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The Jews of South Africa in 2019: Identity, community, society, demography

Author(s): David Graham
Date: 24 April 2020

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This report, published in conjunction with the Isaac and Jessie Kaplan Centre for Jewish Studies at the University of Cape Town, contains a detailed demographic assessment of the South African Jewish population and the results of the 2019 Jewish Community Survey of South Africa – the largest and most extensive study of its kind ever undertaken. The fieldwork for the survey generated a final sample of 4,193 individuals (aged 18 and over) living in 2,402 unique households. Accounting for everyone living within those households, the report draws on data on 5,287 individuals.

Authored by JPR Senior Research Fellow Dr David Graham, the report finds that the Jewish population of the country has declined over the past twenty years, mainly as a result of migration, but also due to the natural ageing of the population. Jews have emigrated from South Africa in significant numbers since the 1960s; the study speculates that the South African Jewish diaspora may now be larger than the Jewish population living in South Africa.

However, despite the numerical decline, the report demonstrates that the South African Jewish community is remarkably vibrant and resilient. Overall, Jewish identity in South Africa appears to be stronger, and more religious, than in either Australia or the UK and the community remains very close-knit.

The study finds significant differences between the Jewish communities of Johannesburg and Cape Town, with 48% in Johannesburg self-identifying as either Orthodox or strictly Orthodox, compared with 22% in Cape Town. In Cape Town 40% self-describe as Progressive or Secular, compared with 18% in Johannesburg.

The report explores South African Jews' sense of belonging to the country and sense of satisfaction with their lives, as well as their attitudes to issues such as unemployment, government corruption and crime levels, anti-Israel sentiment and antisemitism. It also contains new data on synagogue membership and Jewish school enrolment.

The study is designed to provide an up-to-date set of empirical data to help Jewish community leaders plan for the future, including those involved in social care, health and welfare, education, religious life and combating antisemitism.

To access a few key infographics showing selected findings of the Jewish Community Survey of South Africa, click here.