(photo credit: Ariel Jerozolimski [file])
Haredim are set to account for a majority of Jews in the UK and US by the second half of the century, according to new research by a British academic.
University of Manchester historian Dr. Yaakov Wise says the increase in Britain's ultra-religious Jewry has now reversed the decline in the overall Jewish population, which he says has been shrinking by 1 to 2 percent per year since the 1950s.
According to Wise, Europe's haredi population is growing more rapidly than at any time since before WWII. Almost three out of every four British Jewish births, he says, are ultra-Orthodox, and the community now accounts for around 45,500, or 17 percent, of a total UK Jewish population of around 275,000.
"If current trends continue there is going to be a profound cultural and political change among British and American Jews, and it's already well on the way," Wise says. "This is in spite of demographic studies which show that the non-ultra-Orthodox Jewish population is flat or falling."
"My work, and that of Prof. Sergio Della Pergola [of the Hebrew University], reveal a similar picture in Israel. By the year 2020, the ultra-Orthodox population of Israel will double to one million and make up 17% of the total population. A recent Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics report also found that a third of all Jewish students will be studying at haredi schools by 2012, prompting emergency meetings at the Education Ministry," Wise says.
Wise's study shows that in Greater Manchester, approximately half of all Jewish children under five years old are haredi. The numbers are also growing in Greater London, where the ultra-Orthodox community now accounts for 18% of Jews, up from less than 10% in the early 1990s.
"You can see evidence for this in communities across the UK. In Greater Manchester, for example, the ultra-Orthodox number 8,500, which is almost a third of the 28,000 Jews in the region. This is up from around one-quarter 10 years ago," he says.
The same pattern holds for the US, Wise says.
"In America, too, where the Jewish population is stable or declining, ultra-Orthodox Jewish numbers are growing rapidly. Prof. Joshua Comenetz at the University of Florida says the ultra-Orthodox population doubles every 20 years, which he says may make the Jewish community not only more religiously observant but more politically conservative," Wise says.
Comenetz estimated the US haredi population in 2000 at about 360,000, 7.2% of the approximately five million Jews in the country. As of 2006, demographers estimate that this number had grown to 468,000, or 9.4% of the Jewish population, Wise says.
The UK figures were based on census data and regular monitoring of Jewish births by academics in both Manchester and Leeds.