Britain’s Charedi community has criticised a “flawed” report by Jewish sociologists which argues that conditions are “ripe for social unrest” in the Orthodox community after a population boom, writes Stephen Oryszczuk.

London, United Kingdom. 15th April 2014 -- The Hasidic Jewish Community of Stamford Hill celebrates Passover. -- The Jewish Community of Stamford Hill celebrates Passover. The Jewish Community of Stamford Hill celebrates Passover in London

A member of the Stamford Hill Charedi community

Ultra-Orthodox leaders took aim at the Institute for Jewish Policy Research (JPR) study called Strictly Orthodox Rising, published today, citing “astonishing assertions wholly out of sync with facts on the ground”.

Sociologists Daniel Staetsky and Jonathan Boyd have warned against a “youth bulge” in the Charedi community, which they said had doubled between 1990 and 2010, as measured by census data. Almost a third of the adult population is now aged between 15 and 24, they say, and by 2031, half of all Jewish babies born in the UK will be strictly Orthodox.

The authors said this “extraordinary” demographic growth meant the chance of tension had grown considerably, because the risk of social unrest increases significantly when 30 to 35 percent of adults are aged between 15 and 24.
Warning community leaders to take note, they said: “Although the precise form and timing of events cannot be predicted, the demographic dynamic of this community is conducive to the outbreak of social unrest.”

In a rare rebuttal, Charedi representatives, including Stamford Hill’s Rabbi Avroham Pinter and Interlink Foundation’s Joel Friedman, said elements of the report were “malicious” and “threatening.”

“We reject completely the relevance or usefulness of the commentary about the Charedi ‘youth bulge,’ and we are concerned about possible malicious uses of these aspects of the report,” they said. “We regret that the JPR did not seek to cooperate with us on producing this report, as reporting on any population without seeking to sense-check with people working on the ground is bound to throw up problems.”

The remarks evidence deep mistrust between the researchers and the community they have been studying, with disagreements over the report’s methodology, terminology, interpretation and conclusions.

Pinter and Friedman hit back at the “reprehensible” conclusion, saying: “Whatever economic issues face the Charedi community… they have never remotely been linked to social and political unrest and criminality.

“Antisocial or criminal behaviour by young people is isolated and marginal, and even then is substantially less severe than in the wider public. To raise concerns about social unrest and criminality is bizarre and pejorative. It is also irresponsible as this could well be picked up and abused by hostile forces.”

The authors say the “dramatic demographic change” over a relatively short period “has potentially enormous implications for British Jewish communal life, its structures and needs,” adding: “Conditions are ripe for unrest.”
The strictly Orthodox and mainstream or secular Jews are “two sub-populations” that rarely overlap, they say, and can often be differentiated by their religious life, appearance, postcode, economic circumstances and patterns of fertility. As a result, they have “different age structures, with the strictly Orthodox population significantly younger and growing at a faster rate”.

Jewish policy-makers say they already work with the Charedi community. “We’ve understood for some time that improved structures for engagement are vital,” said Sophie Dunoff, public affairs officer at the Board of Deputies.
“JPR’s welcome report supports the notion that it is even more important for the mainstream community to develop increasingly strong links with its members and organisations.”

Staetsky and Boyd say the strictly Orthodox community is growing at 24 times faster than that of Western Europe, compared with the non – and that both religious leaders and policy-makers will need to react to the findings.

“The Jewish world is changing at breakneck speed, and these trends will radically change British Jewry,” said Senior Reform Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, who cautioned that change was urgently needed.

“At their present size – and with our current donations capacity – our welfare structure and institutions would buckle,” she warned. “We have to start planning for these changes now and address issues of education, charity, housing, poverty, Israel advocacy and fighting anti-Semitism.”

Analysts predict that in 35 years’ time half of world Jewry will be strictly Orthodox.