In the world of new holidays known to many only through the internet, today is “Roots Day.” It appears as if this holiday derives from the fact that at this time of year there is such a strong focus on family, that many people are inspired to look into their genealogical roots.
In Jewish life, knowledge of one’s lineage has always been important. In Jewish life today, it identifies those from the tribe of Levi and those Levites who are descendants of Aaron and serve as the kohanim (priests). Both groups still have specific rules and obligations. In the days of the Temple, one’s paternal lineage was one’s tribal identity. This identity also connected one to specific territory in the Land of Israel, which reverted to full tribal possession every 49 years during the Jubilee Year.
Another important role genealogy plays in Jewish life is related to the Messiah, who, as noted previously, will be a descendant of King David. In fact, because of this extremely significant fact, many of the greatest figures in Jewish life have maintained detailed genealogies linking them back to King David. These scholars include Hillel, Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi, Yochanan Hasandler, Rashi, the Maharal of Prague, as well as others.
In addition to its importance in questions of priestly or royal heritage, genealogy is also a fascinating and fun hobby to explore. As the Jewish people enters into the post-Holocaust survivor era, genealogy will play an even more significant role in connecting Jews to our beautiful, intricate and age-defying history.
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