The report, authored by JPR researchers Dr Donatella Casale Mashiah and Dr Jonathan Boyd, finds that despite the fact that there are now 454 synagogues in the UK – the largest number ever recorded – synagogue membership numbers have dropped below 80,000 households for the first time since records began. Indeed, there has been a 20% decline over a quarter of a century, and a 4% decline since the last such report was published in 2010.
However, the overall decline masks important developments at a denominational level. Critically, the sector that has declined most sharply is central Orthodoxy – broadly understood as the United Synagogue, the Federation and various independent modern Orthodox synagogues dotted around the country – which collectively have seen a 37% drop since 1990. This decline is partly due to disaffection, but it has also been driven considerably by natural decrease – more members dying than being born.
In contrast, membership of strictly Orthodox synagogues is growing. Indeed, it has grown dramatically over time – by 139% since 1990. A generation ago, the strictly Orthodox comprised 4.5% of all synagogue members households; today they comprise 13.5%. This growth is driven almost exclusively by demographic forces – particularly, high birth rates in this sector of the community.
Taken as a whole, Liberal, Reform and Masorti figures have been fairly stable over time. Liberal and Reform have both declined slightly since 1990, whereas Masorti has grown, albeit from a lower base. But this overall picture of stability is somewhat misleading: in reality, Liberal and Reform synagogues are both losing members at a similar rate to the central Orthodox ones, but unlike those central Orthodox ones, they are also attracting members from their religious ‘right’ to offset those losses.
following compilations for 1977 and 1983. The figures presented relate to mid-1990. To
the best of our knowledge all congregations in the United Kingdom are included: we would
be pleased to be told of any unwittingly omitted. In order to compare data across
synagogue groupings and between areas, our analytical base (which is described fully
in the Appendix) is such that data presented here for individual synagogues may differ
from membership figures published by synagogal bodies. This is particularly the case
where synagogues count husbands and wives as two individual members: we have
considered them as one household membership.
marriages and of burials and cremations of Jews for 1989 The findings are
presented below. As in past years, marriage and death totals are
subdivided into various synagogue groupings. This is done for analytical
purposes and in order to indicate trends. The statistics for groups show
only which section of the community recorded the marriage or death. They
in no way measure the level of religious observance of individuals
In giving an overview of Jewish women in Great Britain I intend to touch on three areas: Jewish organizations; participation in synagogue life; and the position of Jewish women's research in Britain. The main sources for the data I quote are the regular compilations of synagogue membership and estimates of population which the Board of Deputies Community Research Unit has conducted regularly the past thirty years; and two recent large scale-studies: The Review of Women in the Jewish Community in 1993 for the Chief Rabbi's Commission on Women; and The Survey of Social Attitudes of British Jews conducted by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research in 1995.
of Deputies approximately every five years, is published jointly with the Institute for Jewish Policy
Synagogue membership data are of particular interest to community leaders and planners because
they provide the only consistent indicator of patterns of Jewish affiliation over time. No other survey
regularly reports on the denominational structure of the Jewish community in the UK. The data are
also unique in providing a consistent indicator of Jewish belonging – a measure of proactive
attachment and commitment to Jewish communal life.
Despite the continuing decline in synagogue affiliation over the last generation, the synagogue, as an
institution, nevertheless continues to be the principal arena of formal affiliation to the Jewish
The data presented here reveal a dynamic picture of communal change in the UK, charting changes in
the religious make-up of the community. We have sought to provide as functionally relevant a measure
of synagogue membership as possible within the limits of the data that we were able to obtain.