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I realize that I am making a very bad pun, but I must state that numbers really do count. The Torah takes us through the counting of the Jewish people many times and in detail. Though it may be difficult for us to understand why this should be so, the basic lesson that it teaches us is an important one for national survival. Simply put, we are being instructed that for Judaism and Jewishness to survive there must be a significant Jewish population.

The Jewish people have always been a small people, numerically speaking, and since they suffered great persecution and attempts at extermination, maintaining significant numbers has always been a challenge and a necessity for Jewish survival. The interesting thing is that Jewish demographics are hard to measure in our time. Much of it depends on our defining who is Jewish and, perhaps even as important, who is likely to remain Jewish and have Jewish children and grandchildren.
Estimates on the size of the Jewish community in the United States for instance ranges from 5 million souls to as many years 15 million people. Seventy years ago, the estimates for the American Jewish community stood at 5 million people. Under a normal rate of population growth and in the blessed absence of pogroms and plagues, there should be about 20 million Jews now living in the United States. Sadly, that is certainly not so and stands as mute testimony to the ravages of intermarriage and assimilation that so undermines the future of the Jewish community in the United States.
Here in Israel the Bureau of Statistics records that as of 2017 there were 6.58 million Jews living in the country. This is perhaps the greatest number of Jews living in the land of Israel in our history. It is an astounding amount when we recall that 70 years ago, when the state was founded, only 600,000 Jews were present in the country. Much has happened in these 70 years that accounts for this dramatic increase.
The process of the ingathering of the exiles from the Arab countries and the Soviet Union as well as the immigration of the survivors in Europe after World War II, plus the continuing small but steady immigration of Jews from the West has provided for this astonishing growth in the Jewish population in the land of Israel. Population matters.
One of the most hopeful statistics here in Israel is the continuing strength of the fertility rate amongst all segments of the Jewish population here in the country. Having children is the ultimate vote of confidence in the permanence and success of the Jewish people in creating a state in our ancient homeland. The pessimists amongst us have long threatened that the demographics of the area are against us. It seems that they were unduly pessimistic about our future. The necessity to rebuild the Jewish people physically and spiritually remains the ultimate task that lies before us in our generation.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

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