Intermarriage, low birth rates threaten Diaspora Jewry
By 2030 Israel will be home to most Jews
by Yair Sheleg
February 13, 2002
There are 13.2 million Jews in the world, and that number is expected to reach 15.6 million by 2080. Sometime after 2030, Israel will be home to the majority of world Jewry (37% of all Jews now live in Israel) - not just because of immigration to Israel, but primarily because of the shrinking size of Jewish communities in the Diaspora due to intermarriage and low birth rates.
There figures are part of a global demographic research project for the Jewish people launched yesterday by the Jewish Agency. The institute hopes the project's results will help spur implementation of its own policies, said Prof. Sergio DellaPergola, chairman of the Harman Institute of Contemporary Jewry at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and one of the foremost demographers in the Jewish world.
"Two of the most serious problems for Jewish demography are birth rates and intermarriage; living in Israel has a clear advantage over the Diaspora in both cases," DellaPergola said. "Certainly when it comes to intermarriage, had the millions of immigrants who came from the former Soviet Union over the last decade stayed in their own countries, it is reasonable to assume that 90 percent of their children would not be defined today as Jewish. But Israel also has a big advantage when it comes to birth rates: it is around twice that of Jews in other parts of the world - 2.6 children in Israel compared to 1.3 in the Diaspora."
The figures also show that the Jewish population in the rest of the world is far older than in Israel. According to a 1995 survey, 27 percent of Israel's Jewish population is aged 0-14, compared to 17.6 percent in the Diaspora. Only 11.5 percent of the country's Jewish population was over 65, compared to 18.5 percent in the rest of the world.
DellaPergola said that in 2080, 81 percent of Jewish children (under 14) will live in Israel. However, he said his predictions are most accurate until 2020, while longer-term forecasts are based more on predicted trends.
His figures prompted Housing and Construction Minister Natan Sharansky to declare at a press conference yesterday announcing the project, that "the reality of these figures is that Israel is the safest place for the Jewish future, even in these difficult times, when Jews are killed almost every day."
Jewish Agency chief Sallai Meridor prefered to concentrate on the numerical difference between the current number of Jews and the forecast for the end of the 21st century - 12 million compared to a projected 18 million. "Once again, the fate of 6 million Jews hangs in the balance, only this time, their fate is in our hands," he said. Meridor said that to meet this optimistic projection, the birth rate must be increased, more needs to be invested in Jewish education and in encouraging immigration from Western countries. In addition, there is a need to allow those not necessarily defined as Jews by traditional law to come to Israel and be properly absorbed into Israeli society.
DellaPergola said that according to his findings, the best way to strengthen Jewish demography is through Jewish education, with a particular focus on battling intermarriage. He said that his research has found irrefutably that "intermarriage takes more children out of the Jewish people than brings them in."
His research also includes significant information on the future of Judaism within Israel itself. DellaPergola said that 78 percent of Israel's population is Jewish, and by 2050 it will drop to between 65-69 percent. However, if Israel is defined as "between the Jordan River and the sea," that is includes the territories, then the Jewish population is only 53 percent and is expected to fall to between 26-35 percent by 2050. He concludes that "there is an urgent need for separation between the two nations. It is important to define two separate state entities, where a maximum of Jews will be concentrated on the area meant for Jews."
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