Who is a Jew

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
Origin and inner meaning of this title
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"Who is a Jew?" may be a halachic issue of our times. But "Who deserves to be called a Yehudi?" is a question which goes back to Megillat Esther and Mesechta Megillah.

Mordechai is introduced in the Megillah as a "Yehudi," and when his genealogy is traced he is identified as a "Benjamite." Which tribe is he descended from, asks the gemara, Yehuda or Binyamin?

He was from the tribe of Binyamin, explains Rabbi Yochanan, but he is called a Yehudi because he denied and defied idol worship. For the name Yehuda is not merely the name of a tribe of Israel. It is the title which was given to Chananyah, Mishael and Azaryah when they were reported to Nevuchadnetzar for defying his order to bow to the statue, even though it meant being cast into a fiery furnace. Mordechai earned the title as well for risking his life to defy the royal order to bow to Haman, who had declared himself a deity.

A different resolution is offered by Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi. Mordechai�s father was descended from Binyamin and his mother from Yehuda. He thus inherited the talents required for overcoming the threat of Haman.

Rabbi Yehonatan Eibeshitz, in his "Yaarot Devash," notes that while Haman�s father was an Amalekite, his mother was from another nation. This genealogy provided him with a dual capacity to harm Jewry and he had to be challenged by someone whose own ancestral roots provided the power to overcome these forces.

Mordechai�s father was from the tribe of Binyamin, and just as Rachel�s progeny was destined to destroy Esav�s, the descendants of Binyamin were designated to vanquish the descendant of Amalek. But it is Yehuda who was blessed by his father with the power to overcome all the other enemies of Israel. It was that power, inherited through his mother, which enabled Mordechai to succeed against the power which Haman had on his mother�s side.

(Megillah 13a)

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