According to the Hebrew Bible, the Tribe of Issachar (Hebrew: יִשָּׂשכָר, Modern Yissakhar, Tiberian Yiśśâḵār) was one of the twelve tribes of Israel.
A tribe of Israel, descended from Issachar. The numbers accredited to Issachar are: 54,400 in Num. i. 29; 64,300 in Num. xxvi. 25; and 145,600 in I Chron. vii. 1-5. The territory occupied by the tribe was the fourth lot specified in Josh. xix. 17-23, immediately north of the half-tribe of Manasseh, west of the Jordan, and south of Zebulun and Naphtali; and-it probably extended from the Jordan on the east to the Mediterranean Sea (comp. Deut. xxxiii. 18) on the west. It embraced sixteen cities and the fertile plain of Esdraelon.
The first important event in which Issachar figures is the battle of Deborah and Barak with Sisera in the plain of Esdraelon. In Judges v. 15 (R. V.) it is said: “And the princes of Issachar were with Deborah; as was Issachar, so was Barak.” It may be, though it is by no means certain, that both Deborah and Barak belonged to this tribe, in whose territory the battle was fought and won.
The judge Tola, son of Puah, son of Dodo, was also a man of Issachar (Judges x. 1). Jehoshaphat, son of Paruah, was one of Solomon’s commissary officials (I Kings iv. 17). The second dynasty of the Northern Kingdom belonged to Issachar: “And Baasha, the son of Ahijah, of the house of Issachar.” slew Nadab, son of Jeroboam I., and reigned in his stead (I Kings xv. 27-28). There are no other specific references to descendants of Issachar who occupied prominent places in Israel’s history; but, according to the genealogical tables of the chronicler, some further importance is attached to the tribe.
In Rabbinical Literature
The tribe of Issachar is particularly represented as one which consisted mostly of scholars, to which there is said to be an allusion in I Chron. xii. 32. According to Raba, there was not to be found a Jewish student that was not a descendant either of Levi or of Issachar (Yoma 26a). The passage of Jacob’s blessing referring to Issachar (Gen. xlix. 14-15) is interpreted as an allusion to the study of the Law, with which the people of that tribe occupied themselves (Gen. R. xcviii. 17; comp. also pseudo-Jonathan and Rashi ad loc.). The tribe of Issachar is also said to have been most influential in making proselytes (Gen. R. xcviii. 12; comp. Sifre, Deut. 364).
Although Issachar was the ninth son of Jacob, yet the prince of his tribe was the second to bring the offering for the dedication of the altar (Num. vii. 18-23), because the tribe was well versed in the Law (Gen. R. lxxii. 4). The Midrash finds in the details of the offering various allusions to the Torah (Num. R. xiii. 15). The tribe of Issachar advised the others to bring six covered wagons and twelve oxen (Num. vii. 3) on which to load the parts of the Tabernacle (Num. R. xii. 19). The 200 chiefs of Issachar (I Chron. xii. 32) were leaders of the Sanhedrin, whose decisions were implicitly accepted by their brethren (Gen. R. lxxii. 5, xcviii. 17). The wise men consulted by Ahasuerus (Esth. i. 13) were people of Issachar (Esth. R. iv.). The tribe is also represented as having been rich (comp. Targ. OnḲ. to Gen. xlix. 14); and its members figure as persons who united wealth and learning (B. Ḳ. 17a). It was because they studied the Torah under favorableconditions that they produced only 200 chiefs of the Sanhedrin, while the people of Naphtali, who studied it under difficulties, produced 1,000 (Cant. R. viii. 14).
Traditionally, Issachar was seen as being dominated by religious scholars; there is said by some to be an allusion to this in the Book of Chronicles—…from Issachar, men who understood the times, and knew what Israel ought to do …—and if this is indeed an allusion to the tradition, then it would imply that the tradition was in existence by the time that the Book of Chronicles was compiled. In the Midrash, it is said that Issachar were the most influential in proselytism, and that Jewish religious scholars were either from the tribe of Levi or that of Issachar. Additionally, the Midrash argues that Issachar’s description in the Blessing of Jacob—Issachar is a strong ass lying down between the sheepfolds: and he saw that settled life was good, and the land was pleasant; he put his shoulder to the burden, and became a slave under forced labour—is a reference to the religious scholarship of the tribe of Issachar, rather than simply to a more literal interpretation of Issachar’s name.
Since the tribe of Zebulun were traditionally seen as merchants and Issachar as religious teachers, Issachar and Zebulun were considered to have a symbiotic relationship, whereby Issachar would devote its time to the study and teaching of Torah, while Zebulun would provide the financial support, in exchange for a share of Issachar’s spiritual reward . Such was the tradition of this symbiosis, that anyone engaged in such a partnership became termed Issachar and Zebulun respectively, even into modern times.
As part of the Kingdom of Israel, the territory of Issachar was conquered by the Assyrians, and the tribe exiled; the manner of their exile led to their further history being lost.