Sadly, most people do not understand the difference between the people of Judah and the people of Israel. Despite the fact that these nations are of the same Semitic stock, being of the twelve sons of the Patriarch Jacob, after the separation and exiles they became different nations, living in different countries with different histories, cultures, languages, traditions, and religions.
This is exactly as the Bible predicted.
Quite often we hear expressions such as ‘Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt’, ‘The Torah was given to the Jews’, or ‘The Jews conquered the land of Canaan’ and so on. These understandings are neither Scriptural nor historical. At that time the word ‘Jews’ was not even in existence! The first Hebrews and the Israelites were not Jews, and they never called by the name ‘Jews’.
In fact, the correct formulation should have been constructed as ‘Moses led the Israelites (or Hebrews) out of Egypt’; likewise, ‘The Torah was given to all Twelve Tribes of Israel’. The Bible tells us that the people Moses led out from Egypt called themselves Hebrews: Abram the Hebrew (Genesis 14:3), Joseph the Hebrew (Genesis 39:14), God of the Hebrews (Exodus 5:3), or Israelites (Exodus 31:13; 33:5 and countless more). The very same people were recipients of the Torah on Mount Sinai, so the Torah was given to all tribes of Israel, the Hebrew nation.
Abraham was just a Hebrew, named in honor of his ancestor Eber: “Shem was the ancestor of all the sons of Eber” (Genesis 10:21). There is a Talmudic tradition that God rewarded Eber for not taking part in the rebellion at the Tower of Babel as ordered by Nimrod (Genesis 11:4). For this reason, God blessed Eber and his descendants. As a special favor for his righteous deeds, God honored Eber by naming his offspring ‘Hebrews’, who have nothing in common with the word ‘Jews.’ Most commentators of the Bible agree that it is correct to consider Eber as the eponymous ancestor of the Hebrews.
Was Abraham ‘the first Jew’? Of course not. In this sense, this title is most applicable to Moses who received the Torah from the hands of Almighty and taught the Israelites the written and oral laws. Abraham was the father of the 70 nations, from whom sprang out three monotheistic religions, but nobody calls him ‘the first Christian’ or the ‘first Muslim’.
Isaac also was neither an Israelite nor a Jew because the name ‘Israel’ was given by the Almighty to his son Jacob (Genesis 35:10). Even then, when God changed the name of Jacob to Israel, Jacob could not have been called ‘Jew’ because the Jews originated much later and were named after one of his twelve sons who was called Judah (Esther 2:5).
Judah is the only nation of all the Israelite nations, who has not abandoned the Torah and the Law for thousands of years, despite persecutions and unparalleled sufferings.
The names of Ephraim and Manasseh are collective terms used in the Bible to identify the entire body of the Ten Tribes of Israel.
According to Jewish law, in order to be a Jew, one has to be born of a Jewish mother, or have some Jewish ancestral background, or be properly converted to Judaism.
The Jews are part of Israel, just two and a half tribes among twelve. By no means is it correct to substitute them for the Ten Tribes of Israel. It could not be farther from the Biblical Truth.
Today, the two terms are not synonymous. Likewise, the Israelites are not the Jews. It is safe to say that all Jews technically can be called ‘Israelites’, like New Yorkers are Americans, whereas not all Israelites can be called Jews, like not all Americans are New-Yorkers. Throughout the Scripture, the Almighty speaks separately of the house of Judah and the house of Israel.
“Behold, the days come, saith the Lord, I will perform that good things which I have promised unto the house of Israel and to the house of Judah” (Jeremiah 33:14).
Nowhere in the Hebrew Bible does God say that Judah and Israel are the same!
The best description concerning the destiny of Israel and Judah in the last days can be found in the famous ‘Two Sticks’ prophecy of Ezekiel:
“And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all; and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms anymore” (Ezekiel 37:16-24).