Steep rise in Jews marrying out as the number of Zionists drops says new survey

Those with the strongest attachment to Israel also have the strongest British identity, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research found


GLASGOW, SCOTLAND - OCTOBER 11: Members of the Jewish community in Glasgow gather in Buchanan Street where they held a vigil in memory of the those killed in Israel by Hamas militants, on October 11, 2023 in Glasgow, Scotland. More than 1,200 people were killed in Israel on Saturday when Hamas militants invaded from Gaza and attacked Israeli communities nearby, coupled with a barrage of rockets. The attack spurred an intense bombing campaign by Israel across the Gaza Strip, where hundreds have died, according to Palestinian authorities. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The most comprehensive survey of UK Jewry has uncovered rising rates of intermarriage, growing concern about antisemitism and a drop in identification with Zionism.

British Jews overall feel more Jewish than British – although those with the strongest attachment to Israel also have the strongest British identity, the Institute for Jewish Policy Research found.

Just over a third – 34 per cent – profess belief in the personal God of the Bible and a further 41 per cent in a “higher power” but the proportion of atheists (25 per cent) is only half of that of the British population as a whole (49 per cent).

Fewer than a fifth of British Jews (18 per cent) accept the Orthodox doctrine that the Torah is the actual word of God, with nearly a half (47 per cent) believing it is a human composition and a third (35 per cent) that it is divinely inspired.

The findings, published this week in a 120-page report, Jews in the UK Today, was based on a sample of nearly 4,900 Jews aged 16 or over who were surveyed in December 2022.

JPR acknowledges that the “barbaric” Hamas attack of October 7 would be “highly likely” to have had an on attitudes towards Israel since.

While collectively the intermarriage rate is 18 per cent, it has shot up over the past decade with over one in three Jews who got married between 2010 and 2022 having a non-Jewish spouse – 34 per cent – compared to 24 per cent for the previous decade.

Intermarried Jews are far more “weakly connected” to Jewish life, JPR reports, being “far less likely” than Jewish couples to belong to a synagogue, only eat kosher meat outside the home or donate to Jewish charities.

While nearly three-quarters of UK Jews (73 per cent) feel attachment to Israel, according to the survey, one striking finding is the drop in those who say they are Zionists, down from 72 per cent when the question was last asked in 2010 to 63 per cent.

Pro-Zionist identification is “relatively low” compared to similar countries such as South Africa and Australia, where it was 69 per cent a few years ago, JPR says.

Whereas nearly four in five UK Jews in their fifties (78 per cent) identify as Zionist, the figure fell to only 57 per cent for twentysomethings.

Almost a third of Jews reported they had experienced an antisemitic incident in the previous year (32 per cent) – 14 per cent a verbal attack and 11 per cent online abuse or harassment; under one per cent had suffered a physical assault. Younger Jews are more likely to have experienced an antisemitic incident than their elders.

Concern about antisemitism is evident from a list of Jewish priorities; the percentage of those who cited it as “very important” rose from 54 per cent in the last JPR survey in 2013 to 64 per cent. Significantly more respondents thought remembering the Holocaust “very important”, up from 60 per cent in 2013 to 71 per cent. There were “more modest increases” for those who attached great importance to a sense of Jewish peoplehood and sharing festivals with family, JPR reported.

Belief in God wanes as greater numbers identify as ‘ethnically’ Jewish

British Jews may be more religiously traditional than US Jews but their belief is weaker.

Whereas 84 per cent of US Jews believe in the God of the Bible or, more vaguely, some higher power, only 75 per cent of their British co-religionists do.

Fewer than half of British Jews – 46 per cent – think praying to God can help overcome personal problems, while 39 per cent do not. However, fewer believe that the universe came by chance – 33 per cent – than those who think it did not – 42 per cent.

Conservative Party supporters are far more likely to believe in God and the divine origins of the Torah than Labour backers, Liberals and Greens.

The strength of ethnic over religious Jewish identity is clear from the fact that 69 per cent of UK Jews do not think belief in God is central to being a good Jew.

Younger Jews are “notably more likely than their elders to maintain that belief in God is not central to being a good Jew,” JPR reports. The religious make-up of the community has remained largely stable over the past decade – according to people’s self-definition. The largest camp is the traditional, which has grown from 24 per cent to 28 per cent since 2013. The religious right, composed of Orthodox and Charedi — Orthodox being defined as not switching on a light on Shabbat and not by synagogue membership — has held stable at 19 per cent.

Progressives have increased their religious market share from 16 per cent to 18 per cent.

But the most significant drop is among the secular, from 29 per cent in 2013 to 20 per cent. Those who feel “just Jewish” without any denominational leaning have risen from 10 per cent to 14 per cent.​

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