Israelites and Jews

The united kingdom of Israel and Judea under King David’s and King Solomon’s reign lasted from 1030 BCE to 930 BCE. Following the death of Solomon in 931 BCE, the ten northern tribes of Israel refused to accept Solomon’s son Rehoboam as their king. He had refused to decrease the heavy taxation and burdens which had been established by his father, Solomon. On the contrary, he increased them.

The northern tribes rebelled against the monarchy of Rehoboam and instead they placed Jereboam on the throne of the now Kingdom of Israel. He established his first capitol at Shechem and later at Samaria. Rehoboam now reigned in a divided kingdom as monarch in Judea with its capitol in Jerusalem.

Now there were two separate kingdoms… one for the Israelites in the north and the other for the Judeans (Jews) in the south.

There was constant friction between the two newly established kingdoms. Rivalry was intense. While the southern kingdom of the Jews (Judea) strongly held to Jerusalem as its center and the place of its Holy Temple, the northern kingdom of Israel alienated itself from Jerusalem and the Temple, instead creating two separate centers.

Jereboam built two places of worship as alternatives to Jerusalem, one at Beth-El and the other in the far north at Dan. Later when Ahab came to the throne he allowed the worship of Baal as an acceptable religion, influenced by his Phoenician wife, Queen Jezebel, who was a fervent Baal worshipper.

In 721 BCE the kingdom of Israel was invaded by the Assyrian kings, first by Sennacherib and then by Sargon II. Between 27,280 and 40,000 Israelites were carried off to Assyria, never to be heard from again.

Thus, the northern kingdom of Israel comprised of ten tribes was lost forever. Israelites were gone but Jews (Judeans) remained and prospered, devoted to their worship of the One God in His Holy Temple in Jerusalem.

But in 586 BCE, the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar and his armies invaded Judea en route to an invasion of Egypt. They destroyed the city of Jerusalem and the Holy Temple and deported the Judeans (Jews) to Babylon.

In Babylon, although their lives were comfortable, they yearned for Zion and Jerusalem. “By the rivers of Babylon they sat and wept…..they hung their harps upon the willows.” The Babylonians requested them to sing songs of their former homeland. “How shall we sing the Lord’s songs in an alien land? If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let me forget my right hand. Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember thee, if I do not raise Jerusalem up above my chiefest joys”.

It may indeed be said that their yearning for Zion was the planted seed that two thousand years later sprouted and grew into the Zionist movement, leading to the return to the ancient homeland.

Babylon was captured by the Persian Empire and its famous monarch Cyrus (the Great) in 539 BCE allowed the Jewish captives to return to Jerusalem and aided them with money to rebuild the Holy Temple.

Thus, Judea was rebuilt and restored until its conquest by the might of the Roman legions in the year 70 C.E. Dispersed abroad over many lands, the Jews never gave up their dream of returning to Zion.

Suffering from persecution, burnings, pogroms, inquisitions, holocausts for one thousand years at the hands of the Christian church leaders who sought to make them an eternal sign of hatred for their “crime” of the death of a Jewish teacher whom they revered as their savior, nevertheless the surviving Jews kept the memories of Jerusalem alive.

And on 14 May 1948 the dream of centuries became fulfilled with the rebirth of the Jewish homeland.

But, as in Biblical times, the conflicts between the Israelites of the north and the Judeans (Jews) of the south continues unfortunately in the modern State of Israel. Bitterness between secular Jews and haredi ultra-orthodox Jews may possibly destroy the unity of Israel.

Let us hope and pray that the mistakes made following King Solomon’s death may never be repeated.
Once we were Israelites and Judeans.

Now we are Israelis and Jews.

About the Author
Esor Ben-Sorek is a retired professor of Hebrew, Biblical literature & history of Israel. Conversant in 8 languages: Hebrew, Yiddish, English, French, German, Spanish, Polish & Dutch. Very proud of being an Israeli citizen. A follower of Trumpeldor & Jabotinsky & Begin.
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