Sun is Setting on Britain’s Middle-of-the-road Orthodoxy

Mainstream Orthodox Judaism, although still the largest denomination of British Jewry, is rapidly losing membership to right-wing Orthodoxy and, to a lesser extent, Progressive — including Reform and Liberal — Judaism.

The erosion was revealed in a survey of synagogue membership in Britain, recently released by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.

The survey also found a significant diminution of synagogue affiliation in the United Kingdom.

According to the study, which collected data from the U.K.’s 356 congregations, the mainstream Orthodox movement accounts for 65 percent of male synagogue membership today, down from just over 70 percent in 1983, when the last survey was conducted.

By contrast, right-wing groups recorded an 89 percent increase of membership, and now account for 6.9 percent of the national total.

The “predominance of central Orthodoxy is being seriously eroded,” said Marlena Schmool, co-author of the report and executive director of the board’s community research unit.

While as many as 80 percent of British Jews are Orthodox, central Orthodoxy, most of which is under the authority of the chief rabbi through the United Synagogue, has more in common with Conservative Judaism in the United States than it has with the American brand of modern Orthodoxy.

Its losses to right-wing Orthodoxy mirror a similar trend in the United States, where so-called modern Orthodoxy is losing ground to the right wing.

GROWTH IN THE REFORM MOVEMENT

The Board of Deputies survey found that the Reform Synagogue of Great Britain registered 23 percent growth between 1983 and 1990.

A quarter of affiliated British Jews belong to a Progressive congregation, 17 percent to the Reform Synagogue and the rest to congregations aligned with the Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues.

But fewer Jews countrywide are affiliated with any congregation, the survey found. It counted 101,239 household memberships, down by 8,000 from 1983.

The decrease of synagogue membership was 7.5 percent nationwide. The biggest attrition was among Scottish Jewry, which lost 41 percent of its membership.

The only regions showing an increase were the southeast, outside Greater London and the southwest.

But Sidney Frosh, president of the United Synagogue, was optimistic. He said the latest statistics did not take account of the series of educational initiatives, “an investment in the future” for young and old, undertaken by the movement.

He believed they would boost the numbers and commitment of United Synagogue members.

Rabbi Hugo Gryn, head of the Reform Synagogue, said the names and numbers in a membership file were far less important than the actual level of synagogue attendance, educational activity and communal involvement.

NEXT STORY