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Number of Jews at Exodus

August 17, 2011 | by

Thank you very much for all your wise and interesting writings. For the last two years, I've been teaching an adult seminar called "Discovering the Beauty of Judaism" at a Reform congregation, and I use Aish HaTorah material.

Now my question: I remember that the number of Jews leaving Egypt was 600,000. But I read recently that the number was in the millions! Is this true?

The Aish Rabbi Replies

It is written in the Torah, "The Children of Israel journeyed... 600,000 adult males on foot, besides the children." (Exodus 12:37)

Since the verse only includes the number of men who were 20 till 60 years of age, we can extrapolate the total population by including the women, children and elderly as well.

A plausible estimate, commonly propounded, is three million. (See Targum Yonasan (by Rabbi Yonasan ben Uziel, cir. 1st century CE, author of an Aramaic translation on the Pentateuch), to Exodus 12:37. He writes that each of the 600,000 had (on average) 5 children (under the age of 20). This implies a total of 600,000 men + 600,000 women + 3,000,000 children = 4.2 million (not including the elderly). However, some understand that it means there was a ratio of 5 to 1 men to everyone else, implying 3.6 million or more simply that the total population was 5 times the men = 3 million. See also Igros Moshe O.C. V 29.)

By the way, the Talmud says that 80 percent of the Jews never even left Egypt. They were so steeped in Egyptian culture that they were unwilling to join the Exodus. As such, they were lost to the Jewish nation forever.

Best of luck in your Torah studies – and teaching!

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