Alderman should face facts

The JPR’s statistics have been manipulated to minimise the size of the Orthodox community

June 24, 2010 11:48

I was surprised to learn in last week's JC that I had managed to shock Professor Geoffrey Alderman with my comments on the Jewish Policy Research (JPR) report 'Synagogue membership in the UK in 2010'. The learned professor was concerned that I misunderstood the numbers involved and, in fact, phoned me to discuss the article so I could furnish him with the evidence on which my comments are based.

Despite Alderman's effort to portray me as mathematically inept, this is not the case. First, I would like to make it clear that I am in no way casting aspersions on the validity of the JPR's figures; their statistics are grounded and robust. However, they are just that - statistics. It is possible to manipulate the same set of statistics to create several different spins on a situation. It is with the analysis of the figures that I take issue.

The report looks at the number of heads of households belonging to each religious denomination, using this to give the percentage of the Anglo-Jewish community within that denomination. However, this method does not take into account the demography of each denomination.

It is a known fact that Charedim tend to have large families. A report published by Hackney Council in 2008 shows that the Charedi population in Hackney, which includes Stamford Hill, has an average of 6.3 people per household, compared to 2.3 in Hackney as a whole (or the national figure of 2.37 for that same year). It therefore seems reasonable to acknowledge this when calculating the percentage of the community. The Charedi community is 'bottom heavy' - it is a young and growing community. The Board of Deputies' own statistics have shown that the Reform and Liberal communities are aging and not replenishing themselves. The numbers at the two ends of the religious spectrum are moving in opposite directions.

By minimising these facts, I feel the JPR is doing the community a disservice. It would follow that in order to obtain an accurate insight into the actual numbers of each community, one would have to multiply the JPR figure by the estimated household number - so, the Charedi figure should be multiplied by six, and the figures for the Reforms and Liberals by 2.3 (although the demographics of their aging communities would make this a generous assumption). This would leave us with a total of 54,294 Charedim versus 53,640 Reforms and Liberals.

Reform and Liberal communities are aging, not replenishing

A previous report published by the JPR (2000), 'Community of Communities', suggested that the existing representative establishment of Anglo-Jewry, namely the Chief Rabbi and the Board of Deputies, was 'unrepresentative and ineffectual'. It is this bias that led me to make the assumptions I did with regard to the motives of the JPR.

Ten years on, Winston Pickett, who oversaw the aforementioned report, writes in the Jerusalem Post on Meir Persoff's new book about the Chief Rabbi. In the article, he quotes from the JPR report the need for an "independent, cross-communal coordinating structure" to represent British Jews on religious and secular matters.

The current Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks, fulfils this position admirably. He is recognised as an excellent ambassador for the Jewish community, even amongst the so-called 'ultra-Orthodox'. The recent cross-communal outpouring of respect and affection following the passing of former Chief Rebbetzin Lady Jakobovits showed not only the esteem in which she was held as Anglo-Jewry's first lady and as a remarkable individual, but also the need and desire for a single figure to represent the community to the outside world and be accessible to the entire community.

The JPR put forward their figures as raw data, with no commentary. It is their stated aim for "JPR-produced data to engender serious policy conversations … across the community … and for those conversations … to generate intelligent, thoughtful and effective policy." They have certainly achieved the first aim - over to you for the second, Professor Alderman.

June 24, 2010 11:48

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