The word Jew (Hebrew: יהודי) is used in a wide number of ways, but generally refers to a follower of the Jewish faith, a child of a Jewish mother, or someone of Jewish descent with a connection to Jewish culture or ethnicity and often a combination of these attributes. This article discusses the term as describing an ethnic group; for a consideration of the religion, please refer to Judaism. Most Jews regard themselves as a people, members of a nation, descended from the ancient Israelites and those who joined their religion at various times and places. The term Jew came into being when the Kingdom of Israel was split between the northern Kingdom of Israel and the southern Kingdom of Judah. Hence, the Israelites (who were later largely destroyed by the Assyrians) were those of the northern kingdom and the Jews (who survived) were those of the southern kingdom. Over time, the word Jew has come to refer to those of the Jewish faith rather than those from Judah. In modern usage, Jews include both those Jews actively practicing Judaism, and those Jews who, while not practicing Judaism as a religion, still identify themselves as Jews by virtue of their family's Jewish heritage and their own cultural identification.
Usage note: The word "Jew" is a noun. Its use as an adjective (e.g. "Jew lawyer") is widely considered offensive; "Jewish" is strongly preferred. Its use as a verb (e.g. "to Jew someone") is also considered offensive. Some sources, such as the American Heritage Dictionary, suggest that phrases like "Jewish person" may be offensive if pointedly used to avoid the word "Jew".
- Main article: Etymology of the word Jew
There are different views as to the origin of the English language word Jew. The most common view is that the Middle English word Jew is from the Old French giu, earlier juieu, from the Latin iudeus from the Greek Ioudaios (Ιουδαίος). The Latin simply means Judaean, from the land of Judaea. The Hebrew for Jew, יהודי , is pronounced ye-hoo-DEE. The Hebrew letter Yud (or Yod), י, becomes a 'j' in languages using the Latin-based alphabet when the Yud is used as a consonant rather than as a vowel.
Who is a Jew?
- Main article: Who is a Jew?
Judaism shares some of the characteristics of a nation, an ethnicity, 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. For discussions of the religious views on who is a Jew and how these views differ from each other, please see Who is a Jew?. Generally, in modern secular usage, Jews include three groups: people who practice Judaism and have a Jewish ethnic background (sometimes including those who do not have strictly matrilineal descent), people without Jewish parents who have converted to Judaism; and those Jews who, while not practicing Judaism as a religion, still identify themselves as Jews by virtue of their family's Jewish descent and their own cultural and historical identification with the Jewish people.
- Main articles: Secular Jewish culture, Judaism
Judaism guides its adherents in both practice and belief, and has been called not only a religion, but also a "way of life," which has made the job of drawing a clear distinction between Judaism, Jewish culture, and Jewish nationality rather difficult. In many times and places, such as in the ancient Hellenic world, in Europe before and after the Enlightenment (see haskalah), and in contemporary United States and Israel, 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 with others around them, others from the inner social and cultural dynamics of the community, as opposed to religion itself.
- Main article: Jewish ethnic divisions
The most commonly used terms to describe ethnic divisions among Jews presently are: Ashkenazi (meaning "German" in Hebrew, denoting the Central European base of Jewry); and Sephardi (meaning "Spanish" or "Iberia" in Hebrew, denoting their Spanish, Portuguese and North African location). They refer to both religious and ethnic divisions.
Other Jewish ethnic groups include Mizrahi Jews (a term overlapping Sephardi, but emphasizing North African and Middle Eastern rather than Spanish history, and including the Maghrebim); Teimanim (Yemenite and Omani Jews); and such smaller groups as the Gruzim and Juhurim from the Caucasus, the Bene Israel, Bnei Menashe, Cochin and Telugu Jews of India, the Romaniotes of Greece, the Italkim (Bené Roma) of Italy, various African Jews (most notably the Beta Israel or Ethiopian Jews), and the Bukharan Jews of Central Asia.
Some Jewish communities have lost religious culture or have assimilated, such as the Kaifeng Jews of China.
- Main article: Jewish population, Jews by country, see also Jewish diaspora
Prior to World War II the world population of Jews was around 18 million. The Holocaust reduced this number to around 12 million. Today, there are an estimated 13 million 3 to 14.6 million5 Jews worldwide in over 134 countries.
Significant geographic populations
Please note that these populations represent low-end estimates of the worldwide Jewish population. Higher estimates place the worldwide Jewish population at over 14.5 million.
||5,671,000 (est.) 3
||5,200,000 (est.) 4
||Fewer than 2 million (est.)
||600,000 (est.) 3
• United Kingdom
||267,000 (2001 census)
||100,000 (2004 est.) or 60,000 (est.) 3
• The Former Soviet Union
||400,000 (some estimates much higher) 1
||371,000 (est.) 3
||250,000 (est.) 2
||130,000 (est.) 2
||100,000 (est.) 2
||106,000 (est.) 2
||40,700 (est.) 2
Asia (excluding Israel)
||11,000 (est.) 2
State of Israel
Israel, the Jewish nation-state, is the only country in which Jews make up a majority of the citizens, although the United States has a larger number of Jews. It was established as an independent democratic state on May 14, 1948. Of the 120 members in its parliament, the Knesset, about ten members are Israeli Arabs who are not Jews. At the time of its independence, approximately 600,000 Jews lived there. Since then, its Jewish population has increased by about one million over each decade as more immigrants arrive, and more Israelis are born, in one of the most significant global Jewish population shifts in over 2,000 years.
All the Arab Israeli Wars have not slowed Israel's growth. Israel opened its doors to the Holocaust survivors. It has absorbed a majority of the Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews from the Islamic countries. It has taken in hundreds of thousands of Jews from the former USSR, and has airlifted tens of thousands of Ethiopian Jews to Israel. In the past decade nearly a million immigrants came to Israel from the former Soviet Union. Many Jews who emigrated to Israel have moved elsewhere, known as yerida ("descent" [from the Holy Land]), due to its economic problems or due to disillusionment with political conditions and the continuing Israeli-Palestinian conflict
Diaspora (outside of Israel)
The waves of immigration to the United States at the turn of the 19th century, massacre of European Jewry during the Holocaust, and the foundation of the state of Israel (and subsequent flight of Jews from hostile Arab nations) all resulted in substantial shifts in the population centers of world Jewry during the 20th century.
Currently, the largest Jewish community in the world is located in the United States, with around 5.6 million Jews. In the Americas, there are also large Jewish populations in Canada and Argentina, and smaller populations in Brazil, Mexico , Uruguay, Venezuela, Chile, and several other countries (see History of the Jews in Latin America).
Western Europe's largest Jewish community can be found in France, home to 600,000 Jews, the majority of whom are immigrants or refugees from North African Arab countries such as Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia (or their descendants). There are over 265,000 Jews in the United Kingdom. In Eastern Europe, there are anywhere from 500,000 to over two million Jews living in Russia, Ukraine, Hungary, Belarus and the other areas once dominated by the Soviet Union. Exact figures are difficult to establish. The fastest-growing Jewish community in the world, outside of Israel, is the one in Germany, especially in Berlin, its capital. Tens of thousands of Jews from the former Eastern Bloc have settled in Germany since the fall of the Berlin Wall.
The Arab countries of North Africa and the Middle East were home to around 900,000 Jews in 1945. Systematic persecution after the founding of Israel caused almost all of these Jews to flee to Israel, North America, and Europe in the 1950s. Today, around 8,000 Jews remain in Arab nations.
Iran, despite its enmity to Israel since 1979, is home to around 25,000 Jews. Before the Islamic revolution and the rise of the ayatollahs to power, around 100,000 Jews were living in Iran. After the revolution some of the Iranian Jews emigrated to Israel or Europe but most of them emigrated (with their non-Jewish Iranian compatriots) to the United States (especially Los Angeles.
Outside of Europe and the Americas, significant Jewish populations exist in Australia and South Africa.
Population changes: Wars against the Jews
Throughout history, many rulers, empires and nations have oppressed their Jewish populations, or sought to eliminate them entirely. Methods employed have ranged from expulsion to outright genocide; within nations, often the threat of these extreme methods was sufficient to silence dissent. Some examples in the history of anti-Semitism are: the Great Jewish Revolt against the Roman Empire as described by Josephus; the Spanish Inquisition led by Torquamada and the Auto de fe against the Marrano Jews; the Bohdan Chmielnicki Cossack massacres in Ukraine; the Pogroms backed by the Russian Tsars Alexander III and Nicholas II; Blood libels. The persecution culminated in Adolf Hitler's Final Solution which led to the Holocaust of the European Jewry. Modern wars such as the Arab-Israeli conflict have resulted in major loss of life.
While Jewish communities throughout the Islamic world were often treated well by their Muslim rulers, depending on the regime in power, Jewish communities in Spain, North Africa, and the Middle East were at times subject to persecutions, expulsions, and forced conversion.
Population changes: Assimilation
Since the Jewish Enlightenment (see Haskalah) of the 1700s and the subsequent emancipation of the Jewish populations of Europe and America in the 1800s, Jews have increasingly participated 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. Rates of interreligious marriage vary widely: In the United States they are just under 50%, in England around 50%, and in Australia and Mexico as low as 10%, and in France they may be as high as 75%. In the United States, only about a third of children from intermarriages affiliate themselves with Jewish practice. Additionally, since non-religious Jews generally tend to marry later and have fewer children than the general population, the Jewish community in many countries is aging. The result is that most countries in the Diaspora have steady or slightly declining Jewish populations as Jews continue to assimilate into the countries in which they live.
Population changes: Growth
Israel is the only country with a consistently growing Jewish population due to natural population increase, though the Jewish populations of other countries in Europe and North America have recently increased due to 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, with rates near 4% per year for Haredi Jews in Israel, and similar rates in other countires.
Orthodox and Conservative Judaism forbid proselytization to non-Jews, but many Jewish groups have tried to reach out to the assimilated Jewish communities of the Diaspora in order to increase the number of Jews. 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. As a result of the efforts by these and other Jewish groups over the past twenty-five years, there has been a trend of secular Jews becoming more religiously observant, known as the Baal Teshuva movement, though the demographic implications of the trend are unknown. Additionally, there is also a growing movement of Jews by Choice by gentiles who make the decision to head in the direction of becoming Jews.
- Main article: Jewish languages
Hebrew is the liturgical language of Judaism (termed lashon ha-kodesh, "the holy tongue"), and is the language of the State of Israel. Diaspora Jews (outside of Israel) today speak the local languages of their respective countries. Yiddish is the historic language of many Ashkenazi Jews, and Ladino of many Sephardic Jews.
History of the Jews
- Main articles: Jewish history, Timeline of Jewish history
- See also: Historical Schisms among the Jews
Jews and migrations
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 both immigrants and emigrants (see: Jewish refugees) have shaped Jewish identity and religious practice in many ways. An incomplete list of such migrations includes:
- The patriarch Abraham was a migrant to the land of Canaan from Ur of the Chaldees.
- The Children of Israel experienced the Exodus (meaning "departure" or "going forth" in Greek) from ancient Egypt, as recorded in the Book of Exodus.
- The Kingdom of Israel was sent into permanent exile and scattered all over the world by Assyria.
- The Kingdom of Judah was exiled first by Babylonia and then by Rome.
- 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.
- Many expulsions during the Middle Ages and Enlightenment in Europe, including: 1290, 16,000 Jews were expelled from England; in 1396, 100,000 from France; in 1421 thousands were expelled from Austria. Many of these Jews settled in Eastern Europe, especially Poland.
- Forced migrations during the period of Almohades in Islamic Spain.
- 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 Siciliy (37,000 Jews) and Portugal in 1496. The expelled Jews fled mainly to the Ottoman Empire, Holland, and North Africa, others migrating to Southern Europe and the Middle East.
- 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), which was encouraged by Napoleon Bonaparte.
- The arrival of millions of Jews in the New World, including immigration of over 1,000,000 Eastern European Jews to the United States from 1890-1925, see History of the Jews in the United States.
- The Pogroms in Eastern Europe, the rise of modern Anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and the rise of Arab nationalism all served to fuel the movements and migrations of huge segments of Jewry from land to land and continent to continent, until they have now arrived back in large numbers at their original historical homeland in Israel.
- The Islamic Revolution of Iran, forced many Persian 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.
Kingdoms of Israel and Judah
- See related article History of ancient Israel and Judah.
Jews descend mostly from the ancient Israelites (also known as Hebrews), who settled in the Land of Israel. The Israelites traced their common lineage to the biblical patriarch Abraham through Isaac and Jacob. A kingdom was established under Saul and continued under King David and Solomon. King David conquered Jerusalem (first a Canaanite, then a Jebusite town) and made it his capital. After Solomon's reign the nation split into two kingdoms, the Kingdom of Israel (in the north) and the Kingdom of Judah (in the south). The Kingdom of Israel was conquered by the Assyrian ruler Shalmaneser V in the 8th century BC and spread all over the Assyrian empire, where they were assimilated into other cultures and become known as the Ten Lost Tribes. The Kingdom of Judah continued as an independent state until it was conquered by a Babylonian army in the early 6th century BC, destroying the First Temple that was at the centre of Jewish worship. The Judean elite was exiled to Babylonia, but later at least a part of them returned to their homeland after the subsequent conquest of Babylonia by the Persians seventy years later, a period known as the Babylonian Captivity. A new Second Temple was constructed, and old religious practices were resumed.
Persian, Greek, and Roman rule
- See related article Jewish-Roman wars.
The Seleucid Kingdom, which arose after the Persians were defeated by Alexander the Great, sought to introduce Greek culture into the Persian world. When the Seleucid king Antiochus IV Epiphanes, supported by Hellenized Jews (those who had adopted Greek culture), attempted to convert the Jewish Temple to a temple of Zeus, the non-Hellenized Jews revolted under the leadership of the Maccabees and rededicated the Temple to the Jewish God (hence the origins of Hanukkah) and created an independent Jewish kingdom known as the Hasmonaean Kingdom which lasted from 165 BC to 63 BC, when the kingdom was annexed by the Roman Empire. During the early part of Roman rule, the Hasmonaeans remained in power, and the last Hasmonaean king, Herod the Great significantly expanded the Temple in Jerusalem.
By 6 CE, the Romans directly ruled Judea, and there were frequent changes of policies by conflicting and empire-building Caesars, generals, governors, and consuls who often acted cruelly or to maximize their own wealth and power. Rome's attitudes swung from tolerance to hostility against its Jewish subjects, who had since moved throughout the Empire. The Romans, worshipping a large pantheon, could not readily accommodate the exclusive monotheism of Judaism, and the religious Jews could not accept Roman polytheism. After a famine and riots in AD 66, the Judeans began to revolt against their Roman rulers. The revolt was smashed by the Roman emperors Vespasian and Titus Flavius. In Rome the Arch of Titus still stands, depicting the enslaved Judeans and a menorah being brought to Rome (illustration, right).
In Rome the Arch
still stands, depicting the enslaved Judeans and objects from the Temple being brought to Rome.
The Romans all but destroyed Jerusalem; only a single "Western Wall" of the Second Temple remained. After the end of this first revolt, the Judeans continued to live in their land in significant numbers, and were allowed to practice their religion. In the second century the Roman Emperor Hadrian began to rebuilt Jerusalem as a pagan city while restricting some Jewish practices. Angry at this affront, the Judeans again revolted led by Simon Bar Kokhba. Hadrian responded with overwhelming force, putting down the revolution and killing as many as half a million Jews. After the Roman Legions prevailed in 135, Jews were not allowed to enter the city of Jerusalem and most Jewish worship was forbidden by Rome. Following the destruction of Jerusalem and the expulsion of the Jews, Jewish worship stopped being centrally organized around the Temple, and instead was rebuilt around rabbis who acted as teachers and leaders of individual communities. No new books were added to the Jewish Bible after the Roman period, instead major efforts went into interpreting and developing the Halakhah, or oral law, and writing down these traditions in the Talmud, the key work on the interepretation of Jewish law, written during the first to fifth centuries CE.
Beginning of the Diaspora
Though Jews had settled outside of Israel since the time of the Babylonians, the results of the Roman response to the Jewish revolt shifted the center of Jewish life from its ancient home to the diaspora. While some Jews remained in Judea, renamed Palestine by the Romans, some Jews were sold into slavery, while others became citizens of other parts of the Roman Empire. This is the traditional explanation to the diaspora, almost universally accepted by past and present rabbinical or Talmudical scholars, who believe that Jews are almost exclusively biological descendants of the Judean exiles, a belief backed up at least partially by DNA evidence. Some secular historians speculate that a majority of the Jews in Antiquity were most likely descendants of converts in the cities of the Graeco-Roman world, especially in Alexandria and Asia Minor. They were only affected by the diaspora in its spiritual sense and by the sense of loss and homelessness which became a cornerstone of the Jewish creed, much supported by persecutions in various parts of the world. Any such policy of conversion, which spread the Jewish religion throughout Hellenistic civilization, seems to have ended with the wars against the Romans and the following reconstruction of Jewish values for the post-Temple era.
During the first few hundred years of the Diaspora, the most important Jewish communities were in Babylonia, where the Talmud was written, and where relatively tolerant regimes allowed the Jews freedom. The situation was worse in the Byzantine Empire which treated the Jews much more harshly, refusing to allow them to hold office or build places of worship. The conquest of much of the Byzantine Empire and Babylonia by the armies of the newly emerged Islam generally improved the life of the Jews, though they were still considered second-class citizens. In response to these Islamic conquests, the First Crusade of 1096 attempted to reconquer Jerusalem, resulting in the destruction of many of the remaining Jewish communities in the area.
Middle Ages: Europe
- Main article: Jews in the Middle Ages
Jews settled in Europe during the time of the Roman Empire, but the rise of the Catholic Church, resulted in frequent expulsions and persecutions. The Crusades routinely attacked Jewish communities, and increasingly harsh laws restricted them from most economic activity and land ownership, leaving open only moneylending and a few other trades. Jews were subject to explusions from England, France, and the Holy Roman Empire throughout the Middle Ages, with most of the population moving to Eastern Europe and Poland. The final expulsion of the Jews, and the largest, occurred after the Christian conquest of Spain in 1492. Even after the end of the expulsions in the 17th century, individual conditions varied from country to country and time to time, but, as rule, Jews generally were forced, by decree or by informal pressure, to live in highly segregated ghettos and villages.
Middle Ages: Islamic Europe and North Africa
- Main article: Islam and Judaism
During the Middle Ages, Jews in Islamic lands generally had more rights than under Christian rule, with a Golden Age of coexistence in Islamic Spain from about 900 to 1200, when Spain became the center of the richest, most populous, and most influential Jewish community of the time. The rise of more radical regimes, such as that of the Almohades, and the continuing Christian reconquest ended this period, however.
Renaissance and Enlightenment
- Main article: Haskalah
During the Age of Enlightenment, significant changes occurred within the Jewish community. The Haskalah movement paralelled the wider Enlightenment, as Jews began in the 1700s to campaign for emancipation from restrictive laws and integration into the wider European society. Secular and scientific education was added to the traditional religious instruction received by students, and interest in a national Jewish identity, including a revival in the study of Jewish history and Hebrew, started to grow.
The Haskalah movement influenced the birth of all the modern Jewish denominations, and planted the seeds of Zionism. At the same time, it contributed to encouraging cultural assimilation into the countries in which Jews resided. At around the same time another movement was born, one preaching almost the opposite of Haskalah, Hasidic Judaism. Hasidic Judiasm began in the 1700s by Israel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov, and quickly gained a following with its exuberant, mystical approach to religion. These two movements, and the traditional orthodox approach to Judaism from which they spring, formed the basis for the modern divisions within Jewish observance.
At the same time, the outside world was changing. Though persecution still existed in some European countries (hundreds of thousands of Jews were killed in pogroms in the 18th and 19th centuries), Napoleon invited Jews to leave the Jewish ghettos in Europe and seek refuge in the newly created tolerant political regimes that offered equality under Napoleonic Law (see Napoleon and the Jews).
During the late 19th century, Jews began to flee the persecutions of Eastern Europe in large numbers, mostly by heading to the United States. By 1924, almost two million Jews had immigrated to the US, creating a large community in a nation relatively free of the persecutions of rising European anti-Semitism (see History of the Jews in the United States). This anti-Semitism reached its most virulent form in the killing of approximately six million Jews during the Holocaust, almost completely obliterating the two-thousand year history of the Jews in Europe. In 1948, the Jewish state of Israel was founded, creating the first Jewish nation since the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. Also significant were the subsequent wars between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and the flight in the face of persecution of almost all of the 900,000 Jews previously living in Arab countries. By the end of the 20th century, Jewish population centers had shifted dramatically, with the United States and Israel being the centers of Jewish secular and religious life.
- Main article: Persecution of the Jews
- Related articles: Anti-Semitism, History of anti-Semitism, Modern anti-Semitism
- Main article: Jewish leadership
There is no single governing body for the Jewish community, nor a single authority with responsibility for religious doctrine. 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.
- Main articles: List of Jews, List of Jews by country
Despite the relatively small number of Jews worldwide, many influential thinkers and leaders from all times have been ethnically Jewish. The following is only a sampling of famous ethnic Jews from all kinds of backgrounds, a number even having abandoned Judaism:
Jesus Christ and the apostles; Moses Maimonides (1135–1204) (rabbi and philosopher); Baruch Spinoza (1632–1677) (philosopher); Heinrich Heine (1797-1856) (German romantic poet); Benjamin Disraeli (1804–1881) (British Prime Minister, was a baptized Christian); Karl Marx (1818–1883) (founder of Marxism); Sigmund Freud (1856–1939) (father of modern psychoanalysis); Theodor Herzl (1860–1904) (founder of modern secular Zionism); Albert Einstein (1879–1955) (physicist who proposed the theory of relativity); David BenGurion (1886–1973) (founding Prime Minister of Israel); Marc Chagall (1887–1985) (surrealist artist); Karl Popper (1902–1994) (philosopher); Henry Kissinger (1923–) (U.S. Secretary of State); Martin Buber (1878–1965) (philosopher); Woody Allen (comedian, actor, and film director); Anne Frank (1929–1945) (diarist); Michael Howard (1941–) (Leader of Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition)
Major Jewish secular organizations
Global Jewish communities
Lists of Jews
For more links about Judaism and Jewish religious organizations please see: Links in the Judaism article
1 1993 Russian census. Some estimates are much higher, the US State Department Religious Freedom Report  estimates the number of Jews in Russia alone at 600,000 to 1 million.
2 Jewish Virtual Library, JewFAQ
3 Data based on a study by Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI). See Jewish people near zero growth by Tovah Lazaroff, Jerusalem Post, June 24, 2004.
- 4 Data based on a study by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. See Israel’s population is 6.8 million by Zeev Klein, Globes online September 13, 2004. Includes (about 370,000) Israeli citizens living in the West Bank and Gaza.
5 See, for example Jews by country page for higher estimates.