King David’s Genes
by Nadine Epstein
Three thousand years ago, tradition says the prophet Samuel anointed a lowly shepherd named David king of Israel. A warrior who could defeat Goliath and write love psalms, David managed to pull the quarreling Jewish tribes together into one nation and then ruled a kingdom that today remains the heart of Jewish claims to the land of Israel. Living from approximately 1040 to 970 BCE, he had at least one daughter and 22 sons, and amassed enough wealth and power for one of those sons, Solomon, to build the Temple in Jerusalem.
Male descendants of King David ruled Israel until the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 597 BCE, and Jews scattered. Some managed to stay in Palestine, others fled to Egypt, but the victorious Babylonians took most of the nesi’im—the princes of the Davidic line—to Babylon. There, the King David line continued: Princes of the House of David were appointed by religious leaders to govern the Jewish community. This person was called Rosh ha’gola, which translates as “head of the exile” or exilarch. Fraught with behind-the-scenes political infighting, the position survived the Arab conquest of Baghdad but came to an end when the last exilarch, Hezekiah, was imprisoned and tortured to death in 1040 CE.
Descendants of the exilarchs and other nesi’im fanned out across Mesopotamia, the Levant, Egypt and the Mediterranean basin in search of new lands in which to practice their faith. Some stayed in Spain, Portugal and Italy, and from there migrated to Europe. Like other Jews, they followed varying routes to modernity, separating into Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Mizrahi and other groups. Some families, especially rabbinic ones, kept careful track of their pedigrees, passing the tradition of royal descent from generation to generation. But through the centuries, plagued by perennial migrations and persecution, the vast majority of King David’s descendants, a number estimated to be in the millions, lost knowledge of the line…
The Ashkenazi Path
Susan Roth discovered her family’s lineage through a chair. Not any chair, but the hand-carved chair of Rebbe Nachman, the 18th century founder of the Breslover Hasidic sect in the Ukraine.
Her parents were actors who had left their pasts behind. Her father, the well-known Yiddish actor Pesach “Peishachke” Burstein, had run away from home as a teenager to join a traveling East European theater troupe, and her equally well-known mother Lillian, had been raised in Brooklyn disconnected from her family’s East European history. Her mother’s grandmother, Rivkah Rabinovitch, had immigrated to New York but was traumatized by pogroms and rarely spoke of the past. Pesach’s parents had been murdered in a pogrom, so Susan and her twin brother Mike, who grew up performing alongside their parents, knew little of their ancestry.
Her brother went on to become the famous Israeli actor Mike Burstyn, but Susan, a diminutive, energetic blond with a flair for the dramatic, left the theater at age 19 and married Michael Roth and became Orthodox. In 1997, when asked to participate in a film about her parents (The Komeidant, which would go on to win the Israel Academy’s award for best documentary in 2000), she was hesitant. She agreed on the condition that the producer and director would arrange for her to see the chair of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. The chair, revered as a holy relic by Breslovers because of its connection with their founder, had been brought from Ukraine to Israel and lovingly refurbished. It was kept in the men’s section of the Breslov synagogue in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim.
“They did it!” she says, “they carried it up to the women’s section, which had never been done before. I spent an hour with the chair and then I went down and talked to the head of Breslov. He asked me why the chair was so important to me.” She told him that the only thing she knew about her family’s history was that her great-grandmother Rivkah’s grandfather or great-grandfather had been Baruch, the shochet (ritual slaughterer) of the town of Tiplik, and that he had carved Rebbe Nachman’s chair.
“The head of Breslov spoke with me for quite a while and asked me about my family names,” Roth recalls. Two weeks later, she was handed a genealogy chart showing that she was descended from Rebbe Nachman and his great grandfather, the Ba’al Shem Tov, the father of Hasidism. She was also related to the first Lubavitcher Rebbe and founder of Chabad, Shneur Zalman of Liadi. Through these great rabbis, she was told, she was a descendant of King David.
Roth was delighted to discover that she was a member of these two major rabbinical dynasties, but she was most taken with her newfound Davidic ancestry. She established the Eshet Chayil (Woman of Valor) Foundation, based in Union, New Jersey, which is dedicated to strengthening the unity of the Jewish people. One of the foundation’s projects is the Davidic Dynasty, founded in 2000 to bring together the descendants of the ancient monarch. “I started realizing there isn’t just one family of King David, there are many families with different names, and they all wanted to be part of it,” she says. In 2003, she launched the website, davidicdynasty.org, to help people identify if they are part of the royal line by providing access to Davidic family trees and other information. In 2006 she hosted a lavish dinner for Davidic descendants in New York, which was attended by former New York City district attorney Robert Morgenthau, the Hasidic Grand Rabbi Yitzhak Twerski and the popular Orthodox speaker and author, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis, among others.
Roth’s claim of Davidic descent is similar to those of many other well-known Ashkenazi Jewish families. Often related through marriage and with intertwining family trees, they generally trace their lineages to great 18th and 19th century rabbis such as the Ba’al Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman, the first Lubavitcher rebbe and Saadya, the Gaon of Vilna, or further back to 16th century luminaries such as the Maharshal in Lithuania (Shlomo Luria) and the Maharal of Prague (Judah Loew ben Bezalel).
Today, anyone can search for family records and documents or collect oral histories, but for many generations it was the exclusive domain of scholars and rabbis. The Hebrew Bible is full of pages and pages of genealogies, and yichus—knowing your lineage—can be an obsession for Jews, especially for those of illustrious ancestry. It is of particular importance today in the Hasidic world where family background can determine position and status.
Not all well-known rabbinical dynasties claim descent from King David, but being part of a rabbinical family makes it easier to connect to the royal line, since such families are more likely to have extensive family records, says Chaim Luria, an environmental engineer living in Israel, and one of a small group of dedicated Davidic genealogists. He is a member of the Luria family, which has a detailed family tree stemming from the Maharshal. “Because he was such a famous rabbi, his descendants kept very careful records of how they were related to him,” he says. These records often overlap since these families frequently marry one another, adds Luria, whose wife is a Berdugo, an established Sephardi Moroccan family that also claims Davidic descent.
So how do we know that these great rabbis of Eastern Europe were descended from King David? Tradition has it that they are all descended from the royal house through Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki, known as Rashi, the great biblical commentator born in 1040 in the French city of Troyes. “You have stations along the way,” says Abraham Twerski, a psychiatrist and rabbi descended from the Hasidic dynasties of Chernoble and Sanz. “[The Twerskis] have a direct line to the Maharshal,” he says. “It is known that Maharshal had a direct line to Rashi, and Rashi to Rebbe Yohannan HaSandlar, one of the major authors of the Talmud and a shoemaker by profession. HaSandlar was known to be descended from King David.”
Luria says genealogists call this the “elevator strategy:” “That means we assume that if a person is a King David descendant, so am I.” In this way, the Luria family also traces its lineage through the Maharshal and Rashi, in its case, through one of Rashi’s daughter’s descendants, Miriam Schapira.
The question of whether the 1,000-year connection between Rashi and King David can be verified is a matter of contention. According to the late David Einsiedler, who wrote in the scholarly journal, Avotaynu: The International Review of Jewish Genealogy, “Careful examination of all available sources leads to the inescapable conclusion that there is no complete, reliable and positive proof of claims of descent from King David, whether via Rashi, Judah Loew the Elder, or any of the other families claimed. There are at present no known sources that could fill the gaps or set the record straight. It is possible that there may be actual descendants somewhere, but at present, no one can produce sufficient and unquestionable proof of this claim.”
But the tradition that Rashi was descended from King David “was so strong that people take it to today as an axiom,” says Luria. “It’s a question of how much you believe in tradition,” he says. “The science of genealogy can prove something 80 percent but there is always 20 percent tradition and belief.”
The Sephardi Path
Rashi is not the only way for a family to link itself to King David. Sephardi families usually trace their lineage through the line of exilarchs and at least two major ones trace their line back to the last exilarch.
After the last exilarch, Hezekiah, was killed in 1040 CE—the same year that Rashi was born—his two grown sons, Yitzhak and David, fled Baghdad with their families to Granada, Spain, then a vibrant center of Judaic life with a Jewish grand vizier. Each son became the patriarch of a family that would become highly prominent in the diaspora. “The Shaltiel family sprang from Yitzhak, whose eldest son was the first Shaltiel,” says Moshe Shaltiel-Gracian, a resident of a Chicago suburb who has taken an active role in researching his family’s history.
In 1066 the Jewish grand vizier of Granada was assassinated and the Shaltiel family headed north to Spain and Portugal. There, many family members flourished, while others traveled east to Salonika and Italy. Still others intermarried for several generations with the Jewish kings of Narbonne, an independent city-state founded by Charlemagne that stretched north from Barcelona to Aquitaine and was a major hub of Jewish scholarship. Narbonne’s ruling families are said to be descended from Natronai, a former exhilarch in Baghdad who had been force to flee after losing political support.
While researching his family, Shaltiel-Gracian found Shaltiels in 25 countries. Their names had morphed into Sealtiel, Saltiel, Scietliel, Chartiel, Xaltiel and Saltelli, among others. “Many of them are not Jewish but they are very happy to know about it [the King David connection],” he says, adding that the family now holds regular international reunions. In 2000, the BBC aired a documentary on the family, Shealtiel: A Family Saga.
Along the way, Shaltiel-Gracian met Arthur Menton, who grew up during the Depression in the Bronx and now lives in Long Island. A member of the Charlap family, Menton was also descended from the last Exilarch Hezekiah, but through his other son, David. David’s son Chaim also left Granada in 1066, settling in Portugal. He is the progenitor of the Charlap family, which has also been known by many other names, among them ibn-Daoud, ibn-Yahya, Ben Chaim, Don Yahia, Donyechia and Donkhin, explains Menton, who has published his family research in The Book of Destiny: Toledot Charlap. It was Chaim’s son, Chiya, the chief advisor to the first king of Portugal, and a military leader and a scholar, who took the title Charlap. “It was typical that the famous leaders of the Jewish community took acronyms as titles, and he was first to use the title Charlap, which stands for “first in the exile in Portugal,” says Menton.
Chiya gave rise to the powerful ibn-Yahya dynasty, which had vast landholdings in Portugal and Spain. But with the expulsions from Spain and Portugal, the family was forced to flee, spreading throughout the Mediterranean basin and the Ottoman Empire. Two hundred years later, a Rabbi Eliezer ibn-Yahya living in Poland was asked to take a title. “He chose one from 500 years before—Charlap,” says Menton. When Jews were required to take surnames at the turn of the 19th century, most family members adopted Charlap. However, one Charlap, a dairyman, bucked tradition and took the name Ser, meaning cheese in Polish. Menton’s mother’s maiden name was Sahr, a corruption of Ser.
An engineer by profession, Menton says that researching his family is the most satisfying thing he has ever done. “I have gone all over the world meeting relatives and I have gathered up 20 family trees,” he says. “They didn’t know of each other but they mirrored each other remarkably and they all have the Davidic connection.” One of these trees hangs in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. He has found letters that speak of the family’s King David lineage and his nephew uncovered a medieval document describing the coat of arms of ibn-Yahya family in Spain and Portugal. It includes the Lion of Judah—to symbolize the Davidic throne—as well as an eagle that stands for courage and a Star of David behind a Ten Commandments above which is a crown, representing the royal House of David. There is also a spade, he explains, which signifies that the family will be instrumental in rebuilding the reestablished kingdom of Israel, and a palm frond referring to the land of milk and honey.
“We have thousands of relatives in Israel, everyone from humble farmers in Galilee to people like Dorit Benesch who is retiring chief of Israel’s Supreme Court and her sister, the head of the faculty of humanities at Tel Aviv University,” says Menton. “ I have relatives who are scientists at the Weitzman Institute and one who is a beekeeper on a kibbutz next to the Gaza strip. And many rabbis still retain the name Charlap. We crisscross the whole society of Israel.” There are also many prominent Charlap family members in America, he says, including the jazz pianist Dick Hyman, Abram Sachar, the first president of Brandeis University who died in 1993, and his son, the historian Howard Sachar.
The Syrian Path
Unlike most Syrian Jews today, most of whom live in Brooklyn, Mitch Dayan grew up in Chicago, where his father’s retail store was located. “When I would come back to Brooklyn I would hear that my family is from King David,” says Dayan, a handsome, compact man, “but when you are a kid you say, ‘everyone is related to King David.’ I didn’t understand.” But something clicked when his older brother Stanley died in 1983, and he and the family were sitting shiva in the family’s summer house in the Syrian enclave of Deal, New Jersey. “Throngs of people were coming in, many of them cousins in some way, and Rabbi Isaac Dweck came in and he said, ‘You’re from King David,’ and I said, ‘You know rabbi, I’ve been hearing that,’ and he asked, ‘Have you seen the book?’”
The next day, the rabbi returned with the book, Yashir Moshe, written by Rabbi Moshe Dayan in 1879 in Aleppo, Syria, where the Dayan family and many other Syrian Jewish clans had lived for centuries, until forced to flee after Israel’s creation in 1948. From the book, Dayan learned that his family was related to King David, not through an exilarch, but through a brother of an exilarch. Some of the same information, he discovered, was included in an entry in the Encyclopedia Judaica.
“DAYYAN, Syrian family claiming descent from King David,” it reads. “The Dayyan family’s origin can be traced to a branch of the house of Josiah Hasan ben Zakkai, brother of the exilarch David (?917-940). One of his descendants, Solomon ben Azariah, settled in Aleppo, and his family there occupied the position of nasi, the title of the House of David. The first to be known with the family name is Moses Ben Saadiah Dayyan in the 16th century…”
In Yashir Moshe, Rabbi Moshe Dayan listed the 85 generations of males between King David and himself. Solomon ben Azariah was generation 54, meaning that the family had been living in Aleppo since from around 1300 CE. Mitch Dayan set out to connect himself to this list. He interviewed cousins, aunts and uncles, many of whom, as was tradition, had married cousins who were also Dayans, and conferred with historians, Jewish and non-Jewish. Over 20 years he put together a family tree with a father-to-son link to King David. “That’s very rare,” he says. He connected himself through generation 81, he says, after finding that his great-grandfather was the third cousin of Rabbi Moshe Dayan.
“The Dayan family is the one that is known for the lineage, but if you go back in the family tree these surnames—Semah, Shayo, Sitt, Sultan, Pawil, Mansour, Hedaya—are all known families who are descendants of the Dayans,” says Sarina Roffe, a genealogical expert in the Syrian Jewish community. “Other Syrian families also claim King David lineage, but not all are related through Dayans,” she adds.
As she examines the Dayan family tree, Roffe points out comedian Jerry Seinfeld, whose mother is a Syrian Jew. “He goes back all the way to King David,” says Roffe. “Yes, Jerry Seinfeld is definitely a descendant of King David.”
The Genetic path
The Shaltiels, Charlaps and Dayan families trace themselves back to King David through the exilarch line. But if it seems simple, it’s anything but. Although the first 20 generations of kings are detailed in Kings and Chronicles, the biblical record stops after the Babylonian conquest of Israel. From there, scholars and genealogists rely on lists of exilarchs. But different lists have different names, and list comparison has been fodder for debate for centuries. Few lists clearly match, with the exception of two: Rabbi Moshe Dayyan’s 1879 list is similar to a list found in the Cairo Geniza, says Dayan, referring to the findings of a 2006 scholarly paper written by the late historian David Kelly in the journal of the Foundation for Medieval Genealogy. But like everything else in the field of Davidic genealogy, there are plenty of opinions about what this means, and little agreement.
Skeptics, such as the late genealogist David Einselder, simply don’t see how any available records can provide convincing proof of Davidic claims. “Some individuals rely on tradition and faith to back their claim [to King David],” wrote Einselder in the RAV-SIG Online Journal before his death. “More power to them. The rest of us may have to wait for that promised descendant—the Messiah.”
Enter the relatively new science of genetics, which has added a dimension to the study of the Davidic line. Unfortunately there is no way to take a sample of King David’s DNA—no one knows where he is buried—so the only current scientific method of tracing the line is to search for similarities in the male Y chromosome, which passes largely intact from father to son, except for minor mutations, which are what allow scientists to track and identify genetic branches. This was the method used by Karl Skorecki, a kidney specialist at the Rappaport Faculty of Medicine at the Technion Institute in Haifa in 1997, when investigating the validity of the oral tradition of the patrilineal inheritance of the Jewish priestly class, known as the Cohanim. The study found that 48 percent of Ashkenazi and 58 percent of Sephardi men who identified themselves as Cohanim, based on oral tradition, carried a unique chromosomal marker, called the J1 Cohen Modal Halpotype.
To find a unique chromosomal marker shared by men who believe they are descended from King David, it is necessary for two who don’t know they are related to each other to have matching chromosomal markers. “If I can find someone from Baghdad community, who is somewhere on the line of the exilarch, and a European Jew who has a similar claim, and these families haven’t had contact for hundreds of years, if these two men have the same Y chromosome, I would have to take that as very successful,” says Bennett Greenspan, president and CEO of Family Tree DNA, which has conducted some of the Davidic studies. Greenspan says he has found such a chromosomal match between descendants of different branches of the al-Hashimi family that claim descent from the founder of Islam, the Prophet Muhammad.
Only Sephardi men can be tested this way, since Ashkenazi claims generally go through Rashi, who had only daughters. At this time, there is no way to genetically trace women back to a male ancestor But if there was, the likelihood is that the vast majority of Jews would descend from King David. “Since it is 3,000-plus years since David, there is at least an 80 percent chance that any Jew is a direct descendant of King David,” says Yale University statistician Joseph Chang in a 1999 article in Advances in Applied Probability.
Explains Jeffrey S. Malka, a retired physician, genealogist and author of Sephardic Genealogy: Discovering Your Sephardic Ancestors and Their World: “We all have two parents, four grandparents, eight great grandparents, and so on. In just a few centuries we have more ancestors than there existed people in the world. Certainly more than there were Jews in the world. How could that be? Because many of these ancestors are the same people re-appearing in different places. It also means that we are all related to each other—and in this context—we are all descended from some branch of King David!”
Malka adds that this is why many genealogists frown on doing genealogy just to prove one is related to someone famous. “One can always find a relationship to anyone if that is the goal including relationship to Queen Victoria or King David,” he says. “For instance, genetic studies have shown that, because of their smaller genome spectrum and history, the farthest any two living Ashkenazi Jews are related to each other is fifth cousins.”
Chaim Luria estimates that there are 80 million people who are related to King David today. These include the royal families of England and Europe, who claim to be the descendants of the Jewish kings of Narbonne, who are said to have intermarried with Europe’s aristocracy, infusing the nobility of France, Flanders, Scotland and England with Davidic blood. Continents away, the Imperial Solomonic Dynasty of Ethiopia claimed Davidic descent through the Queen of Sheba. But says Luria: “The majority of people descended from King David don’t even know it.”
So far Y chromosomal testing of Davidic descent has yielded inconclusive results. “In all cases individuals who claimed to be descendants of King David on the direct male lineage did not match each other,” says Greenspan. “To sum up, that means that one of the testors or none of the testors might be direct male descendants of King David.” Testing could be more effective if a larger pool of Sephardi men participated, he adds.
But no family’s claim has been disproved and chromosomal correlations have been found within families. In his testing, Chaim Luria found that the cartoonist Ranan Lurie, who lives in New York, and Eduardo Luria, of Padua, Italy, share the same haplogroup. This is remarkable, says Luria, because “their families split off from one another 500 years ago and have had no contact since.”
Luria could not test himself since, despite his surname, he is related through the female line. “When a male would marry a Luria daughter he would drop his surname and take hers because the Maharshal was so famous and people wanted to be linked to him,” he says. “This was a widespread practice in famous [Ashkenazi] families.” As a result of this, and the fact that unrelated people often adopted famous names, he has found that 80 percent of men with the Luria name do not have the family’s signature haplogroup.
While theoretically the Charlaps and Shaltiels should share the haplogroup of the Exilarch Hezekiah, they don’t, says Shaltiel-Gracian, perhaps because somewhere along the way, descent went through a woman. Some Shaltiel males, however, are part of the same haplogroup. And some Charlap men, share their own separate haplogroup. “The amazing thing is that as I go around the world, different branches of the family look so much alike,” says Menton, who is a Charlap through his mother. “Take Dick Hyman, he is my fourth cousin, but when we are together people ask us if we are brothers.”
The lack of genetic proof doesn’t trouble Mitch Dayan. He has participated in several studies, although he says few other Dayan males have done so. “If the science world finds a connection fine, but if not,” he says, “my research conclusions are not going to change because it’s not verified by the science world.”
Some families are not interested in testing at all. Coming from a lineage of prestigious rabbis, the Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis has always known of her Davidic ancestry. “Before the Holocaust there were 86 rabbis in Hungary with the last name Jungreis, all traced to King David,” she says.” I have a copy of the family tree that traces my lineage.” But the rebbetzin—who was born a Jungreis and married a Jungreis, a third cousin—was offended when asked if any male members in her family had undergone testing, implying that no scientific proof was necessary. “Of course they haven’t been tested,” she says.
What Does it All Mean?
But Susan Roth, in search of finding other Davidic families is enthusiastic about testing: “If we could only find a DNA that is shared by all the descendants, that would be unbelievable,” she says.
That’s because Roth would like to see the reestablishment of the King David dynasty. This is important, she says, “because the world keeps saying Israel is only 63 years old and that’s not true. There was a king 3,000 years ago who pulled together 12 tribes and started a dynasty. There were always Jews in Israel but they were not always a nation because they were sent into exile. And they came back once and rebuilt the Temple and then the Romans came. But no one wants to admit it. They say, ‘Prove it.’”
Roth envisions a royal House of David that takes its place alongside the current government of Israel. “Just like in England, where there is a queen who is a figurehead, there could be a king of Israel who is a figurehead,” she says.” A king would be taken seriously and signify that Jews have been in Israel for over 3,000 years. The Knesset could run the country but there would be a royal house that would bring legitimacy. The royal House of David could be a light unto the nation. It would bring about peace harmony and everything the world is waiting for because the world is in a terrible shape right now.”
Her Eshet Chayil Foundation opened a Jerusalem museum dedicated to King David in 2008. “My greatest hope is for us to produce a king like King David today,” its curator, Yisroel Cohen, said in news reports at the time. That museum, claims Roth, closed for political reasons. “The Knesset certainly does not want to have a royal house,” she says. But this January, the foundation opened a new King David museum in Tel Aviv, which, she explains, is separate from the Davidic Dynasty project, again, for political reasons. “Tel Aviv is where the museum is needed,” she says. “It’s not a religious place. People there need to see artifacts from his palace and his history and story.” Museum exhibits include collections of harps, coins, weights and measures from the Davidic era plus Davidic family trees, and birth and death records. There is also a genealogy center to help people identify if they are related to King David.
Although a small group of people of Davidic descent are interested in restoration of the monarchy, most of the people I spoke with said they were not interested in a kingship or in involving themselves in Israeli politics. They also stressed that they did not believe that being related to King David made them speical. Chaim Luria finds King David genealogy to be a “challenging hobby” that “is not going to change the future of the world. I am proud of my ancestry but I don’t think it makes anyone any better than another person,” he says. “Our blood is not blue that is for sure.” Rebbetzin Jungreis also insists her ancestry doesn’t make her special. “We are all am yisrael,” she says.
The Messianic Path
The destruction of Jerusalem’s Second Temple bestowed upon the descendants of King David an additional legacy. To replace the Temple, which was the central and sacred gathering place of the Jews, rabbis of the time put forth a new unifying concept: a Messiah who would return to rebuild the Temple and unite the Jewish people. The messiah, they said, would be of the lineage of King David. Ever since, King David’s descendants have not been mere royalty but the carriers of the seed that could usher in the future.
Tradition has it that a messianic claim requires male-to-male Davidic lineage. Jesus’ followers claimed such a connection for him in the Book of Matthew, which calls Jesus, “Jesus Christ, the Son of David, the son of Abraham.” Simon Bar Kokhba and Shabbtai Tzvi each claimed Davidic descent, as did the seventh and last Lubavitcher Rebbe Menachem mendel Schneerson. Many claimants over the millennia have also done the same.
“When you talk about being part of the Davidic lineage, the hidden message is that you are a messianic family,” says Mitch Dayan. “When you talk about a messianic family rather than a Davidic family, you are talking about the possibility of the Messiah coming from your loins.” Dayan believes his family has the strongest messianic claim because of the clear record of male-to-male descent, but he is not interested in getting mixed up in discussions of kings and messiahs. “I just got into this to research my family and wound up in this.”
The Messiah, Dayan points out, must be much more than the bearer of King David’s genes. “In the view of the classic Orthodox Jew, there are obligations. You have to be an observant Jew. You just can’t be the son of someone and expect to be the Messiah.”
Karl Skorecki believes, however, that it is the messianic connection that is the underlying attraction of being a Davidic descendant. “Being of the line of the Great King of Israel is being in a dynasty which is supposed to lead—which will lead to the coming of the Messiah, the end of days,” he says.
Whether or not they realize it, all Jews who attend Shabbat services sing the prayer, Yigdal, asking God to send the Messiah, but Orthodox Jews actively pray on a daily for him to come. For Roth, restoring the dynasty is the first step toward rebuilding the Temple and ushering in the Messiah. “A lot of rabbis are talking about the coming of mashiach,” says Roth. “Some rebbes say the mashiach will be King David’s descendant,” she says, but “there are some great rebbes that say the mashiach is going to be King David [come back from the dead].” Just in case, she has already commissioned a Torah scroll for him to use on his return.
*There are many families and surnames not mentioned in this article. A list is available on davidicdynasty.org.