Here's a great tip:
Enter your email address and we'll send you our weekly magazine by email with fresh, exciting and thoughtful content that will enrich your inbox and your life, week after week. And it's free.
Oh, and don't forget to like our facebook page too!
Printed from
Contact Us
Visit us on Facebook

What is the Meaning of the Name "Jew"?

What is the Meaning of the Name "Jew"?


The term "Jew" is derived from the name of Jacob's fourth son, Judah--Yehudah, in the Hebrew--and may have originally applied only to Judah's descendents, who comprised one of the twelve tribes of Israel. On his deathbed, Jacob assigned Judah the role of leader and king--a prophesy that was fulfilled in 869 BCE when all twelve tribes submitted to the reign of King David of the tribe of Judah.

After the death of David's son, King Solomon, a civil dispute split the twelve tribes of Israel into two kingdoms: the Kingdom of Judah in the south, which included the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (and some Levites and priests) and was centered around the capital Jerusalem and the Holy Temple; and the northern Kingdom of Israel, which included the other ten tribes.

In the 5th century BCE, the Kingdom of Israel was conquered by Assyrian King Sennaherib, and the ten tribes were exiled and lost. The only remaining Israelites were the residents of the Kingdom of Judah, and the term "Yehudi" or "Jew" came to refer to all the Israelites, regardless of their tribal ancestry.

But there is also a deeper meaning to the name "Jew. The first individual to be called a Jew (Yehudi) in the Scriptures was Mordecai, of Purim fame. "There was a man, a Yehudi, in Shushan the capital, whose name was Mordecai . . . a Yemini" (Esther 2:5). The Talmud (Tractate Megillah 12b) asks on this: "He is called a Yehudi, implying that he descended from Judah; he then is called Yemini, implying that he is a Benjaminite!" Rabbi Jochanan responds: "He was a Benjaminite. Yet he was called a Yehudi because he rejected idolatry--and anyone who rejects idolatry is called a Yehudi."

The commentaries explain that the name Yehudah shares the same root as the Hebrew word hoda'ah, which means acknowledgement or submission. One who acknowledges G‑d's existence and submits to His authority--to the extent that he is willing to sacrifice his life for the sanctification of His name--he is called a Yehudi.

Hence Abraham is commonly referred to as "The First Jew." As the first person to use his own cognitive abilities to discover and recognize the one G‑d, reject the idolatrous ways of his ancestors and contemporaries, actively publicized the truth of G‑d and was prepared to give his very life for these goals--Abraham epitomized "Jewishness" many centuries before the term came into common use.

Mrs. Rochel Chein is a member of the Ask the Rabbi team.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
Join the discussion
1000 characters remaining
Email me when new comments are posted.
Sort By:
Discussion (28)
January 1, 2016
Dean, the land of the tribe of Judah was "Judea". It works better in Hebrew.
December 22, 2015
I'm confused. Everything I have read before this has said that the word Jew came from those who lived in the land of Judea. It has nothing to do with any particular tribe. This is why it became a name for all descendants of Abraham and Sarah.
December 22, 2015
Father abraham was the first to cross over ,therefore he was the first Hebrew .
San jose ca
December 21, 2015
First Jew?
What about Noah? Wouldn't he be the first to accept g/d
December 28, 2014
What is a jew
I see people who are Israelites called Jews even thought hey are not of the Tribe of Judah. Also royalty is from King David who is Jewish. Everyone has royalty so does that mean that we are all Jews?
August 8, 2014
I liked this response. Very interesting.
July 30, 2014
Today its solved by DNA
No mystery. DNA analysis shows links between all Jews wherever they are from and whatever they look like. There's even a strong DNA link with the 'palestinian' 'arabs' which supports the argument they were Jews converted to Islam over the centuries.
February 3, 2014
I will give you the answer you need ... so we can say ( CASE CLOSED ) , listen to me !
the word jew is derived from the word judah .. judah son of israel and grandson of abrahim ... so we can't say that abrahim was from judah but the opposite ... ismael and judah are genetically sons of abrahim ... so the arabs and jews got the genetics of abrahim ( thier father ) but only isacc was able to get the Soul of abrahim as choosed man of god ... then israel recieved this soul and judah as well ... we call this soul today the JEWISHNESS ... so abrahim and judah have the same soul and genetics .. and ismael have only the same genetics .. the genetics can transfer from father to his son .. yea but the jewishness transfer through G-D will .. and later through the mother side .. the noahides are sons of noah including the jews ... god choosed israel from the descendants of noah to be nation for him and get the soul of noah and abrahim .. the rest of nations got the genetics of noah but nothing about the soul .. so god asked them few commandments easy to do according to thier power.
February 1, 2014
Question, in the Torah, who were the first people to be coined Israelites? Were Jews or anyone from the tribe of Judah alive at that time? Had Judah been born yet? I am of the understanding that when Moses crossed over with all Hebrews and those considered the Mixed Multitudes, they then were called Israelites. All Jews are Hebrew but not all Hebrews are Jews. It was not until Judah was appointed as leader of the those who stayed back with they; Benjamites, and some Levites, that they were then legally called Jews, belonging to the tribe of Judah. Judaism is no more than another organized form of religion. Made by man with mans rules and regulations telling people what they can and cannot do. No where does the Tanakh mention that we shall follow and observe anything outside the Holy Scriptures, i.e. man made rules telling us to follow oral law. The Written Law is the final Word. This is why Christians and Jews are always being offended by one trying to convert the other.
January 24, 2012
Hmm. Oddly enough, then,
Abraham proselytized. He actually was a missionary, trying to convert idol worshippers into one G-d worshippers, right? So, when did we stop trying to convert people?
Karen Joyce Chaya Fradle Kleinman Bell
Riverside, CA, USA