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In Jewish tradition, Jewish ancestry is traced to the Biblical patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the second millennium BCE. The Jews enjoyed two periods of political autonomy in their national homeland, the Land of Israel, during ancient history. The first era spanned from 1350 to 586 BCE, and encompassed the periods of the Judges, the United Monarchy, and the Divided Monarchy of the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah, ending with the destruction of the First Temple. The second era was the period of the Hasmonean Kingdom spanning from 140 to 37 BCE. Since the destruction of the First Temple, the diaspora has been the home of most of the world's Jews. Except in the modern State of Israel, established in 1948, Jews are a minority in every country in which they live and they have frequently experienced persecution throughout history, resulting in a population that fluctuated both in numbers and distribution over the centuries.
According to the Jewish Agency, as of 2007 there were 13.2 million Jews worldwide, 5.4 million of whom lived in Israel, 5.3 million in the United States, and the remainder distributed in communities of varying sizes around the world; this represents 0.2% of the current estimated world population. These numbers include all those who consider themselves Jews whether or not affiliated with a Jewish organization. The total world Jewish population, however, is difficult to measure. In addition to halakhic considerations, there are secular, political, and ancestral identification factors in defining who is a Jew that increase the figure considerably
Jew has been used as a term for the ethnic and religious group. Some people prefer, for the ethnic group, to use the term 'Hebrew' and the term 'Jew' for the religious group.