Community in Norway - World Jewish Congress
Norway

Norway was home to 1,300 Jews in 2023, making it the second-smallest Jewish community in Scandinavia after Iceland. Norwegian Jewry is involved in all aspects of Norwegian life, including the high offices of the state.

The Jewish community in Norway is represented by Det Mosaiske Trossamfund (The Mosaic Community), the Norwegian affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate
Det Mosaiske Trossamfund

Telephone:
+47 23 20 57 50
Fax:
+47 2 2416 573
Email:
adm@dmt.oslo.no
Website:
www.dmt.oslo.no

CEO:
Elisabeth Malting

President: Ronen Bahar
History

Jews have lived in Norway since the 1400s, but from 1687 until the Norwegian parliament lifted the ban in 1851, Jews found in Norway were jailed and expelled. Norway was part of the Danish kingdom, and maintained Lutheran-inspired laws that effectively restricted Jews from settling in the western regions of Scandinavia. It was not until the era of King Christian IV in the late 16th and early 17th centuries that some flexibility was afforded to Sephardic Jews, who had been expelled from Spain and Portugal, to settle in the country. This was done to encourage the utilization of trading relationships nurtured by the Jewish community and help develop the economies of Denmark and Norway. Though he faced opposition from his clergy, Christian IV allowed Jews to settle in the region around 1620, giving them special permission to enter the country. In 1630, he granted the Sephardic Jews freedom of religion and permitted them to travel and trade freely throughout the kingdom. This later applied to Ashkenazi Jews, who received his “protection” in 1641.

King Christian IV’s successor, King Fredrik III, placed stricter conditions on Jews in his kingdom, not allowing them to be in Denmark or Norway without a letter of 'safe conduct.' Such restrictions existed throughout the 18th century and well into the 19th century. Norway gained independence from Denmark in 1814, and its first constitution prohibited Jews from entering the kingdom. It was not until 1830 that the attitude towards Jews in Norway eased, and a campaign to lift restrictions on Jewish immigration, initiated by the liberal literary figure Henrik Wergeland in the 1840s, succeeded in getting the Storting (Parliament) to accept a resolution to allow Jewish migration to Norway. 

The first community in Norway was established in Oslo in 1892. By the end of the 19th century, some 650 Jews had arrived in Norway, mostly from Central and Eastern Europe, settling in Oslo and Trondheim. Jewish community life slowly developed throughout the latter half of the 19th century as synagogues and Jewish day schools were established. An influx of Jewish immigration from Eastern Europe became commonplace through the following decades as the result of widespread persecution.

Jewish life in Norway mostly took off in the aftermath of World War I, with expressions of Jewish cultural and religious life, such as Jewish theatrical and Torah study groups, becoming widespread amongst the community, especially in Oslo. The aftermath of World War II saw the Jewish community reestablished by returning Jewish refugees; the community peaked at approximately 2,100 people. In 1947, the Norwegian government allowed several hundred Jewish refugees from Hungary to settle in Norway. Though the Jewish community’s population was bolstered by the arrival of these refugees and the synagogue was found largely unharmed after the war, the community was largely diminished compared to its pre-war levels, and there were long periods without a rabbi or any other spiritual leadership.

It was not until the late 1970s, with the appointment of a new rabbi and new Jewish communal leadership, that the Jewish community in Norway began to experience a revival. Many Jewish institutions and activities—including Jewish schools, a synagogue, elderly homes, and Jewish and Hebrew educational programs—opened in Norway in the last few decades of the 20th century. Norwegian Jews were prominent in general Norwegian society as well. Charles Philipson became the first Jew to serve on the Norwegian Supreme Court as a judge from 1984 to 1990. Jo Benkow served as President of the Norwegian Parliament from 1985 to 1993 and President of the Nordic Council in 1983. In 1996, due to public pressure and revelations in the media, the Ministry of Justice appointed a commission to examine the issue of restitution of Jewish property confiscated by the Quisling regime. A fund was eventually established to compensate the Jews for their material losses.

Today, Norwegian Jews continue to enjoy a sense of community stability and a growing interest in Jewish religious and cultural life. Moreover, the Jewish community is considered a part of general Norwegian society, as evident by King Harald V’s visit to the Oslo Jewish community in 2009 as part of an effort to reach out to the country's minorities. It was the first time the monarch visited the Norwegian Jewish community.

The Years of the Holocaust

When Norway became occupied by Germany on April 9, 1940, King Haakon VII and the Norwegian government escaped to London, and the state was taken over by a collaborationist government led by Vidkun Quisling, the founder and leader of the Norwegian fascist party. The Germans quickly became disenchanted with Quisling and established their own administration, using him largely as a figurehead. Almost immediately upon occupation, the Nazis disseminated antisemitic propaganda throughout the country in almost all Norwegian newspapers and media.

Approximately two-thirds of the Norwegian Jewry fled the country, around 900 of whom were smuggled out of the country by the Norwegian resistance movement.

The Nazi Party's demands for anti-Jewish legislation were accepted and implemented quickly. Despite this, restrictions placed on Norwegian Jews were initially quite irregular, but the Nazi invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941 saw several Jews incarcerated. In 1942, at the Germans’ demand, the Quisling government handed the Jews to German authorities.

Arrests throughout the country were made with Norwegian police and paramilitary groups assisting the SS and German police units. In total, 773 Jews—men, women, children, the handicapped, and the sick—were arrested, interned, and then deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau on the “Donau,” a ship requisitioned by the Quisling to deport Norwegian Jews. Only 35 of those deported survived. In many cases, the civilian Norwegian police (Politiet) helped the Germans arrest Jews to be deported. Most Jews who fled during the war did not return to Norway. In 1946, there were only 559 Jews left in the country.

Protests by the Norwegian clergy and some members of the general population did little to stop deportations. However, the efforts of the Norwegian Underground and other allies helped many Jews receive advanced warnings and escape Quisling and the Nazis. Odd Nansen, a member of the Norwegian resistance who had established the humanitarian organization "Nansenhjelpen" to aid Jewish refugees from central Europe, was deported to a concentration camp, where he kept a diary that provided a detailed first-hand account of life and death in Nazi concentration camps.

The efforts of the Norwegian underground succeeded in smuggling 900 Jews across the Swedish border to safety. Additionally, over 100 Jews served in the Free Norwegian Forces, which were mainly stationed in Britain.

Demography

Norway was home to 1,300 Jews in 2023, making it the second-smallest Jewish community in Scandinavia after Iceland. The Jews have two communities, one in Trondheim and one in Oslo, each with their own synagogue. Many Norwegian Jews are secular but maintain a cultural connection to Jewish life. Almost all Jews are very integrated into mainstream Norwegian society.

Community Life

Jewish life in Norway is centered around Det Mosaiske Trossamfund (The Mosaic Community) in Oslo, which works as the communal representative organization of Norwegian Jewry as well as a provider of Jewish programs and institutions in the country. Other Jewish organizations in Norway include B'nai B'rith, WIZO, B’nei Akiva, Keren Kayemet, Help the Jews Home (Hjelp Jødene Hjem), Kosher Meals on Wheels, Jewish study circles, and a home for the elderly. There is also a Jewish community center in Trondheim.

The Jewish Cultural Festival in Trondheim, a showcase of modern Jewish life in Norway that demonstrates the diversity of Jewish culture through concerts and cultural activities, has been held annually since 2010 and takes place on the European Day of Jewish Culture. 

The Jewish community of Oslo has seen a high increase in antisemitism in the form of anti-Zionism in recent years. Therefore, material has been developed to address the relationship between Norwegian Jews and Israel and to clarify how and when anti-Zionism is a form of antisemitism.

Religious and Cultural Life

There are two synagogues in Norway, in Oslo and Trondheim. Rabbi Joav Melchior serves as the Chief Rabbi of Norway, officiates at the synagogue in Oslo, and also supervises the kosher food shop in the capital (where shechita is prohibited). Additionally, there is a chabad in Oslo. The majority of Norwegian Jews are secular but maintain a cultural connection to Jewish life; there is a substantial number of those who alternatively follow Orthodox traditions. Almost all Jews are very integrated into mainstream Norwegian society.

According to a 2018 study conducted by the FRA in Norway, two out of three Jews hide their religious affiliation in public to avoid negative reactions. The Council for Religious and Life-Stance Communities (STL) in Norway is an umbrella organization whose two main goals are to promote equal treatment of religious and life-stance communities in Norway and respect and understanding among religious and life-stance communities through dialogue.

Kosher Food

Shechita (kosher slaughter) has been forbidden in Norway since 1929, and kosher meat is imported. There is some kosher food in Norway, mainly in Oslo, but the government prohibition of shechita has made access to kosher food somewhat difficult for the Norwegian Jewish community.  

Jewish Education

The communities provide children and young people with training in Judaism and Jewish culture. The Jewish community of Oslo runs a kindergarten and an institution for the elderly. According to the Jewish community of Norway, there are very few Jews in Norway, and therefore there is no demand for a Jewish school. 

Young Norwegian Jews, known as "The Jewish Pathfinders" and inspired by the Sámi Pathfinders, are employed to visit upper secondary schools around the country to make the Jewish minority more visible, demonstrate the diversity among Jews in Norway, spread knowledge, and help reduce prejudices.  Activities held in classrooms usually last for 90 minutes. Few Norwegian youths have met Jews, and an important goal of the visit is to put a face on young Jews in Norway. The presentation aims to create a dialogue in the classroom where students have the opportunity to reflect on themes such as belonging, prejudice, identity, and diversity.

The Jewish community of Oslo offers courses about Jewish life and religion to students and teachers at universities.

Youth

The B'nai Akiva youth group organizes seminars and camps for all ages and holds weekly meetings on Sundays. The organization also sends an Israeli shaliach (emissary) to Norway every year. Other Norwegian Jewish youth organizations include Maccabi and a country estate owned by Det Mosaiske Trossamfund (The Jewish Community of Oslo) that is used for summer camps and Shabbat seminars.

Shvilim is an educational gap-year program for young Jews to learn about identity, Judaism, Israel, and antisemitism. During the government-subsidized program, students take classes about how to talk about Jewish identity and Jewish life to non-Jewish students.

Jewish Media

The Oslo community produces a magazine called Hatikwa. Additionally, educational textbooks about Jews and Judaism are reviewed to represent the Norwegian Jews of today better.

Information for Visitors

Various institutions offer information about Judaism and Jewish culture, life, and history in Norway. The Norwegian Centre for Holocaust and Minority Studies, the Foundation Arkivet, and the Falstad Centre play important roles in the efforts to combat antisemitism through educational programs that draw lines between regional history and events such as the persecution of Jews in Norway during World War II.

The Center for Studies of the Holocaust and Religious Minorities at Bygdøy in Oslo contains an exhibition of the Holocaust, a joint project of the Norwegian government and the country’s Jewish community. At the Ostre Gravlund cemetery, there is a monument to the victims of the Shoah.

Other museums have run projects to inform the public about Jewish culture, for example, the museums in Sør-Trøndelag, the Norwegian Museum of Cultural History, and the Haugaland Museum. Moreover, the Vestfold museums have recently developed an educational program entitled Det angår også deg ("It concerns you too"), which highlights the consequences of Nazism during World War II and the impact of the Holocaust in Vestfold.

Relations with Israel

Israel and Norway maintain full diplomatic relations. Norway played a key role in bringing together Israeli and Palestinian leaders, which resulted in the Oslo Accords. The failure of the Accords to deliver has placed pressure on the diplomatic relationship between Israel and Norway, with Oslo being particularly critical of Israel’s handling of Gaza. Recently, Norway has spoken out against boycott and sanction movements against Israel.

Embassy of Israel in Norway and Iceland:
Parkveien 35,
PB 4046 AMB,
0244 Oslo

Telephone: +47 21 01 95 00
Email: consular@oslo.mfa.gov.il

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