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Meaning of ישראל Yishrael (Israel)

The word ישראל Yishrael (Israel) has several meanings,



Type of meaning




Etymological (noun)

Israel is a noun. The word Israel literally means to wrestle with G-d and first appears in Torah as a name given to Jacob. The idea of wrestling with G-d is said to describe the Jewish people’s relationship to G-d and the Jewish struggle with worshipping G-d and following the instructions of G-d. It does not mean a contemptuous relationship. Rather, a deeper understanding of this struggle may begin with simply reading the 49 names of G-d.

בראשית Gen. 24:30

הנביא יעקב
haNevi Israel

The Prophet Israel

Given name

The name Israel is given to Jacob, after he literally wrestles with an angel.

Jacob had wrestled with an angel, and refused to let the angel go even after the angel struck Jacob and injured him to try and defeat him. The angel asked to let go, and Jacob agreed, but only if he receives a blessing, and the angel blesses him by changing Jacob’s name to Israel. There are several interpretations to how being given this name was a blessing.

Jacob was not unscathed. This happened at night. That is a tough setting — literally, a dark moment.

There is a symmetry in Torah — there are comparable events in each era, cycles of behavior that repeat in each generation, for example, to deal with the patriarchs (e.g. Jacob) and the nation (e.g. Judah). The way the community could argue with G-d and gain concessions, so did the individual Jacob engage in a physical combat with an angel.

Also, people’s closest relationships often involve struggle. This allows for growth and closeness. As such, that relationship must be characterized in Jacob’s relationship with G-d — in other words, as the Torah makes clear, between Israel’s relationship with G-d.

It was not necessarily a violent wrestling match. It may have also been playful. However, it reached an intensity that resulted in harm to Jacob, the human in the match.

בני ישראל
Beni Israel

Sons of Israel

Tribal name

The name Israel applies to Jacob’s descendants, who collectively were the Twelve Tribes of Israel and the ancestors of Jewish people. As descendants of the Twelve Tribes, sometimes the Jewish people are referred to as the Children of Israel — Binei israel — collectively. The fact that the nation is endogenously known this way, is important. It also is comparable to the other two monotheistic religions, which also have verbal aspects to how they describe themselves: Israelite refers to one who struggles with G-d; Christian refers to one who follows G-d; and Muslim refers to one who submits to G-d. This reflects different theological approaches.

עם ישראל
Am Israel

People of Israel

National name

This is a national term for the Jewish people.

ארץ ישראל
Eretz Israel

Land of Israel

Geographic term

The Land of Israel — Eretz Israel, in Hebrew — is the land that Torah records being promised to Abraham, and the Children of Israel who inherited his covenant. It is roughly bounded by the Mediterranean sea, Jordan river, Galilee, and Negev, which is approximately equal to the area of the State of Israel with some exceptions (e.g. mainstream interpretations say that Eilat is not part of the religious definition of Eretz Israel).

מדינת ישראל
Medinat Israel

State of Israel

Governmental name

A modern republic founded in 1948 as a homeland for Jewish people, to represent Jewish people on international matters, and to guarantee freedom and equality on domestic matters for all its Jewish and non-Jewish citizens alike.


Some Christian and other groups appropriate the Jewish use of the term to suggest they are authorities as opposed to or even over authentic Jewish groups. Examples include the so-called Black Hebrew Israelites, Messianic Christians, and so forth.