IS THE COMMUNITY SHRINKING OR GROWING? THE DEBATE CONTINUES
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