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Since the earliest days of the coronavirus outbreak in the UK, concerns have been expressed that Jews have been disproportionately affected, with mortality levels among them abnormally high. Initial hypotheses arguing that this could largely be explained by geographical and age factors were both proven and challenged by a June 2020 paper published by the Office for National Statistics. It showed that Jews were more likely to be affected because of their above average age profile and where they tend to live (London and other urban centres), but that even after accounting for these and other socio-demographic variables, they were still found to be disproportionately vulnerable.
This short paper draws on existing evidence to investigate why this might be the case. In particular, it explores whether the long-established above average health profile of Jews in the UK has shifted in such a way as to result in elevated levels of mortality from COVID-19, and whether behavioural factors – particularly in the most Orthodox parts of the community – affect the numbers in any significant way. In brief, it finds that there has been no such change in the fundamental health status of British Jews, and that regardless of any specific issues within haredi communities, the vast majority of COVID-19 related deaths among Jews have occurred in the mainstream, non-haredi sector.
Its key conclusions are as follows:
1) Even though Jewish mortality from COVID-19 is high as it is for other Black, Asian and minority ethnic groups, Jews are a completely different case and should be analysed and understood as such;
2) The high mortality levels found among Jews is not caused in any significant way by any particular developments occurring in the strictly Orthodox (haredi) population;
3) Elevated mortality among Jews may in part be due to the interconnected and contact-rich social and religious lives that Jews have, but further analysis is required to confirm this.