The Jews (Hebrew: יְהוּדִים Yhudim Israeli pronunciation [jehu'dim]), also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and ethnoreligious group originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation. Converts to Judaism, whose status as Jews within the Jewish ethnos is equal to those born into it, have been absorbed into the Jewish people throughout the millennia.
In Jewish tradition, Jewish ancestry is traced to the Biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the second millennium BCE. The Jews currently enjoy political autonomy in the State of Israel, an independent state which is located in their national homeland, the Land of Israel. It officially defines itself as a Jewish state in its Basic Laws, and is the only country in the world where Jews constitute a majority of the population. Jews also experienced political autonomy twice during ancient history. The first of the two ancient eras spanned from 1350 to 586 BCE, and encompassed the periods of the Judges, the United Monarchy, and the Divided Monarchy of the Kingdoms ofIsrael and Judah, ending with the destruction of the First Temple. The second era was the period of the Hasmonean Kingdom spanning from 140 to 37 BCE. Since the destruction of the First Temple, the diaspora has been the home of most of the world's Jews. Except in the modern State of Israel, Jews are a minority in every country in which they live, and they have frequently experienced persecution throughout history, resulting in a population that fluctuated both in numbers and distribution over the centuries.
In 2010, the world Jewish population was estimated at 13.4 million by the North American Jewish Data Bank, or roughly 0.2% of the total world population. According to this report, about 42% of all Jews reside in Israel and about 42% in the United States and Canada, with most of the remainder living in Europe. The Israel Central Bureau of Statistics believes the number of Israeli Jews to be 5.6 million, and the U.S. Census Bureau calculated the American Jewish population at 6.4 million. These numbers include all those who consider themselves Jews, whether or not they are affiliated with a Jewish organization. The total 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.
According to their tradition, the Jewish people originated from the Israelites of the Southern Levant, who had several independent states before being overtaken first by the Assyrian and Babylonian Empires and later the Roman Empire, with a large portion of the population being scattered throughout the world. According to the Hebrew Bible, all Israelites were descended from Abraham, who was born in the Sumerian city of Ur, and migrated to Canaan (commonly known as the Land of Israel) with his family. Genetic studies on Jews show that most Jews worldwide do indeed 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, with only minor contribution from their host populations (historically due to the taboo on intermarriage in Jewish tradition, the low number of converts to Judaism, as well as the general isolations and persecutions of Jews throughout history). According to some Biblical archaeologists, however, Israelite culture did not overtake the region, but rather grew out of Canaanite culture.
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. 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.
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 tradition into the Babylonian Talmud. Interpretations of sections of the Tanakh, such as Deuteronomy 7:1–5, by learned Jewish sages, are used as a warning against intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews because "[the non-Jewish husband] will cause your child to turn away from Me and they will worship the gods 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 contrasts with Ezra 10:2–3, where Israelites returning from Babylon vow to put aside their gentile wives and their children. Since the Haskalah, these halakhic interpretations of Jewish identity have been challenged.
At times, conversion has accounted for a substantial part of Jewish population growth. 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.
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. By the third century BCE, Jews of the diaspora were speaking Greek. Modern Hebrew is now one of the two official languages of the State of Israel along with Arabic.
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. 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. 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, and 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 Gruzinic, Judæo-Arabic, Judæo-Berber, Krymchak, Judæo-Malayalam and many others, have largely fallen out of use.
The three most commonly spoken languages among Jews today are Hebrew, English and Russian. Some Romance languages, such as French and Spanish, are also widely used.
Yiddish has been spoken by more Jews in history than any other language, closely followed by English and Hebrew (if modern and biblical are counted as one variety).
There are an estimated 13–14 million Jews worldwide.[The table below lists countries with significant populations. Please note that these populations represent low-end estimates of the worldwide Jewish population, accounting for around 0.2% of the world's population.
|Country or Region||Jewish population||Total Population||% Jewish|
|Asia (excl. Israel)||39,500||3,900,000,000||0.001%|