Take the 2-minute tour ×
History Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for historians and history buffs. It's 100% free, no registration required.

Close to 50% of all the Jews worldwide reside in USA.

What were the main historical events and trends that contributed to such a distribution?

A good answer should include both demographics and immigration/natural growth angles (e.g. any answer not mentioning reform Jews in Europe having less kids is not complete); as well a dynamics of the diaspora through history (e.g. marranos, Amsterdam's Jews etc...) and include specific trends for various points in history.

share|improve this question
Any answer invoking Godwin's law as a sole reason is probably wrong. –  DVK Dec 22 '13 at 21:40
How does that compare to the proportion of people of European descent living in the USA? (Though not all Jews are of European descent) –  Andrew Grimm Dec 23 '13 at 14:38
And this whole page doesn't contain the "H" word? –  Nathan Cooper Dec 30 '13 at 22:06
DVK, are you really going after a thesis paper here? I find myself wondering why someone would go to the lengths of effort you seem to want, to post an answer in a public Q&A site. I'm truly curious. Truly. –  CGCampbell Jan 14 at 0:51
@CGCampbell - reputation. People do post truly amazing answers for reputation –  DVK Jan 14 at 15:36

2 Answers 2

In the end of the XIX century most Jews were concentrated in the Russian empire. (Modern Poland, Ukraine, Belorussia). Until 1917 Jews in the Russian empire were discriminated (Pale of settlement, restrictions on education, discrimination in the army etc.). There were pogroms, people were killed, their property destroyed. With the start of WW I, conditions for many Jews became intolerable. So many of them wanted to emigrate. US was a principal destination for several reasons. The main reasons were:

a) religious tolerance,

b) immigration policy which made large scale immigration possible. After all, this is a "country of immigrants",

c) the reputation of US as "a land of opportunities". In any case, the immigrants find it easier in the US than in other countries to completely integrate into the society.

Palestine was also a destination for Jewish immigrants, but on a much smaller scale; a Jewish state in Palestine was only a dream, and neither the Turks before WW I, not the British after it welcomed immigration. And the local (Arab) population never welcomed immigrants...

The second largest Jewish population was in Austro-Hungary. Conditions in Austro-Hungary were much better than in the Russian empire, but only until 1914. After WW I, (and Hungarian revolution) the empire collapsed in several national states, each with strong nationalist feeling, and nationalist policies. Many Austro-Hungarian Jews also wanted to emigrate, and US was also a prime destination.

Several other peoples which felt oppression or lack of opportunity at home had very large immigration to the US at the same time (Irish, Italians).

Finally, I add that a very large Jewish population still existed in Poland/Ukraine/Belorussia between WW I and WW II. Perhaps more than in the US. And you know what happened to these people... Most of those who survived, eventually moved to Israel or USA.

Some numbers. Jewish population of Russian empire (including Poland) according to 1897 census: 5,189,400. This was slightly more that 1/2 of the total number of Jews in the world. Jewish population of Soviet Union before WW II was aproximately 2,500,000 (not including the part of Poland annexed in 1939). An estimate of the number of Jews who emigrated to the US in 1880-1928: 1.7 million. Number of Jews in Russia now: 194,000. An estimate of the number of those who emigrated to Israel (after the creation of Israel) - 1 million. Etc. Sources: http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/vjw/russia.html https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historical_Jewish_population_comparisons

EDIT. Exact statistics of immigration to the US is not available because the US authorities do not ask you about your religion. Which confirms the point a) above.

To address the interesting question in the comment of Andrew Grimm: 34 million people in the US claim Irish descent (12% of population of the US). Population of Ireland is 6.4 millions. Source: Wikipedia.

share|improve this answer
Are there references for any of these assertions? (e.g. census figures for #1? references that US had better immigration policy compared to other countries? #s of Jews that immigrated from Russia to US? from Germany/Austria? References that Jews in Russia were aware of "land of opportunity" and made decisions based on that?) –  DVK Dec 23 '13 at 1:27
For everything I said, there are literally hundreds of references, and on my opinion this site is not a place for a long research article:-) But you can easily verify every claim that I made by browsing Internet for few minutes. –  Alex Dec 23 '13 at 1:39
For example, Wikipedia "History of Jews in the Russian empire" gives the Jewish population of the Russian empire, and emigration statistics for 1880-1928, by countries. 1.7 million emigrated to the US in this period. –  Alex Dec 23 '13 at 1:51
Sorry, -1. This is a good beginning of an answer, but clearly (despite the upvotes) not even remotely a good answer yet. The only factual data so far accounts for migration of 1.7 million, out of many more millions. –  DVK Dec 23 '13 at 14:27
DVK: In 1900 Jews made 1.97% of the US population, and now about 1.71%. Which indicates about the same, even slightly slower, rate of growth. I do not see why you need exact immigration numbers to confirm what I said. –  Alex Dec 23 '13 at 23:52

There are more members of many ethnic backgrounds in the U.S. than in their "home" countries. That is true not only of Jews but of Irish, British, and Germans (less so of southern and eastern Europeans). There are several reasons.

1) America was the "natural" place of emigration for people suffering from religious persecution. That applied to e.g. English and Irish Catholics, to a lesser extent, French, Italian, or Polish Protestants. Jews were members of "the other" religion in just about every country.

2) America was more favorably disposed toward producing children than Europe. In much of Europe, a child was another mouth to feed. In America, with its vast open spaces, a child represented another "pair of hands" on the farm, or in the case of Jews, in the "family business," (garments, retailing, etc.). According to Adam Smith (Wealth of Nations) [a widow] "who in Europe would have so little chance of a second husband, is courted there [America] as some sort of a fortune."

3) If persecuted in European country X, Jews had the choice of leaving for European country Y (nearby) or America (further away). Many feared that Y would eventually contain as much persecution as X, and opted for America.

4) Europe, the original "homeland" for Jews, mostly became a very inhospitable place in the 1930s and 1940s. A new "homeland" had not yet been established in the Holy Land, so the logical "landing place" for some very talented people was America. These included Albert Einstein, Lise Meitner, Enrico Fermi, etc.

share|improve this answer
#4 seems incorrect - do you have statistics on how many emigrated to USA in that time period? US immigration policy was pretty strict, especially for jews from europe in those 2 decades –  DVK Dec 23 '13 at 17:32
#1 is correct but not really relevant. The "problem I'm trying to solve" isn't so much a discrepancy between Jews and non-Jews but with the changes of where Jews concentrated in 17th throgh 20th century –  DVK Dec 23 '13 at 17:34
#2 is a great point! But could use a reference (e.g. statistics on # of kids) –  DVK Dec 23 '13 at 17:34
#3 - again, needs a reference. Are there historical sources confirming that this WAS indeed the typical thinking process? –  DVK Dec 23 '13 at 17:36
DVK: It still escapes me what problem "you are trying to solve". The Jews were always concentrated in the countries where they were tolerated, where there were opportunities for them. In Spain/Portugal before XVI century, then in Polish-Lituanian Commonwealth, then in the US, then in Israel. –  Alex Dec 23 '13 at 23:57

protected by Pieter Geerkens Dec 28 '13 at 18:20

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality answers, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site.

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.