Tuesday, April 1, 2014

British Jews Go the Way of American Jews

First, the good news. The most recent census revealed that, for the first time in decades, the decline in Britain’s Jewish population has been arrested. In 2011, 263,346 chose to identify themselves as Jewish by religion in England and Wales, compared to 259,927 in 2001.

Beneath the headline figure, however, all it not as it appears. The Institute for Jewish Policy Research, having recently published the preliminary findings of its substantial and substantive National Jewish Community Survey, demonstrated that British Jewry is undergoing a generational shift in Jewish identity, culture, and affiliation, one that has the potential to transform Jewish life in the United Kingdom – and not necessarily for the better.

As one generation passes and another supersedes it, British Jewry is experiencing a weakening of mainstream Judaism, greater Haredisation at one end of the spectrum of Jewish identity, and a withering away of Jewishness through intermarriage and disaffiliation on the other.

Membership of Orthodox Jewish synagogues has fallen through the floor, having declined by over 30 percent in the past twenty years. In the JPR survey, while those who described themselves as “traditional” represented a quarter of the sample, the number who identified themselves as having had a traditional upbringing totaled 40 percent, with a clear drift in adulthood towards progressive, secular, and cultural forms of Judaism.

Ultra-Orthodox synagogues, meanwhile, have seen their membership double since 1990. Today, 13 percent of British Jews can be considered Haredi. Of those who chose to identify themselves as Haredi in the JPR survey, 63 percent are under 40, compared to 31 percent of traditional Jews and secular or cultural Jews. Previous studies have shown that nearly one third of Jewish children under 5 years of age in Britain is born of Haredi parents.

Read More

Friday, February 7, 2014

Britain’s Struggle To Engage Young Jews

“I believe that we are now at one of those critical, pivotal moments in our history,” Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, Senior Rabbi to the Movement for Reform Judaism, recently informed the Board of Deputies of British Jews. “It’s sneaking up on us. What is happening is an upheaval that threatens our cohesive fabric.”

American and British Jewry share the same fate. On one end of the religious spectrum, through intermarriage and assimilation there is a drifting away from Jewish identity. In the United Kingdom, the preliminary findings of the Institute for Jewish Policy Research’s National Jewish Community Survey showed that under half of intermarried Jews attend a Passover seder, one third fast on Yom Kippur, and only 18% attend a Friday night dinner most weeks.

In the center of the religious spectrum, British Jews under 40 are more likely to value belief in God or marrying within the Jewish faith than their parents, yet some don’t have the knowledge or language of Judaism to live a fully Jewish life. And, at the other extreme, the burgeoning, young Haredi community is displacing an aging, secular or traditional population. Today in the UK, nearly one third of all Jewish children under the age of five are born to Haredi parents.

“By definition, the Haredi community lives in seclusion, and so the mainstream community might not be aware of changes going on in that community,” Janner-Klausner told The Forward. “I am concerned about and connected to the Jewish people as a whole. As a community, we have to be able to talk to each other and understand each other.”

Read More

Monday, August 12, 2013 Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Jonathan Sacks and the Twin Danger Facing Jews

The outgoing Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom, Lord Sacks, warned attendees at his farewell dinner Monday evening that assimilation and ultra-Orthodoxy – “those who embrace the world and reject Judaism, and those who embrace Judaism and reject the world” – represent a “global danger” to Jews and Judaism.

Assimilation and ultra-Orthodoxy, Sacks said, are phenomena that presently “dominate the Jewish world”. He described the trend of “one young Jew in two deciding not to have a Jewish marriage, create a Jewish home and build the Jewish future” as a ‘tragedy’, while stating that the haredim “segregates itself from the world and from its fellow Jews.”

“This is very dangerous, because if there is anti-Semitism or anti-Zionism in the future, who is going to fight it? The Jews who abandon Judaism? Or the Jews who abandon the world?”

As the spiritual leader of the UK’s Orthodox community, Sacks has reason to be concerned. According to a 2010 study produced by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, 73 percent of Jewish households are affiliated with a synagogue, yet the percentage of affiliated households across the denominations has fallen by 17 percent over the past twenty years. Orthodox households still represent over fifty percent of affiliated households, but their number has contracted by one third. At the same time, the percentage of Jewish households affiliated to an ultra-Orthodox synagogue has more than doubled from 4.5% in 1990 to 10.9% in 2010.

Read More

Monday, June 24, 2013 Friday, May 10, 2013

Is he or she a good or a bad Jew? This is up to the next Jew to say…

The Rabbi of the Western Wall, Shmuel Rabinowitz, had called for calm, but in the end the scene at Women of the Wall’s monthly visit on Friday morning was far from it. As Judy Maltz and Yair Ettinger report in Ha’aretz, thousands of ultra-Orthodox demonstrators turned up to picket and try and block Women of the Wall from worshipping as they deem fit:

The demonstrators jeered at the women as they prayed, some throwing water bottles and chairs in their direction. Dozens of riot police were on hand to separate them from the women’s prayer group and they grew increasingly violent. After the women exited Dung Gate, ultra-Orthodox demonstrators ambushed them with rocks.

…Several young seminary girls questioned by Ha’aretz said that they had come to the Western Wall because they were told to do so. One young woman, named Rachel, who refused to provide her last name or the name of her seminary, said she had come to protest women praying in the men’s section. Women of the Wall, however, do not pray in the men’s section, but in the women’s section.

Rabbi Aaron Frank, the principal of Beth Tefiloh, a modern Orthodox day school in Baltimore, said he had just “come to daven” at the Western Wall with a few of his students. But when a group of ultra-Orthodox noticed him being interviewed by a foreign TV crew, they began shouting in his direction: “You are a Reform Christian. You are a Muslim. You are the pope.”

This is shameful. The Western Wall belongs not to one Jew, nor one strand of Judaism — it is the collective property of all Jews: secular, Liberal, Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and ultra-Orthodox. It must be possible for haredi Jews to pray as they wish, and for Women of the Wall to do the same, without the two coming into conflict.

The onus, in this instance, is on the haredim: it is about time they acknowledge, at least in the public sphere, that there more than one way to be Jew. This begins with refraining from calling Jews who aren’t ultra-Orthodox goyim, and ending these brash displays of verbal and physical intimidation at the Wall and on the street. At the moment, their words and actions not only undermine religious pluralism in Israel, but the few gathered at the Wall today threaten the haredi community more widely, particularly given that their privileged position is evermore being called into question. The haredi community — known for its charity and dedication to study — is better than this.

Perhaps to clarify: It is not that one Jew does not have the right to tell the other how to be a Jew from time to time. To assert to the contrary would be a threat to discourse and argumentation, and evolution of thought and religious practice. Better to say, then, that while it is fine for one to Jew tell the another how to be a good Jew, they do not have to heed that advice, and should not be forced to do so, either.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Bibi: So, where’s the government?

Matt Yglesias posted this question on twitter the other day, I think it deserves a decent answer:

I’ll do the best I can, based on what I’ve read over the past long, long month and what I perceive to be happening post-election. The principal divide as it stands is between Benjamin Netanyahu on the one hand, and Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett on the other over the role of the haredim both in government and in Israeli society more widely. The specific issues which matter to both Yesh Atid and Jewish Home (and also Yisrael Beiteinu) are military service for all, a fairer housing policy, education and the implementation of a core curriculum in all schools, taking the rabbinate out of haredi control, and funding for the yeshivot.

(There is, also, a smaller parting over the role of Tzipi Livni as lead negotiator with the Palestinians, one which upsets both Lapid, who wishes to be Foreign Minister, and Bennett, who wants to wholly annex Area C of the West Bank and has condemned Livni possibly conceding Ariel or dividing Jerusalem in bilateral talks with Abbas and Fayyad.)

Read More

Wednesday, October 24, 2012
Ha’aretz breaks down these statistics:

The majority of the Jewish public, 59 percent, wants preference for Jews over Arabs in admission to jobs in government ministries. Almost half the Jews, 49 percent, want the state to treat Jewish citizens better than Arab ones; 42 percent don’t want to live in the same building with Arabs and 42 percent don’t want their children in the same class with Arab children.
A third of the Jewish public wants a law barring Israeli Arabs from voting for the Knesset and a large majority of 69 percent objects to giving 2.5 million Palestinians the right to vote if Israel annexes the West Bank.
Almost half - 47 percent - want part of Israel’s Arab population to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority and 36 percent support transferring some of the Arab towns from Israel to the PA, in exchange for keeping some of the West Bank settlements.
Although the territories have not been annexed, most of the Jewish public (58 percent ) already believes Israel practices apartheid against Arabs. Only 31 percent think such a system is not in force here. Over a third (38 percent ) of the Jewish public wants Israel to annex the territories with settlements on them, while 48 percent object.

The most enlightening aspect not shown in the above charts is the way in which the various ethno-religious groups split on the propositions:

The ultra-Orthodox, in contrast to those who described themselves as religious or observant, hold the most extreme positions against the Palestinians. An overwhelming majority (83 percent ) of Haredim are in favor of segregated roads and 71 percent are in favor of transfer.
The ultra-Orthodox are also the most anti-Arab group - 70 percent of them support legally barring Israeli Arabs from voting, 82 percent support preferential treatment from the state toward Jews, and 95 percent are in favor of discrimination against Arabs in admission to workplaces.
The group classifying itself as religious is the second most anti-Arab. New immigrants from former Soviet states are closer in their views of the Palestinians to secular Israelis, and are far less radical than the religious and Haredi groups. However, the number of people who answered “don’t know” in the “Russian” community was higher than in any other.
The Russians register the highest rate of satisfaction with life in Israel (77 percent ) and the secular Israelis the lowest - only 63 percent. On average, 69 percent of Israelis are satisfied with life in Israel.
Secular Israelis appear to be the least racist - 68 percent of them would not mind having Arab neighbors in their apartment building, 73 percent would not mind Arab students in their children’s class and 50 percent believe Arabs should not be discriminated against in admission to workplaces.

Ha’aretz breaks down these statistics:

The majority of the Jewish public, 59 percent, wants preference for Jews over Arabs in admission to jobs in government ministries. Almost half the Jews, 49 percent, want the state to treat Jewish citizens better than Arab ones; 42 percent don’t want to live in the same building with Arabs and 42 percent don’t want their children in the same class with Arab children.

A third of the Jewish public wants a law barring Israeli Arabs from voting for the Knesset and a large majority of 69 percent objects to giving 2.5 million Palestinians the right to vote if Israel annexes the West Bank.

Almost half - 47 percent - want part of Israel’s Arab population to be transferred to the Palestinian Authority and 36 percent support transferring some of the Arab towns from Israel to the PA, in exchange for keeping some of the West Bank settlements.

Although the territories have not been annexed, most of the Jewish public (58 percent ) already believes Israel practices apartheid against Arabs. Only 31 percent think such a system is not in force here. Over a third (38 percent ) of the Jewish public wants Israel to annex the territories with settlements on them, while 48 percent object.

The most enlightening aspect not shown in the above charts is the way in which the various ethno-religious groups split on the propositions:

The ultra-Orthodox, in contrast to those who described themselves as religious or observant, hold the most extreme positions against the Palestinians. An overwhelming majority (83 percent ) of Haredim are in favor of segregated roads and 71 percent are in favor of transfer.

The ultra-Orthodox are also the most anti-Arab group - 70 percent of them support legally barring Israeli Arabs from voting, 82 percent support preferential treatment from the state toward Jews, and 95 percent are in favor of discrimination against Arabs in admission to workplaces.

The group classifying itself as religious is the second most anti-Arab. New immigrants from former Soviet states are closer in their views of the Palestinians to secular Israelis, and are far less radical than the religious and Haredi groups. However, the number of people who answered “don’t know” in the “Russian” community was higher than in any other.

The Russians register the highest rate of satisfaction with life in Israel (77 percent ) and the secular Israelis the lowest - only 63 percent. On average, 69 percent of Israelis are satisfied with life in Israel.

Secular Israelis appear to be the least racist - 68 percent of them would not mind having Arab neighbors in their apartment building, 73 percent would not mind Arab students in their children’s class and 50 percent believe Arabs should not be discriminated against in admission to workplaces.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012 Wednesday, February 22, 2012

In Israel, Considering Life After The Tal Law

Everyone knows the old joke, right? In Israel, a third of the country works, a third pays taxes, and a third does military service. It just so happens that it’s the same third.

The Tal Law — which has been ruled by the Israeli Supreme Court to be unconstitutional — was designed to correct at least part of this societal imbalance. Prior, Haredi men who entered into a yeshiva for religious instruction were exempt from military service. The Tal Law presented a pathway for the ultra-Orthodox to enter into the army. Torah students were permitted to take a year out for work or non-religious study. Following that year, haredim could then make the choice of whether to return to the yeshiva, or join the workforce and serve in the army in accordance with his marital status, or perform national service for a year and a half.

The number of haredim in service did in fact increase, but not to the extent hoped when the law was introduced some ten years ago. According to Israel Defense Forces figures, 1,282 haredi men enlisted in the army in 2011, up from 898 in 2010 and 729 in 2011.Of course, most of them served in special male haredi units, where the kashrut standards are higher and there is no mixing with women.

Nonetheless, the vast majority of young yeshiva student continue to receive exemptions without recourse, a situation widely deemed untenable given that the Haredi community is expected to double its numbers in the next decade. The Supreme Court ruled that “the wholesale exemption of yeshiva students from military service, authorized by the defense minister, did not conform with basic constitutional standards of equality”.

Read More