Or­tho­doxy grows com­pla­cent

The Jewish Chronicle - - COMMENT - Ge­of­frey Al­der­man

THIS MONTH, THE In­sti­tute for Jewish Pol­icy Re­search pub­lished the find­ings of its in­quiries into the de­mog­ra­phy of Bri­tain’s Charedi com­mu­ni­ties. Au­thored by the ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of JPR, Dr Jonathan Boyd, and Dr Daniel Staet­sky (a former an­a­lyst at Is­rael’s Cen­tral Bureau of Statis­tics), the re­port tells us some things we al­ready knew in out­line, or strongly sus­pected, but does so in the con­text of a painstak­ing anal­y­sis of na­tional cen­sus ma­te­rial. The au­thors also pose some ques­tions based on their con­clu­sions.

I also want to pose some ques­tions. The ques­tions that Drs Staet­sky and Boyd posed led to im­me­di­ate — and pre­dictable — con­dem­na­tions from a va­ri­ety of Charedi quar­ters. Per­haps mine will as well. But they are all ques­tions that need to be asked.

“The Bri­tish Jewish pop­u­la­tion,” the re­port be­gins, “is on the verge of sig­nif­i­cant de­mo­graphic change.” At present, the ma­jor­ity of Bri­tish Jews are either sec­u­lar or “mod­er­ately reli­gious.” Anal­y­sis of the 2011 cen­sus data sug­gests that, at that time, about 16 per cent of Bri­tish Jewry were what the re­port terms “Strictly Ortho­dox.” But whereas the nonCharedi Jewish pop­u­la­tions are de­clin­ing by 0.3 per cent per an­num, the Strictly Ortho­dox com­mu­ni­ties — in which high birth rates are the norm as is longevity — are ex­pand­ing at al­most five per cent per an­num.

You do not need to be an ac­cred­ited statis­ti­cian to work out that, at some point in the not-too-dis­tant fu­ture, the Strictly Ortho­dox will, in terms of num­bers, over­take the sec­u­lar and mod­er­ately reli­gious. By 2031, 50 per cent of Jewish chil­dren in Bri­tain will be “Strictly Ortho­dox,” and 30 per cent of young adults. We can ar­gue about a few per­cent­age points one way or the other. The in­escapable con­clu­sion is that well be­fore the end of the cen­tury, Strictly Ortho­dox Jews will — if trends con­tinue — con­sti­tute a ma­jor­ity of the Bri­tish Jewish pop­u­la­tion. What will this mean? The JPR re­port at­tracted con­dem­na­tion from the “In­ter­link Foundation,” an um­brella body for Ortho­dox Jewish char­i­ties. The JPR re­port rightly pointed out that the “pres­ence of high pro­por­tions of young peo­ple in the pop­u­la­tion has been linked by po­lit­i­cal sci­en­tists and de­mog­ra­phers to so­cial and po­lit­i­cal un­rest, and growth in crim­i­nal­ity, es­pe­cially in the ab­sence of at­trac­tive em­ploy­ment prospects.”

In­ter­link con­demned this com­ment as “rep­re­hen­si­ble,” and made the breath­tak­ing claim that “what­ever eco­nomic is­sues face the Charedi com­mu­nity… they have never re­motely been linked to so­cial and po­lit­i­cal un­rest and crim­i­nal­ity.”

This is dan­ger­ous non­sense. Over the past year alone, there have been sev­eral high- pro­file crim­i­nal tri­als in­volv­ing Charedim, who have been found guilty of a va­ri­ety of of­fences — mainly, but by no means only of a sex­ual na­ture. None has been re­ported in the An­glo-Charedi press. But that is no ex­cuse. To in­sist that Charedim “have never re­motely been linked to… crim­i­nal­ity” is a down­right lie. Among Charedim in Lon­don there is known to be a drugs prob­lem, which sur­faced pub­licly at the in­quest into the tragic death of Rabbi Ben­zion Dun­ner (a co­caine ad­dict) in 2008. Isn’t In­ter­link aware of this? If not, why not?

The Charedi “youth bulge” that the JPR study iden­ti­fies is also likely to re­sult (as the au­thors point out) in higher lev­els of ap­a­thy, dis­il­lu­sion­ment and the aban­don­ment of Strictly Ortho­dox life­styles by young Charedim whose pre­car­i­ously nar­row school­ing has sim­ply not equipped them with the ba­sic skills needed to earn a de­cent liv­ing.

I see lit­tle ev­i­dence of this ed­u­ca­tional deficit be­ing se­ri­ously ad­dressed. On the con­trary, while Of­sted con­tin­ues to is­sue re­ports that are highly crit­i­cal (damn­ing, in fact) of overly-nar­row cur­ric­ula in Charedi schools, the par­ents of the pupils ed­u­cated therein, along with their rab­bini­cal lead­er­ships, seem to de­light in avert­ing their gaze from a calamity in the mak­ing.

But there is one point the JPR study does not make but about which we all need to pon­der nonethe­less. Charedim do not care very much about non-Ortho­dox Jews, whom they have largely writ­ten off. I am de­lighted that Bri­tish Jewry is be­com­ing more Ortho­dox. I would be dis­mayed, how­ever, if, as a re­sult, one set of com­mu­ni­ties ceased to have any mean­ing­ful di­a­logue with the other.

They de­light in avert­ing their gaze from this calamity

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