As mentioned in the introduction to this section, the Twelve Tribes of Yisra’el are defined as the twelve clans, or extended family groups, which descended from Ya’aqov/Yisra’el.  Each of these twelve families has as its origin one of the twelve sons of Ya’aqov, with the exclusion of Levi and Yosef, and the inclusion of both Yosef’s sons, Efra'im and Menashe in their place.

The Chumash (the first five books of the Tanakh) is replete with accounts wherein various tribes are involved with different sorts of affairs during the Yisra’eli Exodus and journey to the Promised Land.  Perhaps some of the most well-known accounts involving all twelve tribes are those regarding the counting of citizens —  specifically adult males of combat readiness —  within these tribes.  For the sake of curiosity, the census figures from the twelve tribes are included in this section.

At the beginning of the book of Ba-Midbar (Numbers), YHWH commanded Mosheh to take a census of all male adults twenty years of age and up, “every one who goes out to the legion in Yisra’el[.]”  The inclusion of this phrase could define the census as having been taken for purposes which were related to military readiness, as the infirm and the stricken elderly would likely not have been counted in this census.

One man from each tribe, presumably its leader, was named along with the able-bodied male head count from his tribe. These details are tabulated below (the order of tribes is as given in the census figures listed in Ba-Midbar, chapter 1):

tribe name tribal chief population
Reuven Elitzur ben-Shedeur 46,500
Shimeon Shelumiel ben-Tzurishaddai 59,300
Gad Eliasaf ben-Deuel 45,650
Yehudah Nachshon ben-Amminadav 74,600
Issachar Nethanel ben-Tzuar 54,400
Zevulun Eliav ben-Chelon 57,400
Efraim Elishama ben-Ammihud 40,500
Menashe Gamaliel ben-Pedahtzur 32,200
Benyamin Avidan ben-Gideoni 35,400
Dan Achiezer ben-Ammishaddai 62,700
Asher Pagiel ben-Ochran 41,500
Naftali Achira ben-Enan 53,400
Total sum 603,550

One will note that, due to the fact that the Levites were no longer regarded as one of the twelve tribes, their numbers are not counted at this point.  Another interesting point is the fact that later in this book, Mosheh is commanded again by YHWH to enumerate the adult males of at least 20 years of age.  This census was presumably ordered because of the devastating plague which broke out following the incident of Ba’al-pe’or.  Here are the figures from that later census:

tribe population difference
Reuven 43,730 -2,770
Shimeon 22,200 -37,100
Gad 40,500 -5,150
Yehudah 76,500 +1,900
Issachar 64,300 +9,900
Zevulun 60,500 +3,100
Efraim 32,500 -8,000
Menashe 52,700 +20,500
Benyamin 45,600 +10,200
Dan 64,400 +1,700
Asher 53,400 +11,900
Naftali 45,400 -8,000
Total sum 601,730 -1,820

An additional bit of information regarding the population of the Levites is also given in this census:  they were numbered at 23,000.  Their number, curiously, was not counted with the earlier census, and the scripture deliberately includes this fact.  The reason for their separation is given as the fact that the number of the Levites included all males from one month of age and above, not the minimal age of 20 years as required for the counting of the rest of Yisra’el.  Here we are reassured regarding the purpose of these enumerations as instrumental in orchestrating the allotment of the heritage of land between the 12 tribes, whereas the counting of the Levites was likely meant more for statistical reasons.