Orthodox synagogue membership stable

The decline in synagogue membership in the UK has slowed down significantly over the past five years, according to a new survey.

The number of Jewish households which belong to a synagogue fell by just 0.3 per cent since 2005 - compared to an overall drop of 16.8 per cent over the two decades from 1990 to 2010.

But the slowdown is mainly due to the growth of the strictly Orthodox communities, say the authors of the report, jointly published by the Board of Deputies and the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR).

The figures demonstrate the growing diversification of British Jewry, with the Charedim more than doubling their membership share from 4.5 per cent in 1990 to 10.9 per cent in 2010, while the non-Orthodox rose from 25.9 per cent to 30.8 per cent.

By contrast, the central Orthodox and the Sephardim dropped from 69.6 per cent to 58.2 per cent.

Authors David Graham and Daniel Vulkan comment that the "most likely explanation" for a fall of less than one per cent, is "not that shul membership is becoming more popular in general, but rather that this is a result of rapid population growth in the strictly Orthodox strand, accompanied by universal synagogue affiliation within this group".

Overall, they calculate that nearly three-quarters of British Jews belong to a synagogue. They produce this figure by comparing the numbers collected by their survey of households which belong to a synagogue with the 2001 Census figures of households with a Jewish head.

In the past five years, the strictly Orthodox rose by 18.1 per cent, Masorti by 14.8 per cent and the Liberals by 6.7 per cent, while the central Orthodox fell by 4.3 per cent, the Reform by 3.6 per cent and the Sephardim by 3 per cent.

Between 1990 and 2010, only two groups grew, the strictly Orthodox by 101.6 per cent and Masorti - the smallest synagogue grouping - by 85.1 per cent.

All other groups shed members: central Orthodox were down by 31.4 per cent; Reform by 4.2 per cent; Liberals by 7.6 per cent and Sephardim by 9.5 per cent.

The authors say that the fact that Jews outside the Charedi community are marrying later and having fewer children than previous generations may have hit synagogue membership. "Intermarriage also impacts on decisions about joining, raising the question as to whether non-Jewish partners are welcomed by communities. The rise of more individualistic approaches to life and sceptical attitudes about the role of organised religion in society also play their part."

Synagogues in Broughton Park in Manchester and Hertsmere have more than doubled their membership in two decades, while Stamford Hill and Hillingdon in London are up by 98 per cent and 84 per cent respectively.

By contrast, there have been steep falls in Glasgow and inner London boroughs such as Tower Hamlets and Lambeth. The three largest synagogues in the country with more than 1,500 members apiece are Edgware and District Reform, Stanmore and Canons Park United and West London Reform.

    Last updated: 2:48pm, May 21 2010