Ezra – Chapter 2

Huge Chapter, Small Synopsis

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Ezra now gives a census of the people who returned from Babylonian exile to Judah. First he lists the leadership. He starts with Zerubavel, who was of royal descent, then he lists other nobles. One familiar name on the list: Mordechai, of the Purim story.

Next, Ezra lists the families and inhabitants of various cities who returned. “The children of Farosh – 2,172; the children of Shephatiah – 372; the children of Arah – 775…” This goes on from verse 3 through verse 39. In verses 40-42, Ezra enumerates the Levite families. Verses 43 through 54 names the Nesinite families. These were the descendants of the Gibeonites, who joined Israel through subterfuge in Joshua chapter 9. The Nesinim worked as wood choppers and water carriers for the altar. Verses 55-58 name the descendants of King Solomon’s slaves, who originated from other lands.

There was a group that returned from the Babylonian cities of Tel Melach and Tel Charsha, who didn’t know whether or not they were of Jewish descent. (They were like Babylonian Marranos in that they had lost their cultural tradition.) A few other families are then named, including descendants of David’s friend Barzilai (see II Samuel 17 and 19). However, they had lost their genealogical records and were not able to marry kohanim (priests). Hatirshasa (whom some identify with Nehemiah) told them not to eat portions from sacrifices reserved for kohanim until there would be a High Priest with Urim v’Tumim who could clarify their status.

All told, there were 42,360 returnees to Judah. (This exceeds the number enumerated in the chapter by almost 13,000; these are Jews from the other ten Tribes, who were not listed separately.) There were also 7,337 slaves and 200 singers. The chapter then counts the horses, donkeys, camels and mules.

When they reached the site of the Temple in Jerusalem, some of the leaders gave a donation towards its rebuilding. They gave 61,000 gold dinars (drachmas, maybe?), 5,000 silver maneh, and 100 ceremonial outfits for use by the kohanim in the Temple service. The people listed throughout the chapter returned to resettle their ancestral cities.

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