Are the Ten Lost Tribes Ever Coming Back?
Before discussing where the lost ten tribes actually went, let us first ascertain whether they are in fact ever going to be reunited with the remaining Jews.
There is a recorded dispute between two great sages in the Mishnah as to whether the ten tribes are going to come back:
Rabbi Akiva says, “The ten tribes will not return, as the verse says (Deuteronomy 29:27), ‘And the L‑rd uprooted them from upon their land, with fury, anger and great wrath, and He cast them to another land, as it is this day.’1 Just as a day passes and it will never return, so too, they will be exiled never to return.”
Rabbi Eliezer says, “Just like a day is followed by darkness, and the light later returns, so too, although it will become ‘dark’ for the ten tribes, G‑d will ultimately take them out of their darkness.”2
The Talmud then goes on to cite a third opinion:
So, in short, there seem to be three opinions on the matter. Rabbi Akiva holds that the ten tribes are not coming back; Rabbi Eliezer holds that they are; and Rabbi Shimon says that it depends on whether they repent.
Rabbi Akiva: Lost Forever
Upon further analysis, Rabbi Akiva’s opinion needs further explanation, as it seem to contradict clear prophecies about the ultimate reunion of the ten tribes with the rest of Israel.
The prophet Ezekiel describes the ultimate reunion between the ten tribes and the tribe of Judah (the ten tribes are represented by the tribe of Ephraim, because their capital was in the territorial portion of that tribe):
Say to them, “So says the L‑rd G‑d: ‘Behold I will take the stick ofJoseph, which is in the hand of Ephraim, and the tribes of Israel his companions, and I will place them with him with the stick of Judah, and I will make them into one stick, and they shall become one in My hand.’” And the sticks upon which you shall write shall be in your hand before their eyes. And say to them, “So says the L‑rd G‑d: ‘Behold I will take the children of Israel from among the nations where they have gone, and I will gather them from every side, and I will bring them to their land. And I will make them into one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel, and one king shall be to them all as a king; and they shall no longer be two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms anymore.’”Additionally, the prophet clearly foretells in detail how Israel will be divided into thirteen6 portions at the time of the redemption.7 So what exactly does Rabbi Akiva mean when he says that the ten tribes are not coming back?
Rabbi Joseph Albo (1380–1444) attempts to reconcile these prophecies with Rabbi Akiva’s opinion by explaining that Rabbi Akiva was of the view that the prophecies had been fulfilled during
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