Atlas of World Religions Judaism

Judaism is the smallest of the world religions. There are about 13 million Jews around the globe today, including some 5.3 million in the state of Israel. The Jews call themselves Israelites or "Bne Israel" (sons of Israel). According to traditional accounts, God entered into a special relationship with the Israelites through a bond with the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Jews regard God as their only, highest king and lawgiver, and themselves as His chosen people. On Mount Sinai, God proclaimed His law, the Torah, to the people through Moses. It comprises 613 decrees and prohibitions to be observed in everyday life, including the so-called Ten Commandments.

Graphic: Jews around the world

Graphic: Jews around the world

Anybody who has a Jewish mother or has converted to Judaism in accordance with Jewish religious law is considered a Jew. Upon conversion, the proselyte becomes a member of the Jewish people endowed with the same rights and duties. Today most Jews live in the diaspora. After the Babylonians conquered the Jewish state in 586 B.C.E., and again after the Romans destroyed the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E., the Jews went into exile.

The destruction of the Temple and the conquest of Judaea are regarded as tragedies in the history of the Jewish people; the ninth of August is set aside as a time of fasting and mourning in remembrance of these events. The largest Jewish community outside Israel lives in the United States, with about 5.3 million adherents. Other centers are found in Western Europe, South America and Russia. The Jews do not undertake missionary work. Because of the genocide perpetrated against them by the Nazis (some 6 million were murdered), only few people of the Jewish faith live in Europe today. There were some 570,000 Jews in Germany in 1933; at least 165,000 of them perished in the Holocaust. In 1955, only about 15,900 Jews were left in the country. Today that number has risen to about 108,000, due mostly to Jewish immigrants from eastern Europe.

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