Scottish Jewry in Decline

The current issue (19 March 2010, pp. 4-5) of the Jewish Chronicle includes a two-page feature by its political editor, Martin Bright, on the decline of the Scottish Jewish community, from 18,000 in the 1950s to 10,000 today. The overwhelming majority of these Jews are concentrated in the Greater Glasgow area.

The article announces that, following a meeting earlier this month with the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, the Scottish Government (through its Community Safety Unit) has committed to launch an enquiry into the causes of this decline, amid growing concern about anti-Semitism north of the border. Scottish ministers have yet to make any online public statement on the matter and to decide on the exact form of this investigation.

The anxiety about growing anti-Semitism is voiced in a recent online essay by Kenneth Collins and Ephraim Borowski on ‘Scotland’s Jews: Community and Political Challenges’, published on the website of the Institute for Global Jewish Affairs. The authors claim that much Scottish anti-Semitism is associated with events in the Middle East (specifically hostility to Israel and support for the Palestinians).

Some confirmation of this comes from the number of anti-Semitic incidents reported to the Community Security Trust (CST). There were just 10 of these in Scotland in 2008 but 30 in 2009, including 16 in January alone when the Israelis were mounting Operation Cast Lead in Gaza. One of the most serious incidents was the desecration of Jewish graves at Glenduffhill Cemetery in Glasgow, pictures of which have only just been released to the media.

Another potential indicator is prejudice against Jews and/or Israel expressed in public opinion polls. Unfortunately, although there is no shortage of such polls on a Britain-wide basis (see Clive Field, ‘John Bull’s Judeophobia’, Jahrbuch für Antisemitismusforschung, Vol. 15, 2006, pp. 259-300), the Scottish sub-samples (where analysed) are typically too small to be meaningful.

In any case, no causal link between anti-Semitism and the decline of Scottish Jewry is yet proven. Indeed, the Jewish Chronicle quotes spokespersons from the Scottish Jewish Archives Centre and the CST who appear rather dismissive of any such link.

For an overview of Scotland’s Jewish community, see Kenneth Collins with Ephraim Borowski and Leah Granat, Scotland’s Jews: A Guide to the History and Community of the Jews in Scotland, second edition, Glasgow: Scottish Council of Jewish Communities, 2008. The same publisher also issued in the same year Marlena Schmool, Scotland’s Jews, a study of Scottish Jews in the 2001 census.

Also of interest is Nathan Abrams, Caledonian Jews: A Study of Seven Small Communities in Scotland, Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2009. This focuses on the Jews of Aberdeen, Ayr, Dundee, Dunfermline, Falkirk, Greenock, Inverness, the Highlands and Islands.

POSTSCRIPT [11 June 2010]: Recent reports in the Jewish Chronicle qualify Martin Bright’s original feature article in three important respects:

a) Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister, does not accept that anti-Semitism is a growing problem in Scotland;

b) the Scottish Government has not agreed to conduct an investigation into the causes of Jewish decline in Scotland; and

c) the Glasgow Jewish Educational Forum is critical of the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities for exaggerating the threat of anti-Semitism in Scotland

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