Jews are categorized as Kohen, Levi or Yisrael – but which of the 12 tribes do I come from?
I know that the Jewish people can be categorized as Kohen, Levi or Yisrael. Given that I am a Yisrael, I have always wondered which of the 12 tribes I come from. Is there a way to find out?
The Aish Rabbi Replies
After King Solomon's reign in the 10th century BCE, the Jewish nation split into two groups, with Judah and Benjamin forming Judah, the southern kingdom, with the remaining 10 tribes forming Israel, the northern kingdom. The tribe of Levi was geographically dispersed within the two kingdoms.
Two centuries later, the Assyrians invaded Israel and exiled the tribes. As far as history was concerned, the Ten Tribes disappeared. They evidently settled somewhere in the east, probably in the areas of Kurdistan, Afghanistan, Syria and Iran. Presumably, they then assimilated completely.
Today, Jews primarily come from the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (which we called "Israelites"), or from the tribe of Levi (which are the Kohanim and Levites).
Although the Jews of the southern kingdom consisted primarily of these three tribes, it is clear that there was some representation of the other tribes within them. According to the Talmud (Megillah 14b) Jeremiah at one point returned some of the exiled Ten Tribes from captivity. See also II Chronicles 15:9 that some from Simeon, Ephraim and Manasseh joined the Southern Kingdom in King Asa's time. (Although Simeon's territory was originally within Judah's, they were basically nomadic (this was part of Jacob's curse that he would scatter them among Israel - see Gen. 49:5-7 with Rashi). Thus, although Simeon at first settled within Judah, they later resided together with (and sided with) the northern kingdom at the time of the split - although here too it's possible some remained in their original territory within Judah.) Finally, it's quite plausible that at the time of the Ten Tribes' exile, there were individuals who escaped deportation and fled to the unconquered southern kingdom, at the time ruled by the righteous King Hezekiah.
Thus, although a non-Kohen and non-Levi today is most likely from the Tribe of Judah (and for this reason we are called "Jews" (=Yehudim / Judah'ites) today), the possibility exists that he descends from any of the other tribes.
Using the CMH as a DNA signature of the ancient Hebrews, researchers are pursuing a hunt for Jewish genes around the world. These genetic archaeologists are using DNA research to discover historical links to the Jewish people. Many individuals have approached the researchers to be tested. Having the CMH is not proof of one's being Jewish, or from any one tribal line.
There are many groups around the world who – although not Jewish by law – claim some historic connection to the Jewish people. In the Pathan tribe in Afghanistan and Pakistan, for example, Pathan women light candles on Friday evenings to bless the Sabbath. Also, Pathans use the Shield of David and wear a four-cornered prayer garment, wear sidelocks, have circumcision on the eighth day, and many have Jewish-sounding names.
As for searching for them, some believe that Ethiopian Jews are from the Tribe of Dan, and that certain Judaic tribes in India may be descended from Menashe.
Jewish customs have been found in the Shinlung tribe (India and Burma), the Kashmiri nation in Northern India, the Chiang-Min on the border of China and Tibet, the Lemba tribe in southern Africa, and the Bnei Moshe in Peru.