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A Jew (Template:Lang-he-n, Yehudi (sg.); יְהוּדִים , Yehudim (pl.); Ladino: ג׳ודיו , Djudio (sg.); ג׳ודיוס , Djudios (pl.); Template:Lang-yi; יִידן , Yidn (pl.))[1] is a member of the Jewish people, an 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.[2][3][4] Converts to Judaism 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. Since the destruction of the First Temple, the diaspora has been the home of most of the world's Jews.[5] Except in the modern State of Israel, established in 1948, 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.

According to the Jewish Agency, as of 2007 there were 13.2 million Jews worldwide, 5.4 million of whom lived in Israel, 5.3 million in the United States, and the remainder distributed in communities of varying sizes around the world; this represents 0.2% of the current estimated world population.[6] These numbers include all those who consider themselves Jews whether or not affiliated with a Jewish organization.[7] The total world Jewish population, however, is difficult to measure. In addition to halakhic considerations, there are secular, political, and ancestral identification factors in defining who is a Jew that increase the figure considerably.[7]

Jews and Judaism

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.[8] 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.[9] 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 4 to 8–10 million within the confines of the Roman Empire, in good part as a result of a wave of conversion.[10]

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 male spouse] 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.[11][12] Since the Haskalah, these halakhic interpretations of Jewish identity have been challenged.[13]

Ethnic divisions

Main article: Jewish ethnic divisions
File:Gottlieb-Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur.jpg

Ashkenazi Jews of late 19th century Eastern Europe portrayed in Jews Praying in the Synagogue on Yom Kippur (1878), by Maurycy Gottlieb.

Within the world's Jewish population there are distinct ethnic divisions, most of which are primarily the result of geographic branching from an originating Israelite population, and subsequent independent evolutions. An array of Jewish communities were established by Jewish settlers in various places around the Old World, often at great distances from one another resulting in effective and often long-term isolation from each other. During the millennia of the Jewish diaspora the communities would develop under the influence of their local environments; political, cultural, natural, and populational. Today, manifestation of these differences among the Jews can be observed in Jewish cultural expressions of each community, including Jewish linguistic diversity, culinary preferences, liturgical practices, religious interpretations, as well as degrees and sources of genetic admixture.[14]

Jews are often identified as belonging to one of two major groups: the Ashkenazim, or "Germans" (Ashkenaz meaning "Germany" in Medieval Hebrew, denoting their Central European base), and the Sephardim, or "Spaniards" (Sefarad meaning "Spain" or "Iberia" in Hebrew, denoting their Spanish and Portuguese base). The Mizrahim, or "Easterners" (Mizrach being "East" in Hebrew), that is, the diverse collection of Middle Eastern and North African Jews, constitute a third major group, although they are sometimes termed Sephardi for liturgical reasons.[15]

Smaller groups include, but are not restricted to, Indian Jews such as the Bene Israel, Bnei Menashe, Cochin Jews, and Bene Ephraim; the Romaniotes of Greece; the Italian Jews ("Italkim" or "Bené Roma"); the Teimanim from Yemen and Oman; various African Jews, including most numerously the Beta Israel of Ethiopia; and Chinese Jews, most notably the Kaifeng Jews, as well as various other distinct but now almost extinct communities.[16]

The divisions between all these groups are approximate and their boundaries are not always clear. The Mizrahim for example, are a heterogeneous collection of North African, Central Asian, Caucasian, and Middle Eastern Jewish communities that are often as unrelated to each other as they are to any of the earlier mentioned Jewish groups. In modern usage, however, the Mizrahim are sometimes termed Sephardi due to similar styles of liturgy, despite independent development from Sephardim proper. Thus, among Mizrahim there are Iraqi Jews, Egyptian Jews, Berber Jews, Lebanese Jews, Kurdish Jews, Libyan Jews, Syrian Jews, Bukharian Jews, Mountain Jews, Georgian Jews, and various others. The Teimanim from Yemen and Oman are sometimes included, although their style of liturgy is unique and they differ in respect to the admixture found among them to that found in Mizrahim. In addition, there is a differentiation made between Sephardi migrants who established themselves in the Middle East and North Africa after the expulsion of the Jews from Spain and Portugal in the 1490s and the pre-existing Jewish communities in those regions.[16]

Despite this diversity, Ashkenazi Jews represent the bulk of modern Jewry, with at least 70% of Jews worldwide (and up to 90% prior to World War II and the Holocaust). As a result of their emigration from Europe, Ashkenazim also represent the overwhelming majority of Jews in the New World continents, in countries such as the United States, Canada, Argentina, Australia, and Brazil. In France, emigration of Mizrahim from North Africa has led them to outnumber the Ashkenazim and Sephardim.[17] Only in Israel is the Jewish population representative of all groups, a melting pot independent of each group's proportion within the overall world Jewish population.[18]

Genetic studies

See also: Y-chromosomal AaronGenealogical DNA test, and Matrilineality

Despite the evident diversity displayed by the world's distinct Jewish populations, both culturally and physically, genetic studies have demonstrated most of these to be genetically related to one another, having ultimately originated from a common ancient Israelite population that underwent geographic branching and subsequent independent evolutions.[19]

A study published by the National Academy of Sciences found that "the paternal gene pools of Jewish communities from Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East descended from a common Middle Eastern ancestral population", and suggested that "most Jewish communities have remained relatively isolated from neighboring non-Jewish communities during and after the Diaspora".[19] Researchers expressed surprise at the remarkable genetic uniformity they found among modern Jews, no matter where the diaspora has become dispersed around the world.[19]

Moreover, DNA tests have demonstrated substantially less inter-marriage in most of the various Jewish ethnic divisions over the last 3,000 years than in other populations.[20] The findings lend support to traditional Jewish accounts accrediting their founding to exiled Israelite populations, and counters theories that many or most of the world's Jewish populations were founded by entirely gentile populations that adopted the Jewish faith, as in the notable case of the historic Khazars.[20][21] Although groups such as the Khazars could have been absorbed into modern Jewish populations — in the Khazars' case, absorbed into the Ashkenazim — it is unlikely that they formed a large percentage of the ancestors of modern Ashkenazi Jews, and much less that they were the genesis of the Ashkenazim.[22]

Even the archetype of Israelite-origin is also beginning to be reviewed for some Jewish populations amid newer studies. Previously, the Israelite origin identified in the world's Jewish populations was attributed only to the males who had migrated from the Middle East and then forged the current known communities with "the women from each local population whom they took as wives and converted to Judaism".[23] Research in Ashkenazi Jews has suggested that, in addition to the male founders, significant female founder ancestry might also derive from the Middle East, with about 40% of the current Ashkenazi population descended matrilineally from just four women, or "founder lineages", that were "likely from a Hebrew/Levantine mtDNA pool" originating in the Near East in the first and second centuries CE.[23]

Points in which Jewish groups differ is largely in the source and proportion of genetic contribution from host populations.[24][25] For example, Teimanim differ from other Mizrahim, as well as from Ashkenazim, in the proportion of sub-Saharan African gene types which have entered their gene pools.[24] Among Yemenites, the average stands at 35% lineages within the past 3,000 years.[24] Yemenite Jews, as a traditionally Arabic-speaking community of local Yemenite and Israelite ancestries,[25] are included within the findings, though they average a quarter of the frequency of the non-Jewish Yemenite sample.[24] The proportion of male indigenous European genetic admixture in Ashkenazi Jews amounts to around 0.5% per generation over an estimated 80 generations, and a total admixture estimate "very similar to Motulsky's average estimate of 12.5%."[19]

DNA analysis further determined that modern Jews of the priesthood tribe — "Kohanim" — share a common ancestor dating back about 3,000 years.[26] This result is consistent for all Jewish populations around the world.[26] The researchers estimated that the most recent common ancestor of modern Kohanim lived between 1000 BCE (roughly the time of the Biblical Exodus) and 586 BCE, when the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple.[27] They found similar results analyzing DNA from Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews.[27] The scientists estimated the date of the original priest based on genetic mutations, which indicated that the priest lived roughly 106 generations ago, between 2,650 and 3,180 years ago depending whether one counts a generation as 25 or 30 years.[27]

Beyond intra-Jewish genetic interrelationships, other findings show that by the yardstick of the Y chromosome, the world's Jewish communities are closely related to Arab Israelis and Palestinians,[28][29] who together as a single population also represent modern "descendants of a core population that lived in the area since prehistoric times", albeit religiously Christianized and later largely Islamized, and both ultimately culturally Arabized.[28] The authors of one of the studies wrote that "the extremely close affinity of Jewish and non-Jewish Middle Eastern populations observed ... supports the hypothesis of a common Middle Eastern origin".[19]


Main article: Jewish population

Significant geographic populations

There are an estimated 13.2 million Jews worldwide.[6] 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 Notes
United States 5,275,000 301,469,000 1.7% [6]
Israel 5,393,000 7,117,000 75.8% [6]
Europe 1,506,000 710,000,000 0.2% [30]
France 490,000 64,102,000 0.8% [6]
United Kingdom 295,000 60,609,000 0.5% [6]
Russia 225,000 142,400,000 0.2% [6]
Germany 120,000 82,310,000 0.1% [6]
Ukraine 77,000 46,481,000 0.2% [6]
Hungary 49,000 10,053,000 0.5% [6]
Belgium 31,200 10,419,000 0.3% [30]
Italy 28,600 58,884,000 0.05% [30]
Turkey 17,800 72,600,000 0.02% [30]
Romania 10,100 21,500,000 0.05% [30]
Greece 5,500 11,100,000 0.05% [30]
Canada 374,000 32,874,000 1.1% [6]
Argentina 184,000 39,922,000 0.5% [6]
Brazil 96,000 188,078,000 0.05% [6]
South Africa 72,000 47,432,000 0.2% [6]
Australia 104,000 20,788,000 0.5% [6]
Asia (excl. Israel) 39,500 3,900,000,000 0.001% [30]
Iran 10,800 68,467,000 0.02% [30]
Mexico 40,000 108,700,000 0.04% [6]
Total 13,155,000 6,453,628,000 0.2% [6]

Diaspora (outside Israel)

Main article: Jewish diaspora

The waves of immigration to the United States and elsewhere at the turn of the nineteenth century, the founding of Zionism and later events, including pogroms in Russia, the massacre of European Jewry during the Holocaust, and the founding of the state of Israel, with the subsequent Jewish exodus from Arab lands, all resulted in substantial shifts in the population centers of world Jewry by the end of the twentieth century.[31]


In this Rosh Hashana greeting card from the early 1900s, Russian Jews, packs in hand, gaze at the American relatives beckoning them to the United States. Over two million Jews would flee the pogroms of the Russian Empire to the safety of the US from 1881–1924.[32]

Currently, the largest Jewish community in the world is located in the United States, with almost 5.3 million Jews. Elsewhere in the Americas, there are also large Jewish populations in Canada, Argentina, and Brazil, and smaller populations in Mexico, Uruguay, Venezuela, Chile, and several other countries (see History of the Jews in Latin America).[6]

Western Europe's largest Jewish community can be found in France, home to 490,000 Jews, the majority of whom are immigrants or refugees from North African Arab countries such as Algeria, Morocco, and Tunisia (or their descendants).[33] There are 295,000 Jews in the United Kingdom. In Eastern Europe, there are anywhere from 350,000 to one million Jews living in the former Soviet Union, but exact figures are difficult to establish. The fastest-growing Jewish community in the world, outside 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.[34]

The Arab countries of North Africa and the Middle East were home to around 900,000 Jews in 1945. Fueled by anti-Zionism[35] after the founding of Israel, systematic persecution caused almost all of these Jews to flee to Israel, North America, and Europe in the 1950s (see Jewish exodus from Arab lands). Today, around 8,000 Jews remain in all Arab nations combined.[30]

Iran is home to around 10,800 Jews, down from a population of 100,000 Jews before the 1979 revolution. 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, where the principal community is called "Tehrangeles").[30][36]

Outside Europe, the Americas, the Middle East, and the rest of Asia, there are significant Jewish populations in Australia and South Africa.[30]

Population changes: Assimilation

Since at least the time of the Ancient Greeks, a proportion of Jews have assimilated into the wider non-Jewish society around them, by either choice or force, ceasing to practice Judaism and losing their Jewish identity.[37] Assimilation took place in all areas, and during all time periods,[37] with some Jewish communities, for example the Kaifeng Jews of China, disappearing entirely.[38] The advent of the Jewish Enlightenment of the 1700s (see Haskalah) and the subsequent emancipation of the Jewish populations of Europe and America in the 1800s, accelerated the situation, encouraging Jews to increasingly participate 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.[39] Rates of interreligious marriage vary widely: In the United States, they are just under 50%,[40] in the United Kingdom, around 53%, in France, around 30%,[41] and in Australia and Mexico, as low as 10%.[42][43] In the United States, only about a third of children from intermarriages affiliate themselves with Jewish religious practice.[44] The result is that most countries in the Diaspora have steady or slightly declining religiously Jewish populations as Jews continue to assimilate into the countries in which they live.

Population changes: Wars against the Jews


Jews (identifiable by the distinctive hats that they were required to wear) being killed by Christian knights. French Bible illustration from 1255.

Throughout history, many rulers, empires and nations have oppressed their Jewish populations or sought to eliminate them entirely. Methods employed ranged from expulsion to outright genocide; within nations, often the threat of these extreme methods was sufficient to silence dissent. The history of antisemitism includes the First Crusade which resulted in the massacre of Jews;[45] the Spanish Inquisition (led by Torquemada) and the Portuguese Inquisition, with their persecution and Auto de fé against the New Christians and Marrano Jews;[46] the Bohdan Chmielnicki Cossack massacres in Ukraine;[47] the Pogroms backed by the Russian Tsars;[48] as well as expulsions from Spain, Portugal, England, France, Germany, and other countries in which the Jews had settled.[49] The persecution reached a peak in Adolf Hitler's Final Solution, which led to the Holocaust and the slaughter of approximately 6 million Jews from 1942 to 1945.[50]

According to James Carroll, "Jews accounted for 10% of the total population of the Roman Empire. By that ratio, if other factors had not intervened, there would be 200 million Jews in the world today, instead of something like 13 million."[51] Of course, there are many other complex demographic factors involved; the rate of population growth, epidemics, migration, assimilation, and conversion could all have played major roles in the current size of the global Jewish population.

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.[52]

Orthodox and Conservative Judaism discourage proselytization to non-Jews, but many Jewish groups have tried to reach out to the assimilated Jewish communities of the Diaspora in order for them to reconnect to their Jewish roots. 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.[53] There is also a trend of Orthodox movements pursuing secular Jews in order to give them a stronger Jewish identity so there is less chance of intermarriage. 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.[54] 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.[55]

Jewish languages

Main article: Jewish languages

Hebrew is the liturgical language of Judaism (termed lashon 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 fifth century BCE, Aramaic, a closely related tongue, joined Hebrew as the spoken language in Judea.[56] By the third century BCE, Jews of the diaspora were speaking Greek.[57] Modern Hebrew is now one of the two official languages of the State of Israel along with Arabic.[58]

Hebrew was revived as a spoken language by Eliezer ben Yehuda, who arrived in Palestine in 1881. It hadn't been used as a mother tongue since Tannaic times.[56] 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.[59] For centuries, Jews worldwide have spoken the local or dominant languages of the regions they migrated to, often developing distinctive dialectal forms or branching off as 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.[60]

The three most commonly spoken languages among Jews today are English, Modern Hebrew, and Russian. Some Romance languages, such as French, and Spanish are also widely used.[60]

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).[How to reference and link to summary or text]

Jewish culture

Main article: Secular Jewish culture

Judaism guides its adherents in both practice and belief, and has been called not only a religion, but also a "way of life,"[61] which has made drawing a clear distinction between Judaism, Jewish culture, and Jewish identity rather difficult. Throughout history, in eras and places as diverse as the ancient Hellenic world,[62] in Europe before and after The Age of Enlightenment (see Haskalah),[63] in Islamic Spain and Portugal,[64] in North Africa and the Middle East,[64] India,[65] and China,[66] or the contemporary United States[67] and Israel,[68] 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 or specific communities of Jews with their surroundings, others from the inner social and cultural dynamics of the community, as opposed to from the religion itself. This phenomenon has led to considerably different Jewish cultures unique to their own communities, each as authentically Jewish as the next.[69]

Beginning of the Diaspora

Main article: Jewish diaspora

Though Jews had settled outside 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.[70] 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.[71] This is the traditional explanation to the Jewish 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. In the six centuries before the rise of Islam, there was a mass migration out of Palestine (devastated by war, and after the conversion of Emperor Constantine in 313, the pressure of the Christian mission) and into Syria, Babylonia and the Iranian Plateau, so that these areas "received a tremendous admixture of Jewish blood.”[72]

Some secular historians speculate that a majority of the Jews in Antiquity were most likely descendants of converts in the cities of the Græco-Roman world, especially in Alexandria and Asia Minor.[73] 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 increased following the destruction of the Jewish state, and to have ended only when Christianity came to power.[74] At the time of the Christian era the Jews in Egypt may have come to number about a million out of a total population of about seven and a half million.[75]

DNA evidence of this theory has been spotty, but some historians believe based on some historical records that at the dawn of Christianity as many as 10% of the population of the Roman Empire were Jewish, a figure that could only be explained by local conversion.[73]


The Amsterdam Esnoga, the synagogue of the Sephardic community

During the first few hundred years of the Diaspora, the most important Jewish communities were in Babylonia, where the Babylonian 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.[76] In the belief of restoration to come, the Jews made an alliance with the Persians who invaded Palestine in 614, fought at their side, overwhelmed the Byzantine garrison in Jerusalem, and for three years governed the city. But the Persians made their peace with the Emperor Heraclius. Christian rule was re-established, and those Jews who survived the consequent slaughter were once more banished from Jerusalem.[77]

The conquest of much of the Byzantine Empire and Babylonia by Islamic armies generally improved the life of the Jews, though they were still considered second-class citizens.[78] 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. The Jews were among the most vigorous defenders of Jerusalem against the Crusaders.[79] When the city fell, the Crusaders gathered the Jews in a synagogue and burned them.[80] The Jews almost single-handedly defended Haifa against the Crusaders, holding out in the besieged town for a whole month (June-July 1099). At this time, a full thousand years after the fall of the Jewish state, there were Jewish communities all over the country. Fifty of them are known to historians; they include Jerusalem, Tiberias, Ramleh, Ashkelon, Caesarea, and Gaza.[81]


Image of a cantor reading the Passover story in Moorish Iberia, from a 14th century Iberian Haggadah.

Middle Ages: Europe

Main article: Jews in the Middle Ages

Jews settled in Europe during the time of the Roman Empire. Early medieval society, before the Church became fully organized, was tolerant.[82] Between 800 and 1100 there were 1.5 million Jews in Christian Europe.[83] They were fortunate in not being part of the feudal system as serfs or knights, thus were spared the oppression and constant warfare that made life miserable for most Christians.[84] Unlike lay Christians, most Jews were literate.[85] In relations with the Christian society, they were protected by kings, princes and bishops, because of the crucial services they provided in three areas: financial, administrative and as doctors.[84] Christian scholars interested in the Bible would even consult with Talmudic rabbis.[86] All this changed with the reforms and strengthening of the Roman Catholic Church, especially the creations of the Franciscan and Dominican preaching monks, and the rise of envious and competitive middle-class, town-dwelling Christians. By 1300 the friars and local priests were using the Passion Plays at Easter time, which depicted Jews in contemporary dress killing Christ, to teach the general populace to hate and murder Jews.[87] It was at this point that persecution and exile became endemic. As the Black Death epidemics devastated Europe in the mid-14th century, annihilating more than a half of the population, Jews were taken as scapegoats.[88] Finally around 1500, Jews found security and a renewal of prosperity in Poland.[89]

Norman Roth makes the point that more Jews lived in Spain than in all the countries of Europe combined. Some historians have calculated that in the 12th century Sephardi Jews made up 90% of all the world's Jewry, though that percentage declined rapidly.[90]

The Crusaders routinely attacked Jewish communities,[45] and increasingly harsh laws restricted Jews from most economic activity and land ownership, leaving open only money-lending and a few other trades.[91] Jews were subject to expulsions from England, France, and the Holy Roman Empire after 1300, with most of the population moving to Eastern Europe and especially Poland, which was uniquely tolerant of the Jews through the 1700s.[92] By 1764, there were about 750,000 Jews in the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth. The worldwide Jewish population was estimated at 1.2 million.[93]

The final mass expulsion of the Jews, and the largest, occurred after the Christian conquest (Reconquista) of Iberia in 1492 (see History of the Jews in Spain and History of the Jews in Portugal).[94] 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 in Western Europe generally were forced, by decree or by informal pressure, to live in highly segregated ghettos and shtetls.[95] By the beginning of the twentieth century, most European Jews lived in the so-called Pale of Settlement, the Western frontier of the Russian Empire consisting generally of the modern-day countries of Poland, Lithuania, Belarus and neighboring regions.[96]

Middle Ages: Islamic Europe, North Africa, Middle East

Main article: History of the Jews under Muslim rule

In the Iberian Peninsula, under Muslim rule, Jews had the freedom to make great advances in mathematics, astronomy, philosophy, chemistry, and philology.[97] This era is sometimes referred to as the Golden age of Jewish culture in the Iberian Peninsula.[98]

During early Islam, Leon Poliakov writes, Jews enjoyed great privileges, and their communities prospered. There was no legislation or social barriers preventing them from conducting commercial activities. Many Jews migrated to areas newly conquered by Muslims and established communities there. The vizier of Baghdad entrusted his capital with Jewish bankers. The Jews were put in charge of certain parts of maritime and slave trade. Siraf, the principal port of the caliphate in the 10th century CE, had a Jewish governor.[99]

Since the 11th century, there have also been instances of pogroms against Jews.[100] Examples include the 1066 Granada massacre, where the entire Jewish quarter in that Andalucian city was razed.[101] In North Africa, there were instances of violence against Jews in the Middle Ages,[102] and in other Arab lands including Egypt,[103] Syria,[104] and Yemen.[105]

The Almohads, who had taken control of much of Islamic Iberia by 1172, were far more fundamentalist in outlook than the Almoravides, and they treated the dhimmis harshly. Jews and Christians were expelled from Morocco and Islamic Spain.[106] Faced with the choice of either death or conversion, some Jews, such as the family of Maimonides, fled south and east to the more tolerant Muslim lands, while others went northward to settle in the growing Christian kingdoms.[107][108]

Enlightenment and emancipation

Main article: Haskalah

Napoleon emancipating the Jews, represented by the woman with the menorah, an 1804 French print.

During the Age of Enlightenment, significant changes occurred within the Jewish community. The Haskalah movement paralleled the wider Enlightenment, as Jews began in the 1700s to abandon their exclusiveness and acquire the knowledge, manners, and aspirations typical of the wider European society. Secular and scientific education was added to the traditionally religious instruction received by students. Interest in a national Jewish identity, including a revival in the study of Jewish history and Hebrew, started to grow.[109]

The Haskalah movement influenced the birth of all the modern Jewish denominations.[110] At the same time, Haskalah contributed to encouraging cultural assimilation into the countries in which Jews resided, and the nineteenth century Reform movement in Judaism.[111] About the same time another movement was born, one preaching almost the opposite of Haskalah, Hasidic Judaism. Hasidic Judaism began in the 1700s by Israel ben Eliezer, the Baal Shem Tov, and quickly gained a following with its exuberant, mystical approach to religion.[112] These two movements, and the traditional orthodox approach to Judaism from which they spring, formed the basis for the modern divisions within Jewish observance.[113]

Concurrently, the outside world was changing. In 1791, France became the first European country to emancipate its Jewish population, granting them equal rights under the law.[114] Napoleon further spread emancipation, inviting Jews to leave the Jewish ghettos in Europe and seek refuge in the newly created tolerant political regimes (see Napoleon and the Jews).[115] Other countries such as Denmark, England, and Sweden also adopted liberal policies toward Jews during the period of Enlightenment, with some resulting immigration.[116] By the mid-19th century, almost all Western European countries had emancipated their Jewish populations, with the notable exception of the Papal States, but persecution continued in Eastern Europe including massive pogroms at the end of the 19th century and throughout the Pale of Settlement.[117] The persistence of anti-semitism, both violently in the east and socially in the west, led to a number of Jewish political movements, culminating in Zionism.[118]

Zionism and emigration from Europe


Poster from the Zionist Tarbut schools of Poland in the 1930s. Zionist parties were very active in Polish politics. In the 1922 Polish elections, Zionists won 25 out of 35 Jewish parliament seats.[119]

Main article: Zionism

Zionism is an international political movement that supports a homeland for the Jewish People in the Land of Israel. Although its origins are earlier, the movement was formally established by the Austrian journalist Theodor Herzl in the late nineteenth century.[120] The international movement was eventually successful in establishing the State of Israel in 1948, as the world's first and only modern Jewish State. It continues primarily as support for the state and government of Israel and its continuing status as a homeland for the Jewish people.[121] Described as a "diaspora nationalism,"[122] its proponents regard it as a national liberation movement whose aim is the self-determination of the Jewish people.[123]

While Zionism is based in part upon religious tradition linking the Jewish people to the Land of Israel, where the concept of Jewish nationhood is thought to have first evolved somewhere between 1200 BCE and the late Second Temple era (that is, up to 70 CE),[124][125] the modern movement was mainly secular, beginning largely as a response by European Jewry to rampant antisemitism across Europe.[126]

In addition to responding politically, during the late 19th century, Jews began to flee the persecutions of Eastern Europe in large numbers, mostly by heading to the United States, but also to Canada and Western Europe. By 1924, almost two million Jews had emigrated to the US alone, creating a large community in a nation relatively free of the persecutions of rising European antisemitism (see History of the Jews in the United States). Over 1,172,000 Jewish soldiers served in the Allied and Central Power forces in World War I, including 450,000 in czarist Russia and 275,000 in Austria-Hungary.[127]

World War II and the Holocaust

Main article: The Holocaust

This antisemitism reached its most destructive form in the policies of Nazi Germany, which made the destruction of the Jews a priority, culminating in the killing of approximately six million Jews during the Holocaust from 1941 to 1945.[128] At first the Nazis used death squads or Einsatzgruppen to conduct massive open-air killings of Jews and others in territory they conquered. By 1942, the Nazi leadership decided to implement the Final Solution, the genocide of the Jews of Europe, and to increase the pace of the Holocaust by establishing extermination camps specifically to kill Jews.[129][130] This was an industrial method of genocide. Millions of Jews who had been hitherto confined to diseased and massively overcrowded ghettos were transported (often by train) to Nazi death camps where some were herded into a specific location (often a gas chamber), then either gassed or shot. Afterwards, their remains were buried or burned. Others were interned in the camps where they were given little food and disease was common.[131]

It is estimated that up to 1.4 million Jews fought in Allied armies; 40% of them in the Red Army.[132]


Main article: Israel
File:Western Wall - by Jacob Rask.jpg

Jewish prayer at the Western Wall

In 1948, the Jewish state of Israel was founded,[133] creating the first Jewish nation since the Roman destruction of Jerusalem. After the 1948 Arab-Israeli War, the majority of the 850,000 Jews previously living in North Africa and the Middle East fled to Israel,[134] joining an increasing number of immigrants from post-War Europe (see Jewish exodus from Arab lands). 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 Jews
Related articles: Antisemitism, History of antisemitism, New antisemitism

The Jewish people and Judaism have experienced various persecutions throughout Jewish history. During late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages the Roman Empire (in its later phases known as the Byzantine Empire) repeatedly repressed the Jewish population, first by ejecting them from their homelands during the pagan Roman era and later by officially establishing them as second-class citizens during the Christian Roman era.[135][136] Later in medieval Western Europe, further persecutions of Jews in the name of Christianity occurred, notably during the Crusades—when Jews all over Germany were massacred—and a series of expulsions from England, Germany, France, and, in the largest expulsion of all, Spain and Portugal after the Reconquista (the Catholic Reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula), where both unbaptized Sephardic Jews and the ruling Muslim Moors were expelled.[45][49] In the Papal States, which existed until 1870, Jews were required to live only in specified neighborhoods called ghettos.[137] In the 19th and (before the end of World War II) 20th centuries, the Roman Catholic Church adhered to a distinction between "good antisemitism" and "bad antisemitism". The "bad" kind promoted hatred of Jews because of their descent. This was considered un-Christian because the Christian message was intended for all of humanity regardless of ethnicity; anyone could become a Christian. The "good" kind criticized alleged Jewish conspiracies to control newspapers, banks, and other institutions, to care only about accumulation of wealth, etc.[138]

Islam and Judaism have a complex relationship. Traditionally Jews and Christians living in Muslim lands, known as dhimmis, were allowed to practice their religions and to administer their internal affairs, but subject to certain conditions.[139] They had to pay the jizya (a per capita tax imposed on free adult non-Muslim males) to the Islamic state.[139] Dhimmis had an inferior status under Islamic rule. They had several social and legal disabilities such as prohibitions against bearing arms or giving testimony in courts in cases involving Muslims.[140] Many of the disabilities were highly symbolic. The one described by Bernard Lewis as "most degrading"[141] was the requirement of distinctive clothing, not found in the Qur'an or hadith but invented in early medieval Baghdad; its enforcement was highly erratic.[141] On the other hand, Jews rarely faced martyrdom or exile, or forced compulsion to change their religion, and they were mostly free in their choice of residence and profession.[142] Notable exceptions include the massacre of Jews and/or forcible conversion of some Jews by the rulers of the Almohad dynasty in Al-Andalus in the 12th century,[143] as well as in Islamic Persia,[144] and the forced confinement of Morrocan Jews to walled quarters known as mellahs beginning from the 15th century and especially in the early 19th century.[145] In modern times, it has become commonplace for standard antisemitic themes to be conflated with anti-Zionist publications and pronouncements of Islamic movements such as Hezbollah and Hamas, in the pronouncements of various agencies of the Islamic Republic of Iran, and even in the newspapers and other publications of Turkish Refah Partisi."[146]

The most notable modern day persecution of Jews remains the Holocaust — the state-led systematic persecution and genocide of European Jews (and certain communities of North African Jews in European controlled North Africa) and other minority groups of Europe during World War II by Nazi Germany and its collaborators.[147] The persecution and genocide were accomplished in stages. Legislation to remove the Jews from civil society was enacted years before the outbreak of World War II.[148] Concentration camps were established in which inmates were used as slave labour until they died of exhaustion or disease.[149] Where the Third Reich conquered new territory in eastern Europe, specialized units called Einsatzgruppen murdered Jews and political opponents in mass shootings.[130] Jews and Roma were crammed into ghettos before being transported hundreds of miles by freight train to extermination camps where, if they survived the journey, the majority of them were killed in gas chambers.[150] Every arm of Germany's bureaucracy was involved in the logistics of the mass murder, turning the country into what one Holocaust scholar has called "a genocidal nation."[131]

Jewish leadership

Main article: Jewish leadership

There is no single governing body for the Jewish community, nor a single authority with responsibility for religious doctrine.[151] 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.[152]

Notable Jews

Main article: List of Jews

Jews have made contributions in a broad range of human endeavors, including the sciences, arts, politics, and business.[153] The number of Jewish Nobel prize winners is far out of proportion to the percentage of Jews in the world's population.[154]

See also


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External links

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