What baby boom? Board disputes birth statistics for UK Jews

By Leon Symons, May 22, 2008

A claim by a University of Manchester researcher that Britain’s Jewish population is growing for the first time since the Second World War has been questioned by the Board of Deputies.

Yaakov Wise, of the University’s Jewish-studies department, claimed that the population was 275,000 in 2005, but had increased to 280,000 by 2008. He said the main factor was the steady increase in births in the strictly Orthodox community.

Charedi families "reversing a trend"

These had been calculated from annual records completed in December 2007 and showed, he claimed, that secular Jewish women had on average 1.65 children whereas Charedi women were having on average 6.9 children, and in some areas even more.

Dr Wise said: “Though Britain’s Jewish population is the fifth largest in the world, it has declined by 40 per cent, from over 450,000 in 1950 to only 280,000 today.

“The high birth rate of ultra-Orthodox Jews is now reversing this trend and that will have a major impact on the Jewish community in the years to come. The birth rate has exceeded the mortality rate for the first time since the war in each year since 2005.”

Dr Wise admitted that the majority of his research was based on the Charedi community in Manchester, while he “kept an eye on” the communities in London and Gateshead.

But David Graham, demographer at the Board of Deputies and co-author of Jews in Britain: A Snapshot from the 2001 Census (2007), said: “There is no evidence to show that the total number of Jews in the UK is on the rise. The data shows that the population is flattening out after a prolonged period of demographic contraction. This suggests the possibility of growth occurring in the future; however, it is premature to conclude that this has already begun.”

Dr Wise countered, saying that the Board’s figures were “skewed unwittingly towards the Progressive end of the market” as there was better administration of synagogue membership.

“They are much more able to provide these types of figures,” he added.

Last updated: 9:49am, May 29 2008