Kenneth Cohen
Kenneth Cohen

What Is Erev Rav

The term Erev Rav is misunderstood and requires explanation. Literally, Erev Rav refers to the “mixed multitude” mentioned in the Torah that left Egypt with the rest of the Jewish people. They were defined as insincere Egyptian converts and all of the sinful incidents that occurred in the desert from the sin of the Golden Calf to all of the complaining about lack of food, water, and meat is attributed to them. The number of the Erev Rav was in the hundreds of thousand according to most commentators.

The problem that many have with this term of Erev Rav is that it seems highly unlikely that there could be descendants of the Erev Rav nowadays. After all, there are no actual Amalekites, nor are there remnants of the seven nations that once occupied Israel, alive today. The assumption is that this term is used in a derogatory way describing one who is traitor just as Americans might call someone a “Benedict Arnold.”

Upon further investigation, it appears that just as Amalek is a term used to describe evil, and it does not refer to any current physical nation, Erev Rav is not based on genealogy but more on mysticism. Starting with the Talmud in Tractate Hagiga, we begin to get a picture of what Erev Rav really is. The Talmud describes how G-d transplants in every generation the souls of the Erev Rav in numerous individuals. This means that this spiritual pollution exists in each generation.

The Zohar, which is one of the primary books of Kabbalah, also mentions emphatically that not only does Erev Rav exist in each generation, but they continue to be the cause for the majority of problems harming the Jewish people. The Ari, Rabbi Isaac Luria, known as a great mystic, was able to detect which of his students were from the Erev Rav. The Vilna Gaon, who lived in the eighteenth century, wrote extensively about the Erev Rav and the evil that they possess.

The conclusion to be made is that it isn’t just a name you call someone who has different political views than you. From the sources mentioned, there is real evidence that there are Erev Rav living among us. The real question is whether or not we know who they are, and what are the characteristics of someone who actually is from the Erev Rav.

The Zohar says that as long as the Erev Rav exist, the Redemption cannot come. They are not interested in the welfare of Israel. They are more concerned with the nations of the world, than the Jewish nation.

The Vilna Gaon wrote that they will likely be rabbis living in the exile. Rav Avraham Yitzchak Kook, the first chief rabbi of Israel, added that such rabbis will even discourage or prevent people from coming to Israel. The Vilna Gaon further describes the Erev Rav as people who are argumentative and egotistical. They run after money and honor and they are dishonest in that what they say is not necessarily how they feel.

All of this may sound a bit frightening where one may wonder if perhaps he has some of the characteristics of the Erev Rav. If one has the following character traits, he can rest assured that he is not one of these horrible, dangerous troublemakers. One who is proud to be a Jew and loves the Jewish people and defends the honor of the Jewish people and Jewish State, is not Erev Rav. Similarly, one who accepts the authenticity of the Torah and lives by it in his own humble way, is not Erev Rav.

One who views the Israel Defense Force as performing a holy mission in defending the honor of the Jewish people, is not Erev Rav. One who loves the Jewish people, and feels the pain of every Jew as if it were his own family, is not Erev Rav. He appreciates the miracle that is the State of Israel. He is irate when he hears of the activities of BDS. If he is an American citizen in an election, he will only choose the candidate who shows the greatest support for Israel. In short, he is a proud Jew in every way and is not afraid to show it.

It may not be productive to assume who we think might qualify as a member of the Erev Rav. It is important to recognize that we are not to shy away from confronting those individuals who do not show their loyalty to the Jewish people. The Ar”i and Rav Kook clearly stated that there is the potential for the Erev Rav to repent. Perhaps if we strengthen ourselves, and show them the fallacy of their ways, their influence will be weakened and the obstacle to our redemption, will be removed.

About the Author
Rabbi Cohen has been a Torah instructor at Machon Meir, Jerusalem, for more than twenty years. He has been teaching a Talmud class in the Shtieblach, Old Katamon, Jerusalem, for the nearly seventeen years. Before coming to Israel, he was the founding rabbi of Young Israel of Century City, Los Angeles.