Is this the last generation of Jews in Britain?
It is 350 years since Oliver Cromwell readmitted Jews to Britain, but a leading Israeli rabbi warns that Judaism here is now in imminent danger of extinction
Leading figures from Britain's Jewish community will join the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh this week at a glitzy ceremony at St James's Palace to mark the 350th anniversary of Cromwell's decision to allow Jews to return to these shores.
It is hard today to envisage British society without Jews. It is more than 100 years since Benjamin Disraeli became prime minister and there are Jews prominent in every profession and in every corner of British culture: from Lucian Freud, the artist, to Sacha Baron Cohen, the comedian; Harold Pinter, the playwright, to Harry Woolf, the Lord Chief Justice.
As the Government has conceded that it is time to reconsider the success of the multicultural experiment, Jews in Britain have provided the perfect example of an immigrant people able to retain their identity while playing a full part in society. However, their very success in assimilating into British life now appears to be threatening their survival in this country.
Earlier this month, Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, the world's leading Talmudic scholar, on a visit to Manchester from his home in Jerusalem, delivered an apocalyptic vision of Anglo-Jewry, warning that a once thriving community faces extinction.
"The Jewish community in England, as in other parts of Europe, is demographically unviable," he said. "It is a dying community, without even counting assimilation. They say that in order to remain stable, a community needs to average 2.2 children. I don't think this is the case in Anglo-Jewry. Whatever the figure, when you add the devastating devaluation of assimilation and intermarriage, it is becoming smaller all the time."
His comments are borne out by the decline in the outward expressions of Judaism, from weddings to synagogue attendance, and the disappearance of its cultural heritage, with Jewish architecture said to be more at risk than ever before.
It is the continual rise in the number of Jews marrying gentiles that poses the biggest challenge facing the community. In 1990, there were estimated to be about 340,000 Jews in Britain, but the population has declined by a fifth to only 270,000 today. According to the 1996 Jewish Policy Review, nearly one in two are marrying people who do not share their faith.
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