The Jews ( ISO 259-3 , Israeli pronunciation ), also known as the Jewish people, are an ethnoreligious group originating from the Historical Israelites of the Ancient Near East. According to Jewish tradition, Jewish ancestry is traced back to the Biblical patriarchs such as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, and the Biblical matriarchs Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, and Rachel, who lived in Canaan around the 18th century BCE. Jacob and his family migrated to Ancient Egypt after being invited to live with Joseph (who rose to the rank of Pharaoh’s Vizier) in the Land of Goshen region by Pharaoh himself. The patriarchs’ descendants were later enslaved until the Exodus led by Moses, which is commonly dated to the 13th century BCE. Historically, Jews have descended mostly from the tribes of Judah and Simeon, and partially from the tribes of Benjamin and Levi, who had all together formed the ancient Kingdom of Judah (alongside the remnants of the Northern Kingdom of Israel who migrated to their Southern counterpart and assimilated there). A closely related group is the Samaritans, who claim descent from the Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh, while according to the Bible their origin is in the people brought to Israel by the Neo-Assyrian Empire and some Cohanim (Jewish priests) who taught them how to worship the “native God”. The Jewish ethnicity, nationality and religion are strongly interrelated, as Judaism is the traditional faith of the Jewish nation. Converts to Judaism typically have a status within the Jewish ethnos equal to those born into it. Conversion is not encouraged by mainstream Judaism, and is considered a tough task, mainly applicable for cases of mixed marriages. The modern State of Israel was established as a Jewish 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 had also enjoyed political independence 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 and to some degree under Herodians from 37 BCE to 6 CE. Since the destruction of the Second Temple in 70 CE, most Jews have lived in diaspora. As an ethnic 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 16.7 million prior to World War II, but 6 million Jews were killed in the Holocaust. Since then the population has risen again, and was estimated at 13.75 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 43% of all Jews reside in Israel (6 million), and 39% in the United States (5.3–6.8 million), with most of the remainder living in Europe (1.5 million) and Canada (0.4 million). These numbers include all those who self-identified as Jews in a socio-demographic study or were identified as so by a respondent in the same household. The exact 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.
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