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Jewish History

Post-Biblical History

Modern Descendants of Esau

I would like to know who you feel are the descendants of Esau in today’s world? Could they be the Edomites who became the Catholic peoples?

The verse in Genesis (25:30) informs us that Esau himself was called Edom:

“And Esau said to Jacob: ‘Pour me some of that red stuff because I’m tired’ – therefore he called him Edom”

Later in Genesis (36:9) the Torah tells us that Esau was the ‘Father’ of the Nation of Edom:
“These are the generations of Esau, the Father of Edom”

Now it is clear from the Talmud and other sources that the Romans are viewed as descendants of Esau; when Rebecca was informed that she would have twins, G-d says to her:
“There are two nations in your womb”

The Medrash on this verse plays with the Hebrew word for nations (based on the strange way the word is written in the Torah Scroll):
“Read this as ‘two aristocrats in your womb’, Adrianus in Rome and Shlomo in Israel, Antoninus in Rome and Rebbi (Rabbi Judah HaNasi) in Israel”

The Talmud shows that historically the Jews took the Roman’s connection to Esau very seriously:
“Once the Romans decreed that no Jew could study Torah, keep the Shabbat or circumcise a child…the Jews organized a demonstration by night and shouted:

BY GOD! ARE WE NOT CHILDREN OF ONE FATHER? ARE WE NOT THE CHILDREN OF ONE MOTHER? WHY ARE WE BEING SINGLED OUT FOR ILL-TREATMENT?

The Romans canceled the decree.” (Rosh Hashana 19a)


Whether or not a particular person or nation is a biological descendant of Esau is obviously impossible to determine and not really important; what is essential to understand is that the World view of Esau has been passed down as a cultural inheritance throughout history from Edom, to the Roman Empire, to the Catholic Church, to Modern Europe and most recently to the United States and its ‘empire’ – in other words, Western Civilization as a whole. This World view has obviously been in a constant state of evolution throughout the generations – America, the land founded on tolerance has been a most fertile land for the Jews – Europe, on the other hand, was a nightmare; this dichotomy in Esau’s personality is brought out by our Sages in these two seemingly contradictory sources; on the one hand the Medrash states:
The name Esau has the same numerical value as Shalom (Peace)” (Kalla Rabati,3)

On the other hand, the Talmud analyses a verse in psalms:
” ‘Do not remove his bit…’(Psalms 140:9) – said Jacob to the Holy One: Master of the Universe – do not allow Esau his hearts desire…this refers to Germany of Edom, for if they were to be allowed loose, they would destroy the world! (Talmud Megilla, 6a-6b).

I hope I’ve answered your question – or at least given you some food for thought.

Yours sincerely,
Ari Lobel

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