Black hats and Jewish ba­bies

The Jewish Chronicle - - Comment - Ge­of­frey Al­der­man

THE STA­TIS­TI­CAL RE­PORT pub­lished ear­lier this month by the Board of Deputies makes for in­ter­est­ing read­ing. The num­ber of funer­als car­ried out in 2010 un­der the aus­pices of any An­gloJewish re­li­gious au­thor­ity fell again, thus con­firm­ing the trend of the past two decades. By con­trast, the num­ber of Jewish births has risen. So Bri­tish Jewry as a whole ap­pears to have ceased con­tract­ing, and is prob­a­bly grow­ing. In 2007 — the lat­est year for which “in­ferred” data is avail­able — the au­thor of the re­port, Daniel Vulkan, cal­cu­lates that there were 3,313 Jewish births. Again, this con­tin­ues an up­ward trend. But Vulkan adds to this anal­y­sis some post-2007 data re­lat­ing to what he terms the “strictly Ortho­dox” com­mu­ni­ties of Manch­ester, London and Gateshead; he con­cludes that “a con­ser­va­tive es­ti­mate would be that the strictly Ortho­dox com­mu­nity now ac­counts for 40 per cent or more of all Jewish births”.

In 2010, the num­ber of mar­riages per­formed un­der An­glo-jewish re­li­gious aus­pices fell to 836 — the low­est fig­ure since the Board’s records be­gan in 1901. “A con­sis­tent down­wards trend … is now clearly iden­tifi- able,” says Vulkan, adding that while, over the past 30 years, the pro­por­tion of mar­riages tak­ing place un­der the aus­pices of “cen­tral Ortho­dox” syn­a­gogues (the United Syn­a­gogue and other syn­a­gogues of a sim­i­lar ori­en­ta­tion) has de­clined from al­most two-thirds to just un­der a half, over the same pe­riod “mar­riages tak­ing place in the strictly Ortho­dox com­mu­nity have in­creased from less than one in ten of the to­tal to more than a quar­ter.”

True to form, this in­tel­li­gence was pounced upon by sundry spokesper­sons in the Charedi world. Dr Yaakov Wise, who pre­dicted years ago that, by 2050, Charedim would con­sti­tute the ma­jor­ity of Bri­tish Jewry, told the Jewish Tri­bune how pleased he was that the Board had “fi­nally con­ceded the case.” Rabbi Avra­ham Pinter, macher- in-chief of Stam­ford Hill, made public his amaze­ment “that the Board can only be­grudg­ingly say that the Charedi births are 40 per cent or more”. What did he ex­pect? A for­mal an­nounce­ment from West­min­ster Hall, with fan­fare from the Reg­i­men­tal Trum­peters of the Queen’s Dra­goon Guards?

Daniel Vulkan is obliged to “in­fer” the num­ber of Jewish births be­cause re­li­gion is not iden­ti­fied on any Bri­tish birth certificate. He has used fig­ures re­lated to cir­cum­ci­sions and ap­plied to these a “mul­ti­plier” — the ra­tio of male-to-fe­male births in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion. So far, so good — un­til we re­alise (and here I’m mak­ing a point favourable to the Charedim) that, in the Charedi world, un­known num­bers of cir­cum­ci­sions are car­ried out by mo­he­lim not reg­is­tered with the Ini­ti­a­tion So­ci­ety.

While I sup­port Vulkan in us­ing the “mul­ti­plier,” I take is­sue with him over his ref­er­ence to “the strictly Ortho­dox com­mu­nity”. There is no such thing. Here, the con­ve­niences of the de­mog­ra­pher clash with the com­plex dy­nam­ics of Bri­tain’s Jewish cit­i­zenry.

The plain fact is that Bri­tain’s Charedim do not con­sti­tute a mono­lithic bloc. Here in north-west London, there are “black hats” who are — lit­er­ally — refugees from Stam­ford Hill, forced to flee by sub­tle forms of re­li­gious per­se­cu­tion.

The plain fact is that, in north-west London, con­tin­u­ing con­tro­versy over the eruv has led to the for­ma­tion of break­away black­hat con­gre­ga­tions.

There are black-hat Sephardim, black hats within my own Fed­er­a­tion of Syn­a­gogues and even within the US. The Union of Ortho­dox He­brew Con­gre­ga­tions has re­cently placed ad­ver­tise­ments urg­ing Charedim to join its own burial so­ci­ety: such ex­hor­ta­tions would have been un­think­able even a decade ago, and can only re­flect the Union’s mor­bid fear of a loss of “mar­ket share”.

Not all Charedim are (in prac­tice) Ortho­dox. Not all Ortho­dox are Charedim. We must also bear in mind that an in­creas­ing num­ber of Bri­tish Jews de­cline to iden­tify with any communal or­gan­i­sa­tion, just as we must re­mem­ber that there is no agree­ment upon who is a Jew.

The re­al­ity is that the sec­tar­ian An­glo-jewry over which Rabbi Pinter and Dr Wise ex­ult con­sti­tutes merely part of a much more in­tri­cate and sub­stan­tially larger whole.

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