Europes Jews

While contemporary commentators have often noted the decline of Christian practice, similar trends have also affected the other religion with deep European roots, namely Judaism. The massacres and pogroms of the 1940s massively reduced Europe's Jewish population, and many of the survivors emigrated to Israel. Including Russia and the east, Europe accounted for 80 percent of the world's Jews in 1900, compared to perhaps 11 percent today. The whole of wider Europe today contains only some 1.5 million Jews, with just a million in the European Union proper. Though exact numbers are shaky, Europe is home to more Buddhists than Jews.24

Besides the historic factors reducing Jewish populations, we also see powerful secularizing trends. In Britain, Jewish religious leaders are as pessimistic about long-term trends as are their Anglican counterparts. British Jews, of course, escaped the disastrous fate of continental populations, but the communities have since shrunk badly due to the sheer force of assimilation. Fifty years ago, Britain had around half a million Jews, a number that has today shrunk to 266,000. Emigration partly explains this contraction, though counterbalancing this has been a significant countermigration of Israeli Jews to Britain. A more important explanation has been demography, together with a decline in self-identification. With a disproportionately large number of educated and professional members, Jewish communities usually have small families, and between 30 and 50 percent of British Jews marry outside the faith. In France too, Europe's largest Jewish community has also contracted, if not so dramatically. A Jewish population of 535,000 in 1980 has now fallen to around 500,000, a drop of 7 percent in a very few years.25

The picture is not entirely negative, and there are some signs of growth, chiefly in Germany, where the Jewish population has now climbed to over 200,000. Given the history of the past century, the thought that Germany might soon have more Jews than Britain sounds like a sick joke. To put this change in proportion, though, the increase in Germany does not reflect natural internal growth but rather a rearrangement of existing populations. Around a million Jews have left the former Soviet Union since the 1980s, and while most chose Israel as their destination, a sizable fraction preferred Germany. Even with this apparent revival, then, long-term trends are gloomy. Jews today constitute a minuscule fraction of Europe's population, some 0.25 percent, and that proportion seems set to fall even further. Not just for Christians, Europe does not provide healthy soil for religious institutions.

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