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Are You a Descendant of King David?
A Look at Rabbinic Sources

by David Einsiedler

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David and Goliath, by Rembrandt van Rijn

What are the chances that you are a descendant of King David? Is it certain? No, not until we find all the links, and enough historically-true evidence that can be accepted as proof. Is it possible? According to the Bible (Chronicles I-3) King David had a total of 22 sons (one died in infancy) and one daughter. Assuming each of his sons had 2 children, and figuring this for 100 generation (about 30 years per generation), we would get thousands and thousands of descendants. Even if we assumed that only two sons had descendants to the present, we would still count thousands of them (the 12th generation alone would count 2,048!). Yes, it is possible...

Is it probable? That would depend on whether you are a descendant of one of the number of families which are mentioned in the rabbinic sources as having descended from the Davidic royal family. Let's review some of these sources, and the presumed descendant families.

First, let's agree that, in this article, the term "descendant" is not to be understood as a certainty, but as a conditional statement, meaning "it is possible, but so far not proven." We simply want to learn what the rabbis said about these families, why they maintained that these families descended, and how they based these claims.

We can divide the referred-to families into four groups:
a) descendants of Judah Lowe (Liva) the Elder, of Prague (d. 1440)
b) descendants of Rashi (d. 1105)
c) descendants of families of (a) or (b) above, and
d) descendants of other families (Abrabanel, Yachia, Charlap)

We will consider the first three groups, mainly because 1) we are dealing mostly with Ashkenazic families of Central and Eastern Europe, and 2) the majority of rabbinic sources available to us discuss these three groups.

First, a few words about the key men named in (a) and (b) above:

Judah Lowe (in Hebrew: Liva) the Elder, of Prague, was the great-great-grandfather of Judah Lowe (Liva), known as the MaHaRaL of Prague (1525-1609), the creator of the legendary Golem. The inscription on the gravestone of Judah Lowe the Elder said that he was a descendant of King David. A number of rabbinic sources have repeated that, and presented lists of ancestors going back to King David (more about that later on).

Rashi, the acronym of Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki of Troyes (1040-1105), has been, by tradition, considered a descendant of King David. The earliest source accessible to us for that is the genealogy prepared by Johanan Luria who lived in Germany in the last half of the 15th century, and reported by the shtadlan Joselman of Rosheim (1478-1554). There is a detailed discussion of this matter in Mishpachat Luria, by Abraham Epstein (Vienna, 1901). One important passage relates that there was a genealogical record of the Luria family going back to the Tanna Johanan Ha-Sandler (2nd century, who was a descendant of King David). This record was lost in the "Swiss War" of 1499, and "Johanan Luria mourned the loss of his genealogy more than the material goods he was robbed of."

Sources, with Primary and Derivative Families

Jehiel Heilprin, author of Seder Ha-Dorot (The Order of the Generations) (Karlsruhe, 1769), had a similar genealogy and listed his descent from Rashi, Johanan Ha-Sandler, Rabbi Gamaliel the Elder in the title page of his book. Only fragments were saved of this genealogy, which had a number of Rashi's ancestors, but also large gaps. That caused some genealogists to claim that it was a forgery, and that Rashi's descent from King David was a fabrication. Judging from my study of the rabbis of many ages and places, they were of high moral fiber and integrity, and I am certain that the tradition of Rashi's descent is a true retelling of historical facts. Lack of proof is not proof of lack.

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David Einsiedler has devoted his retirement years to rabbinic genealogical research and is a member of the JGSLA. He is a native of pre-war Poland and lives in Los Angeles, California. This article was originally published in the Spring 1988 edition of Roots-Key: Journal of the Jewish Genealogical Society of Los Angeles (JGSLA) and is reprinted with kind permission.