The number of Jews in Israel has surpassed the number of Jews in the United States, according to the Central Bureau of Statistics.

However, Professor Sergio Della Pergola of Hebrew University disagrees, saying it will take another three years to close the gap.

On the eve of Independence Day, the CBS reported that there are 5.4 million Jews living in Israel, compared to 5.2 million in the U.S., according to the latest United Jewish Appeal Federation survey.

The data indicates the closure of an historical circle: For the first time since the destruction of the Second Temple, Israel has once again become the largest concentration of Jews in the world.

Della Pergola, considered the greatest demographic expert of the Jewish people, gave a survey to the Knesset's Absorption and Diaspora Committee last week. He said one should deduct from the CBS data some 250,000 non-Jews who immigrated to Israel under the Law of Return.

"The U.S. data refers only to those who define themselves as Jewish by origin and have no other religion. So if we count non-Jewish family relatives, we must add to the U.S. figure another 1.5 million people (i.e. 6.7 million Jews in the U.S.)."

And, Della Pergola adds that, on the basis of another survey, the number of U.S. Jews is 5.3 million, rather than 5.2 million.

Altogether U.S. Jews outnumber the Israeli ones by 150,000, he says.

Della Pergola shares the view that U.S. Jewry is dwindling rapidly at the rate of about half a million per decade. One of the main reasons is the increase in interfaith marriages, which reached 52 percent of all marriages in the Jewish community in 1990. This finding shocked the Jewish community at the time.

The new survey pertaining to the year 2000 has been withheld since last November and it is suggested that the harsh data indicating the widening trend of interfaith marriages may be deterring them from publishing it.

Della Pergola points to another disturbing process. He says the rate of interfaith marriages has not risen significantly over the past years but the reason is not a halt in assimilation but a reduction in the readiness of couples to marry. "Many mixed couples continue living today without marrying," he said. "Since 1990, there has been a considerable rise in the number of Jews aged 25 to 40 who are not married."