2016 Annual Assessment

Annual Assessment 2016

Dr. Shlomo Fischer

Avinoam Bar-Yosef, Susanne Cohen-Weisz, Rémi Daniel, Chaya Ekstein, Dan Feferman, Avi Gil, Inbal Hakman, Michael Herzog, Simon Luxemburg, David Landes, Dov Maimon, Steven Popper, Uzi Rebhun, Shmuel Rosner, John Ruskay, Noah Slepkov, Shalom Solomon Wald, Einat Wilf

Barry Geltman
Rami Tal

2016 Annual Assessment

At the end of World War II, there were fewer than 4,000 Jews in Vienna (about 2 percent of the prewar Jewish population). Most surviving and returning Alt-Wiener2 Jews identified with Orthodox Judaism at all levels of observance, while a minority was distant from such religious identification. They were joined in the early 1950s by some 3,000 Jewish displaced persons (DPs), who stayed in the country after the closure of the allied DP camps. By and large, these DPs, who came mainly from central and eastern European countries, were observant, and some even Haredi. In the late 1950s and in the 1960s a wave of immigration to Vienna of Jews from those countries,3 particularly Hungary, led to the diversification of the IKG by the presence of significant numbers of Jews committed to different streams within Orthodoxy ranging from the Modern Orthodox and Zionist Mizrachi to the Haredi and fervently anti-Zionist Satmar Hasidim. In the 1970s and 1980s, further diversification occurred with the immigration and settlement in Vienna of some 3,000 Jews from the Soviet Union – mainly from Bukhara and Georgia. The majority of these Jewish immigrants maintained a traditional way of life.4 Due to this immigration, new elements of Sephardi Jewish identity and tradition were introduced into Vienna’s postwar Jewish community, which for three decades had remained almost exclusively Ashkenazi.

Thus, over the past few decades, the Jewish population in Vienna has become more observant (even if the majority is more traditional than strictly observant) and diverse in terms of Orthodox practice and ideology, and more heterogeneous in terms of ethnic origin. Accordingly, there are nine Orthodox congregations in the IKG and another two religious groups outside the IKG framework (the Haredi Chabad-Lubavitch and the Progressive Or Chadasch5).

Today 7,787 Jews are registered members of the IKG6, most of whom are under the age of 40. Until the 1980s, it seemed the Vienna Jewish community was doomed to simply fade away, due to emigration, low birth rates, and high mortality rates due to demographic ageing. Thanks to immigration from the Soviet Union, in 1990, for the first time since 1945, the IKG registered more births than deaths, and average age dropped to below 50. In 2016, half of IKG members were under the age of 40, and over 60 percent under 50.7 This demographic development stands in contrast to the skewed age pyramids in most European Jewish communities – small and large (e.g. in Germany, 40.3 percent of the members are under the age of 508). It is mainly due to the high birthrate among Haredi Jews (about 20-25 percent of the IKG members9), the relatively high birthrate among (traditional) Sephardi Jews compared to the non-Haredi Ashkenazim, and the increasing birthrate among the latter. Additionally, the crumbling of ethnic barriers within the Jewish community resulted in broader local marriage prospects. Increasingly accepted Ashkenazi-Sephardi “mixed marriages” helped reduce the emigration of younger Jews.