Richard Gere stars as David along with Alice Krige as Bathsheba in the 1985 film ‘King David’
JERUSALEM – An international foundation is seeking to gather Jewish descendants of King David, the second biblical king of Israel, for a reunion next year in Jerusalem aimed at fostering Jewish unity.
“King David was the first and essentially the only king of Israel to unite all of the Jewish people under one kingdom,” said Susan Roth, CEO and founder of the Eshet Chayil Foundation, a group that sponsors Jewish charitable organizations and promotes Jewish education.
“In these times of conflict and divisiveness it is very fitting to make a public expression of unity, a demonstration to show it is time for the Jewish people to be joined together while common enemies from around the world once again seek our destruction,” Roth said.
Roth also founded the Davidic Dynasty, which is sponsored by the Eshet Chayil Foundation and seeks to promote awareness about Jewish history and Jewish ties to the land of Israel through the life and leadership of King David.
The Dynasty is holding a launch dinner in New York this week ahead of a larger conference and a first-ever reunion of Davidic descendants in Israel in May 2007. The dinner honors prominent descendants of King David including Manhattan District Attorney Robert Morgenthau Jr. and senior rabbinic figures.
The reunion in Jerusalem is slated for May 28-30, honoring the 40-year reign of David and coinciding with the 40th year anniversary of the reunification of Jerusalem, which was recaptured by Israel during the 1967 Six Day War.
“At this critical time when Israel faces existential dangers that deny Jews have an eternal right to our homeland, we must restore our glorious pride as a nation and say that we will not allow Israel to be destroyed,” said Roth.
Highlights of the reunion include a recitation at the Western Wall of Psalms, which King David authored; visits to archaeological sites connected to David; lectures from scholars and genealogy experts; and the dedication of a Torah scroll in honor of King David.
David initially established his kingdom in Hebron, which is 20 miles south of Jerusalem and is believed to be home to the resting place of the biblical patriarchs and matriarchs Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah, Rebecca and Leah. After ruling in Hebron for seven years, David conquered Jerusalem, uniting Israel’s tribes and establishing the Jewish state’s capital.
The story of King David is told throughout the Bible’s books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles. He is believed to have reigned from 1005 until about 965 BC.
Jewish descent from David can be traced through oral tradition, rabbinic sources, historical data and extensive research, explained Chaim Freedman, a renowned Israeli genealogist who is serving as an advisor to the Davidic Dynasty.
Freedman said after the cessation of the Jewish monarchy following the destructions of the Jewish Temples, the line of David was carefully preserved and guarded.
“The Messiah will come from the line of David,” Freedman explained. “It was considered important for multiple reasons for Jews to trace their lineage.”
Many great rabbis and Jewish leaders have said they are descended from David. Rashi, the 11th century author of one of the most authoritative commentaries, said he was a descendant, as did the leaders of the Jewish communities in Babylon, where the Jews were exiled and maintained a de-facto civil government until they were expelled to Spain in the 14th century.
In Spain, Rabbi Isaac Luria, a Jewish scholar and founder of one of the most important branches of Kaballah, wrote he was a descendant. Later, the leaders of the Jewish Chassidic movement in Europe, including its founder, Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, also known as the Baal Shem Tov, stated they were descendants. Rabbi Judah Hanasi, editor of the Mishnah, the authoritative recording of Jewish oral law, was also said to have been a descendant of King David.
“Most families claim descent from King David through Rashi, which is matrilineal descent since Rashi only had daughters,” explained Chaim Freedman. “Several families claim descent directly from father to son, while others trace their lineage through oral tradition and family trees to other great Jewish scholars, such as the Baal Shem Tov,” he concluded.
In Christianity, the very first verse of the Gospel of Matthew states Jesus is the “son of David.”
The Davidic Dynasty, through its research staff, helps those who have a tradition of descedancy to trace their lineage. The group is procuring what it says will be the largest collection of Davidic lineage charts, including family trees and birth-line connections to Jewish sages descended from David.
The material will be available at the upcoming International Davidic Dynasty Genealogy Center and Museum in Jerusalem’s Old City, which is being founded by Roth’s organization.
The museum is slated to feature archaeological artifacts from the times of David, audiovisual and multimedia presentations and a glass figurine exhibit depicting the life of King David as told in the Bible, explained museum coordinator Yisroel Cohen.
“The idea of the museum is that Jews from all over the world – religious and secular – should come in and feel that they are a part of a spectacular heritage that comes straight from the Bible,” Cohen said.
Roth, who says she is a Davidic descendant through Rashi and from prominent Chassidic leaders explained why she decided to launch the reunion this year:
“Israel is being bombarded by its enemies from without and even has its own perils from within – Jewish assimilation, intermarriage and those who wish to forfeit their Jewish identity and birthright. These elements are also threatening our very existence. Now is the time to make a statement of Jewish unity and pride.