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Russia's Jewish Population Fading Away?

The Jewish population in the former Soviet Union is withering away. The vast majority of Russia's Jewish children are born into mixed marriages.
By Chana Ya'ar
First Publish: 10/25/2010, 10:02 PM / Last Update: 10/25/2010, 10:15 PM

The Jewish population is slowly disappearing in Russia, with a demographic expert predicting as much as a 25 percent drop in the latest census figures. The vast majority of Jewish children are the offspring of mixed marriages.

Mark Kupovetsky, a specialist on Russian Jewish demography, told the RIA Novosti news agency in Moscow last week that he estimated current figures would show up to 60,000 fewer Jews than were found during the 2002 census.

Between 1989 and 2002 – the year of the most recent census survey -- some 40 percent of the Jewish population left Russia in a mass emigration, some of whom moved to Israel. However, according to Russian Chief Rabbi and Chabad emissary Rabbi Berel Lazar, many are now returning to Russia, in particular those Jews who had moved to Germany in the 1990s. 

Nevertheless, by the 2002 census, there were only 233,000 Jews left in Russia, compared with 875,000 Jews who lived in the country in 1959, when the first census was taken following World War II.

Kupovetsky, director of biblical and Judaic studies at the Russian State University for the Humanities, explained that most of Russia’s Jews currently live in Moscow and its surrounding communities. Approximately 20 percent of the Jewish population lives in the S. Petersburg area, and the rest of the Jews live in cities with populations of more than a million.

The majority only produce one or two children, he added. Moreover, rampant assimilation also accounts for much of the disappearance of Russia’s Jews; up to 90 percent of Jewish children in the former Soviet Union are the offspring of mixed marriages, Kupovetsky said.

As older Jews die, and fewer Russian Jewish babies are born, the Jewish population in the former Soviet Union is beginning to slowly wither away.