From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
The Jews, also known as the Jewish people, are a nation and an ethnoreligious group, originating in the Israelites or Hebrews of the Ancient Near East. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality, and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation. Converts to Judaism, whose status as Jews within the Jewish ethnos is equal to those born into it, have been absorbed into the Jewish people throughout the millennia.
In Jewish tradition, Jewish ancestry is traced to the Biblical patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the second millennium BCE. The modern State of Israel was established as a Jewish nation-state, and defines itself as such in its Basic Laws. Its Law of Return grants the right of citizenship to any Jew who requests it. Israel is the only country where Jews are a majority of the population. Jews also enjoyed political autonomy twice before in ancient history. The first of these periods lasted from 1350 to 586 BCE, and encompassed the periods of the Judges, the United Monarchy, and the Divided Monarchy of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, ending with the destruction of the First Temple. The second was the period of the Hasmonean Kingdom spanning from 140 to 37 BCE. Since the destruction of the First Temple, most Jews have lived in diaspora. A minority in every country in which they live (except Israel), they have frequently experienced persecution throughout history, resulting in a population that has fluctuated both in numbers and distribution over the centuries.
The world Jewish population reached a peak of 15 million prior to the Second World War, but six million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Since then the population has risen again and as of 2010, was estimated at 13.4 million by the North American Jewish Data Bank, or less than 0.2% of the total world population (roughly one in every 514 people). According to this report, about 42.5% of all Jews reside in Israel (5.7 million), and 39.3% in the United States (5.3 million), with most of the remainder living in Europe (1.5 million) and Canada (0.4 million). These numbers include all those who consider themselves Jews, whether or not they are affiliated with a Jewish organization. The total world Jewish population, however, is difficult to measure. In addition to issues with census methodology, there are halakhic disputes regarding who is a Jew and secular, political, and ancestral identification factors that may affect the figure considerably.