European Jews consider themselves a religious minority rather than an ethnic one and believe antisemitism and the Holocaust play a more important role in their identity than Israel or God, according to research published this week.
The study, based on research in 12 European countries including Britain in 2018, suggested that Jewish identity was stronger in western Europe than east and that younger Jews are more likely to be religiously observant.
The Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) report also found that while modern Orthodox streams of Judaism remained prevalent, they were losing ground to progressive and strictly-Orthodox denominations, both of which are growing.
Sergio DellaPergola, who chaired a unit that analysed data covering over 16,000 Jews, said they intended to “create a thorough description of the Jewish identity of European Jews, by employing a methodology not attempted before, and by exploring what Jews across Europe think about their Jewishness in multiple ways”.
Spain was identified as having the largest number of Jews identifying as Reform or progressive, following by Germany and the Netherlands.
The largest proportion identifying themselves as Orthodox was in Belgium. The UK was second.
The 112-page study found:
• Jews in Europe are likelier than those in the US to follow weekly rituals such as lighting candles every Friday night.
• Most European Jews attend a Passover seder and fast on Yom Kippur.
• Only small minorities keep kosher at home or attend synagogue every week.
It also observed that it was only in recent years, many generations after the Holocaust, that people living in eastern Europe were beginning to acknowledge their Jewish heritage.
The report’s authors acknowledged that Hungary and Poland were the only eastern European communities covered, but added that there was “much talk from community leaders and activists” in other formerly communist countries, such as Ukraine or Russia, of desecularisation — the process of people rediscovering their Jewishness — “being a very important and real phenomenon”.
JPR executive director Jonathan Boyd said: “The report pulls together many of the key insights we have gained from the research we have done for the European Union and European Commission, and it should serve as a key reference on this topic in the coming years.
“There is a great deal of food for thought here, with potentially significant implications for Jewish education and community development.”
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