Beliefnet
JERUSALEM (AP) February 12, 2002 - Zero growth and high assimilation could cut the number of Jews in the world by a million people in 50 years, experts warned Tuesday.

But if the trend is reversed, the Jewish people could grow by 4 million people in the same period, they said.

To highlight the difference, the World Jewish Demographic Project leaders pointed out that the difference between the two projections approaches 6 million people - the number of Jews killed in the Nazi Holocaust of World War II, implying that the Jewish people are in danger of reducing their own numbers almost as much as the Nazis did with mass murder.

Jewish Worldwide Population
YEAR POPULATION
1939 18 million
2002 13.3 million
2050 12.3 million*
*projected, assuming current trends (zero growth and high assimilation)
2050 17 million**
**projected, assuming mild reversal of current trends
SOURCE: World Jewish Demographic Project
However, speakers were careful to compare the two only in numbers. The Holocaust is considered the worst crime ever committed against the Jewish people, and facile comparisons often set off recriminations.

Today there are 13.3 million Jews in the world. Instead of a drop of a million, the Jewish population could increase to 17 million by 2050 if trends are reversed just slightly, the experts said.

Now, "the population growth is about zero percent," said Natan Sharansky, a Cabinet minister and co-chairman of the project. However, he added, "If Jewish fertility will slightly increase or very slightly decline, the difference may in the end mean several million people more or less."

Western democracy and open cultures have led many Jews to stray from their religion, demographers say. They begin identifying with the dominant groups, losing their identity as Jews - the definition of assimilation.

Sharansky and leaders of the quasi-government Jewish Agency that oversees immigration to Israel urged the government to invest money abroad in Jewish education to encourage Jews to marry other Jews, raise their children as Jews and move to the Jewish state.

Jewish Worldwide Population
YEAR POPULATION
1939 18 million
2002 13.3 million
2050 12.3 million*
*projected, assuming current trends (zero growth and high assimilation)
2050 17 million**
**projected, assuming mild reversal of current trends
SOURCE: World Jewish Demographic Project
"We are losing tens of thousands of Jews every year to assimilation, largely due to a lack of education," said Jewish Agency Chairman Sallai Meridor.

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