||Seeking to arrange a mission to find the ten lost tribes of Israel, constituting the northern Kingdom of Israel. The Kingdom of Israel, consisting of the ten tribes (the twelve tribes excluding Judah and Benjamin who constituted the southern Kingdom of Judah), which fell in 722 B.C.E. and its inhabitants were exiled to "Halah and Habor by the river Gozan, and in the cities of the Medes" (II Kings 17:6 and 18:11). However, the parallel passage in I Chronicles 5:26 to the effect that the ten tribes were there "unto this day" and the prophecies of Isaiah (11:11), Jeremiah (31:8), and above all of Ezekiel (37: 19–24) kept alive the belief that they had maintained a separate existence and that the time would come when they would be rejoined with their brethren, the descendants of the Exile of Judah to Babylon. Their place in history, however, is substituted by legend, and the legend of the Ten Lost Tribes is one of the most fascinating and persistent in Judaism and beyond it.
The belief in the continued existence of the ten tribes was regarded as an incontrovertible fact during the whole period of the Second Temple and of the Talmud. Josephus (Ant., 11:133) states as a fact "the ten tribes are beyond the Euphrates till now, and are an immense multitude and not to be estimated in numbers." The only opposing voice to this otherwise universal view is found in the Mishnah. R. Eliezer expresses his view that they will eventually return and "after darkness is fallen upon the ten tribes light shall thereafter dwell upon them," but R. Akiva expresses his emphatic view that "the ten tribes shall not return again" (Sanh. 10:3). In consonance with this view, though it is agreed that Leviticus 26:38 applies to the ten tribes, where R. Meir maintains that it merely refers to their exile, R. Akiva states that it refers to their complete disappearance (Sifra, Be-Hukkotai, 8:1).
Their inability to rejoin their brethren was attributed to the fact that whereas the tribes of Judah and Benjamin (the Kingdom of Judah) were "scattered throughout the world," the ten tribes were exiled beyond the mysterious river Sambatyon (Gen. R. 73:6), with its rolling waters or sand and rocks, which during the six days of the week prevented them from crossing it, and though it rested on the Sabbath, the laws of the Sabbath rendered the crossing equally impossible. According to the Jerusalem Talmud, however (Sanh. 10:6, 29c), the exiles were divided into three. Only one-third went beyond the Sambatyon, a second to "Daphne of Antioch," and over the third "there descended a cloud which covered them"; but all three would eventually return.
Throughout the Middle Ages and until comparatively recent times there were claims of the existence of the ten lost tribes as well as attempts by travelers and explorers, both Jewish and non-Jewish, and by many naive scholars, both to discover the ten lost tribes or to identify different peoples with them. In the ninth century Eldad ha-Dani claimed not only to be a member of the tribe of Dan, but that he had communicated with four of the tribes. David Reuveni claimed to be the brother of Joseph the king of the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh who were settled in Khaybar in Arabia, which was identified with the Habor of II Kings. Benjamin of Tudela has a long description of the ten tribes. According to him the Jews of Persia stated that in the town of Nishapur dwelt the four tribes of Dan, Asher, Zebulun, and Naphtali, who were then governed "by their own prince Joseph Amarkala the Levite [ed. by N.M. Adler (1907), 83], while the Jews of Khaybar are of the tribes of Reuben and Gad and the half-tribe of Manasseh" (ibid., 72), as was also stated by Reuveni. Persistent was the legend that they warred with Prester John in Ethiopia, a story repeated by Obadiah of Bertinoro in his first two letters from Jerusalem in 1488 and 1489. The kabbalist Abraham Levi the elder, in 1528, identified them with the Falashas. R. Abraham Farissol gives a long account of them based upon conversations with David Reuveni not to be found in the latter's diary, while the most expansive is that of R. Abraham Jagel, an Italian Jew of the 16th–17th centuries, in the 22nd chapter of his Beit Ya'ar ha-Levanon.
R. Israel b. Samuel of Shklov (d. 1839), talmudic scholar of Lithuania and, later, in Erez Israel, where he was leader of the "Kolel ha-Perushim," the local community of the disciples of R. Elijah b. Solomon Zalman, the Vilna Gaon. R. Israel was born and brought up in Shklov. Although he studied under the Vilna Gaon for only six months before the latter's death, he was nevertheless entrusted with the preparation of the Gaon's commentaries for publication. In 1809 he joined the third group of the Gaon's pupils, led by R. Hayyim b. Tobiah, that immigrated to Erez Israel and settled in Safed, where there were already 40 families from the two previous groups. Within less than a year of his arrival he was sent by the Kolel ha-Perushim to Lithuania to organize permanent assistance for the immigrants. During the course of this mission, which proved extremely successful, he published the notes of the Vilna Gaon on the tractate Shekalim of the Jerusalem Talmud together with a commentary of his own under the title of Taklin Hadtin (Minsk, 1812). Though caught up in the Napoleonic wars which had meanwhile reached Russia, he succeeded in returning to Safed at the beginning of 1813. In the summer of that year, seeking to escape a plague which broke out in Safed, Israel and his family set out for Jerusalem. His wife died on the journey, his two sons, two of his daughters, and his son-in-law died in Jerusalem, and his father and mother at Safed and only he and his youngest daughter survived. In 1816, after having returned to Safed, R. Israel was chosen to succeed R. Menahem Mendel of Shklov, the leader of the Kolel ha-Perushim there, when the latter moved to Jerusalem. R. Israel served as head of the community, which now numbered 600, first in Safed and later in Jerusalem. He organized assistance from abroad, maintained amicable relations with the hasidic and Sephardi communities, represented his community before the authorities, and established good relations with the Arabs. Reports having reached Safed in 1830 of the existence of Jewish tribes in Yemen, he sent a special envoy there to search for remnants of the Ten Tribes. When Israel Bak opened a Hebrew printing house in Safed in 1832, he entrusted him with the printing of his Pe'at ha-Shulhan. The work did not appear until 1836, its printing having been interrupted by an attack by the Arabs of Upper Galilee on the Jews of Safed. R. Israel organized help for those who had suffered from the attack, which lasted for 33 days and in the course of which much Jewish property was looted. On the first day of 1837 an earthquake killed more than 2,000 Jews in Safed. R. Israel was then in Jerusalem, and upon hearing of the disaster he immediately sent help to Safed and letters to Jews abroad soliciting their aid for the stricken. Safed having been reduced to rubble, R. Israel for the last two years of his life lived, like most of the refugees from the earthquake, in Jerusalem. Louis Loewe, who met him there, related that on the Sabbath R. Israel spoke only Hebrew. His health failing, R. Israel went in 1839 to Tiberias where he died. His grave and tombstone were discovered in Tiberias in 1964. R. Israel's diary has been partially preserved, as have numerous letters which he wrote to people abroad. They constitute important sources for the history of the Jewish settlement in Erez Israel during the first half of the 19th century.