MOSCOW (JTA) – The Russian census under way will show a Jewish decline of as much as 25 percent, a specialist on Russian Jewish demography predicts.
The estimate by Mark Kupovetsky, director of biblical and Judaic studies at the Russian State University for the Humanities, for the 2010 census is based on the stable decline of the Jewish population in Russia over the past years, as death rates rise and birthrates fall.
Kupovetsky told the Russian news agency RIA Novosti at a news conference last week that he believes the current census will show 40,000 to 60,000 fewer Jews than the 233,000 Jews from the most recent Russian census, in 2002. The first post-World War II census, in 1959, revealed 875,000 Jews.
Census workers frequently fail to ask respondents to declare their ethnic origins, Kupovetsky said.
Evgenia Mikhalyova, head of the Federal Jewish Cultural Autonomy, told JTA that she declared herself Jewish only to be asked by the interviewer, “Are you positive?”
Kupovetsky said the Jewish birthrate is dropping because the majority of the Jewish population is urbanized and families have one or two children.
According to the demographer, half of the Jewish population in Russia lives in Moscow and its suburbs, and 20 percent lives in the St. Petersburg area. The rest reside in
cities with populations over 1 million.
Ongoing assimilation is another reason for the decline of the Jewish population in Russia, according to Kupovetsky. Up to 90 percent of Russia’s Jewish children now come from mixed marriages, he said.
In addition, between the census of 1989 and that of 2002, about 40 percent of the Jewish population left the country.
Emigration does not play a significant part in the Jewish population numbers, since it is counterbalanced by re-immigration, Kupovetsky said.
Berel Lazar, one of the two chief rabbis of Russia, recently told the German President Christian Woolf that the Russian Jews who left for Germany in the 1990s are now streaming back to Russia.
The potential inaccuracies notwithstanding, the census will serve as the only source of information about the numbers of the Jewish population in Russia because since the 1990s, no statistical data on mortality, marriages and birth have been collected based on ethnic groups.