The latest set of vital statistics for British Jewry is again “a tale of two communities” — the strictly Orthodox gaining in strength while the rest of the population declines.
For a couple of decades or more, there were far more recorded deaths than births. But over the past two years, there have been 1,000 more annual births than deaths, largely due to the rise of the Charedim.
To understand the overall picture take a closer look at the marriage statistics: in 1992, there were 1,029 Jewish weddings and 20 years later, 857.
But the religious breakdown is entirely different. Twenty years ago, the strictly Orthodox proportion accounted for just 16 per cent of marriages: last year it was 34 per cent.
Over the same period, marriages among the central Orthodox such as the United Synagogue and Spanish and Portuguese fell from 61 per cent to under a half — 47 per cent. The Reform and Liberals slumped from 21 per cent to 14 per cent, while the Masorti rose from two per cent to four per cent.
Unless large numbers of Charedim start to defect to the modern Orthodox or further left, the further decline of middle Jewry looks inevitable.
Interestingly, the figures for the first time record that the London Beth Din certified 150 Jews for marriage in Israel and elsewhere – some of whom at least will return to live here. They do not show up in the UK marriage total.
But what we do not know is the number of secular Jews marrying in civil ceremonies or in interfaith mixed-blessing ceremonies with a rabbi present. Or the number of gay or lesbian Jewish couples. Or the number of Jews who remain single for whatever reason.
Perhaps outreach initiatives by the Progressive movements will pay off one day, with more mixed couples opting to become active members of the Jewish community. But the statistics still look grim for the Reform and Liberals, who between them have been recording only 100-120 marriages a year annually in recent years.
What we also do not know is the number of Jewish babies missing from the statistics, as circumcisions not conducted by a mohel are not recorded. If the trend towards secularism continues, this could account for a growing proportion in years to come.