The worldwide Jewish population has been getting much attention lately following the release of a report issued by the Jewish People Policy Institute that shows it is approaching what it was before the Holocaust. One can view this interesting revelation in one of two ways:
- It’s great that we have recouped nearly all that we lost during the Holocaust; or
- It’s unfortunate that it took 75 years to do so.
Some salient points:
- The last ten years have been characterized by the largest Jewish population increase since the end of WWII. In early 2015 the worldwide “core” Jewish population was estimated to be 14.2 million compared to 16.6 million in 1939. Please note that the core population includes only those who, when surveyed, identify themselves solely as Jews. Those are the numbers I am discussing in this blog. (On the other hand, the “enlarged” Jewish population, which is also used sometimes, basically includes core Jews plus, for example, those with Jewish parentage who have “opted out” of Judaism and/or adopted another religion.
- Approximately, 82% of the world’s Jews are concentrated in just two countries – Israel (6.1 million) and the US (just under 6 million). (For some reason, in different surveys the US population has ranged from 5.4 million to 6.8 million, so I split the difference.)
- The total population comparison cannot be viewed in a vacuum as in 1939 the world’s population was only 1/3 of what it is now (2.3 billion compared to 7 billion). Therefore, on a percentage basis we are far below what we were in 1939.
- In recent years, only five countries have exhibited a net positive migration of Jews. Four of them – Israel, US, Australia and Canada make sense. The fifth one – Germany – will be a surprise to most people, but I believe a major part of the reason is economic opportunity.
- In many countries, notably the UK, France and Sweden, the negative migration trends have been accelerating as a result of recent, well-publicized anti-Semitic instances. The biggest beneficiary of this has been Israel.
- Historically sizeable Jewish populations in Eastern Europe, North Africa and the Middle East (other than Israel) have declined significantly, or virtually disappeared.
So, why has it taken 75 years to recoup the Holocaust population loss? In my opinion, there are three reasons: low birthrate, secularism and assimilation.
With respect to birthrate, the good news is that Israeli Jewish families have been averaging approximately 3 children per family. Even better, the age distribution of the population has been stable and consistent. On the other hand, in the diaspora countries the birthrate in Jewish households is at virtually zero growth with a disproportionately and increasingly larger elderly composition.
Moreover, the Jewish population, like that of other religions, has been victimized by the recent trend toward secularism. Increasingly, more and more people have become indifferent or negative toward religion, in general.
Finally, increasingly large numbers of Jews have been marrying non-Jews, and, thus, assimilating into the general populace. These final two factors have a multiplier effect as both the person and his offspring are lost to Judaism.
My expectation is that these factors will continue prospectively. Therefore, although the absolute Jewish population will continue to grow slowly, the percentage will continue to decline.