Jewish Geneology

The lovely Gimpet of Repressed Expressions has been encouraging me to write something Jewish.  It hadn’t crossed my mind, really, because it’s so much a part of who I am that I don’t think about sharing it with others unless somebody asks me specifically.  I have no qualms about sending people translations of Psalms and parts of the Torah (Hebrew Bible) though, so I guess that constitutes sharing.

That’s enough of an introduction, so let’s dive into the meat of this material.  My goal in this post is to show you how the Hebrews came to be a people, and how the different Abrahamic faiths split off from a common root.

That root was Abraham, whose original name was Abram.  Actually it was Avram, but the “v” is changed for a “b” in translated Christian Bibles because in the first translations into Greek and then Latin, the translators didn’t know that the little dot inside the Hebrew letter for “b” makes it “v” and not “b”.

Avram lived in Ur Kasdim, which is thought to have been somewhere in Iraq.  At that time, everybody worshiped idols, including his father Terakh.  (In Hebrew there is a gutteral sound like the “ch” in “Bach.”  I’m going to spell it “kh” because in Middle Eastern Hebrew it’s a softer sound.)  At the age of three Avram received a message from Above enlightening him that there is only one God, whose name is Y-H-V-H and is forbidden to pronounce.  We don’t know how to pronounce it anyway.  That knowledge was lost thousands of years later when the Hebrews were exiled to Babylon.  There are people who think it’s pronounced Yahweh on the basis of how it’s spelled in Hebrew, but that is not correct.

Avram married his cousin Sarai, whose name was later changed to Sarah.  Note that the change in both of their names involves the addition of an “h.”  That is because God gave them a part of His name as a reward for their efforts and valor.

Lots of things happened, and time went by, and Sarah was childless.  This was a great sadness to her, and other women made fun of her.  Avraham and Sarah had recently returned to Canaan from a trip to Egypt, where Pharaoh had given Sarah one of his princesses as a handmaiden, to make amends for a serious faux pas on his part.  Her name was Hagar.

Out of frustration (and lack of faith in God, for which she was sorely punished), Sarah begged Avraham to take Hagar as a second wife and father a child with her.  Since Hagar was Sarah’s slave, any child that Hagar gave birth to, fathered by Avraham, would belong to Sarah, and thus she would “have a child.”  That child was Ishmael.

When Hagar got pregnant with Ishmael, she started feeling superior to Sarah, who was already burning with shame because of what she had done.   Sarah banished Hagar to the desert, but some angels showed up and sent her back to camp to give birth.  Everything was OK until Ishmael got to be 13, when he started making fun of Sarah and things were very uncool, so Sarah banished both of them to the desert.

They almost died from thirst, but God showed up in the nick of time, showed them a spring of water that they hadn’t seen before, and assured Hagar that Ishmael would become a great nation and would live by the sword.  Thus the Arab nations, fathered by Avraham, split off and became their own people.

By this time Sarah was 90 and Avraham was 100.  God commanded all males to be circumcised (Ishmael got circumcised too, at the age of 13, but the Torah does not explain the mechanics of that).  Avraham circumcised himself (ouch!) and all the males in the camp.  On the third day after his circumcision, Avraham was sitting in the doorway of his tent in pain, when three Arabs showed up.  Avraham ran to wash their feet and make a feast for them.  Turns out they were actually angels (those angels!  You never know.), and in merit of his hospitality they gifted Sarah with a child.  That child was Isaac, but his name is really Yitzchak.  The Greeks weren’t such good translators.

Lots of things happened, and Yitzchak married Rebecca, whose name is really Rivka (you could easily make that mistake of pronunciation if you didn’t know about Hebrew vowels, which do not exist on parchment.  They are an oral tradition.  Modern Hebrew doesn’t use vowels either.  You just have to know them.)  Anyway, her name was Rivka.

Rikva was also childless for many years, but she was very bold and went to talk to God one on one and demanded children.  God liked her chutzpah and gave her twins: Jacob, whose name was really Yaakov, and Esau, whose name was really Esav (pronounced AY-sahv).  Yaacov became the heir to Yitzchak and Esav became the father of all of the other 70 Nations of the world.  If you are not an Arab or a Hebrew, then you are a descendant of Esav.

Just a word on my use of the word “Hebrew” instead of “Jew” or “Jewish”: the first usage of the word “Hebrew” (which is actually pronounced “Ivri” (pronounced EE-vree) was in reference to Avraham.  It is thought that the reason for this is two-fold: first, Avraham had to cross several rivers to get to Canaan, and Ivri comes from the Hebrew word “to cross.”  The other reason is that Avraham “crossed over” from idolatry to monotheism.   The descriptive term “Ivri” was also used when the Hebrews were slaves in Egypt, beginning with the capture of Joseph, whose name was really Yosef.

The words “Jew” and “Jewish” comes from the name “Yehudah,” who was one of the twelve sons of Yaacov, whose other name was Israel, which is pronounced Yisrael (Yis-rah-El).  Sound familiar?  Modern Hebrews living in Israel call themselves either Yehudim or Yisraelim.  So unless you come from the tribe of Yehudah, you really are something else.  But since the rest of the Tribes got scattered over the earth, everybody took the name Yehudah because it means “to give praise” and “to thank,” because we give praise and thank God all the time.

There is one Tribe that still knows who we are.  I say “we” because I am of that Tribe.  We are the Levites.  The Levites have two branches:  plain ol’ Levites, who are the musicians and teachers (that would be me), and the Kohanim, who are the Priests.  Bet you didn’t know Hebrews have priests, hey?  We do.  And they are traceable by a gene, the Kohen gene, that has come down through history in an unbroken chain.  The Levites don’t have such clear genetic evidence, but we have also come down the years, father to son, passing the tradition.

The reason for this difference is that Kohanim have very strict restrictions on who they can marry, and Levites don’t.

OK, that’s enough for today.  By now you’re probably good and confused.  That’s OK.  God willing I’ll continue tomorrow.


Leave a comment


  1. bpnana

     /  January 1, 2014

    Wow! Thanks so much for the lesson. You really ARE a teacher. That’s the first time I’ve been able to understand this story from the Torah!

  2. Better than the year I spent sitting in 6th grade Sunday School with my kids. Nice and clear and concise. Thanks! Very nice.

  3. Thank you for this informative post, I didn’t know the significance of the “h” added to the names. Do you know fluent Hebrew? and if so you mention different forms of it modern and older, are you more proficient in one? I really enjoy learning about different religions and cultures but unfortunately unless you hear if from someone who is a practitioner of the religion and well educated, there are so many misconceptions passed on… I look forward to anymore post on your religious views and education 🙂

    • You’re welcome. Yes, I speak fairly decent Modern Hebrew, but I read better than I speak. I read fluent Biblical Hebrew. Always working on it though….it’s very cool to be able to read it in the original, because it has so much more meaning!

      • I would love to read religious and old artifacts in the original language written. There is such a beauty you just can’t translate when there is often not an equivalent meaning. My languages I know I mostly read better than speak but i’m also self concious talking, reading doesn’t have anyone evaluating me.

  4. This was AMAZING. I had no idea about the names! Fascinating reading, thank you for the history lesson!

    • Thank you, my dear. You got me started on this–now I don’t know if I can stop!

      • It will be awesome to read. New followers always pop up with new topics, and old followers come back, so I find. Plus, Judiasm is such an unknown to many that the knowledge is of benefit to all. I read once that we are all 50th cousins or less, your genealogy certainly would bear this out.

        • In Spain, where we lived for 400 years until the Spanish Inquisition messed everything up and we had to either convert or escape, during the years before they evicted us the Spanish raped many Jewish women and then threatened to kill their babies unless they converted. Therefore, one in five people in Spain have Jewish genes traced through the female lineage, which makes them Jewish! But they don’t like that idea, so nobody talks about it.

  5. Ok I also had no idea about the Levite gene. The book of revelations has the Levites playing a huge role in the end times, perhaps (from my point of view) that is why the gene is there. I would love to hear about the temple–I have read that there is increasing evidence that the copper for the first temple created by Solomon may have come from the largest copper mine in the world –in America! But that means that they were seafarers and knew of the “New World” in ancient days…. Hmmmm…..

    • Here ya go…The Temple Institute in the Old City of Jerusalem.

      • I LOVE Revelation. It’s pretty much a cocktail of the Prophets Ezekiel, Jeremiah, and Micah. It’s so trippy! Kabbalah explains all about the Beast and the Leviathan, and all the other psychedelic End Times stuff. We call it “Acharit ha’Yomim,” which means “The End of Days,” same thing as End Times really. My teacher Avraham Sutton writes extensively on the subject.

      • I have been to this site before from another blog I follow on prophesy. Great site but I never looked at the genealogy part before, more the prep work being done now for the final temple.

        • 1. Interested in prophesy, hey? Check out my teacher Avraham Sutton
          2. I got to be at the Temple Institute’s Inauguration of the Priestly Garments! The Priestly Garments are truly amazing, and very deep. The Torah gives explicit instructions how to make them (in Leviticus), so they made them, and dressed a Kohen in the Priestly Garments for the first time since the Second Temple was destroyed in 70 A.D.!

          • WooooW! That must have been an amazing sight. I have skimmed the instructions in the past while reading the OT but to see it in real life must have been a moment that will stand out.
            yes I am very interested in prophesy. The red heifer has been born and the 4 blood moons are on their way. The end times, I fear, is upon us.

            • The Red Heifer has been born? Really? Where? If so, “we” have not been informed….or maybe that’s being kept a secret for a reason. But really, do you know, when, where, who? I want to know!

              Do you know the reason why we need the Red Heifer? It’s fascinating. Hmmm, another blog post. Thanks!

              Don’t be afraid of the End Times. They will be scary and maybe painful but they will bring about the Ultimate Redemption and then we won’t have these troubles any more. We’ll have a huge barbecue under the Big Tent that’s made from the skin of the Leviathan, and the Kohanim will be grilling Behemoth Steaks!

              We Hebes call the troubles of the coming End Times “Chevlei Moshiach,” or the Birth Pains of the Coming of the Messiah. We have to go through them to get to the Other Side, the really good place where there is no grief or suffering, only enlightenment and joy.

              • here is a link to the 2013 heifer. Not sure if it is true or a rumor.

                • Wow, that’s from R’Chaim Richman! It’s real! He is the head of the Temple Institute. I had the honor of going up on the Temple Mount with him three years ago. It was both the most amazing and the saddest thing I have ever done. To see Arab kids playing soccer on the site of the Holy Temple…and I nearly got arrested for “appearing to pray” at the base of the 15 Steps, which are the only intact remainder of the Temple…there are some remaining ruins, but the WAKF (the Islamic religious coalition that now governs the Temple Mount, Heaven help us) has been very busy since 1967 with its bulldozers and dump trucks, clearing away evidence of the Temple’s existence…and covering the Mount with their own constructions. But the day will come….soon…

  6. I love the way you approach this, Laura. Lovely reading.

  7. Reblogged this on Coffee Shop Rabbi and commented:
    I’d like to introduce my readers to Dr. Laura Schulman and her blog. This is the first of a series of posts about Biblical stories, with wonderful additions from midrash and the Zohar.

    Elsewhere in the blog she writes vividly about living with bipolar disorder, and I heartily recommend those posts as well.

    Happy reading!


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