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Seventy Nations of the World – Part II


This week’s article will touch upon additional aspects of the nations that inhabit the world as the Torah describes them. Are the Italians descendants of Yefes like the other European and Hindu-European nations, or are they Semites, descendants of Edom, as we often learn in Chazal? How did Edom’s descendants travel from their homeland in Transjordan to Rome? And how are Edom and Christianity connected? Why do all Christian nations fall under the title of Eisav, and who are the prophecies directed at Edom referring to? The name of the first month of the secular year, January, has its roots in Greek mythology. How is that connected to Eisav? What is the halachic result of the Migration of Nations in the beginning of the Common Era? Where did the Canaanite nations that escaped Eretz Yisroel travel to? To end the discussion we will touch upon a relevant tidbit – who are the Philistines and how are they related — or not — to Israel’s long-standing enemy, the Palestinians in Gaza?

Romans — Edom or Yefes

One of the main questions that also carries halachic ramifications relates to identifying Rome. Are the people who dwell in Rome descendants of Eisav and Edom, or do they descend from Yefes like other European nations?

According to Biblical sources, European nations descend from Yefes . Romans are identified as descendants of Kitim, Yefes’ grandson. In Bil’am’s prophecy of the end of days (Bamidbar 24:24) we read: “Ships will come from the Kittites and afflict Assyria and afflict those on the other side, but he too will perish forever”. Onkelus translates this pasuk: “וְסִיעָן יִצְטָרְחָן מֵרוֹמָאֵי וִיעַנּוֹן לְאַתּוּר וִישַׁעְבְּדוּן לְעֵבֶר פְּרָת וְאַף אִנּוּן לְעָלְמָא יֵיבְדוּן׃”, and Rabbi Yehonoson Ben Uziel translates it “וְצִיצִין יִצְטַרְחַן בְּמָנֵי זַיְינָא וְיִפְקוּן בְּאָכְלוּסִין סַגִיאִין מִן לַמְבַּרְנְיָא וּמֵאַרַע אִטַלְיָא וְיִצְטַרְפוּן בְּלִגְיוֹנִין דְיִפְקוּן מִן קוּסְטַנְטִינֵי וִיצַעֲרוּן לַאֲתוּרָאֵי וִישַׁעַבְּדוּן כָּל בְּנוֹי דְעֵבֶר בְּרַם סוֹפֵהוֹן דְאִלְיֵין וְאִלְיֵין לְמֵיפַּל בְּיַד מַלְכָּא מְשִׁיחָא וִיהַווֹן עַד עַלְמָא לְאוּבְדָנָא”. Lombardi (the northern Italian province which was historically a separate kingdom, and the land of Italy will join the troops from Constantinople or Istanbul. In Bereshis Raba (37:1) we also find Italy being called Kitim.

The Ramban and most other commentaries also follow this explanation, while Josephus 2 and the Abarbanel (Bereshis 10) provide more details – apparently Kitim is the name of a people who populated Cyprus and eventually moved on to populate Rome and other Italian cities. For example, according to Josephus and Abarbanel, residents of the city of Pisa descend from Tuval, Yefes’s son, and Tuscany’s population descends from Meshech, son of Yefes. Chazal, in general, relate to Italy as “Greece’s Italy” (Shabbos 46b; Megillah 6b; and others) and refer to Italian and Greeks as one and the same.

On the other hand, on many occasions Chazal refer to Romans as Eisav’s descendants or Edomites. The following are several examples:

  • The Gemara (Gittin 56b) mentions that Titus who destroyed the Beis Hamikdash is the grandson of the wicked Eisav. And of the Roman Kingdom we find the Tannaim (Brachos 62b; Gitin 17b; Gitin 56a; Avoda Zara 10a; and elsewhere) explain that psukim that discuss Edom refer to Romans. The Yerushalmi (Avoda Zara 1:2) writes that the Roman senate is rightfully named so, as a play on the words “sina’a t’muna” (hidden hatred). This is classic Eisav behavior, as the pasuk tells us about Eisav (Bereshis 27:41) “And Eisav hated Yaakov because of the blessing that his father had blessed him, and Eisav said to himself, “Let the days of mourning for my father draw near, I will then kill my brother Yaakov”.”
  • Chazal (Bereshis Raba 67:6) explain that Yitzchak’s blessings for Eisav — the fattest of lands — was realized in the fertile Italian lands. Chazal even point out to which of Eisav’s descendants was the founding father of Rome – The tenth and last chief (or his place) is called Magdiel and Rashi tells us that it is Rome. The Roman Empire was the height of Esav’s power.
  • Targum Eicha (4:21) writes of the pasuk: “Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, who dwells in the land of Uz; upon you also shall the cup pass…” – this refers to Istanbul and Rome which are filled with the descendants of Edom.
  • The psukim that discuss the Final Redemption are also explained in Chazal as referring to Rome (Yoma 10a; Makkos 12b; Pirkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 30; Zohar Va’eira 32a; and others).

So, how is this contradiction resolved? Are Romans actually Eisav or do they descend from Yefes? And if not them, who is the Edom the prophecies refer to?

Edom Disappears

According to the Iben Ezra (Bereshis 27:40, and elsewhere) Edom as a nation existed only until Nebuchadnezzar conquered it. They inhabited Transjordan, southern Israel, and the Arava region. After the destruction of their kingdom and Yechezkeil prophecy (35:3) “Behold I am against you, O Mount Seir, and I shall stretch forth My hand upon you and make you desolate and waste” the nation of Edom ceased to exist. During the Hasmonaean conquests King Yochanan Hyrcanus conquered what was left of it, and forced the remains to convert to Judaism. These half-hearted converts where the first Jesuits. The Romans who destroyed the Beis Hamikdash are descendants of Kitim, son of Yavan. Even the wicked Titus was not a physical descendant of Eisav. According to the Iben Ezra, the destruction of the Second Temple falls under the Greek Exile, and the Fourth Exile is the exile we are experiencing now, suffering in the hands of Yishmael.

Spiritually, however, since the Romans and entire European continent took on the religion that was initially followed by the Edomite converts, Midrashim view Europeans as spiritual descendants of Edom.

According to the Ramban (Bereshis 11:1, and elsewhere) Rome was populated by a multitude of nationals, amongst them Edomites. The city of Rome was built by Tzefu, son of Eliphaz, grandson of Eisav who became the first Roman king (and whose imprint is left in Roman and Greek mythology). Many of the subsequent kings were also his descendants. This is the reason many of the psukim that speak of Edom are seen as referring to Rome, especially their kings, although the regular population seems to have descended mainly from Yefes.

The future prophecies referring to Edom and Edomite Exile is interpreted as referring to Christians because the early Christians were Edomite converts. But while the future prophecies call Christianity Edom, Chazal refer to the Romans as Edom even when they actively prosecuted the early Christians.

According to the Gra (Megillahs Esther 1:22; Divrei Hayomim I 1:4; Balak 24:24) Sanchreiv moved the Kitim to another land, but their leaders remained. Then, they settled Edomites in their lands. He explains that when a people share four characteristics they are considered a nation: shared origin, land, language, and dress. When Sancheriv mixed the nations, the lingua franca remained Kittite. This explains why the Romans are called Kitim – they sit in their lands and speak their language. However, Chazal know they are really Edom since they descend from the wicked Eisav.

According to the Abarbanel (Yeshayahu 35, and elsewhere) future prophecies obviously don’t refer to the ancient Edom since that kingdom ceased to exist (as Yechezkeil prophesized). While in the past, Italy was the lands of Kitim — son of Yavan and grandson of Yefes, Josephus tells us that when Yosef and his brothers went to bury their father in the Cave of Machpelah, Eisav’s descendants started a war against them. Yosef captured them and imprisoned them in Egypt. Then, after his death, Tzfu (one of their leaders) escaped to Carthage (Tunis) and became a warrier. He fought with the Kittim across the Mediterranean and eventually remained in Italy and brought Carthage and north Africa and Tuval’s sons from Pisa all under his kingdom. The Kittim eventually appointed him their king, and upon his death he became a deity, part of their mythology. Mythology has Janu as a god of beginnings, apparently named for their first ruler, the Edomite prince Tzfu, who later lent his name to the first month of the secular year – January.

Latinus, another mythological figure, is identified by the Abarbanel as the biblical “Aluf Lotan” one of Seir’s sons, which is another proof to the Edomite origins of people in the region.

The Abarbanel also points out the spiritual and cultural similarities between Eisav and the Christian culture. Like Eisav, who expressed faith in G-d and honored his father Yitzchak, the Christians admit G-d and the Bible. But, the pasuk tells us: “Because his game was in his mouth” (Bereshis 25:28) – it’s all a farce. He worships other deities as well. Eisav married both Canaanite wives and one that descends from Yishmael and spread his seed throughout all the nations, while Yaakov was careful to only marry within his own religion and faith. Eisav earned physical blessings, as did Edom, while Yaakov earned spiritual blessing and Divine protection. The famous halacha “Eisav hates Yaakov” is illustrated unequivocally, time and again throughout history. Kabalistic sources point out that Eisav’s spirit was reincarnated in Yeshu, which explains why the Center of Christianity is in Rome. The Midrash tells us (Bereshis Raba 25:25) that Eisav the Edomite dressed in red, his food was red, his land is red, and therefore the traditional Christian garments are red, represented by the red star (Mars) and follow red tendencies – killing and spilling blood. In fact their holiday color — is also red.

Many of the Achronim including the Maharsha (Gitin 56b, and elsewhere), Seder Hadorot (313), Sheelat Yaavetz (chapter 46), Netziv (Ha’amek Davar, Bereshis 27:40), and others, accept the Abarbanel’s approach.

Halachic Approach to Rome and Italy

In last week’s article we mentioned the halachic question regarding Italian converts, and the Yaavetz’s opinion prohibiting them from marrying other Jews until their third generation, while other poskim disagree.

In his view, while the population of Italy is a mixture of many nations including Edom, the majority are descendants of Edom and not Kitim. Therefore, every Italian is suspected to be of Edomite decent.

The majority of poskim, while they agree there are Edomite elements mixed in Italy, since Sancheriv mixed the nations, all borders disappeared, and no nation remains purely its own.

Identifying Amalek

Who is Amalek? Does it even exist today?

The public consensus sees Amalek as the German nation. But is it true? Who is Germany?

Descendant of Yefes

Several sources point at Yefes as being the forefather of all Germanic tribes. The Gemara (Yoma 10a) identifies Gomer, Yefes’s son as the founding father of Germmamia, or Germania, according to the Gra. Jewish sources consider German lands to be those of Ashkenaz, son of Gomer. This is the reason behind their name – Ashkenazic Jews. Other Midrashim also identify Germany as descendant of Yefes. The Mishna points to the fair skin color of Germanic tribes as a sign of descending from Yefes.

But there are other interesting opinions here.

Son of Canaan

Ovadia the prophet prophesized (1:20): “And this exiled host of the children of Yisrael who are [with] the Canaanites as far as Zarephath and the exile of Jerusalem which is in Sepharad shall inherit the cities of the southland.” Rashi and other commentaries explain: “Who are of the people of Yeudah who were exiled to Sepharad – they shall inherit the cities of the southland, which are in the southern part of Eretz Israel. The exegetes claim that Zarephath is the kingdom called France in French.” What’s the connection between France and Canaan? There are several explanations, but the Iben Ezra and Radak quote a tradition that some of the Canaanite nations escaped when the Jewish nation led by Yehoshua entered the land. They migrated to Alamannia, or Alemannia (the kingdom established and inhabited by the Alemanni, a Germanic tribal confederation).

Edom Descent

Another interesting Gemara (Megillah 6b) explains the pasuk: “O Lord, do not grant the desires of the wicked; do not let his thoughts (זממו) succeed, for they are constantly haughty” (Tehilim 140:9). This, explains the Gemara, is a prayer that Yaakov Avinu prayed to G-d not to allow “זממו” his schemes, or muzzle, to be removed. Yaakov asked Hashem not to remove the wicked people’s muzzle from their mouth to prevent them from going wild. The Gemara explains this is Germamia of Edom, which without the muzzle would go out and destroy the world. The Yaavetz (glosses on the Shas) explains this is modern day Ashkenaz, i.e. – Germany.

Muzzle and Wild Animal

The Gemara adds that there are 300 dukes (“crown princes”) in Edom’s Germany, and 365 dukes in Rome, and every day they fight one with the other, and one is killed and they appoint a new king. This constant struggle keeps them occupied and prevents them from going out and destroying the world. This description corresponds with historic account of the Germanic raids that constantly attacked Roman lands in the final years of the Roman Empire.

The Gemara’s commentaries are divided on the explanation of this passage: is it the fear that Germany will unite and destroy the world, or is the muzzle the constant raiding of Roman lands, descendants of Edom, that kept them in check?

According to the commentaries that explain that Germany is Rome’s muzzle, the question remains why Germany is called “Edom’s Germany” – is it another Edomite group, or simply Rome’s muzzle and therefore referred to as “Edom’s Germany”?

The Maharsha (Yoma 10a) explains that there are two Germanys – one a descendant of Yefes, and another – “Edom’s Germany” — of Edomite descent. While originally Yefes’s descendants lived there, when Sancheriv mixed up the population or with the migration of the nations, Edomites came and settled in those lands.


There are three possibilities as for identifying who the Germanic nations originated from. Some identify them as descendants of Yefes; others see them as Canaanite nations that escaped before Am Yisroel entered the holy land; and others still identify them with Edom’s descendants. The three don’t really contradict each other – they could have mixed and migrated at different points in history, especially according to the Maharsha’s opinion of there being two Germanys – that of Yefes and that of Edom.

Traditional Amalek

There are several traditions that identify the German nation as Amalek. What is the halachic view of these traditions?

Rav Hamburg (Yerushateinu VIII, p. 195-240) proves that the basis for this tradition is unclear, and appeared almost exclusively in the post-Holocaust years. Most reliable sources point at the cultural and spiritual similarities between both nations – they caused laxity and spiritual decay amongst the Jewish people, and eventually aimed to fulfil Haman’s evil scheme.

Rav Wosner (Shevet Halevi V, 149) was asked regarding the tradition, supposedly passed down from the Gra, that Germany is Amalek, and should perhaps prevent German converts from being accepted. Rav Wosner wrote that although in light of the terrible atrocities the German people committed during the Holocaust we could say they bear cultural resemblances, halachically this does not make them Amalek, and converts of German descent are accepted. My rebbe and teacher, Rabbi Weisel Shlita, told me he himself presided over conversions of several German-born converts in Rav Nissim Karelitz’s Beis Din in Bnei Brak.






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