mead cohen berger shevtsova garfinkle michta grygiel blankenhorn
The Death Of European Jewish Culture

European Judaism is under the threat of extinction. That’s the piece of a long, fascinating, and ultimately tragic piece in Mosaic Magazine on the past, present, and future of European Jewish communities. The author, Michel Gurfinkiel, argues that for over 50 years after the second World War Jewish communities thrived in Europe: Israel was popular, the Jewish birthrate skyrocket, Jewish activities and practices flourished, and Jewish schools and synagogues were packed.

But, according to Gurfinkiel, this “golden age” ended around the 2000s. Though the European Jewish presence may “look healthy” today because of the proliferation of Holocaust memorials and synagogues, but beneath the surface it faces the threat of near imminent collapse. Rising anti-semitism, restrictions on Jewish practice, and endemic European nativism are combining with other forces to restrict religious practice and cultural presence:

More than one in four Jews report experiencing anti-Semitic harassment at least once in the twelve months preceding the survey; one in three have experienced such harassment over the past five years; just under one in ten have experienced a physical attack or threat in the same period; and between two-fifths and one-half in France, Belgium, and Hungary have considered emigrating because they feel unsafe […]

Two-fifths of Britons and up to three-quarters of Germans now oppose circumcision. Last year, after a medical mishap involving a Muslim circumcision, a German court banned the practice altogether for minors; it took parliamentary action to make it legal again.

Ritual slaughtering, kosher as well as hallal, is likewise under threat in Europe. Almost three-quarters of Frenchmen disapprove of it, and almost one-half of Britons advocate a complete ban. Indeed, the practice is already prohibited in five European countries.

Read the whole thing for a look into Jewish history, and an alarming prediction about it’s future. The question, as the author puts it, is whether European Jews will only get two lives, their lives before the Holocaust and the short renaissance after. We at VM are as disturbed by rising anti-semitism as Gurfinkiel is, and the possibility of losing a rich religious and cultural demographic like European Judaism should shock us all into attention.

[Image of Jews praying from Aleksandar Todorovic /]

Features Icon
show comments
  • Bart Hall

    Apart from Israel, ardently Christian America is the best place in the world to be Jew. My own GG grandfather was, in 1849, an active donor and supporter of the Jewish school in Richmond, Virginia. His family were all evangelical Christians going back at least two centuries, as we remain to this day.

    Europeans are dithering liars, and everything they say or do has an expiration date. It has apparently arrived for Jews.

    • bpuharic

      America isn’t a Christian country and CHristians have, for thousands of years, turned on the Jews. Only a secular country where all religions…and no religion…are treated equally is safe for ALL religions.

      • Jim__L

        Did you even read the article?

        Secular Europe is not good for Jews. Christians either, for that matter.

        • bpuharic

          Did you read the article? Secular Europe isn’t good for Muslims OR Jews.

          Secular America, however, is.

          As the late Rabbi and historian Arthur Hertzberg noted, there was never a single Christian govt in all of history that protected the rights of Jews

          • lukelea

            Except for England, Poland, and probably a few others which I haven’t personally researched. You are either misquoting Hertzberg or Hertzberg (whom I tend to like) didn’t know what he was talking about. Jews were often a protected minority in Europe, not only by governments but by the Catholic and Protestant churches. Of course there were always anti-Semites too. In most cases they were the ones Jews were protected against, not always successfully.

            Why is this important? Because it poisons Jewish attitudes towards Christians and Christianity.

          • bpuharic

            Poland? You’re serious? Ever HEAR of Auschwitz? And that was hardly an isolated case Poles routinely turned in Jews to the nazis

            England was the FIRST country in the western world to expel the Jews after the “St Hugh” incident in the 13th century

            You should read “Dabru Emet” then c’mon back

            You are completely ignorant of the history of Christians vs Jews

          • lukelea

            The statement was that was never a Christian government that protected the rights of Jews, not that there was never a moment when a Christian government did not protect the rights of Jews. In fact during most of medieval and modern European history the Jews were a protected minority, especially in Poland. Do a little research.

          • bpuharic

            Uh…who were these govts protecting Jews from?


            Jews have been expelled from every single European country at one time or another.

          • ChuckFinley


            The fact that you blame Auschwitz on the Poles means that nothing you say should be taken seriously.

            Do you blame the Katyn Forest massacre on the Poles as well? It happened in Poland. Do you blame the Malmedy massacre on the Belgians?

          • bpuharic

            You’re just not a bright guy. Sorry

            Many other countries were occupied by Germans and managed to limit the number of Jews killed.

            Poland has a deep and abiding strain of antisemitism that led many Poles to cooperate with the Germans in the murder of Jews. Of the 1.6 million Jews in Poland in 1939, less than 10,000 survived the war

            You’re a moral coward and don’t have the guts to face history.

          • Tom

            Of course, the next question should be whether the Poles even had the option.
            Given that Poland suffered the fourth highest national death toll in World War II, (close to a sixth of its population) it is entirely probable that the Poles were in much less of a position to protect their Jews than say, Denmark or France.
            Anti-semitism was a problem in Poland, but ascribing the location of Auschwitz in the country to it is really, really dumb.

          • bpuharic

            The fact the Russians and Germans fought in Poland, vs Germany merely occupying Denmark probably has more to do with it than courageous Poles sacrificing themselves for Jews.

          • Tom

            No duh. Really?
            Did I say that?
            Wait…no I didn’t.

          • Jeff Jones

            > You’re just not a bight guy

            …say the moron who actually still believes the Nazis were right wingers, despite antisemitism rearing its ugly head at Occupy Wall Street, and the neo-Nazis joining those protests. The nazis were left, or you’re just ignorant and stupid.

            The nazis’ nationalism may have appeared right wing, but their behavior toward Jews was a product of leftism. There is no other explanation when you couple that with their love of centralized government and hatred of freedom.

          • bpuharic

            You REALLY believe antisemitism is a disease only of the left? It’s classic right wing bigotry, just like conservative southerners hated blacks and Catholics…they hated Jews as well

            Proud to be ignorant is your motto…your rule of life.

            The right loves centralized govt…forced religions (school prayer, creationism, bans on homosexuality, etc.)

          • Jeff Jones

            The Weimar Republic was considered right in the 1920s, something the nazis railed against.

            Likewise, the Nazis and Mussolini’s black shirts were considered left in the 20s. Their behavior of destroying things and disrupting day-to-day existence reeks of the same brand of leftism that destroys private property at every G20 summit.

            Your rule of life is to remain bitter because your liberal agenda lies in ruin under the stewardship of that two-bit street agitator in the White House.

          • bpuharic

            Don’t tell our young historian that hitler killed every commie he met and invaded a commie country (the USSR) while providing aid to the Fascist govt of Franco…

            Guess Franco was a red, too…he was fighting commies but he MUSTA been a red…

            And by all means let’s return to the days of the American right when Wall Street gambled with trillions, then ran to conservatives when they lost money, asking for, and receiving corporate welfare.

          • lukelea

            The South was distinctively welcoming to Jews, lacking a commercial class of its own. Read Lindeman’s account of the Leo Frank affair, which, by the way, turns out not to have been motivated by anti-Semitism in the first place, anymore than George Zimmerman was motivated by race.

            For someone who blithely accuses those with whom he disagrees of being historically ignorant, bpuharic needs to spend more time in the library.

          • ChuckFinley

            Not so bright? I’m not the one blaming the death camps at Auschwitz on the Poles. I’m also not the one underestimating the number of Jews killed in Poland by about half.

            Approximately 6 million people were killed in Poland during the Second World War, 3 million Jews and 3 million gentiles.

          • bpuharic

            Can’t read, can you?

            There were about 1.5M Jewish Poles, virtually all of whom were murdered with the assistance of Polish Christians who generally turned their Jewish neighbors over to the nazis

            There were trains to Auschwitz which brought millions of others from all over Europe

            See how that works? Trains can move people! yep, they really can!!!

          • ChuckFinley

            Acording to the 1931 Polish census there were 3.1 million Jews in Poland. By 1939 there were 3.2 million Jews in Poland. The Nazis killed 90% of them which is approximately 3 million.

            Auschwitz was a collection of work camps and death camps located in Poland. These camps were built and operated by the German Nazis who invaded Poland and also killed 3 million non Jewish Poles.

            Why you and Hitler share such an antipathy for the Poles is one of those mysteries who’s answer I guess I will never know.

          • bpuharic

            Hitler, like you, was a christian. And Christians murdered Jews in every Christian country.

            Why you admire hitler’s view of the Jews is something you need to explain

          • lukelea

            Definition of BIGOT
            : a person who is obstinately or intolerantly devoted to his or her own opinions and prejudices; especially : one who regards or treats the members of a group (as a racial or ethnic group) with hatred and intolerance

            bpuharic is a bigot

          • bpuharic

            Let’s see…the right wing Christians here are telling us Christians never harmed a hair on a Jew…ever. In 2000 years.

            The right wing revisionists rewrite history. Lie. Distort facts

            You were saying about bigotry

          • ChuckFinley

            Honestly, I think he is crazy. I have probably had too much fun poking at him and I am not really proud of it. I think I’ll stop now.

            Thanks for the book recommendation. I’ve been reading “Savage Continent: Europe in the Aftermath of World War II” which is grim enough that I will probably not be reading another book about mass slaughter any time soon. One of the points that the author makes over and over is that accurate figures are hard to come by because all groups tried to minimize the atrocities they committed and maximize their victimization. Even the Germans who were ethnically cleansed from eastern Europe play the victim card and, given that thousands of them were killed for nothing more than their ethnicity they can claim some victim status. Given the anarchy that reigned in some parts of Europe for years after the war ended, I can understand why Europeans place such a high value on stability.

          • lukelea
  • JDogg Snook

    Europe: once an anti-semite, always an anti-semite.

  • Ooga Booga

    It’s mostly demographics that’s dooming European Jewish culture. Outside of France and the UK there just aren’t enough Jews to create a culture outside of the Ultra-Orthodox bubble.

    None of this is to play down the alarming levels of anti-Semitism in Europe, which I would argue is mostly present among elites (and immigrants). The average Joe Euro doesn’t think that much about Jews either way.

  • USNK2

    Shame on Via Meadia for this post.
    Such ignorance and bigotry (who chose the photo?) does not belong under Mr. Mead’s name.

  • J R Yankovic

    EXTREMELY disturbing – though hardly shocking – news. And esp. re the percentages opposing circumcision and ritual slaughter.

  • wigwag

    Of course we can count on the Obama Administration to remain silent in the face of this calamity just as it remains silent as Christians in the Middle East and Africa are harassed and attacked. The only religious group that Obama seems to have any concern for at all is the community of Muslims he considers to be moderate. Those would be the Muslims who profess that “dying in the way of Allah is the highest of [their] aspirations.”

    • bpuharic

      Let’s go to war against Europe, too, for antisemitism. THe right thinks Obama should right ever wrong, oppose every injustice, sail the world correcting every fault.

      And your racist view of Obama is noted

      • Tom

        Because, as we all know, Islam is a race. Duly noted. Carry on.

        • bpuharic

          Hey it’s the claim of you right wingers

          Carry on indeed

          • Tom

            Mmmhmmm. Right.

    • USNK2

      hey wigwag
      Obama is scheduled to attend a synagogue in Sweden on Tuesday, although I was hoping the phone call that delayed his Rose Garden appearance on Saturday, that phone call was from the Swedish rabbi asking Obama to find a mosque in Malmo instead, Malmo being where the mayor has publicly admitted Jews are not safe.

      for the record, my objection to this post, besides the photo of orthodox Jews at the Wailing Wall in Jerusalem, is that whoever wrote it in Mr. Mead’s absence relegates Jews to a “rich religious and cultural demographic like European Judaism”
      which was already lost during WW2 and the aftermath of displaced survivors.
      As if being Jewish in Europe is not about being a citizen in an allegedly democratic, secular nation, but some sort of quaint historic relic.

      Via Meadia’s ignorance in this post “should shock us all into attention.”

      • wigwag

        I visited Malmo once; it was the late 1980s and I arrived in the city via Germany on the Travemünde to Malmo ferry. As it happens, Malmo is home to a great university and medical school. I was visiting to attend a medical conference on Type I diabetes (Sweden has the second highest incidence of Type I diabetes in the world after Denmark).

        The city was lovely and the people were delightful. It is remarkable and horrific what has happened to Malmo.

  • J R Yankovic

    Wow. Still can’t digest it. And here I was hoping a steadily – not to mention constrictingly – more united Europe might act as a brake on these trends. Now if any of you mean to tell me these same ultra-Europhile elites – the ones who fanatically ramrodded a single European currency, ahem – are, what? ALSO an important locus of “humanitarian” anti-Semitism (infant and animal rights and all that)? Well, all I can tell you is I’m MORTIFIED. The very cutting edge of progressive opinion in Europe . . . (Can’t you you hear my heart breaking?)

    OTOH, would anyone care to include (relatively) pro-American Poland among the dithering liars? The same Poland now apparently spearheading the growing move towards banning kosher slaughter (updates appreciated):

    Honestly, since when are pro-Americanism, anti-Communism and a good, healthy, heartfelt Russophobia compatible with prejudice (of ANY kind?) against Jews? And next I hear of Roman Giertych, of the devoutly Catholic, EuroSKEPTIC League of Polish Families (say it ain’t so!), trying to orchestrate an effort to REVERSE the ban? (again, updates appreciated)

    This world is evidently a more complicated place than I thought. Meanwhile I’ll continue to hope for its re-simplification – mainly by eagerly awaiting any news that those vile, putrid Russians are next in line to follow the Polish example. Imagine it: an example in reverse from the ultimate barbarians (notice how all our contempt is making them more civilized? Ah, but – what am I saying? – filthy Muscovites are incorrigible by definition).

    THAT oughta get the Poles moving again in the right direction.

  • bpuharic

    WRM notes that many restrictions on Jews apply equally to Muslims. In addition, male genital mutilation, as circumcision is called in some circles, does raise some ethical questions. The ritual slaughter of animals, if you’ve ever seen a video, is barbaric.

    I have no doubt Europe may be xenophobic but that seems to apply across the line to both Muslims and Jews. Quite frankly, IMHO, Islam represents a threat Judaism never did.

  • Anthony

    “The idea of a science of Judaism emerged a few years after, under the influence of Napoleon’s campaign to establish civil equality irrespective of religion, the Prussian edict of 1812 granted this status to all legally resident Jews. Comparable developments took place in other European countries beginning the era of Jewish emancipation.” The danger is moralizing conformity and obedience – history is dismissed at our peril. (see Peter Berger)

  • Jim__L

    The totalitarian leanings of Leftist culture are incompatible with freedom of religion. It’s that simple.

    • bpuharic

      Funny, the same is true of right wing culture.

  • Jim__L

    “Gurfinkiel [sic]”

    Guys, set up a peer-review editing process or something, things have slipped since WRM has gone on his business trip.

  • Kavanna

    European culture has always relied on a high level of conformity and homogeneity, especially on the Continent. With some exceptions, like the UK, Holland, and Switzerland, the “absolutist / Counter-Reformation” model of enforced social solidarity is still very much alive. It’s been transformed by the rise of the secular state and the leftist concept of top-down, coercive social engineering. But it’s deeply rooted in European history.

    It is this history that makes movements of conformist populism and resentment (like fascism and most forms of leftism — fascism is a national-racial leftism, actually) possible and frequent. And it makes it hard to deal with plurality, freedom of religion and conscience, and individualism. The EU is an attempt to use this paradigm of political culture to make Europeans both the same and equally free. It can’t work. But the attempt will do a lot of damage in the meantime.

© The American Interest LLC 2005-2016 About Us Masthead Submissions Advertise Customer Service