to them, “So says the L‑rd G‑d: ‘Behold I will take the stick of Joseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his companions, and I will place them with him with the stick of Judah, and I will make them into one stick, and they shall become one in My hand.’” And the sticks upon which you shall write shall be in your hand before their eyes. And say to them, “So says the L‑rd G‑d: ‘Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side, and I will bring them to their land. And I will make them into one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel, and one king shall be to them all as a king; and they shall no longer be two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms anymore.’”5

Additionally, the prophet clearly foretells in detail how Israel will be divided into thirteen6 portions at the time of the redemption.7 So what exactly does Rabbi Akiva mean when he says that the ten tribes are not coming back?

Rabbi Joseph Albo (1380–1444) attempts to reconcile these prophecies with Rabbi Akiva’s opinion by explaining that Rabbi Akiva was of the view that the prophecies had been fulfilled during the era of the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem.8 However, this is problematic in light of the fact that in the Midrash, Rabbi Akiva himself compares the exile of the ten tribes from Israel to that of a widow, which implies that they are gone and will not return.9

Did They Already Return?

While many have the idea that all Jews now are descendants of only two and a half tribes, the truth is that when the ten tribes were captured and sent into exile, a tenth of their population remained. As the prophet Amos proclaims, “For so said the L‑rd G‑d: The city that gives forth a thousand shall remain with a hundred, and the one that gives forth a hundred shall remain with ten, of the house of Israel.”10

Additionally, there is another account of the return of some of the ten tribes: King Josiah undertook to restore the Holy Temple, which had been neglected for a long time. While the restoration was taking place under the supervision of the high priest Hilkiah, an ancient Torah scroll from the time of Moses was found. This unique Torah scroll had been kept in the Holy of Holies of the Temple, but in the time of the idol-worshipping kings an upright priest removed it from there and hid it in a secret place in the Temple. When the Torah scroll was opened and read, it opened to the section in Deuteronomy containing an admonition, where G‑d warns the Jewish people of the terrible consequences of neglecting the Torah and the commandments, leading to destruction and exile.

The king, deeply shaken and heartbroken, tore his clothes and ordered Hilkiah and four other royal messengers to go to the holy prophets to inquire as to what should be done in view of the divine warning that had just been received. The king’s messengers went to the prophetess Huldah, who then prophesied about the impending doom of exile.

The Talmud notes that under normal circumstances, the king should have sent for Jeremiah, who was the leading prophet. However, Jeremiah was on a divine mission to the ten tribes, and in fact he actually gathered them up and returned them to Israel, where Josiah ruled over them.11

This, however, does not mean that the prophet Jeremiah returned all of the exiles. Rather, he gathered only some people of the ten tribes12 who had managed to escape while being led into exile.13 They then joined the rest of the Jewish nation and are included in their history.14

In light of the above, we can better understand Rabbi Akiva’s view that the ten tribes will not return. For what he means to say is that all those who are meant to return have already done so; the rest are lost forever, having intermingled with the other nations.15

What we are left with, then, is a disagreement as to whether the rest of the lost tribes, those who have not returned, will ever return and be reunited with the rest of the Jewish nation.

Maimonides writes, with regards to this dispute between Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Eliezer as to whether the lost ten tribes will ever return, that “when there is a dispute in the Talmud that has no actionable relevance to us, Jewish law does not rule either way.”16

However, there are those who do rule, and say that we follow Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion that the ten tribes will ultimately be reunited with the rest of Israel at the time of the redemption with the coming of the Moshiach.17

This article is one of the three-part series on the lost tribes of Israel. Please have a look at The Exile of the Ten Lost Tribes and Where Are the Ten Lost Tribes?

FOOTNOTES
1.

The sages are in agreement that this verse refers to the future exile of the ten tribes. They disagree as to the exact meaning of the verse.

2.

Talmud, Sanhedrin 110b.

3.

Meaning: if their deeds remain as they were “this day,” the day of their exile, then they shall not return. If, however, they repent, then they shall return.

4.

Talmud, ibid. See also Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 10:5.

5.

Ezekiel 37:19–22.

6.

The tribe of Joseph was split among the descendants of his two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.

7.

Ezekiel, chs. 47–48.

8.

Rabbi Joseph Albo, Sefer ha-Ikkarim 4:42.

9.

Eichah Rabbah 1:3. See also Rabbi Don Yitzchak Abarbanel (1437–1508), Yeshuot Meshicho, Iyun 1:4.

10.

Amos 5:3. See, however, Seder Olam Rabbah 22, which states that one-eighth of the population remained. Perhaps the figure in the Midrash includes those who were returned by the prophet Jeremiah. See also responsa of Rabbi David ben Zimra (Radbaz, 1479–1589), Orach Chaim 8:85.

11.

Talmud, Megillah 14b and Erchin 33a.

12.

Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki (Rashi), on Talmud, Sanhedrin loc. cit., s.v. ein atidin lachazor.

13.

See Abarbanel, Yeshuot Meshicho loc. cit.

14.

These other tribes are not mentioned in the book of Ezra (ch. 2) in the list of those who returned to Israel in order to build the second Temple, because they were intermingled with the tribes of Judah and Benjamin and are included with them. See Yeshuot Meshicho loc. cit.

15.

See Talmud, Yevamot 16b–17a; Rabbi Yehudah Loewe (Maharal of Prague, 1525–1609), Netzach Yisrael, ch. 34.
Alternatively, some explain that Rabbi Akiva was referring not to whether they will return at the time of the ultimate redemption, but to whether they have a share in the World to Come. According to this opinion, Rabbi Akiva’s view was that those people who were exiled do not have a share in the World to Come; however, their offspring will repent and do have a share in the World to Come, and those offspring will return at the time of the final redemption (see commentaries of Rabbeinu Nissim and Rabbeinu David to Sanhedrin loc. cit.).

16.

Maimonides’ commentary to the Mishnah, Sanhedrin 10:3.

17.

See Yeshuot Meshicho and Netzach Yisrael loc. cit.
There is a general rule that in a disagreement between Rabbi Akiva and another individual scholar, the final ruling follows Rabbi Akiva’s view. However, here this rule is not applied, because: 1) Here there are several sages who disagree with Rabbi Akiva—Rabbi Eliezer, Rabbi Shimon and Rabbi Yehudah; 2) When Rabbi Yehudah the Prince said that “the ten tribes are destined for the World to Come,” he was declaring the conclusion of the Talmud (see Rabbi Yitzchak Lampronti [1679–1756], Pachad Yitzchak, p. 172).
Additionally, the Talmud itself seems to reprimand Rabbi Akiva for his view, saying that “shavkah Rabbi Akiva lechasiduteh”—Rabbi Akiva abandoned his usual spirit of kindness and generosity, for Rabbi Akiva would usually try to exonerate the Jewish people. See Yeshuot Meshicho loc. cit. for a possible reason as to why Rabbi Akiva in fact chose to do so in this instance.

Rabbi Yehuda Shurpin responds to questions for Chabad.org's Ask the Rabbi service.
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Discussion (29)
July 7, 2013
Clarifying about the Tribes
Perhaps someone else already mentioned the fact that what Rabbi Akiva was referring to was whether the tribes would return as individual identifiable tribes. To this he was answering, no. But he still agreed that they would return by the time of mashiach.

Secondly, some of the tribe of Shimon was exiled with the other northern tribes because during the kingship of Dovid some of the Shimonites claimed that the Judahites wanted to end the leases on the lands where the Shimonites lived, so King David gave them territory on the other side of the Jordan. I don't remember if this is in the book of Kings or a Gemara.
Anonymous
USA
July 6, 2013
This comment is in response to Julie. There are no ten lost tribes, only nine because Yehuda, Benjamin and Shimon are not lost
israel korn
July 5, 2013
I believe that the ten lost tribes will come back. They will be found.
Julie
California
May 16, 2013
Lost Tribes
I first heard about this from H.W.Armstrong's writings; he said the Lost Tribes of Israel were to be found in Britain, and then dispersed all over the world through the British Empire and the colonies of US, Australia, Canada, etc. I kind of believed it, but then if you were British why wouldn't you? Who can really say after all.
T.C.
UK
May 7, 2013
Ten Tribes
One segment of Shimon was authorized by King Dovid to migrate to an area across the Jordan, and that segment was exiled with the other tribes. On the other hand there were many of the ten tribes who dwelled with Judah and Benjamin. Over the years people migrated away from the North to Judah, plus Yirmiyahu brought some back to Judah some years before the destruction of the Holy Temple. So in fact our exile includes a mixture of many tribes among us.

What I don't understand is how did people move to Judah over the years if there were checkpoints keeping them from coming to Yerushalayim for the holidays?
Anonymous
May 7, 2013
Is the Gogodala tribe in Papua New Guinea actually of Jewish origin?
Did they just confirm Gogodala tribe in Papua New Guinea actually of Jewish origin?
James Lee
Los Angeles, CA
March 11, 2013
Lost tribes
Israel korn,
I always heard that the tribe of Shimon was absorbed over the centuries by the tribe of Judah--since it was completely surrounded by Judah. Also, I believe many Israelites trickled back to Judea over the centuries. So the Jews of today are a mingling of all the tribes, as well as Herod's people the Edomites--descendants of Esau. They converted to Judaism in the first century and absorbed into the Judean population.
Joseph
Florida
March 10, 2013
Tribe of Shimon
Was shevet Shimon associated with Yehuda and Binyamin with Yerushalayim since it was contained in Yehuda? If so, how do we understand 2 Chronicles 15:9? And why is Shimon never mentioned in Nach among the erliche Yidden? Thanks.
Anonymous
NYC
August 5, 2012
Lost
I think I am a lost one. I wish to return but I know that G_d has work for me to do right where I am. G_d's puposes are unfathomable to me but my soul understands on some level. In reality we are never separated from G_d or from each other, we are never lost for we walk across the hand of G_d.
Anonymous
UK
August 3, 2012
Josephus
Joseph,
"The pull" with yearning is real. So many nay sayers; I liken it or imagine this conflict to the strife between the factions that led to the destruction of the second temple. Not sure Ezra got it right. G-d alone knows. So, for now, Israel in my heart is all that man allows.
Donna
Boise, ID
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