While Jews have remained a small faith, the impact of their teachings on the
world has been profound. In particular, the Hebrew Bible has been of greater
significance than any other religious book. Both Christianity and Islam
sprang from this Jewish understanding and scripture.
Over the last 200 years the location and size of the world’s Jewish
population has been radically altered: by mass migration from Europe and
Russia in the late 19th to mid-20th century, mainly to the U.S.; by the tragedy
of the Nazi Holocaust, 1939-45 which destroyed the Jewish cultures of
Germany and Eastern Europe; and finally, by the creation of the state of
Israel. Whereas in 1800 the vast majority of Jews lived in Europe and
Russia, most Jews today are to be found in either the United States or
The state of Israel was created in 1948 as the first homeland for Jews since
the Romans crushed a rebellion against Roman rule in Israel. For centuries
before that, Jews had been living in scattered communities throughout the
Middle East. After the Romans crushed them in 70CE, Jews spread
throughout the Roman Empire. Despite terrible persecutions and
restrictions, Jews established significant communities in Spain and North
Africa, Russia, Persia (modern Iran) and even India and China.
People of Jewish origin have varying degrees of personal commitment to
Judaism or Israel. “Being a Jew” can have religious, ethnic or cultural
meaning, so the numbers cited of Jews tend to vary. In religious terms, a
Jew is someone whose mother was Jewish and who lives by the Law of
Moses and of the Torah. While many Jews with a Jewish mother would
describe themselves as Jewish, they may well not be adherents of the faith
Orthodox Jews assert the supreme authority of the Torah and believe that
Jewish laws are not open to revision. Moves away from traditional or
“orthodox observance” have given rise to Reform, Liberal, Conservative,
Reconstructionist and other forms of Judaism.
Source: Joanne O’Brien and Martin Palmer, The State of Religion Atlas, 1993.
Worldwide: Fewer than twenty million.
Sources: The World Almanac and Book of Facts,1994.
United States: There are 2,831,000 (1.3% of the U.S. population).
Source: The ARIS 2001 study.
Teaching About Religion
in support of civic pluralism