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Differences between Jews and Israelites

It is common to confuse Jews with Israelites today as almost all Jews live in Israel. And although all Jews are Israelites, all Israelites are not Jews. To explain the reason for this, it is important to specify the difference between being a Jew and an Israelite. Although both sets of groups fall under the group of Hebrews, there are some significant differences between the two. Hebrews, Israelites and Jews all belong to the nation that was chosen by God in the Old Testament.

Legend has it that Jacob, who was the son of Isaac and was also the promised son of Abraham had his name changed to Israel when he wrestled with a Holy man (sent by God). In simple words, the nation that grew from the descendants of the followers of Abraham and Isaac (and then Jacob aka Israel) later got to be known as Israel, and its people Israelites. Later when the nation divided, the people of the northern part kept the name Israelites whereas their Southern counterparts now became known as Judahs.

To clarify the difference between the two, let’s first take a look at the history of the two groups. The group of people who migrated and settled in what is now known as Palestinian hinterland sometime around the fourteenth century are normally referred to as Hebrews. After the death of King Solomon, there was a division in the commonwealth of Israel. This gave rise to a Northern kingdom that was comprised of ten main tribes which became Israel. Shechem was its first capital which was later replaced by Samaria which became the new permanent capital. Then there was the Southern Kingdom which consisted of the Judah, Benjamin as well as some other tribes which became known as the nation of Judah. Its capital remained in Jerusalem. Judah however was later captured by Babylon.

Although there are many conflicts and confusions regarding the facts, what is most commonly considered is the legend that there were two Hebrew kingdoms to start with. One of them, Israel, was the larger and more prosperous one and was north relative to the other, Judah. Judah was the southern kingdom and although gained power in the future, was smaller and less wealthy than Israel. The people of Judah were known as Judahs and that of Israel, Israelites. In the bible, there is reference to a united monarchy comprised of two kingdoms, together known as Israel sometime around the tenth century BC.

During the Babylonian Exile, power remained with the Judah kings as well as the Judah religious leaders. Judahism began to expand in Judah in the 7th Century BC and during the Babylonian Exile, became the national religion of the citizens. After being exiled to Babylon, and when they returned, these people became known as Jews. It is their descendants who are the Jews living today. The Bible however, called all these people Israelites; the native Judahites as well as the refugees from the northern kingdom of Israel.

The fact that the Bible uses a collective term to refer to both of these accounts for the fact that there is widespread confusion today between Judahs/Jews and Israelites. The two words are used interchangeably and although it is true that there is not much difference between the two today, history shows how the two groups evolved and were often up as each other’s rivals.

Summary of differences expressed in points

  1. Initially one nation-Israel-its people collectively known as Israelites or Hebrews; later divided into two nations, Israel and Judah, with the people then known as Israelites and Judahs respectively (Judahs are the same as Jews)
  2. Israel divided after the death of King Solomon; the northern part kept the name Israel, the Southern tribes became the nation of Judah
  3. Of the two, Israel (northern part) was larger and more prosperous
  4. During the Babylonian Exile, power remained with the Judah Kings and religious leaders despite the larger population and prosperity of Israel
  5. In the 7th Century (during the Babylonian Exile), Judahism expanded and became the national religion of the nation
  6. This was the time that the Judahs started being referred to as Jews (as known today)

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8 Comments

  1. Your site says: “…almost all Jews live in Israel.” What??? The current estimate is that the most Jews live in the United States. Israel may soon surpass that, but your statement is ridiculously off base. I thought I’d found a fun new website, but whoever is writing this stuff isn’t even checking Wikipedia. Besides, “Israelite” is an ancient term, and not used to describe anyone today. Today’s residents of Israel are “Israelis,” not “Israelites.” And Jews are Jews, everywhere. Who are you, Allana? Sorry, don’t mean to insult you, but you’re not well informed…

  2. The people of Judah are known as jews,not judahs. The Israelites went ‘up'(north in bible speak) to ‘posess the wilderness’ (what you all know as Europe today). Judah are jews, Israelites are Europeans today. plain and simple

  3. The Ashkenazi people you all call jewish were not chosen by God for anything other than tay sachs disease and chasing ambulances.
    They are Gentiles,and the balfour declaration was nothing more than the sale of ancient holy land to a group of people who have no history there whatsoever. The ‘whoredom of Ephraim’ that was prophecised in the bible.

    • Easy there Mark. There is no need for such insults. According to the Jewish belief, ALL Jews were chosen by God, and while it is true some did not care as much for Israel, and opted to form a Jewish country in other places, it is still our sacred homeland, regardless.

  4. U do not bring up the fact that the 10 tribes in northern Israel were attacked, conquered and dispersed ‘to the lands of Medes and Persians’ by
    Assyria around 733 to 740 BC..
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Assyrian_captivity

  5. Many prophets of the Bible who were given visions from THE MOST HIGH YAHAWAH telling of visions of the MOST HIGH reclaiming HIS PEOPLE, THE ISRAELITES from the 4 CORNERS OF THE EARTH, that they were TAKEN THERE IN HIS WRATH from the wrong doings of they’re past AND that he will RECLAIM THEM AND RESTORE THEM THEIR ORIGINAL LAND!!! AND THOSE PEOPLE ARE IN THEY’RE ENEMIES LAND TO THIS DAY. AND BLACK AMERICANS, CANADIANS, SOUTH AMERICANS, UNITED KINGDOM ETC ARE THE ONLY PEOPLE WHO COULD FIT THESE CIRCUMSTANCES…..

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