Demographic history of Jerusalem

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Arab market, Old City of Jerusalem.
Children in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem's population size and composition has shifted many times over its 5,000 year history. Since medieval times, the Old City of Jerusalem has been divided into Jewish, Muslim, Christian, and Armenian quarters.

Most population data pre-1905 is based on estimates, often from foreign travellers or organisations, since previous census data usually covered wider areas such as the Jerusalem District.[1] These estimates suggest that since the end of the Crusades, Muslims formed the largest group in Jerusalem until the mid-19th century. Between 1838 and 1876, a number of estimates exist which conflict as to whether Jews or Muslims were the largest group during this period, and between 1882 and 1922 estimates conflict as to exactly when Jews became a majority of the population.

In 2003, the total population of Jerusalem was 693,217, including 464,527 Jews and 228,690 "Arabs and others" (Choshen 1), that same year the population of the Old City was 3,965 Jews and 31,405 "Arabs and others" (Choshen 12).


Jerusalemites are of varied national, ethnic and religious denominations and include European, Middle Eastern and African Jews, Georgians, Armenians, and Muslim, Protestant, Greeks, Greek Orthodox Arabs, Syrian Orthodox and Coptic Orthodox Arabs, among others.[2] Many of these groups were once immigrants or pilgrims that have over time become near-indigenous populations and claim the importance of Jerusalem to their faith as their reason for moving to and being in the city.[2]

Jerusalem's long history of conquests by competing and different powers has resulted in different groups living in the city many of whom have never fully identified or assimilated with a particular power, despite the length of their rule. Though they may have been citizens of that particular kingdom and empire and involved with civic activities and duties, these groups often saw themselves as distinct national groups (see Armenians, for example).[2] The Ottoman millet system, whereby minorities in the Ottoman Empire were given the authority to govern themselves within the framework of the broader system, allowed these groups to retain autonomy and remain separate from other religious and national groups. Some Palestinian residents of the city prefer to use the term Maqdisi or Qudsi as a Palestinian demonym.[3]

Historical population by religion

The tables below provide data on demographic change over time in Jerusalem, with an emphasis on the Jewish population. Readers should be aware that the boundaries of Jerusalem have changed many times over the years and that Jerusalem may also refer to a district or even a subdistrict under Ottoman, British, or Israeli administration, see e.g. Jerusalem District. Thus, year-to-year comparisons may not be valid due to the varying geographic areas covered by the population censuses.

1st century Jerusalem

The population of Jerusalem in the time of Josephus has been estimated to be around 80,000.[4] The total population of Pharisees, the forerunners of modern Rabbinic Judaism, was around 6,000 ("exakischilioi"), according to Josephus.[5]

During the First Jewish–Roman War(66–73 CE), the population of Jerusalem was estimated at 600,000 persons by Roman historian Tacitus, while Josephus, estimated that there were as many as 1,100,000, who were killed in the war.[6] Josephus also wrote that 97,000 were sold as slaves. After the Roman victory over the Jews, as many as 115,880 dead bodies were carried out through one gate between the months of Nisan and Tammuz.[7]

Arguing that the numbers given in historical sources were usually grossly exaggerated, Hillel Geva estimated from the archaeological evidence that the actual population of Jerusalem before its 70 CE destruction was at most 20,000.[8]

Middle Ages

Year Jews Muslims Christians Total Original Source As quoted in
c. 1130 0 0 30,000 30,000  ? Runciman
1267 2*  ?  ?  ? Nahmanides, Jewish Scholar
1471 250*  ?  ?  ?  ? Baron
1488 76*  ?  ?  ?  ? Baron
1489 200*  ?  ?  ?  ? Yaari, 1943[9]

* Indicates families.

Ottoman era

Year Jews Muslims Christians Total Original Source As quoted in
1525–6 1,194 3,704 714 5,612 Ottoman taxation registers* Cohen and Lewis[10]
1538–9 1,363 7,287 884 9,534 Ottoman taxation registers* Cohen and Lewis[10]
1553–4 1,958 12,154 1,956 16,068 Ottoman taxation registers* Cohen and Lewis[10]
1596–77  ? 8,740 252  ? Ottoman taxation registers* Cohen and Lewis[10]
1723 2,000  ?  ?  ? Van Egmont & Heyman, Christian travellers [11]

Modern era

Muslim "relative majority"

Arab boys at Jerusalem YMCA, 1938.
Year Jews Muslims Christians Total Original Source As quoted in
1806 2,000 4,000 2,774 8,774 Ulrich Jasper Seetzen, Frisian explorer[12] Sharkansky, 1996[13][14]
1815 4,000-5,000  ?  ? 26,000 William Turner[15] Kark and Oren-Nordheim, 2001[14]
1824 6,000 10,000 4,000 20,000 Fisk and King, Writers [16]
1832 4,000 13,000 3,560 20,560 Ferdinand de Géramb, French monk Kark and Oren-Nordheim, 2001[14]

Muslim or Jewish "relative majority"

Kindergarten in Rishon Lezion, c.1898.

Between 1838 and 1876, conflicting estimates exist regarding whether Muslims or Jews constituted a "relative majority" (or plurality) in the city.

Writing in 1841, the biblical scholar Edward Robinson noted the conflicting demographic estimates regarding Jerusalem during the period, stating in reference to an 1839 estimate by Moses Montefiore: "As to the Jews, the enumeration in question was made out by themselves, in the expectation of receiving a certain amount of alms for every name returned. It is therefore obvious that they here had as strong a motive to exaggerate their number, as they often have in other circumstances to underrate it."[17] In 1843, Reverend F.C. Ewald, a Christian traveler visiting Jerusalem, reported an influx of 150 Jews from Algiers. He wrote that there were now a large number of Jews from the coast of Africa who were forming a separate congregation.[18]

Between 1856 and 1880, Jewish immigration to Palestine more than doubled, with the majority settling in Jerusalem.[19] The majority of these immigrants were Ashkenazi Jews from Eastern Europe, who subsisted on Halukka.[19]

In 1881–82, a group of Jews arrived from Yemen as a result of messianic fervor.[20][21] After living in the Old City for several years, they moved to the hills facing the City of David, where they lived in caves.[22] In 1884, the community, numbering 200, moved to new stone houses built for them by a Jewish charity.[23]

Year Jews Muslims Christians Total Original Source As quoted in
1838 3,000 4,500 3,500 11,500 Edward Robinson Edward Robinson, 1841[24]
1844 7,120 5,000 3,390 15,510 Dr. Ernst-Gustav Schultz, Prussian consul[25]
1846 7,515 6,100 3,558 17,173 Titus Tobler, Swiss explorer[26] Kark and Oren-Nordheim, 2001[14]
1849 2,084 families  ?  ?  ? Moses Montefiore census[27]
1850 13,860  ?  ?  ? Dr. Ascher, Anglo-Jewish Association
1850 630* 1,025* 738* 2,393*  ? Alexander Scholch, 1985[28]
1851 5,580 12,286' 7,488 25,354 Official census[29] Kark and Oren-Nordheim, 2001[14]
1853 8,000 4,000 3,490 15,490 César Famin, French diplomat Famin[30]
1856 5,700 10,300 3,000 18,000 Ludwig August von Frankl, Austrian writer Kark and Oren-Nordheim, 2001[14]
1857 7,000  ?  ? 10-15,000 HaMaggid periodical Kark and Oren-Nordheim, 2001[14]
1862 8,000 6,000 3,800 17,800 HaCarmel periodical Kark and Oren-Nordheim, 2001[14]
1864 8,000 4,000 2,500 15,000 British Embassy Dore Gold, 2009[31]
1866 8,000 4,000 4,000 16,000 John Murray travel guidebook Kark and Oren-Nordheim, 2001[14]
1867  ?  ?  ? 14,000 Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad, Chapter 52 [32]
1867 4–5,000 6,000  ?  ? Ellen-Clare Miller, Missionary [33]
1869 3,200* n/a n/a n/a Rabbi H. J. Sneersohn New York Times[34]
1869 9,000 5,000 4,000 18,000 Hebrew Christian Mutual Aid Society [35][36]
1869 7,977 7,500 5,373 20,850 Liévin de Hamme, Franciscan missionary Kark and Oren-Nordheim, 2001[14]
1871 4,000 13,000 7,000 20,560 Karl Baedeker travel guidebook Kark and Oren-Nordheim, 2001[14]
1876 4,000 13,000 3,560 20,560 Bernhard Neumann [37] Kark and Oren-Nordheim, 2001[14]

Jews as absolute or relative majority

Year Jews Muslims Christians Total Original Source As quoted in
1882 9,000 7,000 5,000 21,000 Wilson Kark and Oren-Nordheim, 2001[14]
1885 15,000 6,000 14,000 35,000 Goldmann Kark and Oren-Nordheim, 2001[14]
1893 >50%  ?  ? ~40,000 Albert Shaw, Writer Shaw, 1894 [38]
1896 28,112 8,560 8,748 45,420 Calendar of Palestine for the year 5656 Harrel and Stendel, 1974
1905 13,300 11,000 8,100 32,400 1905 Ottoman census (only Ottoman citizens) U.O.Schmelz[39]
1922 33,971 13,413 14,669 62,578 Census of Palestine (British) Harrel and Stendel, 1974
1931 51,200 19,900 19,300 90,053 Census of Palestine (British) Harrel and Stendel, 1974
1944 97,000 30,600 29,400 157,000  ? Harrel and Stendel, 1974
1967 195,700 54,963 12,646 263,307 Harrel, 1974

After Jerusalem Law

Year Jews Muslims Christians Total Original Source As quoted in
1980 292,300  ?  ? 407,100 Jerusalem Municipality[citation needed]
1985 327,700  ?  ? 457,700 Jerusalem Municipality
1987 340,000 121,000 14,000 475,000 Jerusalem Municipality
1990 378,200 131,800 14,400 524,400 Jerusalem Municipality
1995 417,100 182,700 14,100 617,000 Jerusalem Municipality
1996 421,200  ?  ? 602,100 Jerusalem Municipality
2000 448,800  ?  ? 657,500 Jerusalem Municipality
2004 464,500  ?  ? 693,200 Jerusalem Municipality
2005 469,300  ?  ? 706,400 Jerusalem Municipality
2007 489,480  ?  ? 746,300 Jerusalem Municipality
2011 497,000 281,000 14,000 801,000 Israel Central Bureau of Statistics
Population of Jerusalem by religion.

As of 24 May 2006, Jerusalem's population was 724,000 (about 10% of the total population of Israel), of which 65.0% were Jews (c. 40% of whom live in East Jerusalem), 32.0% Muslim (almost all of whom live in East Jerusalem) and 2% Christian. 35% of the city's population were children under age of 15. In 2005, the city had 18,600 newborns.[40]

These official Israeli statistics refer to the expanded Israel municipality of Jerusalem. This includes not only the area of the pre-1967 Israeli and Jordanian municipalities, but also outlying Palestinian villages and neighbourhoods east of the city, which were not part of Jordanian East Jerusalem prior to 1967. Demographic data from 1967 to 2012 showed continues growth of Arab population, both in relative and absolute numbers, and the declining of Jewish population share in the overall population of the city. In 1967, Jews were 73.4% of city population, while in 2010 the Jewish population shrank to 64%. In the same period the Arab population increased from 26,5% in 1967 to 36% in 2010.[41][42] In 1999, the Jewish total fertility rate was 3.8 children per woman, while the Palestinian rate was 4.4. This led to concerns that Arabs would eventually become a majority of the city's population.

Between 1999 and 2010, the demographic trends reversed themselves, with the Jewish fertility rate increasing and the Arab rate decreasing. In addition, the number of Jewish immigrants from abroad choosing to settle in Jerusalem steadily increased. By 2010, there was a higher Jewish than Arab growth rate. That year, the city's birth rate was placed at 4.2 children for Jewish mothers, compared with 3.9 children for Arab mothers. In addition, 2,250 Jewish immigrants from abroad settled in Jerusalem. The Jewish fertility rate is believed to be still currently increasing, while the Arab fertility rate remains on the decline.[43]

Jerusalem had population of 801,000 in 2011, of which Jews compromised 497,000 (62%), Muslims 281,000 (35%), Christians 14,000 (around 2%) and 9,000 (1%) were not classified by religion.[44]

Demographic key dates


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  6. Josephus (The Wars Of The Jews Book VI Ch 9 Sec 3)
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  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 Amnon Cohen and Bernard Lewis (1978). Population and Revenue in the Towns of Palestine in the Sixteenth Century. Princeton University Press. pp. 14–15, 94. ISBN 0-691-09375-X.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> The registers give counts of tax-paying households, bachelors, religious men, and disabled men. We followed Cohen and Lewis on taking 6 as the average household size, even though they call it "conjectural" and note that other scholars have suggested averages between 5 and 7.
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