Half of Britain’s Jews will soon be Haredi (strictly Orthodox), according to a study of the UK’s Jewish communities.
Accelerating birth rates among the strictly observing religious Jewish communities mean strictly Orthodox Jews are expected “to constitute a majority of the British Jewish population before the 21st century is over,” a report from the Institute for Jewish Policy Research says.
If high Haredi birth rates continue, 50 per cent of Jewish children and around 30 per cent of young Jewish adults in the UK will be strictly Orthodox by 2031, the report says.
The report says Orthodox Jewish leaders should take note of the population boom. “The demographic dynamic of this community is conducive to the outbreak of social unrest,” it states, warning of an urgent need for job opportunities. Without these, “the probability [is] that youth will engage in antisocial activities, experience high levels of disillusionment, or abandon the strictly Orthodox lifestyle altogether.”
Haredi communities, or “black hatters” as they have been called, are widely perceived to be deeply conservative and insular – and, some would argue, religiously extreme. The UK, which has Europe’s largest Haredi populations, has large Orthodox communities in north London, Salford and Gateshead.
Its members are accused of shunning many of the trappings of modern life, including television and the internet. An insistence on a predominantly religious education at the expense of more secular studies has resulted in high unemployment rates and benefit dependency, according to its critics.
The report’s authors, Daniel Staetsky and Jonathan Boyd, warn that Orthodox communities should incorporate “sound employment and professional training opportunities” into the strictly Orthodox lifestyle “for its very preservation”.
The Orthodox charity Interlink Foundation said the report was flawed and understated the size of the Haredi community, according to a report in The Jewish Chronicle. Its findings confirm that while mainstream Judaism in Britain is in decline, the Haredi community is expanding.
Since a high point shortly after the Second World War, Britain’s Jewish population has shrunk by almost a half. Tens of thousands of Jews have either married, or opted out of the faith while many more have emigrated to Israel.
Despite their impact in areas such as the legal and medical professions, science, culture and the arts, Britons professing themselves Jewish now number between 260,000 and 270,000 – approximately 0.5 per cent of the population.
Using 2011 census data and other surveys, the report’s authors say the Orthodox community is increasing by nearly 5 per cent a year while the wider, non-Haredi Jewish population is decreasing by 0.3 per cent. Haredi birth rates are more than three times the UK national rate.
The result, according to the report, Strictly Orthodox Rising, will be a high proportion of young people seeking employment and homes.
The growing population pressure in existing Orthodox communities is already posing problems. A spokesman for the Jewish Community Council said that many families were struggling to find suitable accommodation. Rising house prices combined with cuts to child tax credits and other benefits have hit the larger Haredi families hard. And strict religious demands mean it is difficult for Orthodox members to move house easily.
As a result, Haredi activists are examining the possibility of creating a new Orthodox community involving several thousand members in Hemel Hempstead, Hertfordshire, and Tilbury in Essex, as well as expanding sites in north London closer to the main grouping in Stamford Hill.
Experts say the report also poses awkward questions for the leaders of the UK’s Jews. Representative bodies such as the Board of Deputies and the Jewish Leadership Council do not include Haredi members.
Orthodox groups have instead created the Jewish Community Council and are forging strong links both with David Cameron and with Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London. Among the projects they have pursued are community protection in the face of growing anti-Semitism and taking kosher food and kosher vending machines into hospitals.
Rabbis Avraham Pinter and Herschel Gluck, leaders of the UK’s Haredi community, have become increasingly vocal. Earlier this year they supported calls for Britain to receive greater numbers of Syrian refugees.
Explainer: The strictly orthodox haredi people
Join our commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies