UK synagogue membership at all-time low

Negative correlation found with rise of number of shuls.

July 5, 2017 07:54
2 minute read.
jews london

A Jewish man and boys in London. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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The UK is now home to the largest number of synagogues ever recorded in the country, but membership is at an all-time low, according to a report the Institute of Jewish Policy Research and the Board of Deputies of British Jews released on Wednesday.

The report found that despite the 454 synagogues that now exist in the UK, the number of household memberships in them has dropped below 80,000.

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In 2016, 79,597 Jewish households across the United Kingdom held synagogue memberships in 2016, down from 99,763 in 1990, a 20% decline over a quarter of a century.

The rate of decline has fluctuated over time, but membership has dropped by 4% since the last synagogue membership report was published in 2010, the report found.

According to the report, these findings are almost certainly a continuation of a downward trend in synagogue affiliation dating back to the 1950s.

Furthermore, the drop in memberships correlates with a drop in Jewish households, which according to the UK census, declined by 4.2% between 2001 and 2011.

“Strikingly, the synagogue membership counts recorded for 2001 and 2010 declined as well over that period (-5.2%), suggesting that a considerable proportion of the attrition observed in recent years may be due to demographic forces, as well as to a drop in levels of synagogue engagement,” the report read.

The largest denominational group remains “central Orthodox” – an amalgamation of synagogues affiliated with the United Synagogue, the Federation of Synagogues and other independent Modern Orthodox synagogues – yet its share of total membership has dropped to 53%, down from 66% in 1990.

The Reform and Liberal streams, at 19% and 8%, respectively, in 2016, are at the lowest levels seen since 1990.

Membership of Reform synagogues has declined by 8% since 1990, while the Liberal strand has seen a 16% drop.

The fastest growing group is the strictly Orthodox, which has grown by 139% since 1990, and today constitutes 13.5% of all synagogue membership households, compared to just 4.5% a generation ago.

The Masorti (Conservative) movement is also growing fast, albeit from a much lower base, more than doubling its membership since 1990, and now representing over 3% of the total, compared to 1% in 1990.

“The affiliated British Jewish community is changing,” said Dr. Jonathan Boyd, executive director of the Institute of Jewish Policy Research. While the mainstream Orthodox center is in numerical decline, stricter forms of Orthodoxy are in ascendancy, he added.

“Because the more progressive wing is largely stable, representing just under a third of the total, the trends point to a future in which stricter forms of Orthodoxy will hold an increasingly prominent position, not only in synagogue membership, but in how Judaism is practiced and how Judaism is seen and understood by others,” he explained.

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