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Two Hundred Years of Scottish Jewry – a Demographic and Genealogical Profile

In January 2012, the Institute formally launched a mega-project seeking to produce a demographic and genealogical profile of Scottish Jewry, which as a formal entity emerged in 1816 with the opening of a synagogue in Edinburgh. The motivation behind this ambitious project was to try to move Jewish Genealogy on to a new plane and for this first, as far as is known, to analyze from a genealogical perspective a free-standing national Jewry as a whole.

Scottish Jewry was selected for study for a number of reasons:

  • It is manageable scientifically, in terms of age and size. Since its emergence almost 200 years ago, the total number of Scottish Jews (broadly, and very loosely, defined as “Jews with a meaningful Scottish connection”) probably amounts to not more than 50-60,000 individuals.
  • The sources and resources needed for the study are readily available. Scottish national censuses from 1841 to 1911 are accessible online, as are the bulk of birth, marriage and death records until relatively recent dates.
  • The Scottish Jewish Archives Centre in Glasgow has been systematically collecting documentation and other materials on Scottish Jewry for more than 25 years. It has,  for example, computerized 99% of Jewish burials in Scotland, and has compiled a name-list of almost 38,000 Scottish Jews.
  • The specialised human resources and scholarly expertise required to implement the project successfully are at hand in Scotland and Israel.

The project seeks to produce completely new knowledge on the geographic origins of Scottish Jewry, its dispersal and settlement patterns throughout Scotland, and the changes in its demographic composition over almost two centuries. Population graphs for Scottish Jewry over time will be constructed and analysed from various sociological and historic perspectives, providing for the first time a clear picture of demographic growth patterns. In parallel, the project will investigate the dynamics of the “kinship factor” as a magnet for attracting Jews to Scotland and as a force for both the development of family networks and the evolution of social, economic, intellectual and other communal elites. The religious, social and educational institutions that the community established for its self-preservation and development will be studied. Similarly, an examination will be made of the degree to which the community integrated into the general society and contributed actively to it, while preserving its own distinctive heritage and traditions. Finally, given the close-knit and largely “in-bred” structure of the community, an attempt will be made to construct a model for a “Family Tree” of Scottish Jewry and its diaspora, and to apply that model to the extent possible. A full project proposal is attached.

Several end-products are envisaged from the project:

  • Unprecedented knowledge about Scottish Jewry from the demographic and genealogical perspectives – to be presented, in the first instance, in a scholarly monograph, containing a full description and analysis of the results of the survey in the form of an integrated narrative, supplemented by detailed tables, graphs and appendices as appropriate.
  • A companion volume of a more popular nature, aimed at wider audiences, both Jewish and non-Jewish.
  • A (mobile) exhibition, profiling Scottish Jewry demographically and genealogically.
  • Teaching aids aimed at young people, both Jewish and non-Jewish, to help them discover and cherish their heritage.

Beyond these end-products, the project will have another far-reaching dimension, as it could well become a model for further studies among other free-standing national Jewries of similar size and age (for instance, Ireland, Switzerland and the Scandinavian        countries). And if this happens, the Institute’s initiative will truly have extended the boundaries of Jewish Genealogy and opened up a new and challenging field for it, with benefits for wide-ranging groups within and beyond the Jewish genealogical community and in the academic world at large.

The whole project is scheduled to be completed in three, and at most four, years from January, 2012. It is being sponsored in Scotland by both the Scottish Council of Jewish Communities and the Glasgow Jewish Representative Council.

Click here        for a 1-page “fact sheet” about the project.

Click here  a preliminary report on the project, which was subsequently published in AVOTAYNU, xxviii, 1 (Spring, 2012), pp. 21-23.

Click here        for an abstract of a lengthy report produced the project’s PI (Principal Researcher), Michael Tobias, processing some of the results of the first 9 months of mining online sources.