Sunday, 27 November 2016

We're used to Jewish commentators belittling the legitimate concerns of Europeans about being turned into ethnic minorities in their own communities by outsiders steeped in a primitive religion. But now "British" Jewry is beginning to feel threatened in a similar way.
Demographically, there are two British Jewish communities. There's the mainstream community, with an average age of 44 years, an average household size of 2.3, and a fertility rate of 2.0 children per woman. Then there's the Charedi community, which has an average age of 27 years, an average household size of at least 4.4, and a fertility rate of 7.0 children per woman. These demographic differences are driving a compositional change in the British Jewish community. Charedi Jews are rapidly becoming an ever larger part of the whole. 
At present, the split is about 80/20. But we expect to reach the point where a majority of British Jewish children will be born into Charedi families in about 15 years time. Already, as the new JPR/Board of Deputies report released last week shows, there are more Charedi children in Charedi schools than there are mainstream Jews in mainstream Jewish ones, something that first became the case about a decade ago. The demographic shift is happening, and even if we want to, there is little, if anything, we can do about it. 
But aren't people all the same, with only minor differences in their physical appearance or cultural idiosyncrasies having no practical significance? Apparently not.
Of course, the differences between the communities are not purely demographic. We pray in different types of synagogues, attend different schools, study in different academic institutions, and even care for our needy through different organisations. The truth is, we don't know one another 
And the truth is we don't know one another very well. Partly because of that, it is far from uncommon to hear rather pejorative language describing "them". Charedim are derided as extremists - religious dogmatists or freeloaders - whilst mainstream Jews are condemned as assimilationists - religious lightweights or destroyers of the faith.
There's an earthquake coming in the British Jewish community too. Some of the tremors can already be felt. The demographic figures predict it. The decline of the political and religious centre in favour of the Charedi and secular poles points to it. Even the recent tensions over partnership minyanim and greater gender equality within Orthodoxy may be predictive of it. When we look at "them", whoever they are, and start to feel contempt or even disgust, the warning bells start to ring.


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