Largest ever survey reveals decline of Jewish mainstream

Younger Jews are more religious than their parents’ generation, intermarriage has slowed down and the mainstream Orthodoxy that once typified British Jewry is in retreat.

These are some of the major findings of the most comprehensive survey ever carried out on the Jewish population of the UK which were released yesterday.

Jews under the age of 40 are more observant than middle aged and elderly Jews when it comes to Shabbat, kashrut and celebrating festivals.

Jonathan Boyd, executive director of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research which conducted the National Jewish Community Survey, said that the result was “highly significant”.

He said: “For several decades, the Jewish community has worried about whether the young will have strong enough Jewish identities to pass on to their children and grandchildren. We now have evidence to suggest that, overall, younger Jews today may actually be better placed to achieve that than the generations that preceded them.”

The rise in religious practice among the under-40s was believed to be mainly due to population trends, with rising birth rates among the strictly Orthodox. Jews under-40 are three times more likely than pensioners to see themselves as Charedi or Orthodox.

Younger Jews, however, are less likely than older age groups to believe that supporting Israel or fighting antisemitism is very important to them.

While religion has been growing among the young, there has been a swing towards secularism over the years evident in older age groups.

Whereas 40 per cent of the sample were raised as “traditional” — representing the middle-of-the-road Judaism of many central Orthodox synagogue members — they represent barely a quarter now.

There has been “a shakeout of the middle-ground”, the report says, with most of those who have left the traditional camp over the years moving to a liberal or secular outlook.

Just over a quarter of Jews in a

relationship have a non-Jewish partner (26 per cent). But the steep rise in intermarriage that took place before the 1990s has slowed down, according to the survey.

“Indeed, there may even be a suggestion in the data that it has peaked,” it said.

Although most British Jews remain pro-Israel, JPR found it “surprising” that supporting Israel ranked only a “somewhat modest” 11th out of 20 issues of importance.

One “striking” finding was the rise in secular, cultural Jewishness over the generations.

“Some will argue that it provides evidence of assimilation,” the report said. But it should prompt further questions about the role of secular and cultural Jewish initiatives “which have seen something of a resurgence in recent years”.

While charity-giving is important, Jews are more likely to donate to non-Jewish causes than Jewish ones.

The top donors, however, tend to give more to Jewish charities. One in 10 Jews overall donates only to Jewish charities, while one in eight — mainly among the secular — gives exclusively to non-Jewish causes.

The initial 48-page report also covers welfare and education, raising questions as to whether the demand for Jewish schooling among the non-Orthodox has now peaked.

But the findings only “scratch the surface” of the data, which was collecting using more than 3,700 responses to an online questionnaire carried out last summer.

Together with the information on British Jewry gleaned from the 2011 Census, Jewish organisations “now have access to what is unquestionably the largest data pool on Jews in Britain ever assembled”, Mr Boyd said.