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Multiplying thy seed

The world's Jewish population has grown to be almost as big as it was before the Holocaust, an Israeli thinktank has announced in its annual report. The Jewish People Policy Institute said there are now 14.2 million Jews around the world. When including individuals with one Jewish parent (and others who identify as partially Jewish), the number reaches 16.5 million - the Jewish population on the eve of the second world war, during which about six million Jews were murdered. The report, which was presented to the Israeli cabinet on Sunday, dubs itself an 'annual stocktaking of the Jewish world'. The Institute said the increase has been due partly to natural growth - mainly in Israel, which has 6.1 million Jews and one of the western world's highest fertility rates. But it also claimed the growth was due to 'changing patterns of Jewish identification'. It said that 59% of adult children in the US with just one Jewish parent now identify as Jewish, a majority 'for the first time in memory'. Avinoam Bar-Yosef, the institute's president, said he believed that more of those Jews were identifying as Jewish because it is more 'respectable' to be Jewish in the US than it was years ago. He also said Birthright Israel, an organisation which arranges educational trips to Israel for young Jewish people, is also having an impact. The total figure combines the number of Jews worldwide, but also includes at least one million secular Jews who are often not connected to Jewish life or institutions. It also includes some 350,000 Israelis who emigrated from the former USSR and are not considered Jewish in Israel. The Pew Research Center, whose count only includes Jews who self-identify as Jewish, forecasts that numbers will reach 16 million by the middle of the century. The US has the world's second-largest Jewish population, at 5.7 million. France is a distant third with about 475,000 Jews, followed by Canada. The figures come on the back of a controversy in Israel about what constitutes Jewishness. A prominent member of the cabinet there - David Azoulay, Israel's minister for religious services - claimed that Reform Jews, a denomination that comprises a sizable proportion of the global Jewish population were not actually Jewish. The prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu quickly issued a statement rejecting Azoulay's remarks, saying they were 'hurtful' and 'do not reflect the position of the government.' The latest spat follows a provocative statement Azoulay made last month, when he is said to have declared that Reform Jews, who represent a more liberal stream of the religion, were 'a disaster for the people of Israel.' That, too, was repudiated by the prime minister's office. Meanwhile in the UK, the number of antisemitic incidents has reached the highest level ever recorded, with reports of violence, property damage, abuse and threats more than doubling last year.