One of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions, Judaism first originated over 3,500 years ago in the Middle East and has since spread to nearly every corner of the globe. The Jewish people have had a profound impact on modern history, serving as the catalyst for many of modern society’s predominant philosophies. As of late 2021 (Rosh Hashanah year 5782), there were approximately 15.2 million Jews worldwide (and rising).
The Jewish population was devastated by the Holocaust of World War II, which saw the global population fall from its peak of 16.7 million in 1939 to fewer than 11 million by the end of the war. Current totals can vary widely depending upon the specific definition of "Jewish" in use. If counting only Orthodox Jews, the total shrinks considerably—however, it expands greatly if the tally includes people of Jewish ethnicity who don’t actively practice the religion.
Of the five major world religions—Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—Judaism is by far the smallest, accounting for just 0.19% of the world’s total population. In comparison, Christianity and Islam—both of which splintered off from Judaism, which predates them by millennia, respectively—account for 31.1% and 24.9% of the total world population respectively. Put another way, this equates to 173 Christians and 138 Muslims for every one Jew. According to a Pew Research data projection for 2020, Judaism was estimated to have 14.7 million followers worldwide (updated 2021 data did not yet exist at the time of the project's completion), while Christianity had 2,382 million, Islam had 1,907 million, Hinduism had 1,161 million, and Buddhism had 506 million.
Distribution of Jews throughout the world
Although Jews exist in most every country in the world, the vast majority are concentrated in two countries: Israel and the United States. With more than 6.9 million Jewish citizens (2021 estimate), Israel is home to more Jews than any other country in the world. 74.2% of Israel’s population is Jewish. The historic homeland of the Jews, Israel is home to the holy city of Jerusalem, which is of great importance to those of the Jewish faith. The United States has the world's second-largest Jewish population, with around 6 million Jews. More Jews live in New York City than in any other city in the world. The New York Metropolitan area is home to 1,728,000 Jews, roughly 10% of its total population. The borough of Brooklyn alone has nearly 800,000 Jews, which accounts for more than a third of its population.
The next eight countries with the largest Jewish populations were estimated to have between 446,000 and 91,500 Jews in 2021. First comes France with 446,000, followed by Canada with 393,500, and the United Kingdom with 292,000. Argentina, Russia, Germany, Australia, and Brazil all have significant Jewish populations as well.
Jewish ethnic divisions: The Ashkenazi, Mizrahi, and Sephardi
Because the term “Jew” is often used as a blanket category covering anyone of Jewish descent, it can be reductive and understate the diversity of cultures and ethnicities that have evolved since the "Jewish diaspora." The Jewish diaspora is the historic dispersion of Jews throughout the world due to exile and persecution, originally from their homeland in Israel. Upon their exile, Jews spread out across Afro-Eurasia, settling in an array of different areas and developing into new sub-groups with their own evolving cultures. Although most sub-groups retain many shared Jewish traditions from the time before the original exile from Israel, they have also diversified (and undergone many additional instances of bigotry and persecution) since.
Ashkenazi — Descendents of Jews who traveled north and settled in France, Germany, and Eastern Europe at the time of their exile, the roughly 10 million Ashkenazi are often classified as being of European descent. Most of the Jews in the United States are Ashkenazi, and there are many people of Ashkenazi descent who do not identify as Jewish, but for their ancestry.
Mizrahi — The 4.6 million Mizrahi are descended from Jews who settled not far from Israel in Southwest Asia and parts of Northern Africa. Approximately 3.2 million of the roughly 6.9 million Jews in Israel are Mizrahi.
Sephardi — The ancestors of today's 900,000 Sephardic Jews originally settled in Iberia (Spain and Portugal). During the 15th century, the Sephardic Jews were expelled from their new homeland and resettled in North Africa, Southern Europe, and Western Asia on the periphery of the Mediterranean Sea.