Number of Jews at Exodus
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 years of age and over, we can extrapolate the total population by including the women and children as well.
According to Rabbi Yonasan ben Uziel (circa 1st century CE, author of an Aramaic translation of the Five Books of Moses), there were 3 million Jews in total who witnessed the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai. (see Targum Yonasan – Exodus 12:37) It is probable that a comparable number of Jews left Egypt.
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!