Wednesday 02 December 2020

Europe’s Jewish population is as low as it was 1,000 years ago — and declining

Europe Lost Nearly 60 Percent of Its Jewish Population in Past Half Century, New Study Shows

Report by London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research finds that Europe accounts for same percentage of worldwide Jews today as it did nearly 1,000 years ago, Israeli daily Haaretz reported.


An estimated 1.3 million Jews currently live in Europe, where they account for barely one-tenth of a percent of the total population. Their share in the global Jewish population is just under 10 percent  – more or less what it was close to 1,000 years ago, yet down from a peak of nearly 90 percent a century and a half ago. In the last half century, Europe lost nearly 60 percent of its Jewish population, and two out of every three European Jews live today in either France, the United Kingdom or Germany.


These are some of the key findings of a detailed report on Jewish population estimates and trends, published Thursday by the London-based Institute for Jewish Policy Research. The report was penned by Sergio DellaPergola – the world’s leading authority on Jewish demography and a professor emeritus at the Hebrew University, where he chaired the Avraham Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry – and Daniel Staetsky, director of the European Jewish Demography Unit at JPR. The 88-page report, which draws on numerous communal, national and pan-European data sources, some previously never used, offers the most in-depth and comprehensive survey of European Jewry in nearly a century, according to its authors.


Addressing its significance, JPR Executive Director Jonathan Boyd said: “It provides essential demographic information and context for anyone concerned with the past, present or future of Jews across Europe and is likely to be an essential reference source for many years to come.”


As of January 1, 2020, according to the report, a total of 1,329,400 Jews lived in Europe. This figure refers to the “core Jewish population” – individuals who identify as Jewish and affiliate with no other religion. It broadly overlaps with halakhic Jews, individuals born to Jewish mothers or converted by Orthodox rabbis. Of these, 788,800 lived in one of the 27 EU countries; 210,000 lived in one of the four European republics of the Former Soviet Union (not including the Baltic republics already included in the EU); and 330,200 lived in one of 19 other countries or territories in Europe, with Jews in the United Kingdom accounting for close to 90 percent of this latter group.


The definition of Europe used in the report includes two countries sometimes classified as part of Asia. One is Cyprus, which is a member of the EU, and the other is Turkey, where a large majority of the Jewish population lives on the European side. Jews who live in the Asian parts of Russia are also included in the population estimates.



Here are the key highlights of the report, titled “Jews in Europe at the Turn of the Millennium”:


In 1880, at their peak, European Jews, located predominantly in the eastern part of the Continent, accounted for 88 percent of world Jewry. Even after the large wave of emigration to the Americas, Jews in Europe were still a majority in the early part of the 20th century: In 1939, just before the Holocaust, about 58 percent of the world’s Jews lived in Europe (overwhelmingly in Eastern Europe). European Jews today account for just under 10 percent of the world total, or, as the report notes, “about the same as it was at the time of the first Jewish global population account conducted by Benjamin of Tudela, a Jewish medieval traveler, in 1170.”


Europe lost 59 percent of its Jewish population between 1970 and 2020. This reflected a moderate 9 percent decline in Western Europe but a dramatic 85 percent drop in Eastern Europe. This sharp downturn was mostly a result of the fall of the Iron Curtain, which prompted a massive wave of emigration from the former Soviet bloc countries. In Western Europe, the most significant decline, estimated at 25 percent, was in the Jewish population of the United Kingdom. Over this 50-year period, France replaced Russia as the European country with the largest Jewish population.


France has the largest Jewish population in Europe (448,000), followed by the United Kingdom (292,000), Russia (155,000), Germany (118,000), Hungary (47,200), Ukraine (45,000), the Netherlands (29,800), Belgium (29,000), Italy (27,300), Switzerland (18,500), Sweden (15,000), Turkey (14,600) and Belarus (12,900). Each of the other countries and territories in Europe have Jewish populations of less than 10,000.


Spain and Germany lead the list of communities with the largest percentage of Jewish immigrants: Nearly 60 percent of the Jews in Spain and over half the Jews in Germany were born outside these countries. The authors of the report note “the irony inherent in the demographic revival through migration of the two locations whose names in Hebrew – Sepharad and Ashkenaz, respectively – have been used to define the historical ethno-cultural typology of the origins of Diaspora Jewish communities.” Germany is the country whose Jewish community has grown most since the 1990s, thanks to a large inflow of Jews from the former Soviet Union. The much smaller Jewish community of Spain has drawn immigrants from the former Spanish Morocco, and more recently from Latin America and, to a lesser extent, Israel.



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