One of the world’s oldest monotheistic religions, Judaism was the catalyst for many of modern society’s predominant philosophies. What first originated over 3,500 years ago in Southwest Asia (Middle East) has since spread to nearly every corner of the globe. However, for what a profound impact Judaism has had on our history, there are surprisingly few Jewish people in the world today.
The global population of Jews is somewhat subjective depending on who’s asked. As of 2020, the world Jewry is about 14.7 million worldwide. However, this figure is much smaller according to Orthodox Jewish principles, which deem a person Jewish only if their mother was such or if they have undergone the proper conversion. The figure could also be measured much higher if one took into consideration those of Jewish ethnicity that don’t necessarily practice the religion.
Although the world Jewry has increased by more than 1.5 million since the year 2000, it is not the highest it’s ever been. In 1939, the world’s Jewish population peaked at over 16.7 million, but the atrocities of the Holocaust during World War II reduced the Jewry to less than 11 million. The population has been steadily recovering since.
Of the five major world religions (Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam), Judaism is by far the rarest, accounting for just 0.18% of the world’s population. Although Judaism is the oldest of the Abrahamic religions by 1,800 years, Christianity and Islam account for 31.1% and 24.9% of the total world population respectively. In other words, there are 173 Christans and 138 Muslims for every Jew.
Organized world religions with a population higher than Judaism, represented in millions:
- Christianity (2,382)
- Islam (1,907)
- Hinduism (1,161)
- Buddhism (506)
- Sikhism (26)
- Spiritism (15)
- Judaism (14.7)
With over 6.8 million Jewish citizens, Israel is the country in the world with the most Jews. 74.2% of Israel’s population is Jewish. The historic homeland of the Jews, Israel is home to the holy city of Jerusalem, the theorized center of the world where God resides.
The United States is second in terms of Jewish population, with around 5.7 million Jews. New York City has more Jews than 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 ⅓ of its population.
Countries with the most Jews:
While these figures are relatively comprehensive, over-utilization of “Jew” as a blanket term can be reductive to the diversity of culture and ethnicity represented under 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 new cultures. Although the original exile from Israel is where many shared Jewish traditions are derived from, the Jews have undergone countless instances of bigotry and persecution since.
The largest population of Jews is the Ashkenazi sub-group. Ashkenazi Jews are the descendents of the Jews who traveled north and settled in France, Germany, and Eastern Europe at the time of their exile. These people 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.
Sephardic Jews are the descendents of those who settled in Iberia (Spain and Portugal). During the 15th century, the Sephardic Jews were expelled from their new homeland and took up settlement in North Africa, as well as in Southern Europe and Western Asia on the periphery of the Mediterranean Sea.
The other large population of Jews is the Mizrahi community. The Mizrahi are the descendents of Jews who settled not far from Israel in Southwest Asia and parts of Northern Africa. Mizrahi Jews make up the largest percentage of the Israeli Jewish population, accounting for some 3.2 million of the 6.8 million Israeli Jews.
Number of Jews by sub-group, including many who are ethnically Jewish or of primarily Jewish descent.
- Ashkenazi (10,000,000)
- Mizrahi (4,600,000)
- Sephardic (2,300,000)
- Other (900,000)