IS THE COM­MU­NITY SHRINK­ING OR GROW­ING? THE DE­BATE CON­TIN­UES

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment&analysis -

Yaakov Wise’s state­ment that the Jewish pop­u­la­tion of Bri­tain de­clined from a peak of 450,000 to 280,000 to­day is very ques­tion­able ( What Baby Boom?, May 23). All sources agree that the Jewish pop­u­la­tion of Bri­tain in 1930 was about 300,000. About 75,000 Jewish refugees from Hitler ar­rived dur­ing the Nazi pe­riod. There was a “baby boom” af­ter 1945, but this was off­set by con­tin­u­ing em­i­gra­tion to the Com­mon­wealth and aliyah.

The fig­ure of 450,000 de­rives solely from an ar­ti­cle pub­lished by the de­mog­ra­pher Han­nah Neustat­ter in the 1955 book, A Mi­nor­ity in Bri­tain. Neustat­ter ar­bi­trar­ily added 15 per cent to the ac­tual fig­ures she ar­rived at for Jews “not ac­counted for”. With­out this ad­di­tion, the Jewish pop­u­la­tion at the time was ac­tu­ally only about 382,500. The Board of Deputies and other bod­ies ac­cepted her higher es­ti­mate to make it seem as if there were more Bri­tish Jews than there ac­tu­ally were.

As to the cur­rent pop­u­la­tion, a 2003 re­port by the In­sti­tute for Jewish Pol­icy Re­search found that the Jewish pop­u­la­tion of Bri­tain, based on re­al­is­tic up­ward re­vi­sion of the 2001 Cen­sus fig­ure, was 296,000 “at the very least”, and “more likely to be in the or­der of 345,000”.

It is ob­vi­ous that a de­cline of less than 40,000 in the past half-cen­tury, in part be­cause of em­i­gra­tion to the Com­mon­wealth, Is­rael and Amer­ica, is far more plau­si­ble than the cat­a­strophic lev­els of de­cline which some have sug­gested, and which are not par­al­leled any­where else apart from the for­mer Soviet Union. It also seems en­tirely pos­si­ble that the Jewish pop­u­la­tion of Bri­tain is now grow­ing again, in large part be­cause of the Charedi birth rate, strictly Ortho­dox com­mu­ni­ties be­ing vir­tu­ally un­known here be­fore the 1940s. Prof William D Ru­bin­stein Dept of His­tory, Univer­sity of Aberys­t­wyth, Penglais SY23

David Gra­ham of the Board of Deputies is right to ques­tion the bold claim of Yaakov Wise that Bri­tish Jewry is now grow­ing for the first time since the Sec­ond World War — and with such un­ver­i­fied pre­ci­sion too. Dr Wise has ob­vi­ously not taken into ac­count the other fac­tors which must af­fect the size of the pop­u­la­tion, in­clud­ing on­go­ing un­quan­tifi­able losses due to in­ter­mar­riage, and the ef­fects of mi­gra­tion. Over the last three years, for ex­am­ple, there has been an av­er­age of 600 Bri­tish Jews go­ing on aliyah.

Nev­er­the­less, in 2005, for the first time in the 40 years since the Board first started is­su­ing an­nual vi­tal sta­tis­tics, the num­ber of births ex­ceeded deaths. This was re­peated in 2006, and is en­tirely due to the con­tin­ued growth of Charedi births such that the lat­ter must now con­sti­tute a half or more of all Bri­tish Jewish births.

I am will­ing to ac­cept Dr Wise’s cur- rent es­ti­mate that the Charedi com­mu­nity now forms some 17 per cent of Bri­tish Jewry. But Dr Wise, in his ex­u­ber­ance, has jumped the gun. The day when his pre­dic­tion about the growth of Bri­tish Jewry be­cause of the bur­geon­ing of Charedim comes true has not yet come — though it looks as if it will in the fairly near fu­ture.

It seems ironic in the ex­treme that the Charedim, who in the years af­ter the Sec­ond World War were writ­ten off as a tiny mar­ginal com­mu­nity with no fu­ture, can now, a half cen­tury later, be re­garded as the de­mo­graphic hope of Bri­tish Jewry. The im­pli­ca­tions are enor­mous. Murray Freed­man Sand­hill Cres­cent, Leeds LS17

Yaakov Wise states that Charedi women in the UK av­er­age 6.9 chil­dren while sec­u­lar Jewish women in the UK av­er­age 1.6 chil­dren.

I as­sume his def­i­ni­tion of “ul­tra­Ortho­dox” would in­clude the Adass Yis­rael shuls, the Union of Ortho­dox Syn­a­gogues and the Gold­ers Green Beth Hame­drash. “Sec­u­lar” Jews ob­vi­ously don’t be­long to syn­a­gogues. So where does that leave the mem­bers of the United Syn­a­gogue, Fed­er­a­tion and Span­ish and Por­tuguese, not to men­tion the Ma­sorti, Re­form and Lib­eral? Per­haps in parts of Is­rael there is a po­lar­i­sa­tion of ul­tra-Ortho­dox ver­sus sec­u­lar Jews, but that is not, and has never been, the case in the UK. Joseph Feld Brent Bridge, Lon­don NW11

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