How many of us are there?…asks Michael Kuttner

June 30, 2015 by Michael Kuttner
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In recent days there has been media frenzy over a report issued by The Jewish People Policy Institute which purports to show that the number of Jews in the world today has reached or even surpassed the numbers recorded before the Holocaust.Headlines led one to assume that the pre war figure of 16.5 million Jews had already been attained. In actual fact, when digging a bit further and analyzing the facts, it soon becomes apparent that this “isn’t necessarily so.”

Michael Kuttner

Michael Kuttner

The art of arriving at accurate figures is fraught with pitfalls not least because the definition of what constitutes a Jew is open to a multitude of interpretations. What is clear as far as this latest report is concerned is that those who can be easily identified as Jews amount to about 14.2 million. Even a novice at mathematics can therefore understand that it needs another 2.3 million to reach let alone surpass the pre war statistics. According to experts this is likely to be achieved in the year 2050 given the current growth patterns. So much for misleading headlines.

How, therefore, did the number inflate? Very simply indeed. By including theoretical Jews. Who are they?

It includes those whom the report writers deem Jewish even if they are not from a Halachic religious viewpoint. Given the serious hemorrhaging of Jewish identity, especially in the USA and Europe, it is apparent that anyone who wants to identify as Jewish, whether culturally, gastronomically or by any other criteria, would be inclined to be included in this survey. After all, facts have to be created in order to conform to desired results.

Now, it is very worthy that those who wish to identify with the Jewish People in one way or another should be included in a survey such as this. However it presents us with some problematic questions.

Who do we include and who do we exclude? Can one honestly take comfort from including those who may want to be included but who in fact do not openly identify as Jews in their every day lives? Is there any value in producing a report which includes millions who will not produce future generations of Jews? Those who have thrown in their lot with Israelis and serve in the IDF but have not yet officially joined the Jewish People are a specific group who should be helped to do so, but is including them in this report skewing the results? What about all the “lost tribes” who claim Jewish descent and descendants of Conversos who were forced to deny their Faith by the Inquisition?

Then you have those Jews who claim to be Jewish but accept Jesus as their Savior. They are in fact Christians yet claim to be Jewish. Including them in this survey is a distortion.

Don’t take only my word for this. Demographer, DellaPergola, the world’s most renowned expert in Jewish demography, has stated that the way of computing this report is “patently false.” It is mixing proverbial apples and oranges. To include all and sundry in this survey is a subjective decision by the researchers and helps to distort the results.

One thing however is uncontestable. The Jewish birthrate in Israel is the highest in the world and the results of this in a few years should certainly make a difference.

Meanwhile, the media should take note of these two quotes before bursting into print in the future:

“Facts are stubborn things, but statistics are pliable.” (Mark Twain)

“94% of all statistics only tell 49% of the story.” (Ron Delegge)

Michael Kuttner is a Jewish New Zealander who for many years was actively involved with various communal organisations connected to Judaism and Israel. He now lives in Israel and is J-Wire’s correspondent in the region.


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