Jewish Population and Demography

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Moroccan Jews

There are about 15.7 million Jews worldwide (around 0.2 percent of the world’s population). By contrast there are around 1 billion Catholics and 1 billion Muslims worldwide. Judaism ranks as the twelfth largest religion in the world. Israel is the only country with a Jewish majority (76 percent).

As of 2023, the world's core Jewish population (those identifying as Jews above all else) was estimated at 15.7 million. Israel is home to the largest core Jewish population in the world with 7.2 million, followed by the United States with 6.3 million. Other countries with significant core Jewish populations include France (440,000), Canada (398,000), the United Kingdom (312,000), Argentina (171,000), Russia (132,000), Germany (125,000), and Australia (117,200).

The number of Jews worldwide rises to 18 million if the "connected" Jewish population is added. “Connected” Jews includes those who say they are partly Jewish or that have Jewish backgrounds from at least one Jewish parent. The number rises to 21 million if the "enlarged" Jewish population. This includes those who say they have Jewish backgrounds but no Jewish parents and all non-Jewish household members who live with Jews. If you throw in people eligible for Israeli citizenship under Israel's Law of Return — defined as anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent, and who does not profess any other religion — the number rises to 25.5 million. The number of Jews would shrink below 15 million if a tighter definition — such as an unbroken line of matrilineal Jewish descent — were imposed. [Source: Wikipedia, 2024]

While dozens of countries host at least a small Jewish population, the community is concentrated in a handful: Israel and the United States account for 81 percent of the Jewish population, while a total of 98 countries host the other 19 percent. Israel is the only Jewish majority and explicitly Jewish state. Jewish population figures for the United States are contested, ranging between 5.7 and 6.8 million. Until fairly recently there were more Jews in the U.S. than Israel but now there are more in Israel. Many immigrants from Russia and the former Soviet Union have moved to Israel in recent decades.

Rise and Fall of the Global Jewish Population

According to the International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences: The number of Jews during different historical periods is roughly estimated as follows: for Biblical times 2 million; at the end of the second common-wealth 5 to 8 million (accounting for 10 to 12 per cent of the population of the Roman Empire); during the Middle Ages 2.5 million, remaining at that level until the second half of the eighteenth century; from the end of the nineteenth century it remained at 15 million, until the Nazi holocaust, when a loss of 5 to 6 million was sustained. In the 1990s it was estimated there were 12 million Jews, of whom 5.5 million lived in the United States, 1.5 million in Israel, some 3 million in Russia and other former Eastern Bloc countries, 1 million in western Europe, and 1 million elsewhere. There are about 400,000 Jews in Latin America and 350,000 in Canada. About 90 percent of Africa's Jews live in South Africa. [Source: Jacob Kat. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences,]

In 1939, the core Jewish population reached its historical peak of 17 million (0.8 percent of the global population). Due to the Holocaust, the number was reduced to 11 million in 1945. It is estimated that 5,933,900 Jews perished during World War II as a consequence of The Holocaust. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland lost 90 percent of their Jewish population or about 3,228,000 people. The following table lists the approximate number of Jews who died during World War II by country. 1) Poland (3,000,000); 2) Hungary (450,000); 3) Romania (300,000); 4) Russia (107,000); 5) Netherlands (105,000); 6) France (90,000). [Source: Wikipedia]

The population of Jews grew to around 13 million by the 1970s, and then recorded near-zero growth until around 2005 due to low fertility rates and to assimilation. Since 2005, the world's Jewish population grew modestly at an annual rate of around 0.78 percent (to 2013). This increase primarily reflected the rapid growth of Haredi and some Orthodox sectors, who are becoming a growing proportion of Jews.

According to the “Historical Atlas of the Jewish People", published in the mid 1990s, 29 percent of the world’s Jews live in Israel, 45 percent are in the United States and Canada, 10 percent are in the former Soviet Union, and 8 percent are in Europe. Since then many of the Jews in the former Soviet Union have moved to Israel. The remainder are mostly in countries like Argentina, Uruguay and Australia.

The world's core Jewish population was estimated at 14.31 million in early 2015. Demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated the "extended" Jewish population, including people identifying as partly Jewish and non-Jews with Jewish parents, was 17.3 million globally, while the "enlarged" Jewish was 20.2 million. Additionally, the total number of people holding or eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return was estimated at around 23 million, of which 6.6 million were are living in Israel as of 2015. [Source: Wikipedia]

Difficulties Estimating the Number of Jews

Estimating the number of Jews globally is difficult. Because of Judaism's history of persecution, many Jews ave either hidden their identity or not openly acknowledge their Judaism. Also, many countries do not collect data on their citizen’s religious affiliation. [Source:] Jacob Kat wrote in the “International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences”: . The three religious movements in the United States, for example, claim to include some 60 per cent of the 5½ million American Jews. Each group claims about 1 million members. While affiliation with the Reform movement clearly indicates the renunciation of strict religious observance, affiliation with Orthodoxy and Conservatism does not indicate the degree of adherence to religious practice. It is certain that the number of those who strictly abide by the law comes nowhere near that of the formally affiliated. [Source: Jacob Kat. International Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences,]

In Great Britain, with the exception of some ultra-Orthodox and a few Reform congregations, all the synagogues are officially connected with the Orthodox chief rabbinate, but no more than 5 per cent of the half million British Jews could possibly be viewed as strictly observant. In France, out of a slightly smaller population, even fewer Jews are observant. Other countries conform to a similar pattern. In eastern European countries, especially in Russia, religious activity is barely tolerated, and Jewish observance and even circumcision is practiced by only a small fraction of the 3 million Jews.

Israel is a case apart. If judged by the number of those voting for religious political parties, Orthodox Jewry would total 15 per cent of the population; if judged by those sending their children to religious schools, they would total 37 per cent. Both figures are correct, as they reflect various aspects of religious attachments. Reform Judaism and Conservatism for all practical purposes are not represented institutionally. Nonetheless, gradations of observance are to be found among the populace. The nation is also divided on the issue of church and state. Since the time of the British mandate no secular marriage or divorce exists, and religious communities (Christian, Muslim, and Jewish) are subject to their respective religious courts. This is resented by the antireligious segments of the population and criticized by some religious elements as well. The tension is heightened by the generous leavening provided by the extremely orthodox (some of whom go so far as to deny the authority of the state) and militantly antireligious minorities in Israel.

Who is a Jew

Cochin Jew in India in the 1800s
The definition of a Jew is hotly contested issue in Israel. Traditionally, children of Jewish mothers have been recognized as Jewish. Conservative Jews insist that this is not enough: a true Jew is someone who keeps Jewish law and obeys the commandments. "Whoever saves a single Jew,” reads the Babylonian Talmud. "Scripture ascribes it to him as though he had saved an entire world.”

Some groups also accept children of Jewish fathers as Jewish. American reformed Judaism recognizes patrilineal descent. The State of Israel grants citizenship under the law of return to people with a single Jewish grandparent. Conservative Jews Chas Chabadniks accept only the Talmudic rule that a Jew is anyone born to a Jewish mother, or someone who has undergone an Orthodox conversion and agreed to keep all 613 Jewish laws. A Jew traditionally can't lose his or her technical 'status' of being a Jew by adopting another faith, but they do lose the religious element of their Jewish identity. Someone who isn't born a Jew can convert to Judaism, but it is not easy to do so."

Gershom Gorenberg wrote in the New York Times, “Judaism, traditionally, is matrilineal: every child of a Jewish mother is automatically considered a Jew. Zvi Zohar, a professor of law and Jewish studies at Bar-Ilan University, told me that in Judaism’s classical view of itself, Jews are best understood as a “large extended family” that accepted a covenant with God. Those who didn’t practice the faith remained part of the family, even if traditionally they were regarded as black sheep. Converts were adopted members of the clan. Today the meaning of being Jewish is disputed — a faith? a nationality? — but in Israeli society the principle of matrilineal descent remains widely accepted. Sharon’s mother was Jewish, so Sharon knew that she was, too. And yet it seemed impossible to provide evidence that would persuade the rabbinate. [Source: Gershom Gorenberg, New York Times, March 2, 2008 **]

Jewish Population Distribution

According to the Pew Research Center: Geographically, Jews are concentrated primarily in North America (44 percent) and the Middle East- North Africa region (41 percent). The remainder of the global Jewish population is found in Europe (10 percent), Latin America and the Caribbean (3 percent), Asia and the Pacific (between 1 percent and 2 percent) and sub-Saharan Africa (less than 1 percent). [Source:Pew Research Center, December 18, 2012]

Jews make up roughly 2 percent of the total population in North America and a similar proportion in the Middle East-North Africa region. In the remaining regions, they comprise less than 1 percent of the overall population.

While Jews historically have been found all around the globe, Judaism is highly geographically concentrated today. More than four-fifths of all Jews live in just two countries, the United States (41 percent) and Israel (41 percent). The largest remaining shares of the global Jewish population are in Canada (about 3 percent), France (2 percent), the United Kingdom (2 percent), Germany (2 percent), Russia (2 percent) and Argentina (between 1 percent and 2 percent).

The main branches of Judaism in the United States include the Orthodox, Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist movements. But it is difficult to estimate the size of these movements globally because they are not familiar or relevant to Jews in many other countries; in Israel and elsewhere, distinctions are often made between Haredi or Ultra-Orthodox Jews, Modern Orthodox Jews and less traditional forms of Judaism.

Countries with the most Jews

Countries with the most Jews
Country — Core population — Connected population — Enlarged population — Eligible population — National official
1) Israel — 6,340,600 (40 percent); 6,559,300 (36 percent); 6,778,000 (32 percent); 6,778,000 (28 percent); 7,200,000
2) United States — 5,700,000 (36 percent); 8,000,000 (44 percent); 10,000,000 (48 percent); 12,000,000 (50 percent); 6,300,000
3) France — 440,000 (2.8 percent); 550,000 (3.1 percent); 650,000 (3.1 percent); 750,000 (3.2 percent);
4) West Bank — 432,800 (2.8 percent); 437,800 (2.4 percent); 442,700 (2.1 percent); 442,700 (1.9 percent);
5) Canada — 393,000 (2.5 percent); 450,000 (2.5 percent); 550,000 (2.6 percent); 700,000 (2.9 percent); 398,000
6) United Kingdom — 292,000 (1.9 percent); 330,000 (1.8 percent); 370,000 (1.8 percent); 410,000 (1.7 percent); 312,000
7) Argentina — 175,000 (1.1 percent); 260,000 (1.4 percent); 310,000 (1.5 percent); 360,000 (1.5 percent);
8) Russia — 155,000 (0.99 percent); 320,000 (1.8 percent); 460,000 (2.2 percent); 600,000 (2.5 percent); 157,673
9) Australia — 118,000 (0.75 percent); 130,000 (0.72 percent); 145,000 (0.69 percent); 160,000 (0.67 percent); 91,022
10) Germany — 118,000 (0.75 percent); 150,000 (0.83 percent); 225,000 (1.1 percent); 275,000 (1.2 percent); 3,309. [Source: Wikipedia, 2004

Countries with Largest Jewish Populations (2007)
Rank — Country — Jews — percent of World Jewish Population
1) — Israel — 5,313,800 — 40.6 percent
2) — United States — 5,275,000 — 40.3 percent
3) — France — 491,500 — 3.8 percent
4)— Canada — 373,500 — 2.9 percent
5) — United Kingdom — 297,000 — 2.3 percent
6) — Russia — 228,000 — 1.7 percent
7) — Argentina — 184,500 — 1.4 percent
8) — Germany — 118,000 — 0.9 percent
9) — Australia — 103,000 — 0.8 percent
10) — Brazil — 96,500 — 0.7 percent
[Source: Wikipedia ]

Jewish Demography

Jewish population dynamics in recent years has been are characterized by a steady increase in the Jewish population in Israel and flat or declining numbers in other countries (the diaspora) The Israeli Jewish fertility rate is relatively hight at 3 children per woman. There is a stable age distribution. The growth rate of Jews in Israel is 1.7 percent annually. The diaspora countries, by contrast, have low Jewish birth rates and low fertility rates. The Jewish population is becoming increasingly elderly and more people are leaving Judaism than those joining it Immigration trends also favour Israel ahead of diaspora countries. The Jewish state has a positive immigration balance. More than a million Jewish immigrants arrived from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s. Many countries with Jewish residents have lost significant numbers of them to immigration. [Source: Wikipedia +]

According to the Pew Research Center: Globally, Jews are older (median age of 36) than the overall global population (median age of 28). Among the three regions for which data are available, the Middle East and North Africa has the youngest Jewish population, with a median age of 32, followed by Asia and the Pacific (36) and North America (40). Jews are older than the general population in each of the major regions for which data are available: the Middle East and North Africa (Jews 32 years; general population 24 years), Asia and the Pacific (36 vs. 29) and North America (40 vs. 37).[Source: Pew Research Center, December 18, 2012]

France remains home to the world's third largest Jewish community, at around 500,000, but the number is declining. Intermarriage has reduced its "core" Jewish population and increased its "connected" and "enlarged" Jewish populations. The number French Jews immigrating to Israel reached the tens of thousands between 2014 and 2017, following a wave of anti-Semitic attacks. +

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible,; Wikipedia, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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