Does It Matter How Many Jews There Are?

It may sound counter-intuitive to ask why we need to count Jews, after a third of our number were exterminated in the Holocaust. But there are critical ethical, if not statistical, reasons to push back against our demographic obsession, not least when Israel is doing it

Anshel Pfeffer
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Anshel Pfeffer

The Torah in its bizarre and chaotic fashion gives us two very different attitudes to counting Jews. 

On the one hand, in the desert, Moses was warned by God that carrying out a census was a dangerous thing and that in order to ensure "that no plague may come upon them through their being enrolled," all those being counted must, according to Exodus, pay a "ransom" of half a shekel which will then go to the Temple’s coffers. That’s half a shekel mind you, not a whole one, to make the counting of heads even less direct. 

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