ISRAEL


ISRAEL
ISRAEL (Heb. יִשְׂרָאֵל). (1) The name of honor given to jacob after his mysterious struggle with the angel, "Thy name shall be called no more Jacob but Israel, for thou hast striven (sarita from the root sarah, שרה) with God (El, אֵל) and with men and hast prevailed" (Gen. 32:28, 29). The explanation of the name is not etymological, and was probably not meant to be. More likely, the name literally means "El-is-Just/ Straight/ Upright." It may be noted that the name occurs in Ugaritic as a proper name, and is spelled with shin. Despite the apparent prohibition contained in this verse against the subsequent use of the name Jacob, in the following scriptural narrative the names Jacob and Israel are both used indiscriminately with regard to the father and his sons (cf. Gen. 49:2 and 46:5): "and the sons of Israel carried Jacob their father." The discrepancy between Genesis 32:28–29 and the subsequent use of the name is due to different sources. The Talmud specifically states that both names may be employed; Israel, however, shall be of greater importance (Ber. 13a). (2) When the immediate descendants of Jacob, "the children (benei, "sons") of Israel" (Ex. 1:1), grew into a people, they were called "the people of the children of Israel" (idem, 1:9), and henceforth, until the division of the kingdom under rehoboam , "Israel" or "the children of Israel" were the only designations for what is now known as the Jewish people. If the "Israel" mentioned in the inscription of Merne-ptah (king   of Egypt, c. 1225 B.C.E.) is to be identified with Israel and not, as some have suggested, with Jezreel, it is the earliest known use of the name outside the Bible. (3) With the division of the kingdom during the reign of Rehoboam, the Southern Kingdom, consisting of the two tribes which remained loyal to the House of David, Judah, and Benjamin, took the name Judah; the Northern Kingdom, consisting of the 10 defecting tribes, was called the Kingdom of Israel (cf. I and II Kings with regard to the respective kings, and Amos 2:4, 2:6). (4) After the Kingdom of Israel fell in 721 B.C.E., only the southern Kingdom of Judah remained, the inhabitants of which were referred to as "Judahites" (Yehudim), from which derives the alternative name "Jew." Thus Esther 2:5 reads "There was a certain Yehudi in Shushan, whose name was Mordecai … a Benjamite," Yehudi being his people and Benjamin his tribe. The designation becomes reinforced by the fact that under Roman rule the land was designated as the province of Judea. Nevertheless, the name Israel continues to be used in the Bible in the books written after the end of the Northern Kingdom as well as in rabbinic literature, especially in the aggadah, to denote the Jewish people as a whole, and continues in the post-talmudic period. (5) The term "Ereẓ Israel" ("Land of Israel") to denote the country of the people of Israel is first used in the Mishnah. (6) Although the name Israelites was revived in some Western countries in the 19th century to designate the Jews, it is of little historical or theological significance, and is primarily due to the pejorative association which the word Jew had acquired in literature. (7) The word Israel is also used to designate a Jew who is neither a kohen nor a levite . (8) When the Jewish state was established, the decision was taken to call it the State of Israel. Since 1948, therefore, Israel has become a national connotation and Jew a religious one. The term Israeli applies to all citizens of the state, irrespective of religion. (9) Mention should also be made of the native Indian Jews, who call themselves bene israel , and of the Ethiopian Jews who call themselves beta israel . -BIBLIOGRAPHY: E. Sachsse, in: ZAW, 34 (1914), 1–16; idem, in: Zeitschrift für Semitistik, 4 (1925), 63–9; W. Casperi, ibid., 3 (1924), 194–211; W.F. Albright, in: JBL, 46 (1927), 156–68; S. Feist, in: MGWJ, 73 (1929), 317–20; M. Naor, in: ZAW, 49 (1931), 317–21; R. Marcus, in: JBL, 60 (1941) 141–50; G.A. Dannel, Studies in the Name Israel in the Old Testament (1946); EM, 3 (1958), 938–43. (Louis Isaac Rabinowitz)

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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