What makes a Jewish Identity?

The following information is taken from a 2022 report published by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research. A link is given below. The report is called ‘The Jewish Identities of European Jews: What, Why and How?’

Researchers gathered and analysed responses from 16,00 European Jews in 12 European countries.

You can read an introduction and watch a short video explaining the research on this link, as well as download the full report: https://www.jpr.org.uk/reports/jewish-identities-european-jews-what-why-and-how

You will find other interesting research into Jewish identity, contexts and movement at the bottom of this page which is worth a read.

The report focuses on how European Jews understand themselves as Jews in religious, cultural or ethnic terms.

What, Why, How?

Three interesting sets of answers emerge from the report findings:

What is Jewishness to me?
Why is Jewishness important to me?
How do I express my Jewishness?

Answers to the question, what is Jewishness? reflect how individuals perceive Judaism and being Jewish. Some define Judaism as a religion, some as an ethnicity, or a culture, while others perceive being Jewish as the product of parentage and upbringing.

Answers to the question, why is Jewishness important to me? reveal ideas about meaning and relevance. Answers include recalling and learning from the Holocaust, the need to fight antisemitism or be involved in social activism. Other reasons are to maintain faith in G-d, support the wider Jewish community or support the State of Israel.

Answers to the question how do I express my Jewishness? Speak to a variety of outward behaviours, such as being part of wider Jewish networks, such as a named Jewish group, such as Haredi, Orthodox or Reform. Some Jews describe themselves as ‘just Jewish’ and do not affiliate with any named group. Actions which express Jewish identity range from attending synagogue, observing Shabbat and other religious practices, as well as feeling a sense of G-d or simply supporting other Jews.

Other interesting Findings

The report reveals some fascinating insights into European Jews’ sense of identity. This summary is taken from the main webpage, referenced above:

  • European Jews are much more likely to see themselves as a religious minority than an ethnic one, yet fewer than half of all Jewish adults across Europe light candles most Friday nights;
  • Jewish identity is strongest in Belgium, the UK, France, Austria, Spain and Italy, and weakest in Hungary and Poland;
  • The memory of the Holocaust and combating antisemitism played a more important part in people’s Jewish identity than support for Israel, belief in G-d or charitable giving. Rising perceptions of antisemitism may have stimulated a stronger bond with Jewish peoplehood;
  • Only about half of all Jews in Europe identify with a particular denomination, although there are significant differences at the national level;
  • Higher proportions of younger Jews are religiously observant than older Jews;
  • Belgium has the largest proportion of Jews identifying as Orthodox in its Jewish population, followed by the UK, Italy, France and Austria;
  • Spain has the largest proportion of Jews identifying as Reform/Progressive, followed by Germany and the Netherlands;
  • Levels of attachment to the European Union among European Jews are higher than, or very similar to, levels of attachment among their fellow citizens in the countries in which they live.

Recommended Teaching Resource

If you want to delve into some of this information with students, RE Today have produced an infographic presenting this data together with a set of suggestions as to using it in the classroom.
This is found inside this volume, Investigating Jewish Worldviews (2023), priced at £10: https://reteachingresources.co.uk/product/investigating-jewish-worldviews/? This book comes free with NATRE membership.

How many Jews are there in Britain today?

There are approximately 270,000 Jews in England which makes it the second largest Jewish population in Europe. There are just under 6,000 Jews in Scotland, 2,000 in Wales, and around 70 in Northern Ireland. A small community also exists in Jersey (in the Channel Islands). Jewish people make up about 0.04% of the British population, which is a tiny minority.

Download the entire essay here

Jewish Worldview Traditions


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Bring subject knowledge into your classroom. You will find a range of practical teaching resources and suggestions here for all age groups.