Maimonides statue - Cordoba
Emmy Noether
Kafka portrait
Franz Kafka
Sholem Aleichem 1907
Sholem Aleichem
Ben Gurion 1959
David Ben-Gurion
Chagall France 1921
Marc Chagall
Einstein 1921 portrait2
Natalie Portman - TIFF2010 01
Baruch Spinoza
Total population
13,746,100 - 17,936,400[1]
Regions with significant populations
Flag of the United States United States 5,425,000 (2011) [2]-6,800,000[3]
Flag of Israel Israel 6,042,000 [4]
Flag of France France 480,000 [2]
Flag of Canada Canada 375,000 [2]
Flag of the United Kingdom United Kingdom 291,000 [2]
Flag of Russia Russia 194,000 [2]
Flag of Argentina Argentina 182,300 [2]
Flag of Germany Germany 119,000 [2]
Flag of Australia Australia 107,500 [2]
Flag of Brazil Brazil 95,300 [2]
Flag of South Africa South Africa 70,800 [2]
Flag of Ukraine Ukraine 67,000 [2]
Flag of Hungary Hungary 48,600 [2]
Flag of Mexico Mexico 39,400 [2]
Flag of Belgium (civil) Belgium 30,300 [2]
Flag of the Netherlands Netherlands 30,000 [2]
Flag of Italy Italy 28,400 [2]
Flag of Iran Iran 25,000[5][6]
Flag of Chile Chile 20,500 [2]
All other countries 250,200 [2]
Predominant spoken languages:
Historical languages:
  • Yiddish
  • Ladino
  • Judeo-Arabic
  • others
Sacred languages:
  • Biblical Hebrew
  • Aramaic

Star of David Judaism

Related ethnic groups

other Levantines,[7][8][9][10] Samaritans,[9] Arabs,[9][11] Assyrians[9][10]

The Jews (Hebrew: יְהוּדִים ISO 259-3 Yehudim Israeli pronunciation [jehuˈdim]); (בני ישראל, Standard: Bnai Yisraʾel; Tiberian: Bnai Yiśrāʾēl; ISO 259-3: Bnai Yiśraʾel, translated as: "Children of Israel" or "Sons of Israel"), also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group[12] originating from the Israelites (Hebrews) of the Ancient Near East.

According to Jewish tradition, Jewish ancestry is traced back to the Biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, who lived in Canaan around the 18th century BCE. Historically, Jews had evolved mostly from the Tribe of Judah and Simeon, and partially from the Israelite tribes of Binyamin and Levi, who had all together formed the ancient Kingdom of Judah. A closely related group is the Samaritans, who claim descent from the Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, while according to the Bible their origin is in the people brought to Israel by the Neo-Assyrian Empire and some Cohanim (Jewish priests) who taught them how to worship the "native God".[13] The Jewish ethnicity, nationality and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation.[14][15][16] Converts to Judaism have a status within the Jewish ethnos equal to those born into it.[17] Conversion is not encouraged by mainstream Judaism, and is considered a tough task, mainly applicable for cases of mixed marriages.[18]

The modern State of Israel was established as a Jewish nation-state and defines itself as such in its Basic Laws. Its Law of Return grants the right of citizenship to any Jew who requests it.[19] Israel is the only country where Jews are a majority of the population. Jews had also enjoyed political independence twice before in ancient history. The first of these periods lasted from 1350[20] to 586 BCE, and encompassed the periods of the Judges, the United Monarchy, and the Divided Monarchy of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, ending with the destruction of the First Temple. The second was the period of the Hasmonean Kingdom spanning from 140 to 37 BCE and to some degree under Herodians from 37 BCE to 6 CE. Since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, most Jews have lived in diaspora.[21] A minority in every country in which they live (except Israel), they have frequently experienced persecution throughout history, resulting in a population that has fluctuated both in numbers and distribution over the centuries.

The world Jewish population reached a peak of 16.7 million prior to World War II,[22] but 6 million Jews were killed in The Holocaust. Since then the population has risen again, and as of 2010 was estimated at 13.4 million by the North American Jewish Data Bank,[22] or less than 0.2% of the total world population (roughly one in every 514 people).[23] According to this report, about 43% of all Jews reside in Israel (6 million), and 39% in the United States (5.3-6.8 million), with most of the remainder living in Europe (1.5 million) and Canada (0.4 million).[22] These numbers include all those who self-identified as Jews in a socio-demographic study or were identified so by a respondent in the same household.[24] The exact world Jewish population, however, is difficult to measure. In addition to issues with census methodology, there are halakhic disputes regarding who is a Jew and secular, political, and ancestral identification factors that may affect the figure considerably.[25]

Name and etymology[]

The English word Jew continues Middle English Gyw, Iewe, a loan from Old French giu, earlier juieu, ultimately from Latin Iudaeum. The Latin Iudaeus simply means Judaean, "from the land of Judaea".[26] The Latin term itself, like the corresponding Greek Ἰουδαῖος, is a loan from Aramaic Y'hūdāi, corresponding to Hebrew: יְהוּדִי, Yehudi (sg.); יְהוּדִים, Yehudim (pl.), in origin the term for a member of the tribe of Judah or the people of the kingdom of Judah. The name of both the tribe and kingdom derive from Judah, the fourth son of Jacob.[27]

The Hebrew word for Jew, יְהוּדִי ISO 259-3 Yhudi, is pronounced [jehuˈdi], with the stress on the final syllable, in Israeli Hebrew, in its basic form.[28]

The Ladino name is ג׳ודיו, Djudio (sg.); ג׳ודיוס, Djudios (pl.); Yiddish: ייִד Yid (sg.); ייִדן, Yidn (pl.).

The etymological equivalent is in use in other languages, e.g., "Yahoud"/"Yahoudi" (Arabic: يهود/يهودي) in Arabic language, "Jude" in German, "judeu" in Portuguese, "juif" in French, "jøde" in Danish and Norwegian, "judío" in Spanish, "jood" in Dutch, etc., but derivations of the word "Hebrew" are also in use to describe a Jew, e.g., in Italian (Ebreo), in Persian ("Ebri/Ebrani" (Persian: عبری/عبرانی)) and Russian (Еврей, Yevrey).[29] The German word "Jude" is pronounced [ˈjuːdə], the corresponding adjective "jüdisch" [ˈjyːdɪʃ] (Jewish) is the origin of the word "Yiddish".[30] (See Jewish ethnonyms for a full overview.)

According to The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth Edition (2000):

It is widely recognized that the attributive use of the noun Jew, in phrases such as Jew lawyer or Jew ethics, is both vulgar and highly offensive. In such contexts Jewish is the only acceptable possibility. Some people, however, have become so wary of this construction that they have extended the stigma to any use of Jew as a noun, a practice that carries risks of its own. In a sentence such as There are now several Jews on the council, which is unobjectionable, the substitution of a circumlocution like Jewish people or persons of Jewish background may in itself cause offense for seeming to imply that Jew has a negative connotation when used as a noun.[31]


According to the Hebrew Bible, all Israelites descend from Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Abraham was born in the Sumerian city of Ur Kaśdim, and migrated to Canaan (commonly known as the Land of Israel) with his family. Aristotle believed that the Jews came from India, where he said that they were known as the Kalani.[32] Genetic studies on Jews show that most Jews worldwide bear a common genetic heritage which originates in the Middle East, and that they bear their strongest resemblance to the peoples of the Fertile Crescent.[33][34][35] According to archaeologists, however, Israelite culture did not overtake the region, but rather grew out of Canaanite culture.[36][37][38][39]


Judaism guides its adherents in both practice and belief, and has been called not only a religion, but also a "way of life,"[40] which has made drawing a clear distinction between Judaism, Jewish culture, and Jewish identity rather difficult. Throughout history, in eras and places as diverse as the ancient Hellenic world,[41] in Europe before and after The Age of Enlightenment (see Haskalah),[42] in Islamic Spain and Portugal,[43] in North Africa and the Middle East,[43] India,[44] and China,[45] or the contemporary United States[46] and Israel,[47] cultural phenomena have developed that are in some sense characteristically Jewish without being at all specifically religious. Some factors in this come from within Judaism, others from the interaction of Jews or specific communities of Jews with their surroundings, others from the inner social and cultural dynamics of the community, as opposed to from the religion itself. This phenomenon has led to considerably different Jewish cultures unique to their own communities, each as authentically Jewish as the next.[48]

Who is a Jew?[]

Judaism shares some of the characteristics of a nation, an ethnicity,[12] a religion, and a culture, making the definition of who is a Jew vary slightly depending on whether a religious or national approach to identity is used.[49][50] Generally, in modern secular usage Jews include three groups: people who were born to a Jewish family regardless of whether or not they follow the religion, those who have some Jewish ancestral background or lineage (sometimes including those who do not have strictly matrilineal descent), and people without any Jewish ancestral background or lineage who have formally converted to Judaism and therefore are followers of the religion.[51]

Historical definitions of Jewish identity have traditionally been based on halakhic definitions of matrilineal descent, and halakhic conversions. Historical definitions of who is a Jew date back to the codification of the Oral Torah into the Babylonian Talmud, around 200 CE. Interpretations of sections of the Tanakh, such as Deuteronomy 7:1–5, by Jewish sages, are used as a warning against intermarriage between Jews and Canaanites because "[the non-Jewish husband] will cause your child to turn away from Me and they will worship the gods (i.e., idols) of others." Leviticus 24:10 says that the son in a marriage between a Hebrew woman and an Egyptian man is "of the community of Israel." This is complemented by Ezra 10:2–3, where Israelites returning from Babylon vow to put aside their gentile wives and their children.[52][53] Since the Haskalah, these halakhic interpretations of Jewish identity have been challenged.[54]

According to historian Shaye J. D. Cohen, the status of the offspring of mixed marriages was determined patrilineally in the Bible. He brings two likely explanations for the change in Mishnaic times: first, the Mishnah may have been applying the same logic to mixed marriages as it had applied to other mixtures (kilayim). Thus, a mixed marriage is forbidden as is the union of a horse and a donkey, and in both unions the offspring are judged matrilineally.[55] Second, the Tannaim may have been influenced by Roman law, which dictated that when a parent could not contract a legal marriage, offspring would follow the mother.[55]

By the first century, Babylonia, to which Jews migrated to after the Babylonian conquest as well as after the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 CE, already held a speedily growing[56] population of an estimated 1,000,000 Jews, which increased to an estimated 2 million [57] between the years 200 CE - 500 CE, both by natural growth and by immigration of more Jews from the Land of Israel, making up about 1/6 of the world Jewish population at that era.[57] At times conversion has accounted for a part of Jewish population growth. Some have claimed that in the first century of the Christian era, for example, the population more than doubled, from four to 8–10 million within the confines of the Roman Empire, in good part as a result of a wave of conversion.[58]

Other historians believe that conversion during the Roman era was limited in number and did not account for much of the Jewish population growth, due to various factors such as the illegality of male conversion to Judaism in the Roman world from the mid second century as well as other factors.[59] In addition, historians argue the very figure (4 million) that had been guessed to account for the population of Jews in the ancient Roman Empire is an error that has long been disproven and thus the assumption that conversion impacted Jewish population growth in ancient Rome on a large scale is false.[59]

Aside from the Jewish communities of Babylonia and Rome, other Jewish communities were also to be found during that era in North Africa, across the Middle East, in Northern Europe, and in other places.

Ethnic divisions[]

Gottlieb-Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur

Ashkenazi Jews of late 19th century Eastern Europe portrayed in Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur (1878), by Maurycy Gottlieb

Within the world's Jewish population there are distinct ethnic divisions, most of which are primarily the result of geographic branching from an originating Israelite population, and subsequent independent evolutions. An array of Jewish communities was established by Jewish settlers in various places around the Old World, often at great distances from one another resulting in effective and often long-term isolation from each other. During the millennia of the Jewish diaspora the communities would develop under the influence of their local environments; political, cultural, natural, and populational. Today, manifestation of these differences among the Jews can be observed in Jewish cultural expressions of each community, including Jewish linguistic diversity, culinary preferences, liturgical practices, religious interpretations, as well as degrees and sources of genetic admixture.[60]

Jews are often identified as belonging to one of two major groups: the Ashkenazim, and the Sephardim, or "Hispanics" (Sefarad meaning "Spain/Hispania" or "Iberia" in Hebrew, denoting their Spanish, and Portuguese, base). The Mizrahim, or "Easterners" (Mizrach being "East" in Hebrew), that is, the diverse collection of Middle Eastern and North African Jews, constitute a third major group, although they are sometimes termed Sephardi for liturgical reasons.[61]

Smaller groups include, but are not restricted to, Indian Jews such as the Bene Israel, Bnei Menashe, Cochin Jews, and Bene Ephraim; the Romaniotes of Greece; the Italian Jews ("Italkim" or "Bené Roma"); the Teimanim from Yemen and Oman; various African Jews, including most numerously the Beta Israel of Ethiopia; and Chinese Jews, most notably the Kaifeng Jews, as well as various other distinct but now almost extinct communities.[62]

The divisions between all these groups are approximate and their boundaries are not always clear. The Mizrahim for example, are a heterogeneous collection of North African, Central Asian, Caucasian, and Middle Eastern Jewish communities that are often as unrelated to each other as they are to any of the earlier mentioned Jewish groups. In modern usage, however, the Mizrahim are sometimes termed Sephardi due to similar styles of liturgy, despite independent development from Sephardim proper. Thus, among Mizrahim there are Egyptian Jews, Iraqi Jews, Lebanese Jews, Kurdish Jews, Libyan Jews, Syrian Jews, Bukharian Jews, Mountain Jews, Georgian Jews, Iranian Jews and various others. The Teimanim from Yemen and Oman are sometimes included, although their style of liturgy is unique and they differ in respect to the admixture found among them to that found in Mizrahim. In addition, there is a differentiation made between Sephardi migrants who established themselves in the Middle East and North Africa after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and Portugal in the 1490s and the pre-existing Jewish communities in those regions.[62]

Despite this diversity, Ashkenazi Jews represent the bulk of modern Jewry, with at least 70% of Jews worldwide (and up to 90% prior to World War II and the Holocaust). As a result of their emigration from Europe, Ashkenazim also represent the overwhelming majority of Jews in the New World continents, in countries such as the United States, Canada, Argentina, Australia, and Brazil. In France, emigration of Jews from North Africa has led them to outnumber the Ashkenazim .[63] Only in Israel is the Jewish population representative of all groups, a melting pot independent of each group's proportion within the overall world Jewish population.[64]


Page from Yiddish-Hebrew-Latin-German dictionary by Elijah Levita

A page from Elia Levita's (right to left) Yiddish-Hebrew-Latin-German dictionary (1542) contains a list of nations, including an entry for Jew: Hebrew: יְהוּדִי‎, Yiddish: יוּד, German: Jud, Latin: Iudaeus

Hebrew is the liturgical language of Judaism (termed l'shon ha-kodesh, "the holy tongue"), the language in which the Hebrew scriptures (Tanakh) were composed, and the daily speech of the Jewish people for centuries. By the 5th century BCE, Aramaic, a closely related tongue, joined Hebrew as the spoken language in Judea.[65] By the third century BCE, some Jews of the diaspora were speaking Greek.[66] Others, such as in the Jewish communities of Babylonia, were speaking Hebrew and Aramaic, the languages of the Babylonian Talmud. These languages were also used by the Jews of Israel at that time.

For centuries, Jews worldwide have spoken the local or dominant languages of the regions they migrated to, often developing distinctive dialectal forms or branches that became independent languages. Yiddish is the Judæo-German language developed by Ashkenazi Jews who migrated to Central Europe. Ladino is the Judæo-Spanish language developed by Sephardic Jews who migrated to the Iberian peninsula. Due to many factors, including the impact of the Holocaust on European Jewry, the Jewish exodus from Arab lands, and widespread emigration from other Jewish communities around the world, ancient and distinct Jewish languages of several communities, including Judæo-Georgian, Judæo-Arabic, Judæo-Berber, Krymchak, Judæo-Malayalam and many others, have largely fallen out of use.[67]

For over sixteen centuries Hebrew was used almost exclusively as a liturgical language, and as the language in which most books had been written on Judaism, with a few speaking only Hebrew on the Sabbath.[68] Hebrew was revived as a spoken language by Eliezer ben Yehuda, who arrived in Palestine in 1881. It had not been used as a mother tongue since Tannaic times.[65] Modern Hebrew is now one of the two official languages of the State of Israel along with Arabic.[69]

The three most commonly spoken languages among Jews today are English, Hebrew, and Russian. Some Romance languages, particularly French and Spanish, are also widely used.[67] Yiddish has been spoken by more Jews in history than any other language,[70] but it is far less used today, following the Holocaust and the adoption of Modern Hebrew by the Zionist movement and the State of Israel.

Genetic studies[]

Y DNA studies tend to imply a small number of founders in an old population whose members parted and followed different migration paths.[71] In most Jewish populations, these male line ancestors appear to have been mainly Middle Eastern. For example, Ashkenazi Jews share more common paternal lineages with other Jewish and Middle Eastern groups than with non-Jewish populations in areas where Jews lived in Eastern Europe, Germany and the French Rhine Valley. This is consistent with Jewish traditions in placing most Jewish paternal origins in the region of the Middle East.[72][73] The maternal lineages of Jewish populations, studied by looking at mitochondrial DNA, are generally more heterogeneous.[74] Scholars such as Harry Ostrer and Raphael Falk believe this indicates that many Jewish males found new mates from European and other communities in the places where they migrated in the diaspora after fleeing ancient Israel.[75] In contrast, Behar has found evidence that about 40% of Ashkenazi Jews originate maternally from just four female founders, who were of Middle Eastern origin. The populations of Sephardi and Mizrahi Jewish communities "showed no evidence for a narrow founder effect."[74] Subsequent studies carried out by Feder et al. confirmed the huge portion of non-local maternal origin among Ashkenazi Jews. Reflecting on their findings related to the maternal origin of Ashkenazi Jews, the authors conclude "Clearly, the differences between Jews and non-Jews are far larger than those observed among the Jewish communities. Hence, differences between the Jewish communities can be overlooked when non-Jews are included in the comparisons."[76] Beside Ashkenazi Jews, evidence for founder females of Middle Eastern origin has been found in all other major Jewish groups[77][78]

Studies of autosomal DNA, which look at the entire DNA mixture, have become increasingly important as the technology develops. They show that Jewish populations have tended to form relatively closely related groups in independent communities, with most in a community sharing significant ancestry in common.[79] For Jewish populations of the diaspora, the genetic composition of Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrahi Jewish populations show a predominant amount of shared Middle Eastern ancestry. According to Behar, the most parsimonious explanation for this shared Middle Eastern ancestry is that it is "consistent with the historical formulation of the Jewish people as descending from ancient Hebrew and Israelite residents of the Levant" and "the dispersion of the people of ancient Israel throughout the Old World" [80] North African, Italian and others of Iberian origin show variable frequencies of admixture with non-Jewish historical host populations among the maternal lines. In the case of Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews (in particular Moroccan Jews), who are apparently closely related, the non-Jewish component is mainly southern European. Behar et al. have remarked on an especially close relationship to modern Italians.[81][82][83] The studies show that the Bene Israel and Cochin Jews of India, Beta Israel of Ethiopia, and a portion of the Lemba people of southern Africa, while more closely resembling the local populations of their native countries, have some ancient Jewish descent.[84][85][86][78]


Population centers[]

Country[22] Jews, № Jews, %
Israel Israel 5,916,200[87] 75.52%
United States United States 5,275,000 1.71%
France France 483,500 0.77%
Canada Canada 375,000 1.11%
United Kingdom United Kingdom 292,000 0.47%
Brazil Brazil 207,329 0.10%
Russia Russia 205,000 0.15%
Argentina Argentina 182,300 0.45%
Germany Germany 119,000 0.15%
Australia Australia 107,500 0.50%
Ukraine Ukraine 71,500 0.16%
South Africa South Africa 70,800 0.14%
Hungary Hungary 48,600 0.49%
Mexico Mexico 39,400 0.04%
Belgium Belgium 30,300 0.28%
Netherlands Netherlands 30,000 0.18%
Italy Italy 28,400 0.05%
World 13,558,300 0.21%

According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics there were 13,421,000 Jews worldwide in 2009, roughly 0.19% of the world's population at the time.[88]

According to the estimates for 2007 of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute, the world's Jewish population is 13.2 million.[89] cites figures ranging from 12 to 18 million.[90] These statistics incorporate both practicing Jews affiliated with synagogues and the Jewish community, and approximately 4.5 million unaffiliated and secular Jews.


Israel, the Jewish nation-state, is the only country in which Jews make up a majority of the citizens.[91] Israel was established as an independent democratic and Jewish state on May 14, 1948.[92] Of the 120 members in its parliament, the Knesset,[93] currently, 12 members of the Knesset are Arab citizens of Israel, most representing Arab political parties. One of Israel's Supreme Court judges is also an Arab citizen of Israel.[94]

Between 1948 and 1958, the Jewish population rose from 800,000 to two million.[95] Currently, Jews account for 75.4% of the Israeli population, or 6 million people.[96][97] The early years of the State of Israel were marked by the mass immigration of Holocaust survivors and Jews fleeing Arab lands.[98] Israel also has a large population of Ethiopian Jews, many of whom were airlifted to Israel in the late 1980s and early 1990s.[99] Between 1974 and 1979 nearly 227,258 immigrants arrived in Israel, about half being from the Soviet Union.[100] This period also saw an increase in immigration to Israel from Western Europe, Latin America, and North America.[101]

A trickle of immigrants from other communities has also arrived, including Indian Jews and others, as well as some descendants of Ashkenazi Holocaust survivors who had settled in countries such as the United States, Argentina, Australia, Chile, and South Africa. Some Jews have emigrated from Israel elsewhere, because of economic problems or disillusionment with political conditions and the continuing Arab-Israeli conflict. Jewish Israeli emigrants are known as yordim.[102]

Diaspora (outside Israel)[]

The waves of immigration to the United States and elsewhere at the turn of the 19th century, the founding of Zionism and later events, including pogroms in Russia, the massacre of European Jewry during the Holocaust, and the founding of the state of Israel, with the subsequent Jewish exodus from Arab lands, all resulted in substantial shifts in the population centers of world Jewry by the end of the 20th century.[103]

Hanukkah sign Nicosia Republic of Cyprus

Public Hanukkah menorah in Nicosia, Cyprus


In this Rosh Hashana greeting card from the early 1900s, Russian Jews, packs in hand, gaze at the American relatives beckoning them to the United States. Over two million Jews fled the pogroms of the Russian Empire to the safety of the U.S. between 1881 and 1924.[104]

More than half of the Jews live in the Diaspora (see Population table). Currently, the largest Jewish community outside Israel, and either the largest or second-largest Jewish community in the world, is located in the United States, with 5.2 million to 6.4 million Jews by various estimates. Elsewhere in the Americas, there are also large Jewish populations in Canada (315,000), Argentina (180,000-300,000), and Brazil (196,000-600,000), and smaller populations in Mexico, Uruguay, Venezuela, Chile, and several other countries (see History of the Jews in Latin America).[105] Demographers disagree on whether the United States has a larger Jewish population than Israel, with many maintaining that Israel surpassed the United States in Jewish population during the 2000s, while others maintain that the United States still has the largest Jewish population in the world. Currently, a major national Jewish population survey is planned to ascertain whether or not Israel has overtaken the United States in Jewish population.[106]

Western Europe's largest Jewish community, and the third-largest Jewish community in the world, can be found in France, home to between 483,000 and 500,000 Jews, the majority of whom are immigrants or refugees from North African Arab countries such as Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia (or their descendants).[107] The United Kingdom has a Jewish community of 292,000. In Eastern Europe, there are anywhere from 350,000 to one million Jews living in the former Soviet Union, but exact figures are difficult to establish. In Germany, the 102,000 Jews registered with the Jewish community are a slowly declining population,[108] despite the immigration of tens of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union since the fall of the Berlin Wall.[109] Thousands of Israelis also live in Germany, either permanently or temporarily, for economic reasons.[110]

The Arab countries of North Africa and the Middle East were home to around 900,000 Jews in 1945. Fueled by anti-Zionism[111] after the founding of Israel, systematic persecution caused almost all of these Jews to flee to Israel, North America, and Europe in the 1950s (see Jewish exodus from Arab lands). Today, around 8,000 Jews remain in all Arab nations combined.[112]

Iran is home to almost 9,000 Jews, and has the second-largest Jewish population in the Middle East after Israel. From 1948 to 1953, about one-third of Iranian Jews, most of them poor, emigrated to Israel. Before the 1979 revolution, there were 100,000 Jews living in the country. After the revolution, most of them left Iran for Israel, Europe, or the United States. Most Iranian-Jewish emigres, along with many non-Jewish Iranians, went to the US, especially Los Angeles, where the principal Iranian community is called "Tehrangeles".[112][113]

Outside Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, and the rest of Asia, there are significant Jewish populations in Australia (120,000) and South Africa (70,000).[112] There is also a 7,000-strong community in New Zealand.

Jews in India[]
Jewish synagouge kochi india

The Paradesi Synagogue in Kochi, India

Judaism was one of the first foreign religions to arrive in India in recorded history, attested to in the first century CE for the people who became known as the Cochin Jews. Another group are the Bene Israel, early migrants who were taught normative Judaism beginning in the eighteenth century and migrated to major cities, such as Mumbai. The last major immigrant group were Arabic-speakers, known as Baghdadi Jews, who arrived at the same time as the British colonists of the late eighteenth century. Traditionally, Indian Jews are a religious minority in India, but unlike Jews in many other parts of the world, they have historically lived in India without any instances of anti-Semitism from the local majority populace, the Hindus. After India gained independence and Israel was established as a state, few Indian Jews emigrated to Israel in the mid-1950s.

Demographic changes[]


Since at least the time of the Ancient Greeks, a proportion of Jews have assimilated into the wider non-Jewish society around them, by either choice or force, ceasing to practice Judaism and losing their Jewish identity.[114] Assimilation took place in all areas, and during all time periods,[114] with some Jewish communities, for example the Kaifeng Jews of China, disappearing entirely.[115] The advent of the Jewish Enlightenment of the 18th century (see Haskalah) and the subsequent emancipation of the Jewish populations of Europe and America in the 19th century, accelerated the situation, encouraging Jews to increasingly participate in, and become part of, secular society. The result has been a growing trend of assimilation, as Jews marry non-Jewish spouses and stop participating in the Jewish community.[116]

Rates of interreligious marriage vary widely: In the United States, it is just under 50%,[117] in the United Kingdom, around 53%; in France; around 30%,[118] and in Australia and Mexico, as low as 10%.[119][120] In the United States, only about a third of children from intermarriages affiliate with Jewish religious practice.[121] The result is that most countries in the Diaspora have steady or slightly declining religiously Jewish populations as Jews continue to assimilate into the countries in which they live.

War and persecution[]

The Jews the world over love liberty poster

World War I poster shows a soldier cutting the bonds from a Jewish man, who says, "You have cut my bonds and set me free - now let me help you set others free!"

The Jewish people and Judaism have experienced various persecutions throughout Jewish history. During late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages the Roman Empire (in its later phases known as the Byzantine Empire) repeatedly repressed the Jewish population, first by ejecting them from their homelands during the pagan Roman era and later by officially establishing them as second-class citizens during the Christian Roman era.[122][123]

According to James Carroll, "Jews accounted for 10% of the total population of the Roman Empire. By that ratio, if other factors had not intervened, there would be 200 million Jews in the world today, instead of something like 13 million."[124]

Later in medieval Western Europe, further persecutions of Jews in the name of Christianity occurred, notably during the Crusades—when Jews all over Germany were massacred—and a series of expulsions from England, Germany, France, and, in the largest expulsion of all, Spain and Portugal after the Reconquista (the Catholic Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula), where both unbaptized Sephardic Jews and the ruling Muslim Moors were expelled.[125][126]

In the Papal States, which existed until 1870, Jews were required to live only in specified neighborhoods called ghettos.[127] In the 19th and (before the end of World War II) 20th centuries, the Roman Catholic Church adhered to a distinction between "good antisemitism" and "bad antisemitism". The "bad" kind promoted hatred of Jews because of their descent. This was considered un-Christian because the Christian message was intended for all of humanity regardless of ethnicity; anyone could become a Christian. The "good" kind criticized alleged Jewish conspiracies to control newspapers, banks, and other institutions, to care only about accumulation of wealth, etc.[128]

Islam and Judaism have a complex relationship. Traditionally Jews and Christians living in Muslim lands, known as dhimmis, were allowed to practice their religions and administer their internal affairs, but they were subject to certain conditions.[129] They had to pay the jizya (a per capita tax imposed on free adult non-Muslim males) to the Islamic state.[129] Dhimmis had an inferior status under Islamic rule. They had several social and legal disabilities such as prohibitions against bearing arms or giving testimony in courts in cases involving Muslims.[130] Many of the disabilities were highly symbolic. The one described by Bernard Lewis as "most degrading"[131] was the requirement of distinctive clothing, not found in the Quran or hadith but invented in early medieval Baghdad; its enforcement was highly erratic.[131] On the other hand, Jews rarely faced martyrdom or exile, or forced compulsion to change their religion, and they were mostly free in their choice of residence and profession.[132]

Notable exceptions include the massacre of Jews and/or forcible conversion of some Jews by the rulers of the Almohad dynasty in Al-Andalus in the 12th century,[133] as well as in Islamic Persia,[134] and the forced confinement of Moroccan Jews to walled quarters known as mellahs beginning from the 15th century and especially in the early 19th century.[135] In modern times, it has become commonplace for standard antisemitic themes to be conflated with anti-Zionist publications and pronouncements of Islamic movements such as Hezbollah and Hamas, in the pronouncements of various agencies of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and even in the newspapers and other publications of Turkish Refah Partisi."[136]

Bundesarchiv N 1576 Bild-006, Minsk, Juden

Jews in Minsk, 1941. Before World War II some 40% of the population was Jewish. By the time the Red Army retook the city on 3 July 1944, there were only a few Jewish survivors.

Throughout history, many rulers, empires and nations have oppressed their Jewish populations or sought to eliminate them entirely. Methods employed ranged from expulsion to outright genocide; within nations, often the threat of these extreme methods was sufficient to silence dissent. The history of antisemitism includes the First Crusade which resulted in the massacre of Jews;[125] the Spanish Inquisition (led by Torquemada) and the Portuguese Inquisition, with their persecution and autos-da-fé against the New Christians and Marrano Jews;[137] the Bohdan Chmielnicki Cossack massacres in Ukraine;[138] the Pogroms backed by the Russian Tsars;[139] as well as expulsions from Spain, Portugal, England, France, Germany, and other countries in which the Jews had settled.[126] According to a recent study published in the American Journal of Human Genetics 19.8% of the modern Iberian population has Sephardic Jewish ancestry,[140] indicating that the number of conversos may have been much higher than originally thought.[141][142]

The persecution reached a peak in Nazi Germany's Final Solution, which led to the Holocaust and the slaughter of approximately 6 million Jews.[143] Of the world's 15 million Jews in 1939, more than a third were killed in The Holocaust.[144][145] The Holocaust — the state-led systematic persecution and genocide of European Jews (and certain communities of North African Jews in European controlled North Africa) and other minority groups of Europe during World War II by Germany and its collaborators remains the most notable modern day persecution of Jews.[146] The persecution and genocide were accomplished in stages. Legislation to remove the Jews from civil society was enacted years before the outbreak of World War II.[147] Concentration camps were established in which inmates were used as slave labour until they died of exhaustion or disease.[148] Where the Third Reich conquered new territory in eastern Europe, specialized units called Einsatzgruppen murdered Jews and political opponents in mass shootings.[149] Jews and Roma were crammed into ghettos before being transported hundreds of miles by freight train to extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, the majority of them were killed in gas chambers.[150] Virtually every arm of Germany's bureaucracy was involved in the logistics of the mass murder, turning the country into what one Holocaust scholar has called "a genocidal nation."[151]



Etching of the expulsion of the Jews from Frankfurt on August 23, 1614. The text says: "1380 persons old and young were counted at the exit of the gate"

Jewish refugees Liverpool 1882

Jews fleeing pogroms, 1882

Throughout Jewish history, Jews have repeatedly been directly or indirectly expelled from both their original homeland and the areas in which they have resided. This experience as refugees has shaped Jewish identity and religious practice in many ways, and is thus a major element of Jewish history.[152] The incomplete list of major and other noteworthy migrations that follows includes numerous instances of expulsion or departure under duress:

  • The patriarch Abraham was a migrant to the land of Canaan from Ur of the Chaldees[153] after an attempt on his life by King Nimrod.[154]
  • The Children of Israel experienced the Exodus (meaning "departure" or "exit" in Greek) from ancient Egypt, as recorded in the Book of Exodus.[155]
  • The Kingdom of Israel was sent into permanent exile by Assyria, initially to the Upper Mesopotamian provinces of the Assyrian Empire,[156] from whence they scattered all over the world (or at least to unknown locations).[157]
  • The Kingdom of Judah was exiled by Babylonia,[158] then returned to Judea by Cyrus the Great of the Persian Achaemenid Empire,[159] and then many were exiled again by the Roman Empire.[160]
  • The 2,000 year dispersion of the Jewish diaspora beginning under the Roman Empire, as Jews were spread throughout the Roman world and, driven from land to land, and settled wherever they could live freely enough to practice their religion. Over the course of the diaspora the center of Jewish life moved from Babylonia[161] to the Iberian Peninsula[162] to Poland[163] to the United States[164] and, as a result of Zionism, back to Israel.[165]
  • Many expulsions during the Middle Ages and Enlightenment in Europe, including: 1290, 16,000 Jews were expelled from England, see the (Statute of Jewry); in 1396, 100,000 from France; in 1421 thousands were expelled from Austria. Many of these Jews settled in Eastern Europe, especially Poland.[166]
  • Following the Spanish Inquisition in 1492, the Spanish population of around 200,000 Sephardic Jews were expelled by the Spanish crown and Catholic church, followed by expulsions in 1493 in Sicily (37,000 Jews) and Portugal in 1496. The expelled Jews fled mainly to the Ottoman Empire, the Netherlands, and North Africa, others migrating to Southern Europe and the Middle East.[167]
  • During the 19th century, France's policies of equal citizenship regardless of religion led to the immigration of Jews (especially from Eastern and Central Europe).[168]
  • The arrival of millions of Jews in the New World, including immigration of over two million Eastern European Jews to the United States from 1880–1925, see History of the Jews in the United States and History of the Jews in Russia and the Soviet Union.[169]
  • The Pogroms in Eastern Europe,[139] the rise of modern antisemitism,[170] the Holocaust,[171] and the rise of Arab nationalism[172] all served to fuel the movements and migrations of huge segments of Jewry from land to land and continent to continent, until they arrived back in large numbers at their original historical homeland in Israel.[165]
  • The Islamic Revolution of Iran caused many Iranian Jews to flee Iran. Most found refuge in the US (particularly Los Angeles, CA) and Israel. Smaller communities of Persian Jews exist in Canada and Western Europe.[173]
  • When the Soviet Union collapsed, many of the Jews in the affected territory (who had been refuseniks) were suddenly allowed to leave. This produced a wave of migration to Israel in the early 1990s.[102]


A man prays at the Western Wall in Jerusalem

A man praying at the Western Wall

Israel is the only country with a Jewish population that is consistently growing through natural population increase, though the Jewish populations of other countries, in Europe and North America, have recently increased through immigration. In the Diaspora, in almost every country the Jewish population in general is either declining or steady, but Orthodox and Haredi Jewish communities, whose members often shun birth control for religious reasons, have experienced rapid population growth.[174]

Orthodox and Conservative Judaism discourage proselytism to non-Jews, but many Jewish groups have tried to reach out to the assimilated Jewish communities of the Diaspora in order for them to reconnect to their Jewish roots. Additionally, while in principle Reform Judaism favors seeking new members for the faith, this position has not translated into active proselytism, instead taking the form of an effort to reach out to non-Jewish spouses of intermarried couples.[175]

There is also a trend of Orthodox movements pursuing secular Jews in order to give them a stronger Jewish identity so there is less chance of intermarriage. As a result of the efforts by these and other Jewish groups over the past 25 years, there has been a trend (known as the Baal Teshuva movement) for secular Jews to become more religiously observant, though the demographic implications of the trend are unknown.[176] Additionally, there is also a growing rate of conversion to Jews by Choice of gentiles who make the decision to head in the direction of becoming Jews.[177]


There is no single governing body for the Jewish community, nor a single authority with responsibility for religious doctrine.[178] Instead, a variety of secular and religious institutions at the local, national, and international levels lead various parts of the Jewish community on a variety of issues.[179]

Notable individuals[]

Jews have made contributions in a broad range of human endeavors, including the sciences, arts, politics, and business.[180][181] Although Jews comprise only 0.2% of the world's population, over 20%[181][182][183][184][185][186][187] of Nobel Prize laureates have been Jewish, with multiple winners in each field.

See also[]

  • Ashkenazi Jewish intelligence
  • Jewish studies



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  182. ^ Shalev, Baruch (2005). 100 Years of Nobel Prizes. p. 57. "A striking fact... is the high number of Laureates of the Jewish faith—over 20% of the total Nobel Prizes (138); including: 17% in Chemistry, 26% in Medicine and Physics, 40% in Economics and 11% in Peace and Literature each. These numbers are especially startling in light of the fact that only some 14 million people (0.2% of the world's population) are Jewish." 
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  185. ^ Ted Falcon, David Blatner (2001). "28". Judaism for dummies. John Wiley & Sons. "Similarly, because Jews make up less than a quarter of one percent of the world's population, it's surprising that over 20 percent of Nobel prizes have been awarded to Jews or people of Jewish descent." 
  186. ^ Lawrence E. Harrison (2008). The Central Liberal Truth: How Politics Can Change a Culture and Save It. Oxford University Press. p. 102. "That achievement is symbolized by the fact that 15 to 20 percent of Nobel Prizes have been won by Jews, who represent two tenths of one percent of the world's population." 
  187. ^ Jonathan B. Krasner, Jonathan D. Sarna (2006). The History of the Jewish People: Ancient Israel to 1880's America. Behrman House, Inc.. p. 1. "These accomplishments account for 20 percent of the Nobel Prizes awarded since 1901. What a feat for a people who make up only .2 percent of the world's population!" 

Further reading[]

  • Baron, Salo Wittmayer (1952). A Social and Religious History of the Jews, Volume II, Ancient Times, Part II. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America.
  • Carr, David R. (2003) [2000]. "Judaism in Christendom". In Neusner, Jacob; Avery-Peck, Alan J.. The Blackwell Companion to Judaism. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 1-57718-058-5. 
  • Cowling, Geoffrey (2005). Introduction to World Religions. Singapore: First Fortress Press. ISBN 0-8006-3714-3. 
  • Danzger, M. Herbert (2003) [2000]. "The "Return" to Traditional Judaism at the End of the Twentieth Century: Cross-Cultural Comparisons". In Neusner, Jacob; Avery-Peck, Alan J.. The Blackwell Companion to Judaism. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 1-57718-058-5. 
  • Dekmejian, R. Hrair (1975). Patterns of Political Leadership: Egypt, Israel, Lebanon. State University of New York Press. ISBN 0-87395-291-X. 
  • de Lange, Nicholas (2002) [2000]. An Introduction to Judaism. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-46073-5. 
  • Dosick, Wayne (2007). Living Judaism. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-062179-6. 
  • Elazar, Daniel J. (2003) [2000]. "Judaism as a Theopolitical Phenomenon". In Neusner, Jacob; Avery-Peck, Alan J.. The Blackwell Companion to Judaism. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 1-57718-058-5. 
  • Feldman, Louis H. (2006). Judaism and Hellenism Reconsidered. Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill. ISBN 90-04-14906-6. 
  • Gartner, Lloyd P. (2001). History of the Jews in Modern Times. Oxford: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-289259-2. 
  • Goldenberg, Robert (2007). The Origins of Judaism: From Canaan to the Rise of Islam. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-84453-3. 
  • Goldstein, Joseph (1995). Jewish History in Modern Times. Sussex Academic Press. ISBN 1-898723-06-0. 
  • Johnson, Paul (1987). A History of the Jews. New York: HarperCollins. ISBN 0-06-091533-1. 
  • Kaplan, Dana Evan (2003) [2000]. "Reform Judaism". In Neusner, Jacob; Avery-Peck, Alan J.. The Blackwell Companion to Judaism. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 1-57718-058-5. 
  • Katz, Shmuel (1974). Battleground: Fact and Fantasy in Palestine. Taylor Productions. ISBN 0-929093-13-5. 
  • Lewis, Bernard (1984). The Jews of Islam. Princeton: Princeton University Press. ISBN 0-691-00807-8
  • Lewis, Bernard (1999). Semites and Anti-Semites: An Inquiry into Conflict and Prejudice. W. W. Norton & Co. ISBN 0-393-31839-7
  • Littman, David (1979). "Jews Under Muslim Rule: The Case Of Persia". The Wiener Library Bulletin XXXII (New series 49/50). 
  • Neusner, Jacob (1991). Studying Classical Judaism: A Primer. Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 0-664-25136-6. 
  • Poliakov, Leon (1974). The History of Anti-semitism. New York: The Vanguard Press.
  • Ruderman, David B. Early Modern Jewry: A New Cultural History (Princeton University Press; 2010) 326 pages. Examines print culture, religion, and other realms in a history emphasizing the links among early modern Jewish communities from Venice and Kraków to Amsterdam and Smyrna.
  • Sharot, Stephen (1997). "Religious Syncretism and Religious Distinctiveness: A Comparative Analysis of Pre-Modern Jewish Communities". In Endelman, Todd M.. Comparing Jewish Societies. Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-472-06592-0. 
  • Stillman, Norman (1979). The Jews of Arab Lands: A History and Source Book. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society of America. ISBN 0-8276-0198-0
  • Sweeney, Marvin A. (2003) [2000]. "The Religious World of Ancient Israel to 586 BCE". In Neusner, Jacob; Avery-Peck, Alan J.. The Blackwell Companion to Judaism. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 1-57718-058-5. 

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