British Jews

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British Jews
Total population
263,346 (2011 Census)
292,000 (2010 estimate by the Jewish Virtual Library)[1]
Regions with significant populations
Greater London, South Hertfordshire, south-west Essex, Greater Manchester, Gateshead, Leeds, Greater Glasgow
Primarily English; also Hebrew, historically Spanish and Portuguese among Sephardim, Yiddish primarily among Haredi Jews, Amharic among Beta Israel, Arabic among Yemeni Jews, Marathi among Bene Israel, Russian among Ashkenazim
Related ethnic groups
Other Jews

British Jews (often referred to collectively as Anglo-Jewry) are British people of Jewish descent and ethnicity who maintain a connection to the Jewish community, either through actively practising Judaism or through cultural and historical affiliation. The UK is home to the second largest Jewish population in Europe, and has the fifth largest Jewish community worldwide.[1] The number of identifying Jews in England and Wales has risen slightly over the past decade, indicating a stability which contrasts with the usual impression of relentless diaspora decline. The growth is largely due to the rapid growth of the Charedi community.


The first recorded Jewish community in Britain was brought to England in 1070 by King William the Conqueror, who believed that what he assumed to be their commercial skills would make his newly won country more prosperous. Two hundred years later the Jews were no longer welcome. On 16 March 1190 in the run up to the 3rd Crusade the Jewish population of York was massacred at the site where Clifford's Tower now stands,[2] and King Edward I of England passed the Statute of the Jewry (Statutum de Judaismo) in 1275, restricting the community's activities, most notably outlawing the practice of usury (charging interest).[3] When, 15 years later, Edward found that many of these provisions were ignored, he expelled the Jews from England. They emigrated to countries such as Poland which protected them by law. A small English community persisted in hiding despite the expulsion. Jews were not banned from Scotland, which until 1707 was an independent kingdom.

In 1656 Oliver Cromwell made it clear that the ban on Jewish settlement in England and Wales would no longer be enforced, although when Rabbi Manasseh Ben Israel brought a petition to allow Jews to return, the majority of the Protectorate Government turned it down. Gradually Jews eased back into England, first visiting for trade, then staying longer periods, and finally bringing their families. In mid-nineteenth century Ireland, then ruled by the British, Daniel O'Connell, known as "The Liberator" for his work on Catholic Emancipation, worked successfully for the repeal of the "De Judaismo" law, which prescribed a special yellow badge for Jews.[4] Benjamin Disraeli (1804 – 1881), of Jewish birth although he joined the Church of England, served in government for three decades, twice as prime minister.

In 2006, the Jewish community celebrated the 350th anniversary of the resettlement in England.[5]



Historical British Jewish population
Year Pop. ±%
1882 46,000 —    
1890 125,000 +171.7%
1900 225,000 +80.0%
1910 275,000 +22.2%
1920 300,000 +9.1%
1930 340,000 +13.3%
1955 410,000 +20.6%
1980 330,000 −19.5%
1990 340,000 +3.0%
2001 266,740 −21.5%
2011 269,568 +1.1%
  • 2001 & 2011 figures based on respective censuses
  • Prior data based on estimates[6][7]

According to the 2011 census, 263,346 people answered “Jewish” to the voluntary question on religion, compared with 259,927 in the previous count of 2001. However, this final figure is considered an undercount. Demographers David Graham and Stanley Waterman give several reasons: the underenumeration for censuses in general; the question did not record secular Jews; the voluntary nature of the question; suspicion by Jews of such questions; and the high non-response rate for large numbers of Haredi Jews.[8] By comparison, the Jewish Virtual Library estimated a Jewish population of 291,000 (not limited to adherents of Judaism) in 2012, making Britain's Jewish community the fifth largest in the world.[1]

The 2001 Census included a (voluntary) religion question ("What is your religion?") for the first time in its history;[n 1] 266,740 people listed their religion as "Jewish".[10] However, the subject of who is a Jew is complex, and the religion question did not record people who may be Jewish through other means, such as ethnically and culturally.[11] Ninety-seven percent of people who chose Jewish as their religion put White as their ethnic group; however, a report by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) suggests that, although there was an apparent option to write down "Jewish" for this question, it did not occur to many, because of "skin colour" and nationality bias; and that if "Jewish" was an explicit option, the results—only 2594 respondents were Jewish solely by ethnicity—would have been different.[12] The religion question appeared in the 2011 Census, but there was still no explicit option for "Jewish" in the ethnic-group question. The Board of Deputies had encouraged all Jews to indicate they were Jewish, either through the religion question or the ethnicity one.[13]

From 1990 to 2006, the Jewish population showed a decrease from 340,000 Jews to 270,000. According to the 1996 Jewish Policy Review, nearly one in two are marrying people who do not share their faith.[14] From 2005 to 2008, the Jewish population increased from 275,000 to 280,000, attributed largely to the high birth rates of Haredi (or ultra-Orthodox) Jews.[15] Research by the University of Manchester in 2007 showed that 75 percent of British Jewish births were to the Haredi community.[16] Ultra-Orthodox women have an average of 6.9 children, and secular Jewish women 1.65.[17]

About two-thirds of the UK's Jews live in Greater London or contiguous parts of South Hertfordshire and south-west Essex. Substantial communities outside the London area include Greater Manchester, home to some 30,000 Jews, and Leeds, although the Leeds Jewish community became smaller in the late 20th century.[18] Other substantial communities include Gateshead, Glasgow and Liverpool, as well as other former industrial cities. Barnet and Hertsmere councils in the London borders polled as the first and second most Jewish local authorities in England, with Jews composing one in five and nine residents respectively.

The British Jewish population has a substantially older profile than that of the general population. In England and Wales, the median age of male Jews is 41.2, while the figure for all males is 36.1; Jewish females have a median age of 44.3, while the figure for all females is 38.1.[10] A high proportion (83.2 percent) of Jews in England and Wales were born in the UK.[19] About 24 percent of the community are over the age of 65 (compared to 16 percent of the general population of England and Wales). In the 2001 census Jews were the only group in which the number of persons in the 75-plus cohorts outnumbered those in the 65–74 cohort.[citation needed]

In 2013 it has been reported that due to anti-semitic attacks in France upon Jews, this has led to an exodus of French Jews who have moved across to the UK. This has resulted in some synagogues establishing French-language Shabbat services to fulfill a growing demand.[20]


There are some 409 synagogues in the country, and it is estimated that 74 percent of the country's Jews are affiliated with one.[21] Of those affiliated, the affiliations are distributed across the following groupings:

Communal institutions[edit]

British Jewish communal organisations include:


About 60 percent of school-age Jewish children attend Jewish schools.[23] Jewish day schools and yeshivas are found throughout the country. Jewish cultural studies and Hebrew language instruction is commonly offered at synagogues in the form of supplementary Hebrew schools or Sunday schools. The majority of Jewish schools in Britain are funded by the government. Jewish educational centres are plentiful, large-scale projects. One of the country's most famous Jewish schools is the state-funded JFS in London which opened in 1732 and has about 2100 students. It is heavily over-subscribed and applies strict rules on admissions, which led to a discrimination court case in 2009.[24] In 2011, another large government funded school opened in North London named JCoSS, the first cross-denomination Jewish secondary school in the UK.[25]

The Union of Jewish Students is an umbrella organisation that represents Jewish students at university. There are over 50 Jewish Societies.[26]

British Jews generally have high levels of educational achievement. Compared to the general population, they are 40 percent less likely to have no qualifications, and 80 percent more likely to have "higher-level" qualifications .[27] With the exception of under-25s, younger Jews tend to be better educated than older ones.[28]


The annual Limmud winter conference is a high-profile educational event of the British Jewish community, attracting a wide range of international presenters.[29]


Politically, Jews in the U.K. tend to lean conservative, as a poll published by the Jewish Chronicle in early 2015 shows. Of British Jews polled, 69% would vote for the Conservative Party, while 22% would vote for the Labour Party. There was little Jewish support for UKIP or the Liberal Democrats, with each polling around 2%. This is in stark contrast to the rest of the voter population, which according to a BBC poll had Conservatives and Labour almost tied at about a third each. Jews have typically been a part of the British middle class, traditional home of the Conservative Party, though the number of Jews in working class communities of London is in decline. The main voting bloc of poorer Jews in Britain now, made up primarily of ultra-Orthodox, votes "en masse" for the Conservatives. Attitudes toward Israel influence the vote of three out of four of British Jews.[30][31]

Jewish MP's by Election
Election Labour Conservative Liberal/Alliance Other Total No. % of Parliament
1857 1 1 0.2
1859 3 3 0.5
1865 6 0.9
1874 1
1880 1 4 5
1885 3 6 9 1.3
1886 9 1.3
1900 7 2 9 1.3
1945 26 0 0 2 28 4.4
1950 23 0 0 0 23 3.7
1951 17 0 0 0 17 2.7
1955 17 1 0 0 18 2.9
1959 20 2 0 0 22 3.5
1964 34 2 0 0 36 5.7
1966 38 2 0 0 40 6.3
1970 31 9 0 0 40 6.3
1974 Feb 33 12 1 0 45 7.2
1974 Oct 35 10 1 0 45 7.2
1979 21 11 1 0 32 5.0
1983 11 17 1 0 29 4.5
1987 7 16 1 0 24 3.7
1992 8 11 1 0 20 3.1


The 2001 Census showed that 30.5 percent of economically active Jews were self-employed, compared to a figure of 14.2 percent for the general population. Jews aged 16–24 were more likely to be economically inactive than their counterparts in the general population; 89.2 percent of these were students.[35]


There are a number of Jewish newspapers, magazines and other media published in Britain on a national level and on more regional levels. The most famous of these is The Jewish Chronicle, which was founded in 1841 and is the world's oldest continuously published Jewish newspaper.[36] Other media include the Jewish News, Jewish Telegraph, Hamodia and the Jewish Tribune.


In the 19th century and early part of the 20th century, Jews and other immigrants in the UK were targeted during xenophobic riots. Such disturbances occurred in 1911 in South Wales and in 1919 in South Shields, among other areas.[37][38]

Since the beginning of the 21st century, there has been an increase in the scope and severity of anti-Semitic incidents throughout the country. The dominant sources of contemporary anti-Semitism in the UK are the far right and fundamentalist aspects of Muslim minority communities. Although in the aftermath of the Holocaust far right extremism became marginalised, Holocaust denial and Jewish conspiracy theories remain core elements of far right ideology. Nevertheless, contemporary anti-Semitism is to be found as well on the left of the political spectrum. Criticism of Israel, especially from the far left, has been fuelled further by the second Palestinian Intifada and by the invasion of Iraq in 2003.[39][40]

A similar explanation was given in a report released in 2012 by the Community Security Trust, documenting anti-Semitic incidents from January–June 2012, revealed that the number of incidents rose in these months compared to incidents in 2011, with 299 cases deemed anti-Semitic. There was a significant rise in the number of anti-Semitic incidents in March 2012, apparently influenced by the Toulouse and Montauban shootings during that month by Mohammed Merah.[41][42]

In 2005, the All-Party Parliamentary Group against Anti-Semitism commissioned an inquiry into antisemitism, publishing its findings in 2006. The inquiry stated that "until recently, the prevailing opinion both within the Jewish community and beyond [had been] that anti-Semitism had receded to the point that it existed only on the margins of society", and found a reversal of this progress since 2000.[43] Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi, said in 2009 that increased globalisation was allowing a new kind of antisemitism to permeate into the UK.[44] He said in 2010 that UK universities were failing to deal with "inflammatory public speeches" taking place on campus.[45]

The Community Security Trust, a charity to ensure the protection of Jews in the UK, publishes an annual "Antisemitic Incidents Report".[46] It also trains Jewish volunteers to protect Jewish community buildings.

Campaign Against Antisemitism, a charity “dedicated to exposing and countering antisemitism through education and zero-tolerance enforcement of the law” publishes an annual “Antisemitism Barometer” which assesses antisemitic sentiment in Britain and its effect on British Jews.[47] The charity additionally publishes an annual “National Antisemitic Crime Audit” which gather data on antisemitic crime committed in each police area in the UK.[48]

A number of key antisemitic incidents since the year 2000 can be mentioned:

  • On 7 November 2003, a synagogue near Manchester was severely damaged in an arson attack.
  • On 28–29 December 2008, The Community Security Trust reported that several synagogues were vandalised with anti-Semitic slogans, including “Kill Jews” and “Jihad 4 Israel” and a Jewish community centre was spray-painted with pro-Hamas slogans.
  • In December 2009 there were several assaults on Jews and Jewish shops in London, mainly by Muslim youths.
  • On 3 January 2009, assailants tried to burn a synagogue in the Brondesbury section of London.
  • On 19 January 2009, a 31-year-old Jewish man was beaten in London by several men who shouted “for Gaza” as they attacked him.
  • On 4 July 2012, a Jewish male was severely beaten in London by four assailants and taunted with anti-Semitic epithets.
  • On 23 July 2013, a group of Hasidic Jewish boys riding on a coach bus near Sheerness were attacked by a gang of teenagers who shouted anti-Semitic slurs while pelting the bus with rocks and eggs.[49]

See also[edit]

Notes and references[edit]


  1. ^ The question had appeared in the past several censuses in Northern Ireland.[9] In Scotland there were two questions: "What religion, religious denomination or body do you belong to?" and "What religion, religious denomination or body were you brought up in?".[8]


  1. ^ a b c "The Jewish Population of the World (2010)". Jewish Virtual Library. Accessed 1 April 2011.
  2. ^ Design, SUMO. "The 1190 Massacre: History of York". 
  3. ^ Prestwich, Michael. Edward I p 345 (1997) Yale University Press. ISBN 0-300-07157-4.
  4. ^ "History", Jewish Ireland .
  5. ^ "EJP looks back on 350 years of history of Jews in the UK", On Anglo Jewry (in‐depth article), European Jewish Press, 30 October 2005, retrieved 1 April 2011 .
  6. ^ Institute for Jewish Policy Research (2011) Key trends in the British Jewish community: A review of data on poverty, the elderly and children, p.11
  7. ^ "Waterman and Kosmin, (1986) British Jewry in the Eighties. A Statistical and Geographical Study, p.6". 
  8. ^ a b Graham, David; Waterman, Stanley. "Underenumeration of the Jewish Population in the UK 2001 Census" (subscription required). Population, Space and Place 12 (2): 89–102. March/April 2005. doi:10.1002/psp.362.
  9. ^ Graham & Schmool Waterman, p. 18.
  10. ^ a b Graham & Schmool Waterman, p. 3.
  11. ^ Graham & Schmool Waterman, pp. 12–13.
  12. ^ Graham & Schmool Waterman, pp. 20–21.
  13. ^ "Census 2011". Board of Deputies of British Jews. Accessed 10 August 2011.
  14. ^ "Is this the last generation of British Jews?", The Telegraph, UK, November 26, 2006 .
  15. ^ Pigott, Robert. "Jewish population on the increase". BBC News. 21 May 2008. Accessed 1 April 2011.
  16. ^ "Majority of Jews will be Ultra-Orthodox by 2050". University of Manchester. 23 July 2007. Accessed 1 April 2011.
  17. ^ Butt, Riazat. "British Jewish population on the rise". The Guardian. 21 May 2008. Accessed 10 August 2011.
  18. ^ choose Leeds? - Institute for Jewish Policy Research
  19. ^ Graham & Schmool Waterman, p. 5.
  20. ^ "Exodus to the UK as French Jews escape antisemitism". Jewish Chronicle. February 21, 2013. Accessed January 23, 2014.
  21. ^ Graham & Vulkan 2010, p. 9.
  22. ^ Graham & Vulkan 2010, pp. 12–13. Other affiliations were not considered in the JPR report.
  23. ^ "The Future of Jewish Schools", p. 7.
  24. ^ "Jewish school admissions unlawful". BBC News. 25 June 2009. Accessed 1 April 2011.
  25. ^ Kessler, Sarah. "A Cross-Denominational Approach to High School in the U.K.". The Forward. 21 January 2009. Accessed 3 April 2011. Archived 2 April 2011.
  26. ^ "About Us". Union of Jewish Students. Accessed 1 April 2011.
  27. ^ Graham, Schmool & Waterman 2007, p. 79.
  28. ^ Graham, Schmool & Waterman 2007, pp. 79–80.
  29. ^ Gringras, Robbie. "Writing the Limmud theme song ". Haaretz. 8 January 2010. Accessed 1 April 2011. Archived 1 April 2011.
  30. ^ Huge majority of British Jews will vote Tory, JC poll reveals The, 7 April 2015
  31. ^ How Ed Miliband Lost Britain's Jewish Voters The Jewish Daily Forward, 8 April 2015
  32. ^ Medding, Peter Y. (1 January 1995). "Studies in Contemporary Jewry: XI: Values, Interests, and Identity: Jews and Politics in a Changing World". OUP USA/Institute of Contemporary Jewry, Hebrew University of Jerusalem – via Google Books. 
  33. ^ Jewish Identity in British Politics: The Case of the First Jewish MPs, 1858–87
  34. ^ Crewe, Ivor (16 October 2015). "The Politics of Race". Routledge – via Google Books. 
  35. ^ Graham, Schmool & Waterman 2007, p. 87.
  36. ^ "The Jewish Chronicle and Anglo-Jewry, 1841–1991". Cambridge University Press. Accessed 3 April 2011.
  37. ^ Panayi, Panikos (1996). Racial Violence in Britain in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries. Leicester University Press. pp. 13 & 166. Retrieved 4 May 2016. 
  38. ^ Holmes, Colin (1982). "The Tredegar Riots of 1911: Anti-Jewish Disturbances in South Wales". Welsh History Review. 11: 214–225. 
  39. ^ "Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism" (PDF). All-Party Parliamentary Group against Antisemitism. Retrieved 18 May 2013. 
  40. ^ Gunther, Jikeli. "Antisemitism Among Young Muslims in London" (PDF). International Study Group Education and Research on Antisemitism Colloquium I: Aspects of Antisemitism in the UK. 
  41. ^ "Anti-Semitic incidents report: January–fJune 2012" (PDF). Community Security Trust. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  42. ^ "Anti-Semitism on the rise in the UK". The Commentator. 29 September 2012. Retrieved 3 October 2012. 
  43. ^ "Report of the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism", summary.
  44. ^ Thomson, Alice; Sylvester, Rachel. "Virulent new strain of anti-Semitism rife in UK, says Chief Rabbi". The Times. 20 June 2009. Accessed 4 April 2011. Archived 3 April 2011.
  45. ^ Paul, Jonny. "UK chief rabbi: Universities failing in anti-Semitism fight". Jerusalem Post. 15 December 2010. Accessed 1 April 2011. Archived 1 April 2011.
  46. ^ "Publications". Community Security Trust. Accessed 1 April 2011. For the latest report, see "Antisemitic Incidents Report 2010" PDF (2.75 MiB).
  47. ^ "Antisemitism Barometer". 2016-07-11. Retrieved 2016-07-23. 
  48. ^ "National Antisemitic Crime Audit". 2016-05-01. Retrieved 2016-07-23. 
  49. ^ "Anti-Semitism - International". 


Further reading[edit]