A Jew is a person who is of Jewish heritage or who has converted to the Jewish religion. Jews typically consider themselves as a people and not only as adherents of a religion, therefore a Jew is not only one that practices the religion of Judaism, but it is also one who is of Jewish heritage. According to traditional Jewish law, the Halakha, someone is Jewish if their mother was a Jew or if they have converted to Judaism. Judaism has been described as a religion, a race, a culture, a nation, and an extended family.
Israel is the only Jewish country, but there are Jewish minorities in many places in the world. Most of them live in large cities in the United States, Argentina, Europe and Australia. Both Israel and the U.S. have over five million Jews. In the Soviet Union there were more than two million Jews, but many of them moved to Israel, the U.S. and other Western countries since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Jewish ethnic groups
There are Jewish ethnic groups. The two biggest are called Ashkenazi (originally from Central and Eastern Europe) and Sephardic (originally from the lands around the Mediterranean Sea, particularly Spain and Portugal). In Israel, those from Arab and Muslim countries are called Mizrahi Jews. There are also African Jews (Beta Israel), Indian Jews (Bene Israel) and some Chinese Jews (Kai-feng Jews). Many of these groups have moved from one place to another. For example, many Ashkenazi Jews live in the United States, and many Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews live in France.
Jews speak the languages of the countries where they live. Hebrew is the language of Judaism because it is the language in which the Bible was written. It is still used for prayers. In Israel, Ivrit, which is the name for the new Hebrew language, is the common language. There are also old Jewish languages such as Yiddish and Ladino which are still spoken and written by some Jews.
The Jewish scriptures say that Judaism began with a man named Abram who lived in the city of Ur. According to the Midrash, Abram strongly believed that the people in Ur were wrong to pray to different gods and statues. He believed that there was really only one god who was not a statue. The Torah tells that God spoke to Abram and told him to leave Ur with his family and move to Canaan, where he started a new religion.
The Midrash also says that angels taught Abraham a new holy language, which Jews believe is the language today known as Hebrew. Hebrew continues to be the language of Judaism. Abraham's grandson Jacob is said to be the one who first had the name of "Israel".
The Hebrews or Israelites, in twelve tribes, began a country called Israel in Caanan. They fought many wars against other peoples in the area. The name Jew comes from the name of one of these tribes, Judah.
By 50 BC, Judah (then called Judea) was ruled by the Roman Empire. During this time, the main language of Judea was Aramaic. The Jews did not like the Roman government or customs, and often made trouble for the Romans. In 70 AD, after a revolt against the government by the Jewish community, the Romans destroyed Judea's capital city, Jerusalem and sent almost all Jews into exile.
The Jewish People have always believed that they have a special mission from God. They do things in their own ways, such as having special rules about food and eating, not working on the Shabbat, keeping their own holidays, and not marrying people from other religions. Because of this, people in many different times and countries have thought that the Jews were strange, and maybe dangerous. Many countries made laws that the Jews could not work in some jobs or live in some places. Sometimes Jewish people were killed because of their religion. The word "antisemitism" describes the hatred for Jews.
- See also: Category:Jewish people
Prior to World War II the world population of Jews was around 14-16 million. The Holocaust reduced this number to around 10-11 million. Today, there are an estimated 13 million Jews worldwide in over 134 countries. Of these, around 5.8 million live in the United States and 4.3 million live in Israel. Most of the remainder live in Canada, Hungary, Ukraine, France, Argentina and Russia, including 2.4 million in Europe.
Israel is the only country in which Jews form a majority of the population. It was established as an independent state on May 14, 1948. The symbol on the Israeli flag is known as the Star of David ("Magen David" in Hebrew).
Jews have come to Israel from all over the world, bringing different languages, music, food, and history to create a unique culture. Israel is the only country in the world where most people are Jews and where Hebrew is the main language.
Despite the small number of Jews worldwide, many influential thinkers in modern times have been ethnically Jewish. These include Karl Marx, Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, Ludwig von Mises, Ayn Rand (only born Jewish), Noam Chomsky and Milton Friedman.
Map of Canaan
Sephardi Jewish couple from Sarajevo in traditional clothing. Photo taken in 1900.
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 fled the pogroms of the Russian Empire to the safety of the U.S. between 1881 and 1924
World War I poster showing a soldier cutting the bonds from a Jewish man, who says, "You have cut my bonds and set me free – now let me help you set others free!"
Jews in Minsk, 1941. Before World War II some 40% of the population was Jewish. By the time the Red Army retook the city on 3 July 1944, there were only a few Jewish survivors
A man praying at the Western Wall
Jew Facts for Kids. Kiddle Encyclopedia.