It took 70 years, but the world’s Jewish population has finally grown to be about as large as it was before the Holocaust, an Israeli think tank said in its annual report presented to the Israeli cabinet on Sunday June 28, 2015, just four weeks prior to Tisha b’Av.
The Jewish People Policy Institute said there are currently about 14.2 million Jews in the world. When factoring in individuals with one Jewish parent and others who identify as partially Jewish, the figure approaches the 16.5 million Jews who were alive in 1939, on the eve of the second world war. The Nazis and their collaborators massacred almost six million Jews during the WW2 Holocaust.
The report said the rise was due mostly to natural growth, mainly in Israel, which has about 6.1 million Jews and one of the western world’s highest fertility rates.
But it also linked the growth to “changing patterns of Jewish identification”. It said that 59% of adult children in the US who have just one Jewish parent now identify as Jewish, a majority “for the first time in memory”.
Avinoam Bar-Yosef, the institute’s president, said more of those Jews were probably identifying as Jewish because it is more “respectable” to be Jewish in the US than it was years ago. He also said Birthright Israel, which organizes educational trips to Israel for young Jewish people, is also having an impact.
Also adding to Jewish numbers are the more than a half million non-Jews who have converted to Judaism over the last 60-70 years. If one adds in the children of those who have converted to Judaism in the last two generations, more than 10% of all Jews in the world have non-Jewish grandparents.
The total tally combines the number of Jews in each Jewish community worldwide, including at least one million secular Jews who are less likely to be connected to Jewish life or institutions. And it includes some 350,000 Israeli non-Jews who emigrated from the former Soviet Union, served in the Israeli army, but are not considered to be Jewish by the Orthodox religious establishment in Israel.
The Pew Research Center, whose count only includes Jews who self-identify as Jewish, projects that the number of Jews in the world will only reach 16 million in another 35 years.
The US has the world’s second-largest Jewish population, at 5.7 million. France is a distant third with about 475,000 Jews, followed by Canada.