Jewish Community of Antwerp

The Jewish community of Antwerp consists of around 22,000 Jews. The majority of those who choose to identify themselves as Jewish belong to the traditional or orthodox streams, although levels of practice vary. The charedi, or orthodox Orthodox Jews, tend to live, concentrated, in the city center in an area close to the Antwerp Central railway station. This area is also sometimes known as "Jewish Antwerp" ( _nl. Joods Antwerpen). Its main attraction is its close proximity to the diamond bourse, where in earlier days a large part of the community worked. It is also where the Jewish schools, kosher food outlets and general Jewish amenities are located.


The first Jewish presence in Antwerp is attested to by the will of Henry III, the Duke of Brabant and Margrave of Antwerp who in 1261 expressed his wish that the Jews of Brabant should be expelled and destroyed because they are all "usurers".

In the mid 14th century John III, the Duke of Brabant, conducted a massive anti-Jewish campaign in Brussels and Leuven and drove them from the city. (source)

A new group of Jewish immigrants started to settle in Antwerp in the early 16th century, when the city became a relatively safe haven for crypto-Jews fleeing the persecutions and the expulsions in the Iberian Peninsula. An often tenuous presence was maintained for the next century and a half, although Jews were not allowed to acquire citizenship and persecution was common. (source)

It was not until 1794 and with the arrival of the French revolution that Jews could settle freely in Antwerp for the first time.The current Jewish community of Antwerp was officially established in 1816, when there were about one hundred Jews living in the city. This, the first legally recognized community, was known as the Jewish Community (Communaute Israelite). The first Jewish public prayers were held in the private home of Moise Kreyn, having received the approval of the city authorities. The Jews of Antwerp acquired possession of a cemetery in 1828. There were 151 Jews living in Antwerp in 1829.


In recent years many of the younger generation of secular Jews have moved away from the crowded city center. There has also been small but steady growth of Orthodox satellite communities in suburbs such as Edegem, Wilrijk and Brasschaat. This may cause the Antwerp community to seem overwhelmingly Haredi to the casual observer. After New York, London and Paris, Antwerp is one of the largest communities of Haredi Jews outside Israel.

The religious community is represented by two religious councils, known as kehillas:
* The Israëlitische Gemeente van Antwerpen "Shomre Hadass"; primarily oriented towards the Modern Orthodox community. It is led by Chief Rabbi David Moshe Lieberman. This council also espouses the values of religious Zionism, and maintains a pro-Israel stance in community affairs.
* The "Orthodoxe Israëlitische Gemeente Machsike Hadass", represents the ultra-orthodox Haredi community.

The late Rabbi Chaim Kreiswirth, was the Chief Rabbi of the Machzikei Hadass kehilla for many years and was widely considered to be one of Jewish Antwerp's most charismatic figures. He died in 2003, to be replaced by Rabbi Rubinstein of Israel who passed away a few months after being nominated to the post. It has since remained unfilled and his duties are performed by Rabbi Sternbuch, his deputy.

An essential difference between these two organizations is apparent in the Shomrei Hadas' alignment with religious Zionist doctrine which the Machzikei Hadass rejects.

Hasidic Jews

Hasidic movements represented in Antwerp include:

* Alexander
* Belz (The major synagogue on Van Spangenstr. 2 & the new shtiebel at Lange Leemstr. 170A)
* Bobov
* Chortkov
* Ger
* Lubavitch
* Pshevorsk
* Satmar
* Shotz
* Skver
* Sanz-Klausenberg
* Vizhnitz (Vizhnitz Bnei Brak, Vizhnitz New York)

The Pshevorsk movement is the only internationally recognised chassidic movement based in Antwerp. The Pshevorsker Rebbe, Rabbi Leibish Leiser, lives in Antwerp, as did his predecessors. Pshevorsker Hasidim live mainly in Antwerp, London, and Manchester; on Jewish holidays many come to Antwerp to see their rebbe.

Non-Hasidic Jews

Although the Jews not aligned to any chasidic group probably no longer massively outnumber the chasidim they have a substantial presence. The three major Synangogues in Antwerp, known locally by their addresses; The Van Den Nestlei and the Bouwmeesterstraat shuls of the Shomre Hadass and the Oostenstraat shul (pictured above) are not aligned to any chasidic movement.

There is a small Lithuanian Jewish community. Furthermore there are organisations of Georgian Jews, a Sephardic synagogue, secular Jewish organizations.


Like in other cities with big Jewish communities, Antwerp is surrounded by a wire called "Eruv" (Eiroew in Dutch). Different than the Eruv of New York or Paris, the Antwerp Eruv surrounds the whole city center. The presence of this wire allows Jews to interpret the city as one big house. Therefore it's easier to fulfill some Sabbath regulations in this area. This wire can be found close to the Singel at a height of 6 meters.


A number of Jewish schools are found all over the Jewish district (95% of the Jewish children of Antwerp receive a Jewish education). The three main Jewish schools in Antwerp are the Yesode Hatora of the Machsike Hadas, and the Yavne and Tachkemoni schools of the Shomre Hadas.

The Yesode Hatora - Beth Jacob population is composed primarily of students from Hasidic, Haredi and Orthodox backgrounds. It provides instruction in religious as well as secular studies: students follow a dual curriculum starting in pre-school/kindergarten, through primary school and secondary school. Established in 1903, it is the oldest of Antwerp's Jewish schools and has the highest population of Jewish students. Students are educated in accordance with the values of Orthodox Judaism and fulfill the educational requirements of the Belgian Ministry of Education. The student population is separated by gender; male students attend Yesode Hatora and female students attend Beth Jacob. In accordance with the religious ideology that puts little value on secular learning, the school actively discourages the pursuit of secular higher education.

The Yavne school is aligned with the religious Zionist movement. Similar to Jesode Hatora/Beth Jacob, the Yavne school follows a dual curriculum composed of religious and secular studies. Students are educated in accordance with the values of religious Zionism and fulfill the educational requirements of the Belgian Ministry of Education. The school is not mixed; male students attend the Yeshiva Tichonit and females the Ulpena Lebanot. An estimated 98% of Yavne students typically make aliya (emigrate to Israel) within one year of graduation from secondary school. In recent years, far-reaching improvements have been achieved in the secular curriculum. Religious instruction also adheres to high standards and a widely developed curriculum.

The Tachkemoni is a fully co-educational school, attracting students from primarily secular Jewish backgrounds and some modern-orthodox families. Its high level of Hebrew and serious preparation for the Jerusalem Examination (Mivchan Jerushalmi) administered by the Jewish Agency and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem makes it one of the finest Jewish educational institutions in Europe. Most graduates pursue university studies after completing secondary school and many spend a year in Israel. Tachkemoni was founded in 1920 by Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel, an humble and moderate religious -zionist. His vision for a strong Jewish education along with a good secular education is still part of the culture of Tachkemoni.

In addition there are several kollelim, where married men can continue their studies. The famed haredi Etz Chaim Yeshiva, where hundreds of young men from around the world study, is now located in the Wilrijk district, having previously been in the Antwerp suburban towns, first of Heide then Kapellen.

Many synagogues, schools, charities and social groups care for the environment. A majority of Jews living in Antwerp are multi-lingual, and communicate in a variety of languages. Yiddish, French, Hebrew, English and German are all widely spoken amongst members of the community. The Jewish community of Antwerp didn't immediately adopt the locally spoken Dutch language as their common spoken language. Instead, in line with the people they worked with in the diamond trade, they spoke French, the language of commerce in Antwerp until after WW II. In recent years English has taken over as the common language of choice while stricter enforcement of local language regulations ensure that all children are fluent in Dutch (in its local Flemish form). The use of language in Antwerp's Jewish community is a complex issue: while community members possess fair knowledge of different languages, there is a clear lack of uniformity when it comes to effective communication and discussion in a common language.


The Jewish Community in Antwerp has maintained a strong and active presence in the local diamond trade. After World War II, Belgian Jewish survivors as well as others from Eastern Europe settled in Antwerp and built up an influential and highly successful stake in the diamond business. Whether through established diamond trading offices, cutting and polishing factories, or as diamond brokers, Antwerp's Jews established themselves as capable businessmen and -women.

Over the course of the past decade, however, much of the diamond trade has been taken over by the Indian community. With easy access to manufacturing centers in India, where production costs are significantly cheaper, the Jewish community has lost some of its influence as far as the diamond trade is concerned. However, the diamond business remains a common profession shared by most of the members of the Jewish community.

Thus the future of Antwerp's Jewish community is uncertain, with a record amount of Jews opting for residence in Israel, and to a lesser extent in the United States and the United Kingdom.

Community Publications

The current most widely read news source published by members of Antwerp's Jewish community is Joods Actueel It is an offshoot of the now defunct Belgish-Israelitisch Weekblad. Joods Actueel is a monthly magazine led by General Director Terry Davids and Managing Editor Michael Zevi Freilich. Along with local news, Joods Actueel also provides reporting on sports, culture, film reviews and international news. The most recent issue of Joods Actueel tackled the topic of evolution, creationism and intelligent design. Other publications include the Lema'an Teida, a Yiddish weekly e-newsletter written by Pinchas Kornfeld and the Shabbat b'Shabbato, a weekly paper publication also available on the web, in Hebrew and Yiddish. It is commonly perused by synagogue attendants at Sabbath services.

Dining & Restaurants

There are a variety of kosher eateries located in and around Antwerp's Jewish area, including a vegetarian kosher restaurant called "Beni Falafel", a dairy restaurant called ´´Mama Mia´,a pizzeria called "Time Out", and a kosher steakhouse called "Lama Lo".

ee also

* Diamonds as an investment
* Pshevorsk – Hasidic Jewish movement based in Antwerp
* History of the Jews in Belgium

External links

* [ Article from the Database of Jewish Communities]
* [ Virtual Jewish History Tour of Belgium]
* [ Expatica - Jewish Antwerp]
* [ - Antwerpen]
* [ Travelling to Jewish Antwerp]
* [ Pictures of the The Bouweesterstraat synagogue]

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