Intermarriage increase stands out as community travels on twin tracks

A new JPR survey has found we’re getting marrying out more and getting less attached to Israel


A ultra-Orthodox Jew walks past a synagogue in north London on October 13, 2023. The UK government announced Thursday £3 million ($3.7 million) of extra funding to help protect the Jewish community from anti-Semitic attacks, after a reported 400 percent spike in incidents since Hamas's weekend attacks in Israel. (Photo by Daniel LEAL / AFP) (Photo by DANIEL LEAL/AFP via Getty Images)

February 08, 2024 06:00

JPR’s once-in-a-decade survey provides an unparallelled insight into the character and composition of the world’s fifth largest Jewry.

Its findings suggest we continue to be on course to being a twin-track community: with, on the one hand, a growing strictly-Orthodox population staunch in its commitment to its traditional way of life and on the other, a broader range of groups that are becoming more diverse and whose identity is generally more ethnic or cultural than religious.

Probably the statistic that is likely to be most talked about around the kiddush tables this weekend is the sharp rise in intermarriage rates. JPR’s previous survey in 2013 reported a slowdown in the rate but it now has climbed from 24 per cent for those marrying in the first decade of the century to 34 per cent in the second: and now it is double that of the 17 per cent for the 1990s.

We may not have reached the American rate of over 60 per cent – but we may be on our way.

Jewish women in Britain are more likely to have a non-Jewish partner (21 per cent) than men (14 per cent), a reflection perhaps that they know the Jewish status of their children will remain unaffected.

JPR’s unsurprising observation that mixed-faith families are likely to be less connected to the community – at least from typical religious markers – than all-Jewish households will reinforce the fears of those who regard intermarriage as a threat to the continuity and cohesion of the Jewish community.

Some will argue that we should be redoubling efforts to reach out to mixed couples to make them feel welcome and try to encourage them to raise their children Jewish. But whatever happens, our notion of community may have be changing as more people who were not born Jewish potentially become associated with it.

Whereas marrying outside the faith was almost universally seen as a red line, opposition has waned. When asked if marrying another Jew was important in the latest survey, 62 per cent said yes – slightly less than the 65 per cent in 2013.

If opening more Jewish schools was regarded as one way to reduce intermarriage, the latest figures do not suggest that has had a great impact – although one could argue that without them, the rate would be higher.

Whereas British Jews generally remain attached to Israel, the decline in those willing to call themselves Zionist may leave some shaking their heads.

The drop could reflect a dissociation with Israel that is apparent among the young.

JPR notes that views about Israel may have changed post-October 7 and in the coming year it will no doubt poll the community to see what effect the recent terrible events have had.

The most revealing finding may well be the low levels of belief in a personal God and in the divinity of the Torah, which underpin traditional Jewish faith. The figures on the origins of the Torah echo those from the first big JPR survey of 1995 (in fact, the new one shows slightly higher levels of religious belief on this question).

There remains a significant mismatch in belief between the religious leadership of central Orthodoxy, which institutionally remains a dominant force in terms of mainstream synagogues and schools, and many of those who affiliate to it. Even among those who are strictly observant but not Charedi, one in five does not believe in a personal God and more than two out of five do not think the Torah is literally the word of God.

Perhaps many British Jews have found a way happily to muddle along without caring too much about the official doctrines of the synagogues they belong to. Or could new religious thinking be needed in future to close the gap between practice and belief.

February 08, 2024 06:00

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