Much of the postwar decline has been a result of emigration to Israel, which declared its independence as a Jewish state in The Jewish population of Israel has grown from about half a million in to 5. But there are other possible factors in the decline of European Jewry, including intermarriage and cultural assimilation.
In addition, Jewish populations have not decreased uniformly in every European country. For example, we estimate that there were about as many Jews in France as of , as DellaPergola estimates there were in , , although recent reports have indicated a surge in Jewish emigration from France. But a new report released this week found a record level of anti-Semitism in the U.
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All three of the Obermayers' married daughters have chosen husbands from outside the Jewish community. Herman Obermayer shrugs his shoulders. If your children decided to marry non-Jews, what were you going to do about it? The sense of dismay is patent, and the statistics certainly look ominous.
In America, six out of 10 Jews are marrying out. In Britain, according to Rabbi Charles Middleburgh, the leader of the Jewish Liberal community, it is as many as two thirds. The consequences for the future of the community in both countries are dire. In the next generation, a mere six per cent identify themselves as Jewish.
So, in just two generations, you've eliminated the Jewish line. Instead of persecuting the Jews, which only served to perpetuate Jewish identity, what they should have done was to embrace us. Once, Jews who married out were severely stigmatised. Now, they don't even object. Ruth Bader Ginsburg, one of the US Supreme Court justices, told me that she wasn't at all disappointed that her daughter had married a Catholic. He was a fine young man, whereas the first Jewish boy she had been out with was "unbearable".
Her grandchildren are not being brought up in either religion, but know about both. Jewish religious leaders across the world are appalled by what is happening. To the Chief Rabbi, Jonathan Sacks, the rate of marrying out spells "massive demographic devastation and confusion". In Britain, the Jewish community has fallen from , in the Fifties to , today. In America, where the birth rate among all Jews is the lowest of any ethnic community, Jews now make up only two per cent of the population, half what it was 40 years ago. The pessimists, what is more, believe there is worse to come.
Leo Kramer, a Washington businessman, forecasts that the number of Jews in America will be halved within the next 25 years. Gertrude Himmelfarb, one of America's leading social historians, believes that what she calls "the frenzy of inter-marriage" will produce "a point of diminishing returns, where you no longer have a critical mass of Jews - that's to say, enough people to reinforce your own convictions.
At that point, the saving remnant will not save any more. To religious Jews, this entire crisis is the result of a laxity in observance, a failure to take Judaism seriously. There is no doubt that, in the years after the war, a great many British and American Jews were only too ready to dump religious practices that not only made no particular sense to them but also set them apart from the Gentile community.
They wanted to be both accepted and successful. Nor was that surprising. Even after the horrors of the Holocaust, they were still subjected to overt discrimination. In Britain, Jews were often excluded from all manner of clubs and treated with disdain, particularly by the landed classes. In America, discrimination was far worse. Herman Obermayer remembers his family turning up in torrential rain at a motel in Maine where they had made a reservation, only to be turned away for being Jewish. Jewish students had the same humiliating experience.
He didn't even ask me to sit down. So I took my application form, tore it up and threw it in his face. A good many American Jews, however, did not stand on their dignity in the same way.
In order to get on, they imitated Gentile customs and neglected religious observance. Kosher went out of the window. There were Christmas trees and presents. Reform synagogues in Britain installed organs and imported choirs, on the Christian pattern.
In some American synagogues, worshippers were asked to take off their yarmulkes, the skullcaps Jews wear to show respect to God. They didn't want to be different.
Rabbi Jonathan Gutentag, who leads a synagogue in nearby Whitefields, puts it down to "a sense of urgency to replenish the community after the Holocaust". Hudson Institute. Iain Murray says of Charles Simeon that "the conversion of the Jews was perhaps the warmest interest in his life", and that he would choose the conversion of 6 million Jews over the conversion of million Gentiles, since the former would lead to the latter. Despite this first diplomatic victory for political Zionism, by the end of the war the majority of Jews found themselves confronting hatred and trouble. The dialogue is pitch perfect. Banner of Truth Trust. In the northern suburbs of Manchester, 10 children are not unusual and 15 not unknown.
In fact, they were worried about being different because, at that time, a lot of baggage came with it. So their religion was watered down until there was very little religion or tradition in it. It was a very sanitised version of Judaism. They ought not, perhaps, to have been surprised when their children married non-Jews. It nevertheless came as a considerable blow in a culture where family means so much, because the home had always been the Jews' first citadel of defence during all the centuries when they were huddled together in ghettos.
Hence their intense preoccupation with children and the hyper-caring Jewish mother. Strict beliefs: Michael and Diana Epstein. She'd have moved into the dorm if she could have done. When I was home from college, she even used to peel my grapes for me! The comedian Joan Rivers readily admits that she conforms to the stereotype. I felt really sorry for her, because I was second-guessing her all the time. I wanted to know where the baby's room was going to be located and whether it would be good enough.
I told her not to hire a baby nurse until I'd met the woman myself; I wanted to consult with the anaesthetist and so on. I don't want her to say: 'Oh God, it's my mother again! It is easy to understand the distress and disappointment that a mixed marriage can provoke. Will the Gentile son-in-law's family even come to the wedding? If the children are going to be raised Jewish, will his parents turn up for the obligatory two-family gathering to watch the bris, the circumcision of any male grandchildren?
Will those grandchildren be baptised or bar-mitzvahed, or both? I said: 'If it's a boy, let's do both - let's have a bris and a baptism. He's not going to say: 'What? You've done both? In some cases, the feuds and the brooding silences can go on for half a lifetime. Lurking anti-Semitism on one side, near-incurable resentment on the other.
Not all those whose children have married out are as content as the judicious Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
The sense of crisis in both Britain and America is so profound that a minority of Jews have rebelled against what they perceive as the wishy-washiness of the parental generation. Some were afraid that their community could simply wither away and, as Rabbi Lionel Blue, the radio celebrity, remarks, "Jewish people become more observant when they feel insecure.
Orthodox Jews make up only per cent of the Jewish community in America, compared with per cent in Britain. The differences between the Orthodox version of Judaism and its Reform, Liberal and Conservative varieties, which account for most of the rest, are enormous. We in the Liberal and Reform communities, on the other hand, think it is a human and not a divine document.
The Orthodox have no choice but to conform to everything in those books, whereas we think Jews should study them and then do what their educated and enlightened consciences tell them to do. That is only the most important of a vast range of differences. In Orthodox synagogues, men and women sit separately, with a mehitza, or barrier, between them; the rest worship together.
Reform Judaism, which in America accounts for 45 per cent of synagogue-goers, has women rabbis, whereas Orthodox rabbis are invariably men. Orthodox Jews are strictly forbidden to marry out; in American Reform synagogues, as many as a third of the families now include a non-Jewish parent. For the Orthodox to be Jewish, you must either have a Jewish mother or one who has gone through an Orthodox conversion. Reform rabbis in America, by contrast, regard any child as Jewish providing it has a Jewish father committed to raising it according to Jewish law.
Ultra Orthodox Jews believe the same as their Orthodox brethren, but keep themselves to themselves rather than integrate with the general community. In Israel, there are whole towns that are virtually per cent Ultra, and parts of Manchester and London have a very high proportion. Ultra men invariably wear black hats and clothes and normally sport beards and ringlets, following the Biblical injunction not to use a knife on the face.
Orthodox and Ultra Orthodox have one other thing in common - large, sometimes huge, families. In the northern suburbs of Manchester, 10 children are not unusual and 15 not unknown. I have never seen so many prams and so many flocks of tiny children around one mother.
It is not surprising that the Ultra Orthodox schools in the area are bursting. It is the same in parts of New York and in Israel, where Orthodox girls often marry at 18 and have four or five children by the time they are The writer Jonathan Rosenblum and his wife, Judith, who live in a Jerusalem suburb, have six children but, in their small apartment block, there are three families who have 29 between them.
There is an almost frantic urgency about the rate of procreation, as if there will be no tomorrow for Judaism unless vast families are produced. Sherry Ashworth, a novelist who lives in an Orthodox enclave of Manchester but is not herself Orthodox, says, "They have lots of kids partly because they feel the need to keep the community going, partly because they have a sense of insecurity if they don't.
Rabbi Jonathan Gutentag, who leads a synagogue in nearby Whitefields, puts it down to "a sense of urgency to replenish the community after the Holocaust". At the wedding of Conservative Jews, who are not so fussed about pre-marital sex, the bride is pregnant. At a Reform wedding, the rabbi is pregnant. To a Gentile, Orthodox Jews can seem remarkably pernickety about what they can and cannot do on the Sabbath.
Judith said she had bought some very nice umbrellas in Finchley to give to the guests at her daughter's bat-mitzvah. She would have loved to show me one, she added, but couldn't because Jews were not permitted to use an umbrella on the Sabbath - and, if she even touched it, that might be construed as using it. Opening an umbrella, it seems, is in some way analogous to putting up a tent and that would constitute working on the Sabbath.
It seemed to me a very mild kind of transgression, but then Judith is a very observant Jew. In the area of dietary regulation, said David Rosen, some Orthodox Jews could become totally obsessive about tiny things that had nothing to do with either rabbinic or Mosaic law. One of his favourite jokes pokes fun at such people. But the rabbi asks: 'Who is the shomer rabbinic supervisor for the food? Ken Weinstein, who is 36 and runs the Hudson Institute, a think tank in Washington, is typical of the Orthodox renaissance among young, professional Americans. Once highly unobservant, he has now gone to the other extreme.
He and his wife, Amy, keep a strictly kosher home and Amy leads a group of women who are studying the Bible, line by line. The dramatic change in his life, Weinstein says, was due partly to an awareness that Jewish communities were simply disappearing in many parts of small-town America - "a disaster that gets worse and worse" - and partly because he discovered how intellectually satisfying Judaism is. But, to see how far newly minted Orthodox religious zeal can go, it is instructive to visit Michael and Diana Epstein, a couple in their forties who have a palace of a home, 22, square feet of it, in a suburb of Washington.
Diana describes it as merely "a very nice, big box". She began as a relatively unobservant Reform Jew, but soon came to feel that "when you start making exceptions to Torah law, you're on a very slippery slope".