Study: Most Jews will be living in Israel

JERUSALEM, Feb. 13 (JTA) — Thirty years from now, most of the world´s Jews will be living in Israel, the Jewish Agency for Israel says. This projection was released as part of a new world-wide Jewish demography research project launched this week by the Jewish Agency. Headed by Hebrew University Professor Sergio DellaPergola, the project — known as the Jewish Demography Initiative — will gather and coordinate data aimed at helping Jewish and Israeli government decision-makers set policies regarding immigration, housing and related issues. The initiative, which will have an international advisory board, also will seek to create public awareness about the impact of demographic trends on Israeli society and world Jewry. Among the statistics released by the Agency: • World Jewish population, currently about 13.2 million, is expected to reach 15.6 million in 2080. • Sometime after 2030, Israel will be home to the majority of world Jewry. This will be the result of aliyah and the shrinking size of Jewish communities abroad due to assimilation and low birth-rates. Currently, 37 percent of the world´s Jews live in Israel. • The Jewish population in the Diaspora is older than in Israel. According to a 1995 survey, 27 percent of Israel´s Jewish population is younger than 14, compared to 17.6 percent in the Diaspora. Only 11.5 percent of Israel´s Jewish population is over 65, compared to 18.5 percent in the Diaspora. • Mixed marriages are reducing the number of Jews because only a fraction of the children of such marriages regard themselves as Jewish. • In 2080, 81 percent of Jewish children under 14 will live in Israel. "Two of the most serious problems for Jewish demography are birth rates and intermarriage. Living in Israel has a clear advantage over the Diaspora in both cases," DellaPergola said. "When it comes to intermarriage, had the millions of immigrants who came from the former Soviet Union over the last decade stayed in their own countries, it is reasonable to assume that 90 percent of their children would not be defined today as Jewish," he said. Commenting on DellaPergola´s findings, Housing Minister Natan Sharansky said Tuesday, "The reality of these figures is that Israel is the safest place for the Jewish future, even in these difficult times, when Jews are killed almost every day." Also commenting on the figures, Jewish Agency Treasurer Chaim Chesler focused on the non-Jews who have come to Israel, primarily from the former Soviet Union. Some "275,000 new immigrants are not Jewish according to halacha, or Jewish law, Chesler said. "But they have joined their destinies with that of Israel. They serve in the army, and they have paid a heavy price in blood in the course of terrorist attacks." Calling the issue of their non-Jewish status a "social time bomb," Chesler called on the Orthodox Chief Rabbinate to find a "lenient" solution that "will enable those who so desire to become part of the Jewish people."

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