Friday, May 26, 2006

What’s your tribe?

Are you an MOT? Do you know what an MOT is?

That’s modern Jewish slang: “Member of the Tribe”.

Member of which tribe? Weren’t there supposed to be 12 tribes? Like from the 12 sons of Jacob?

Well, we’re not sure whose from which tribe, so by default we’re all from Judah/Yehudah – aka, Jews. But technically speaking, a Levy or a Cohen is not a Jew!

This is more than historical trivia; ideally, there should be 12 cultural variations in Israel, 12 paths if you will. And there is even a cosmic connection – for instance, the 12 tribes are mapped according to the 12 constellations of the Zodiac. So we still care about knowing the names of the 12 tribes.

Here’s the list. Children around the world enjoy learn this list by singing it. Try the tune of “Bumpin’ up and down in my little red wagon” - see if you can get everyone at your table to sing it. After a few rounds, you’ll know all twelve.

These are the twelve sheh-va-tim.

For those who enjoy history, here’s a nutshell explanation of how we all became Jews:

First, the descendents of Levy were separated from the pack and given priestly duties, but in exchange they didn’t get any territory. Joseph’s tribe was then split into two, in order to maintain the number 12.
Second, after 500 years in the land, the 10 northern tribes seceded from the southern 2 tribes (Judah and
Third, a few hundred years after that, the northern kingdom was conquered and destroyed, leaving only Judah and Benjamin. Judah was the senior partner, and retained their name, Judaites, or Jews.

Now, there are still thousands who can claim to be from the tribe of Levy. Not because their name is Levy or Cohen, but because their father was a Levite or a Cohen.

Also, when the northern kingdom was destroyed, there were members of all the tribes in Jerusalem. So it is possible that any one of us is from any of the other tribes.

So maybe MOT should stand for “Member of the Tribes”.... What do you think?

Shabbat Shalom


Anonymous said...
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Ha-historion said...

Cohens yes, Levites no, as new DNA research has shown.
btw, interestingly enough, there seems to be a smattering of (descendants of) the other tribes in the mix as well. For example, see R' Baruch Epstein in his memoir 'Mekor Baruch' where he talks about the origin of the Lithuanian Jewish surname 'Efron'. He claims the family took on the name because of a family tradition that they were descended of the tribe of Ephraim.