Declining Birthrate Among Jews in Israel and the Diaspora is of Serious Concern to Israelis

A Hebrew University scholar’s report to the Cabinet Sunday on the declining birthrate among Jews in Israel and the diaspora was acknowledged by the ministers to be a matter of serious concern and drew various proposals on how to reverse the trend.

Premier Shimon Peres urged every Jewish family to have at least four children. He spoke after Prof. Roberto Bacchi, head of the Hebrew University’s Statistics Department, told the Cabinet that over the past decade the number of Jewish births in Israel has averaged about 50,000 a year compared to an average 60,000 a year non-Jewish births.

He said that while the disparity was more or less offset by the positive balance between Jewish immigration and emigration and a higher non-Jewish mortality rate, the demographic gap between Jews and non-Jews in Israel and the administered territories was widening.

Gad Yaacobi, the Minister for Economic Planning, noted that these figures meant that by the year 2000, the non-Jewish population in Israel and the territories would comprise 43 percent of the total population.

Bacchi cited the high number of unmarried Israeli men and women in their twenties or thirties, the ages of greatest fertility. He proposed that the government introduce regulations that would make it easier for young women to work and raise families.

BLEAKER PROSPECTS FOR DIASPORA JEWRY

He said the demographic prospects were even bleaker for diaspora Jews where the average birthrate is 1.5 percent compared to 2.8 percent among Israeli Jews. The lowest birthrate of all in the diaspora is among Soviet Jews, he said.

Bacchi predicted that low birth rates and intermarriage will reduce the diaspora Jewish population from 9.5 million today to 8 million by the turn of the century and to 6 million 40 years from now unless the trends are reversed.

He also reported that aliya statistics show a steady decline. Between 1969 and 1973, 3.3 per thousand diaspora Jews immigrated to Israel compared to 2.1 per thousand between 1979 and 1983.

The reactions to Bacchi’s report were predictable. Rabbi Yitzhak Peretz, the Minister of Interior who is leader of the Orthodox Shas Party, denounced missionary activities and meetings between Jewish and Arab youths. Religious Affairs Minister Yosef Burg of the National Religious Party spoke out against abortion. He said 20,000 abortions were performed among Jewish women in Israel each year.

Communications Minister Amnon Rubinstein of the Shinui faction said the demographic statistics showed it was all the more urgent to negotiate a compromise settlement between Jews and Palestinians that would enable Jews to maintain a democratic, cohesive Jewish State.

Welfare Minister Moshe Katzav of Likud noted that the Jewish population is aging. He supported Peres’ call on Jewish families to have more children and suggested that ministers who did not adhere to this should resign. Deputy Premier David Levy of Likud, who was born in Morocco, quipped that he alone would bring up the Cabinet’s average. He is the father of 12 children.

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