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The word Jews ( Hebrew יְהוּדִים jehudim , femaleיהודיות; female: Jewish women ) denotes an ethno-religious group or individuals who can be part of the Jewish people as well as members of the Jewish religion . The use of the word or term is different in the historical context of different states, including as a religious minority there.

The term "Jewish people"

The “Jewish people” are understood to mean both the historical people of the Israelites and, according to the Jewish understanding of themselves, all Jews who, according to the Torah , are descended from the patriarchs Abraham , Isaac and Jacob . According to the first book of Moses, their story of promise has a character that blesses and includes all peoples: whoever is born of a Jewish mother is, in the Talmud , just as much a Jew as someone who has converted to this faith, regardless of their origin. The term of the Jewish people in the second sense does not denote an ethnically uniform national people with a closed settlement area, a common history, language and culture, but rather one that disintegrated into the Jewish diaspora . According to the second definition, the term “people” should be understood in its old meaning , namely in the sense of “people” (cf. the English word people without article ), which is sufficiently determined by the attribute “Jewish” in the religious sense.

The reference to the common origin connects religious and secular Jews: “One can also speak of belonging to the people of Israel [...] if an individual is culturally or religiously aware of the religious-cultural reality of the history of Israel in essential areas of his personality as a historical being is factually shaped and positively accepted. "

The German word "Jude" comes from the Hebrew יְהוּדִי jehudi , which means something like "inhabitant of the land of Jehuda". Despite the previous existence of the Israelite southern kingdom of Judah, the word only came into use in Persian times - to denote the inhabitants of the then Persian province of Yehuda .

Origin of Judaism

The patriarchs of the Jews are Abraham , Isaac and Jacob , who led the nomadic Western Semitic tribes who lived in an unknown location between the Mediterranean and Mesopotamia . There is no historical evidence of their existence. They probably lived during the period when the nomads settled down at the beginning of the Bronze Age , i.e. between 1900 and 1500 BC. Chr.

Moses is considered to be the founder of the Jewish religion . “Mosaic religion” is a synonym for the Jewish religion that is rarely used today . In Judaism, Moses is the highest prophet of all time, who came closer to God than anyone else before or since. However, historical evidence for the existence of Moses is lacking. In the Bible, Moses cites the exodus of the Hebrew people from Egypt . When and whether this took place historically is also unclear. Traditionally, Moses is also considered to be the author of the Torah (called “Five Books of Moses” in the Christian German translation), which form the basis of the Jewish faith. Today, however, this view is hardly held outside of Orthodox Judaism (if the historicity of Moses is taken into account there at all).

Ezra (around 440 BC) is considered the actual founder of today's Judaism . Ezra was after the time of the Babylonian exile in the Persian Empire High Priest and was allowed with his abducted Israeli people, which consisted of probably about 20,000 people, on adoption of the Persian king Artaxerxes I returned to Jerusalem . There he reorganized temple service and the priesthood, and divorced marriages between Jews and pagan women. Since then, religious identity has been of similar importance to Judaism as that of origin.

History of the Jews

The history of the Jews was different, depending on the country and epoch. It is characterized by oppression, persecution and displacement as well as tolerance, peaceful coexistence and equality. It includes the history of the Jews in the Diaspora and the establishment of the State of Israel. Political, religious or economic aspects are cited as the cause of the emergence of the diaspora. The diaspora developed in important centers of Jewish communities in Egypt, Cyrenaica, North Africa, Cyprus, Syria, Asia Minor and finally in Greece and Rome, until expulsion and emigration spread worldwide. Around 7.909 million Jews live in the Diaspora worldwide.

Term in the Jewish tradition

According to Halacha , the Jewish religious norms, a person is considered to be Jewish if they have a Jewish mother, regardless of whether or how much they obey the Jewish religious norms or not. It is a condition that the mother was Jewish according to Halacha at conception. A Jew is also considered to be someone who has formally converted to Judaism (gijur) .

The principle of Halacha is traced back to the Torah in the Talmud . As a result, a culture developed that remained stable for a long time and preserved the Jews their own identity, although for almost two millennia they had no state of their own, and above all no national territory. Their homeland was and is the eternal covenant of God with Abraham and the eternal law of God proclaimed to Moses and the other prophets. The Jewish diaspora began as early as the Babylonian exile . Returning home to Jerusalem , the Children of Israel again limited their people to the physical descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Israel). It was then that the prophet Ezra obtained that Jews who had associated themselves with non-Jewish women had to cast out them and the children they had conceived.

Revaluations within Judaism

In the Age of Enlightenment , there was a discussion within Judaism about the meaning of certain laws of the Torah. The Reform Judaism postulated a distinction between universal religious values and historically conditioned religious since the 19th century ritual laws whose adjustment was required at the present. Assimilation efforts were much stronger in Western and Central Europe than in Eastern Europe. The nationwide Central Association of German Citizens of Jewish Faith was banned by the Nazi authorities on November 10, 1938. In the Soviet Union and most of its successor states , Jews are still considered a nationality today . Liberal congregations today use a less strict version of the term “Jew”.

Orthodox and Conservative Judaism

According to the orthodox interpretation of Halacha , only the birth child of a Jewish mother can be determined as Jewish. A child with a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother is considered non-Jewish. Although infant conversion may be considered in certain circumstances, such as adoptive children or children of converting parents, converted children are attained religious adult status on entry into religious adult status, that of girls at 12 years of age and boys at 13 years of age is typically asked whether they want to remain Jewish. This standard applies in both conservative and orthodox Judaism .

Liberal and Reform Judaism

Jewish denominations that do not recognize the orthodox interpretations of Jewish law as binding have different standards. American Reform Judaism and Liberal Judaism in Britain recognize a child with only one Jewish parent - mother or father - as Jewish if that child is raised as Jewish according to the standards of that community. All forms of Judaism that are widespread today are open to serious conversion. Although there is controversy over conversion to Judaism, all religious movements accept unreservedly converts they have accepted.

This departure from the traditional view has created great tension with traditional Conservative and Orthodox Jews.

Some Orthodox authorities validate a Jewish marriage only if it is concluded between two Jews. A public church service can only be held if at least ten Jewish worshipers ( minyan ) participate.

Jewish secularism

Most supporters of Jewish secularism accept anyone who declares themselves to be a Jew as a Jew, unless there is reason to believe that this person is guilty of deception. Some members of Reform Judaism share this point of view.

Definitions hostile to Jews

The answer to the question of whether someone is considered a Jew, could, depending on the company to decide whether he may exercise a certain profession, get an education, live in a certain place, detention, exile or with official approval murdered are able . Classification as a Jew by no means always follows a sharp terminology, but could rather be linked to vague assumptions or prejudices.

A consequence of the medieval professional bans for Jews and the displacement into the interest business was that "Jew" was still defined in the 4th edition of the Concise Oxford Dictionary from 1950 in its figurative meaning as "excessive usurer".

Anti-Semitic positions in German politics already defined ethnic and racist membership of Judaism in the 19th century, but no later than 1933, in order to be able to continue to exclude and persecute converted Jews as Jews with allegedly unchangeable, inherited negative character traits. In the German Empire, despite legal equality, they could not achieve full social recognition, educational and advancement opportunities either by renouncing their religious practice, marrying people of other faiths or converting to Christianity. In the völkisch movement this rejection was intensified and the expulsion or expulsion of all persons of Jewish descent was demanded.

During the time of National Socialism , the Nazi state persecuted the minority population with racist objectives and introduced continuously stricter legislation from 1933: the Nuremberg Laws and similar provisions. Regardless of their creed, these were applied to all persons who had at least one “Jewish” grandparent (male or female) according to the National Socialist definition . The affected people were thus deprived of their German nationality and civil rights (→ Reich Citizenship Law - First Ordinance of November 14, 1935 ).

Since the beginning of the Second World War , the Nazi regime has used its non-Jewish, racist definition of who is considered a Jew, even beyond the borders in the areas of Europe occupied or ruled by Germany for quasi-legalized persecution and robbery - in part by means of Aryanization , ghettoization and imprisonment , Deportation - and as the basis for the systematic mass murders that continued over the years during the Shoah / Holocaust . In their expressions, the National Socialists cynically called the persecution measures the final solution to the Jewish question .

Laws and Discussions in the State of Israel

The Parliament of the State of Israel , the Knesset , has in a first version of the Law of Return (Engl. Law of return ) in 1950 determined namely: ". Every Jew is entitled to immigrate to the country" was thus but the question who is a Jew? not regulated. Official and judicial disputes therefore forced the Knesset in 1970 to reformulate the law on return. Since then, Jews in Israel have been those whose mother or grandmother, great-grandmother or great-great-grandmother, on their mother's side, were Jewish, or who have converted to Judaism according to the orthodox religious rules . This definition follows that of the Talmud , but adds the exclusion criterion “not belonging to another religion”. According to the official Israeli understanding, a Jew is a designation of a nationality because all Jews in the world belonged to the Jewish people regardless of their citizenship. According to the Zionist understanding, Israel is the “state of the Jewish people”.


As of 2018, there were around 14.6 million Jews living around the world, which corresponds to around 0.19% of the world population, most of them in Israel and the United States. Other estimates speak of around 15 million people worldwide. In the diaspora, Jews make up the largest proportion of the population in the USA with 1.8%, followed by Canada with 1.1% and France with 0.7%. In Germany, the Jewish population is 0.14%.

Due to various waves of emigration and immigration, the distribution of Jews in the world has changed since the end of the 20th century. At the beginning of the 1990s, a large part of the Jews still lived in the Soviet Union . After dissolution, many people emigrated to Israel , the United States and Germany made (see also: Alija ) .

The following table refers to the status 2018.

country Jews Percent of
all Jews
Percent of
the population
United StatesUnited States United States 6,925,475 47.7 1.8
IsraelIsrael Israel 6,697,000 46.2 74.8 including East Jerusalem , West Bank and Golan Heights
FranceFrance France 453,000 3.1 0.7
CanadaCanada Canada 390,500 2.7 1.1
United KingdomUnited Kingdom United Kingdom 290,000 2.0 0.4
ArgentinaArgentina Argentina 180,300 1.2 0.4
RussiaRussia Russia 172,000 1.2 0.1
GermanyGermany Germany 116,000 0.8 0.1 Estimates: 150,000
AustraliaAustralia Australia 113,400 0.8 0.5
BrazilBrazil Brazil 93,200 0.6 0.0
South AfricaSouth Africa South Africa 69,000 0.5 0.1
UkraineUkraine Ukraine 50,000 0.3 0.2
HungaryHungary Hungary 47,400 0.3 0.5
MexicoMexico Mexico 40,000 0.3 0.0
NetherlandsNetherlands Netherlands 29,900 0.2 0.2
BelgiumBelgium Belgium 29,500 0.2 0.3
ItalyItaly Italy 29,800 0.2 0.0
SwitzerlandSwitzerland Switzerland 18,800 0.1 0.2 official: 16,500
TurkeyTurkey Turkey 21,000 0.1 0.0
UruguayUruguay Uruguay 17,000 0.1 0.5
ChileChile Chile 18,300 0.1 0.1
SwedenSweden Sweden 15,000 0.1 0.2
BelarusBelarus Belarus 10,400 0.1 0.1
RomaniaRomania Romania 9,300 0.1 0.0
AustriaAustria Austria 9,000 0.1 0.1 Estimates up to 15,000
IranIran Iran 9,000 0.1 0.0
China People's RepublicPeople's Republic of China People's Republic of China 2,600 0.0 0.0 including Hong Kong and Macau
MoroccoMorocco Morocco 2,300 0.0 0.0
BulgariaBulgaria Bulgaria 2,000 0.0 0.0
JapanJapan Japan 1,000 0.0 0.0
SingaporeSingapore Singapore 900 0.0 0.0
EthiopiaEthiopia Ethiopia 100 0.0 0.0
world 14,606,000 100.00 0.19

The Jewish population is distributed across the continents as follows (as of 2018):

continent Jews (estimate) Share of the population in percent
America 6,469,800 0.64
Asia 6,593,000 0.15
Europe 1,359,100 0.17
Oceania 121,000 0.3
Africa 73,600 0.006
world 14,606,700 0.19
  1. a b Inhabitants of regions of Russia and Turkey that are located in Asia were added to Europe.
  2. Including Australia and New Zealand.

Depending on the type of counting, there are slight deviations compared to the table above.

See also


  • Salcia Landmann : Who are the Jews? History and anthropology of a people. dtv, Munich 1982, ISBN 3-423-00913-6 .
  • Martin Gilbert : Final Solution. The Expulsion and Extermination of the Jews: An Atlas. Rowohlt (= rororo. Volume 5031).
  • Eisak Schlomer, Peter Guttkuhn: Dear, old, Jewish Moisling. 3rd edition, self-published, Lübeck 1988 <Repr. d. Edition Lübeck 1909>.
  • Nachum T. Gidal : The Jews in Germany from Roman times to the Weimar Republic. Bertelsmann, Gütersloh 1988, ISBN 3-89508-540-5 .
  • Haim Hillel Ben-Sasson (ed.): History of the Jewish people. From the beginning to the present. (With an afterword by Michael Brenner , authorized translation by Siegfried Schmitz). three volumes, 1st edition completed 1980; 5th edition, Beck, Munich 2007, 1412 pages. ISBN 978-3-406-55918-1 ( thin print special edition of the three volumes from 1978–1980 in one volume - without illustrations - with 28 cards in the text).
  • Matthias Kuntze: Günther Stein. the life story of a German Jew. 2015.
  • Cecil Roth : The Jews in the Renaissance. Philadelphia 1959.
  • Stefan Vennmann, Frank Lattrich: Jew. In: Bente Gießelmann, Robin Heun, Benjamin Kerst, Lenard Suermann, Fabian Virchow (eds.): Concise dictionary of right-wing extremist fighting terms. Wochenschau Verlag, Schwalbach 2015, ISBN 978-3-7344-0155-8 , pp. 162-175.

Web links

Commons : Jews  - collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Jude  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wikiquote: Jude  Quotes

Individual evidence

  1. Gen 12.3  EU
  2. Ferdinand Dexinger: Judaism, in: Theological Realenzyklopädie , 4th Edition, S. 332nd
  3. a b Vital Statistics: Jewish Population of the World. Retrieved September 25, 2019.
  4. jewish databank , 1.1.2018. P. 52.
  5. A portrait of Switzerland, results from the 2010–2014 censuses (PDF; 4.4 MB). Federal Statistical Office, Neuchâtel 2016, p. 22.
  6. Arnold Dashefsky, Sergio Della Pergola, Ira Sheskin (ed.): World Jewish population. 2018 (PDF) (Report). Berman Jewish DataBank. Retrieved June 22, 2019.
  7. Ariel Muzicant : Austria is different. In: Der Standard , May 3, 2005
  8. Badische Zeitung , Michael Baas, January 24, 2015: Günther Stein: The life story of a German Jew. [1]
  9. Badische Zeitung , Roswitha Frey, January 26, 2015: “You have to be lucky”. [2]
  10. ^ Badische Zeitung , January 27, 2015: A culture of reconciliation and remembrance. [3]
  11. Badische Zeitung , Roswitha Frey, January 23, 2015: Günther Stein sees guilt only with the perpetrators. [4]