A BITTER war of words broke out between leaders of the Charedi community and Liberal Judaism this week, after a new report suggested strictly-Orthodox marriages will account for more than half of all UK Jewish marriages within a decade, writes Justin Cohen.
In a provocative broadside, Liberal Judaism Chief Executive Rabbi Danny Rich claimed the ultra-Orthodox “pickle Judaism” rather than preserve the religion by “refusing to engage with the outside world”, as fresh evidence emerged of the extent of the latter group’s growth.
The Board of Deputies’ annual communal statistics report said that Anglo-Jewry was continuing to experience a period of “natural increase” – with the trend seemingly largely attributable to the growth of a Charedi community whose births number at least four in 10 of the communal total.
Over the past 30 years, the proportion of marriages taking place under the auspices of the United Synagogue and other central Orthodox movements declined from 60 percent to just under a half while those in the strictly Orthodox sector have soared from less than one in 10 to more than three of every 10.
In 2012 alone, strictly Orthodox weddings numbered 292, with 80 and 40 under Reform and Liberal auspices. Central Orthodoxy still had more weddings than other groups (364) in a year which saw a slight increase in Jewish marriages overall from 2011’s all-time low.
Reacting to the figures, Rabbi Rich said: “The Charedim (ultra-Orthodox) don’t preserve Judaism, they pickle it. Refusing to engage with the outside world constitutes a failure to engage with Judaism’s key prophetic mission – the commitment to social justice.
“Jews have a clear choice: do we retreat from the modern world to safeguard the purity of our ‘ancient bloodlines’, or do we share our message of justice as proud members of a multi-cultural society?” He added: “I think marriage is a very reductive way of defining Jewishness. A Jewish marriage doesn’t secure a Jewish life and a Jewish life does not depend on a Jewish marriage.”
But Rabbi Avraham Pinter, a leading figure in the Stamford Hill community, said: “For the head of the Liberals to suggest that marriage is not important to Judaism is rather rich. They have only had 140 marriages in the last five years while there were 1,300 Charedi marriages.”
Pinter also stressed his personal record outside Anglo-Jewry, including as a former Labour councillor and chair of a public health forum. “Over to you, Danny,” he added. The Board report, authored by Daniel Vulkan, said it’s now “abundantly clear that the British Jewish community contains two very different sub-communities. The strictly-Orthodox and a gradually declining “mainstream”.