Jewish Population Falling

The Jewish population is plummeting around the world-with the exception of Israel, Germany, Canada and Panama, according to a demographic "State of the Jewish World" report issued during the World Jewish Congress annual convention held recently in Jerusalem. Only 13 million Jews are alive today world-wide, meaning that the community has not recovered numerically from the Holocaust, before which there were some 18 million Jews.

In the U.S. the percentage of Jews has fallen drastically From a post-war high of 4 percent of the U.S. population, it has plunged to 2.3 percent. or 5.8 million Jews, as a result of a relatively low birth-rate and a high rate of intermarriage.

More than 50 percent of U.S. Jews who married in the 1980s married a non-Jewish partner, the study notes. Studies have shown that only about one-fourth of intermarried couples raise their children as Jews. "This is the most up-to-date and comprehensive attempt to survey the trends in world Judaism today, and the numbers are quite worrying," commented Avi Beker, a political scientist and the director of the Israel office of the World Jewish Congress, which conducted the survey.

Beker pointed out that the study also identified a growing polarization between religious and non-religious Jews world-wide. "In some places we can say there is almost no contact between these communities," he said, even though there is an international network of observant Jews and more informal contacts between non-religious Jews." The two segments of Jewry are divided both by their lifestyles and on political issues, such as the Israeli-Arab peace process, which has encountered far deeper opposition among religious Jews world-wide than among secular groups.

Israel, Canada and Germany were the three significant bright spots amid the statistics, Beker added. In Israel the rate of natural increase (births exceeding deaths) is about three times that of the U.S. Israel, with about 4.5 million Jew is slowly replacing the U.S. as having the largest Jewish community in the world, a process which we think will take place within a decade. It is the only place in the world where there is a natural growth rate in the Jewish community."

Meanwhile Germany's 60,000 member Jewish community has doubled in size in the past two decades. Still that figure is a fraction of Germanys pre-Holocaust Jewish population of about 500,000. Canada's Jewish population, which totals 360,000, has risen 60 percent. But the increases in the two countries were due largely to the immigration of Jews from other diaspora countries, such as the former Soviet Union.

Christian Century March 13,1996

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