The Kingdom of the Ten Tribes

Led by their rulers, who were universally wicked, the people of the Ten Tribes sank into a morass of idolatry and materialism. King Ahab’s Phoenician wife Jezebel introduced the Baal cult, which ate at the very fabric of society. Despite the fact that the vast majority of the Ten Tribes kept the Torah, and the presence of such great prophets as Elijah, Elisha, Hosea, Amos, and Jonah, the people were virtually beyond salvation. Nevertheless, G‑d continued to provide them with opportunities for repentance. Not even material or territorial blessings – as when Jeroboam II (3113-3115) enlarged the territory of the Ten Tribes to the greatest extent in Jewish history, even beyond the conquests of David and Solomon – could sway the Ten Tribes from their disastrous course. Alas, the people did not repent, and the final decline began. In one final move, Hosea ben Elah, the last king of the Ten Tribes, removed the guards preventing the people from going to the Bais Hamikdash. However, they did not seize even this opportunity, and their lack of desire deprived them of all previous excuses for not worshipping at the Temple. Sadly, their fate was sealed. The Kingdom of the Ten Tribes lasted 241 years, from 2964-3205.

Exile of the Ten Tribes

This traumatic event, which ripped away more than 80% of the Jewish people, the largest proportional loss in Jewish history, occurred in three stages over an 18-year period. First, in the year 3187, the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and half of Manasseh were taken into Assyrian captivity. Thus the tribes that had chosen in the time of Moses to live farthest from the spiritual center of the Jewish people were the first to be taken away. At this point, observance of yovel became impossible because it is contingent on the 12 tribes all residing in their ancestral lands. As such, yovel became the first of many commandments that could not be fulfilled due to external circumstances. Shalmanessar, king of Assyria, completed the expulsion of the Jewish people in 3205.

The Ten Tribes Today

Few historical mysteries have fired the imaginations of people as much as the fate of the Ten Tribes. While countless legends have sprung up about them over the centuries, even today many groups claim descent from the Ten Tribes. Indeed, Jewish tradition teaches us that no tribe is extinct, and that these tribes will all be reconstituted in the days of the Messiah. At the time of the expulsion some had settled in Judah even before the split, while others, in order to be able to worship at the Bais Hamikdash, came after Jeroboam broke away. Some time later, the prophet Jeremiah journeyed to the lands east of Eretz Israel and brought back some of the Ten Tribes. Even in Talmudic times, nearly 1,000 years after the exile, individuals were still able to trace their ancestry back to the Ten Tribes. Regardless of where the Ten Tribes might be today, and despite this – and other expulsions — the prophet Isaiah assures the Jewish people of a bright future: “And it will be on that day a great shofar will be blown, and those that are lost in Assyria and cast away in the land of Egypt will come and bow to G‑d at the Holy Mount in Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 27:13)