The proportion of world Jewry living in Europe today is a mere tenth of what it was just 140 years ago, a new study has shown.
The staggering drop is detailed in work undertaken for the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) by leading Jewish demographers Prof Sergio Della Pergola and Dr Daniel Staetsky and is detailed in their newly published report.
They show that in the late 19th century, 88 percent of the world’s Jewish population lived on the continent, but the figure today stands at just nine percent – the lowest proportion in more than 800 years.
“The proportion of Jews residing in Europe [in 2020] is about the same as it was at the time of the first Jewish global population account conducted by Benjamin of Tudela, a Jewish medieval traveller, in 1170,” they say.
Titled ‘Jews in Europe at the turn of the Millennium’, their report charts population trends and shows how Europe first began losing out to America, one in ten immigrants to the US in the first quarter of the 20th century having been Jewish.
What began at the end of the 19th century sped up significantly since the late 1960s, with Europe having lost 60 percent of its remaining Jewish population in the past 50 years alone, but in 1880 life could not have been more different, with 13 percent of world Jewry living in Western Europe and 75 percent in Eastern Europe.
While Russia has also lost 60 percent of its Jewish population in recent years, the shrinkage there has taken place much more recently and over a much shorter timescale, a 409,000-strong Jewish population in 1994 now estimated at 155,000.
The report, which draws on “communal, national and pan-European level data sources never previously examined” and took the team more than a year to complete, provides a snapshot of European Jewry in an era of huge global change.
It shows, for instance, that Jews feel more attached to the European Union than the general populations of EU Member States, particularly in Hungary, Poland, Austria and Italy, and that community affiliation rates are highest in France and Italy, and lowest in the Netherlands and Hungary.
It also outlines fascinating differences between what European Jews consider to be ‘Jewish’. Whereas in the UK, a clear majority – 61 percent – think of Judaism primarily as a religion, this idea is shared by only 11 percent of Jews in Poland, who think of it as an ethnicity, and just nine percent of Jews in Hungary, who see it as a culture.
Jewish heritage is an increasingly core issue for many diaspora communities, with 1.3 million self-identifying Jews living in Europe today, but 2.8 million eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Israeli Law of Return, having at least one Jewish grandparent or being married to someone with at least one Jewish grandparent.
JPR director Dr Jonathan Boyd said: “The report provides essential demographic information and context for anyone concerned with the past, present or future of Jews across Europe, and is likely to be an essential reference source for many years to come.”
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