How UK Jews do Judaism today

Further insights from JPR’s new National Jewish Identity Survey


Celebrating Purim in Hackney - Charedim are the most emotionally attached to Israel, according to the new survey ()Getty Images)

When the figure flashed up that just a third of UK Jews believe in God “as described in the Bible”, a member of the audience at the launch of the National Jewish Identity Survey Jewry at JW3 last week exclaimed, “That’s a lot”. No doubt the reaction would have been different if the venue had been in Stamford Hill.

Interpretations of the survey, conducted by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR), will vary across the community. Looking at rising intermarriage and low rates of traditional belief elsewhere, Charedim may well feel even more convinced about maintaining their spiritual fences.

Whatever else, British Jewry is not static. It is moving in two different directions. The proportion of Charedim/Orthodox — Orthodox defined as strictly Shabbat observant and not simply members of Orthodox shuls — remains the same as it was a decade ago at 19 per cent, but the Charedi component has edged up from 6 to 7 per cent. As the Charedi population expands, so that will shift part of the community rightwards.

But at the same time there is also a religious swing to the left. Excluding the Charedi population, elsewhere roughly six in ten Jews remain in the religious group in which they grew up. But for every one that goes religiously to the right, almost three go left: that is true of the Orthodox, traditional and Progressive camps. At the launch JPR executive director Jonathan Boyd suggested that this was most likely due to the secular British climate.

Meanwhile the “Just Jewish”/secular wing has dropped from 39 per cent at the time of the last survey in 2013 to 34 per cent in 2022 (when the NCIS data was collected).

The pandemic has had a negative effect in that involvement with the community has dropped

What is apparent that most of us still hug our Jewish identity close. When correspondents were asked to rate its strength on a scale of 0 to 10, the average score was 8.3, compared with 6.9 for British identity. For only a few, assimilation appears a conscious choice —though, of course, some will drift out of Jewish orbit.

A number of practices continue to enjoy widespread currency. Over 80 per cent sit down to a Seder or light Chanukah all or most years, nearly two thirds, 63 per cent, fast on Yom Kippur and 61 per cent have a Friday night dinner most weeks.

Nearly three-quarters followed a service on Rosh Hashanah, 57 per cent in person and 15 per cent online. The growth of virtual Judaism accelerated during lockdown and in 2022 — when JPR did its research — some may still have been reluctant to mix physically with others in a building.

For some living far away from a Jewish centre, a digital service enabled them to join with their co-religionists to hear the shofar. During lockdown, some members of one shul may have hopped around and found services in other places more to their liking than their local. And, of course, the choice nowadays may not be just local, you can tune into a non-Orthodox service abroad (although it may be in a different time zone).

However, the pandemic has had a negative effect in that overall involvement with the community dropped from 67 per cent high or moderate engagement pre-Covid to 62 per cent in 2022.

It is unsurprising that when people were asked to rank their priorities, remembering the Holocaust, ethical behaviour, combating antisemitism and feeling part of the Jewish people came out top, while more religious aspects like belief in God or kashrut close to the bottom. With still a large pool of secular/cultural Jews, religious activity is less likely to be shared in common.

More than 80 per cent rated social justice as important

Although social justice was only mid-way in terms of “very important,” it still attracted more than 80 per cent in overall importance and was slightly up (by three per cent) on 2013, a reflection perhaps of the influence of the call to tikkun olam (“trying to make the world better”), an example of how a classical concept has undergone evolution in modern Judaism.

And although studying Jewish texts was the lowest ranked priority in both 2013 and 2022, on a half-glass full approach, 41 per cent — a significant minority — did attach some importance to it, which increased from 2013. Is that simply due to the growth of the Charedim or could other adult education initiatives have encouraged students?

While 40 per cent attended a public lecture on a Jewish topic during the year, Torah lessons drew 27 per cent. But whereas the vast majority of Charedim/Orthodox took part in a religious learning activity, the figure for traditionals and Progressives was much lower at 22 per cent — interestingly both at the same level, while Progressives recorded a higher rate of studying at home, 15 per cent, than traditionals, 7 per cent.

The survey did throw light on some scope for educational outreach: one in six who did not attend synagogue reported that they felt they did not know enough to participate.

Whereas nearly half, 48 per cent, bought a book of Jewish history, fiction or another secular subject during the year, 26 per cent bought a prayer or religious book. The gap between secular and religious reading is noticeable, though many people would only buy a prayer book once in a while to replace an old, worn copy.

In some areas, the impact of religious differences is stark. While intermarriage is non-existent among Charedim and Orthodox and negligible among the traditional group — six per cent compared with 39 per cent in Jewish marriages — it is far higher the further left you go. Among “Just Jewish” Jews the proportion is 19 per cent intermarried to 11 per cent in Jewish couples; 20 per cent to 16 per cent for Progressives: and 48 per cent to 11 per cent for seculars.

When it comes to emotional attachment to Israel, the Charedim and Orthodox feel the most strongly connected, with both at 92 per cent, and the traditionals not far behind at 86 per cent; but the figure drops to 65 per cent for Progressives and 52 per cent for secular.

But there is one figure that might represent a call for action. When asked about personal happiness, those who were strongly attached to a Jewish community felt 7.7 on a scale of 0 to 10, while those not at all attached 6.4.

So communities might think of what they could do to reach more Jews who are otherwise unengaged ​​​​​​with them.

For the new podcast series discussing the survey, Jews Do Count, see

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