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Population numbers do matter and they matter greatly. This is undoubtedly one of the many messages communicated to us in the Torah reading of this week. We see throughout the Torah that the Jewish people are counted often and in fairly exact detail. This is because there is an obvious lesson that has to be absorbed within Jewish society and that is that in order for Judaism and its value system to continue to operate and be of influence in world society, there must be a physical Jewish people.

There is no Judaism without Jews. And even though we are relatively small in number, when compared to the billions of others that inhabit our planet, the number of Jews that are in the world is a very important matter. One of the more worrisome developments in the Jewish world after World War II has been the lack of any real increase in the Jewish population. Apparently, there were 19 million Jews in the world in 1939 and about 13 million Jews in the world in 1945. Since then – almost 80 years later – the overall Jewish population in the world is estimated to be only about 15 million people. And this number undoubtedly includes many people who call themselves Jewish but who under many interpretations of Jewish law are not really Jews.
It was estimated in 1950 that there were about 6 million Jews living in the United States. Though no real accurate account is available today, estimates range between 4.5 million to 7.5 million Jews. Again, this estimate does not take into account Jewish law, but rather only deals with people who identify themselves as being Jewish. As one can see this is a woeful and tragic situation.
There are many factors that go into this population crisis in the Jewish world. Very high rates of intermarriage never produce Jewish children in any meaningful way. There is a tendency for Jews in the Western world, particularly in the United States, to place education and profession above marriage, family and children. There is also a general social feeling in the world that personal comfort and happiness is all that is important, which is juxtaposed to marriage and raising children which might engender sacrifice and stress.
Statistics have shown that large families with many children, are only found amongst Orthodox Jews throughout the Diaspora. Here in Israel the birth rate is, thank God, high and stable, even in much of the non-Orthodox community. Again, except for the Orthodox,  Jewish communities in the diaspora are rapidly shrinking and the prognosis for the future is very clouded and dire.  
At the beginning of the 19th century, the Jewish population in Europe had shrunk to about 3 million Jews. By the beginning of World War II, it had risen to approximately 11million Jews. This enormous growth over a short period of time enabled the Jewish people to somehow weather the storm of the Holocaust and rebuild itself in the miraculous fashion that it has done here in Israel and throughout the world. But we should always remember that numbers matter.
Shabbat shalom
Rabbi Berel Wein

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