British Jews Go the Way of American Jews Finds a Recent Study

March 31, 2014.

Source: The Jewish Daily Forward


First, the good news. The most recent census revealed that, for the first time in decades, the decline in Britain’s Jewish population has been arrested. In 2011, 263,346 chose to identify themselves as Jewish by religion in England and Wales, compared to 259,927 in 2001.


Beneath the headline figure, however, all it not as it appears. The Institute for Jewish Policy Research, having recently published the preliminary findings of its substantial and substantive National Jewish Community Survey, demonstrated that British Jewry is undergoing a generational shift in Jewish identity, culture, and affiliation, one that has the potential to transform Jewish life in the United Kingdom – and not necessarily for the better.


As one generation passes and another supersedes it, British Jewry is experiencing a weakening of mainstream Judaism, greater Haredisation at one end of the spectrum of Jewish identity, and a withering away of Jewishness through intermarriage and disaffiliation on the other.


Membership of Orthodox Jewish synagogues has fallen through the floor, having declined by over 30 percent in the past twenty years. In the JPR survey, while those who described themselves as “traditional” represented a quarter of the sample, the number who identified themselves as having had a traditional upbringing totaled 40 percent, with a clear drift in adulthood towards progressive, secular, and cultural forms of Judaism.


Ultra-Orthodox synagogues, meanwhile, have seen their membership double since 1990. Today, 13 percent of British Jews can be considered Haredi. Of those who chose to identify themselves as Haredi in the JPR survey, 63 percent are under 40, compared to 31 percent of traditional Jews and secular or cultural Jews. Previous studies have shown that nearly one third of Jewish children under 5 years of age in Britain is born of Haredi parents.


Meanwhile, although the rate of intermarriage is leveling off, almost two-thirds of self-identified secular and cultural Jews have a non-Jewish spouse. Within intermarried couples, there is an evident slackening of Jewish identity. Under half of intermarried Jews attend a seder every year, compared to over 90 percent of in-married Jews, while only one third of intermarried Jews fast on Yom Kippur either every year or most years. Intermarried Jews are far less inclined to support Israel or share Jewish values with their families.


If any of this seems familiar, it is because the findings of Britain’s National Jewish Community Survey echo those of the much-discussed Pew Research Center report, “A Portrait of Jewish Americans.” In the latter, it was shown that mainstream Judaism, in this case Conservative Judaism, is in grave decline, retaining only 36 percent of members and affiliates from childhood to adulthood.


Read more at the Jewish Daily Forward.

See Keith Kahn-Harris' nuanced take on this survey.

Updated: Apr. 30, 2014