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The question whether the House of David exists on earth today cannot be answered with certainty, and in any event there is no person alive today or until recently who can prove Davidic descent to the exacting level of proof which public authorities require for the purposes of protocol governing the reception of princes.
All male descendants of King David through male lines, together with their daughters, are Princes or Princesses of the Blood. This applies whether they are Jewish (by birth from a Jewish mother) or not, though the Crown - and hence the dignity of Heir to the Throne - cannot pass through or settle on a female and cannot settle either on a non-Jew or on a Jew by halakhic conversion.
This disqualification has a remarkable consequence. Unlike the Crown, which is inalienable once settled except by death or unilateral abdication inter vivos, the dignity of Heir to the Throne will switch automatically from an incumbent who is preceded only by disqualified Princes to a son of any of these by a Jewish wife.
Many Jewish families, particularly those descended from the great Rabbis, have traditions of at least some strength that they are descended from this ancient dynastic house. These include such names as Abarbanel (alternative spelling Abrabanel), Berdugo, Charlap (Harlap), Don Yehiya (Yachia), Dyan (Dayan), Elfandari, Friedensohn, Friedman, Galperin (Heilprin), Ginzburger, Halperin (Alperin/Perin/Perigin), Horowitz, Katzenelbogen, Landau (Landaus), Loew (Lew/Loeb/Lowe/Liva), Lurie (Luria/Lauria), Margulies, Mirkes, Paprosh, Parnas, Peretz, Posner, Rabinowitz, Reins (Raines), Roff, Roth, Safrin, Salit (Salant), Shaltiel (Shealtiel), Shapira (Shapiro), Shneerson (Shneur), Weil (Wahl) and Winkler.
When the Jews were exiled to Babylon in about 586 BC the exile affected few more than the Royal family and the leading families of society, and not all of them returned when the Exile ended about seventy years later. It was at this time that the House of David divided into two main contingents: (1) those who returned with Zerubbabel and begat descendants who included Joseph of Nazareth, the legal father of Jesus who is the present and ever-living Head of the dynasty (and, possibly also the ancestors of the Abarbanel family unless more distantly related); and (2) the junior (Babylonian) branches which gave rise to the Exilarchs, the Reshim Galuta.
By the time of Jesus Christ, more Jews lived in Mesopotamia than in the land of Israel, and more also in and around Alexandria in Egypt. Eusebius, the great Church historian, recorded in Chapters 11, 12 and 20 of his History of the Church that the House and family of David - the Desposyni - was known to exist in sufficient strength within the Roman Empire to be considered a threat to the Emperor:
"Symeon ruled the Church of Jerusalem after the martyrdom of James and the conquest of Jerusalem which immediately followed, it is said that those of the apostles and disciples of the Lord that were still living came together from all directions with those that were related to the Lord according to the flesh to take counsel as to who was worthy to succeed James. They all with one consent pronounced Symeon, the son of Clopas, of whom the Gospel also makes mention; to be worthy of the episcopal throne of that parish. He was a cousin, as they say, of the Saviour. For Hegesippus records that Clopas was a brother of Joseph.
"He (Hegesippus) also relates that Vespasian after the conquest of Jerusalem gave orders that all that belonged to the lineage of David should be sought out, in order that none of the royal race might be left among the Jews; and in consequence of this a most terrible persecution again hung over the Jews.
"Of the family of the Lord there were still living the grandchildren of Jude, who is said to have been the Lord's brother according to the flesh. Information was given that they belonged to the family of David, and they were brought to the Emperor Domitian by the Evocatus. For Domitian feared the coming of Christ as Herod also had feared it. And he asked them if they were descendants of David, and they confessed that they were. Then he asked them how much property they had, or how much money they owned. And both of them answered that they had only nine thousand denarii, half of which belonged to each of them; and this property did not consist of silver, but of a piece of land which contained only thirty-nine acres, and from which they raised their taxes and supported themselves by their own labor." Then they showed their hands, exhibiting the hardness of their bodies and the callousness produced upon their hands by continuous toil as evidence of their own labor. And when they were asked concerning Christ and his kingdom, of what sort it was and where and when it was to appear, they, answered that it was not a temporal nor an earthly kingdom, but a heavenly and angelic one, which would appear at the end of the world, when he should come in glory to judge the quick and the dead, and to give unto every one according to his works. Upon hearing this, Domitian did not pass judgment against them, but, despising them as of no account, he let them go, and by a decree put a stop to the persecution of the Church. But when they were released they ruled the churches because they were witnesses and were also relatives of the Lord. And peace being established, they lived until the time of Trajan. These things are related by Hegesippus."
According to a tradition, Clopas the brother of Joseph of Nazareth was the father not only of Jude, but also of James the Less, one of the Apostles, and his wife Mary was herself a cousin of Mary the Mother of Jesus Christ. St. Jude is said to have travelled throughout Mesopotamia for ten years, preaching Christ and making many converts.
In the meantime the Davidic lines continued in Mesopotamia. The Talmud records that the Jewish community there was ruled in regard to its own affairs by an officer known as the Exilarch, reputedly descended from Jehoiachin, the last King of Judah exiled to Babylonia in 597 B.C.E. (II Kings 25:27-28)
By the early Christian centuries he had powers coercively to enforced the decisions of the rabbinical court, to the extent of corporal punishment. He appointed overseers of the market-place and represented the government and the Jewish community to one another, collecting taxes from the community and paying them over to the State.
The line of Exilarchs continued down to the last Davidic Prince definitely to hold this office. Mar Chizkiya was executed by the Persian Emperor in the middle of the eleventh century, leaving two sons, David (the ancestor of the Charlap family and probably the elder) and Isaac, the ancestor of the Shaltiel family. These escaped to Spain where they took refuge with a family friendly to their own.
On the basis of information currently available to us, it can be established that the Abarbanel family are senior to the Charlap, and the Charlap to the Shaltiel, in order of succession to the Crown. Seniority within the Abarbanel family cannot be determined on the basis of available information, therefore no one in this branch of the House of David can be identified as the Heir Presumptive. However, the information available with respect to the Charlap line is much more extensive and exhaustive.
The two sons of Mar Chizkiah fled to Spain where they were taken under the protection of Yosef ha-Nagid ben Shmuel. Spain was then a country in which Jews held positions of authority, led armies to victory and excelled in academic learning. The two brothers lived in Granada with Yosef ha-Nagid until he was murdered in 1066. One (presumably Isaac) went to Zaragoza and married there, and his descendants became distinguished in the Aragonese community. The other brother (presumably David) went north and west, where his next known descendant is Chiya al-Daudi (ca. 1085-1154), the first to be known as Charlap, the name he also gave to his dynasty.
The primogeniture line of the Charlap branch of the House of David Kalman Charlap (birth year of wife 1717), of Lomza, Poland and continues for two generations to Avraham, resident at Ciechanowiec and the precursor of the Lew family. His great-grandson Ezriel Aharon Lewin was born on 23 January 1839 at Ciechanow. The last generation to remain in Poland for his whole life was Joseph Levine (born 15 March 1890 at Ciechanowiec, died 1971 at Kansas City, USA). His son, born at Ciechanowiec on 15 April 1912, arrived in the USA in 1922 and lived at Kansas City where he died on 11 September 1994). His son Harvey is an actor resident in Santa Ana, California. He would be legitimate Heir to the Throne of David provided that his pedigree is proven to the required standard, but for the fact that it is a junior line.