Community in Belgium - World Jewish Congress

According to the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, there were just 29,000 self-identified Jews in Belgium, accounting for 0.25% of the 2022 total population. The majority dwell in Brussels or Antwerp, the country's two largest cities. While most Jews in the largely French-speaking capital of Brussels are secular, Antwerp, a Dutch-speaking port city, boasted one of Europe's largest ultra-Orthodox Jewish populations as well as the largest Hasidic population, in the world.

The main representative body of the Belgian Jewish community is the Coordinating Committee of Belgian Jewish Organizations (Comité de Coordination des Communautés Juives de Belgique) – the Belgian affiliate of the World Jewish Congress.

WJC Affiliate
Coordinating Committee of Belgian Jewish Organizations (Comité de Coordination des Communautés Juives de Belgique)

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Yohan Benizri, CCOJB President & WJC Vice-President

Jews may have followed the Roman Legions to what is today Belgium around 53-57 of the Common Era, but the first tangible proof of a Jewish presence there dates back to the 13th century. A tombstone from 1255-56, found in Thienen (Tirlemont), mentions the name 'Rebecca bat Moshe'. Jews who refused baptism were massacred in Belgium during the 1309 Crusades and the small Jewish communities were decimated after Jews were accused of causing the Bubonic Plague of 1348-49.

While Spanish Jews settled in the Netherlands in the 16th century, they and others, who were most likely secret Jews known as Marranos, also settled in Antwerp and Bruges. After Antwerp came under Austrian rule in 1713, the Jews could practice their religion more openly. They enjoyed even greater freedom after the promulgation in 1781 by the Habsburg emperor Joseph II of the “Edict of Tolerance”.

In 1808, around 800 Jews were integrated into two of the Belgian Consistoires established under Napoleon Bonaparte. In 1831, a year after the Belgian independence, Judaism was legally recognized by the Consistoire Central Israélite de Belgique as its official representative.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, the Jewish community of Belgium grew because of Jewish immigration from central and Eastern Europe, with more assimilated, French-speaking Jews establishing themselves in Brussels, while Yiddish-speaking, Orthodox Jews settled in Antwerp. At the outset of World War II, the Jewish community of Belgium numbered more than 100,000 people.

Jews have been active in Belgian political and cultural life; notable figures include Jean Gol, who served as Vice-Premier, Minister of Justice and Institutional Reform between 1981 and 1988; François Englert, Nobel Prize laureate in physics; professor of neurosurgery Jacques Brotchi, who was elected to the Belgian Senate in 2004, and Vivian Teitelbaum, a member of the Brussels regional legislature.

In 2002, as antisemitism flared throughout Europe and immigrants rioted in Antwerp, some of that violence was directed at Belgian Jews. In 2014, there were multiple antisemitic attacks carried out against the Belgian Jewish community. On June 2, World Jewish Congress President Ronald S. Lauder led a solidarity mission made up of 38 international Jewish leaders to Brussels following a deadly attack on the Jewish Museum of Brussels on May 24, which was condemned by the Belgian authorities as a clear act of antisemitism and terrorism.

The Years of the Holocaust

At the beginning of World War II, more than 100,000 Jews were living in the country, including 55,000 in Antwerp and 35,000 in Brussels. At least 20,000 were refugees from Germany and Austria.

On May 10, 1940, Nazi Germany invaded Belgium. In the fall of the same year, anti-Jewish measures were announced: The first prohibitions targeted Shechita and religious practice; other discriminations followed, barring Jews from partaking in certain professions in law and education. In 1941, the Belgian authorities started to confiscate properties, including the diamond exchange, followed by the establishment of curfews restraining Jews. In early 1942, the Nazis ordered Jews to wear yellow stars; by September they began deporting Jews, mostly to Auschwitz. Very few survived the concentration and death camps, and more than 25,000 Belgian Jews perished in the Holocaust. An active resistance movement, supported by both Jews and non-Jews, prevented a higher death toll.

Many Christian families hid Jewish children and usually respected their requests not to be baptized. More than 2,000 Belgian non-Jews were recognized as “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem for saving Jews during the years of the Shoah. Belgium was also the only Nazi-occupied country in Europe where train transport to the death camps was halted and deportees had a chance to escape.

After the end of World War II, almost all these Jewish children were returned to their families; 4,000 were saved from deportation. In January 2013, the Belgian Senate issued a strengthened version of an official resolution recognizing Holocaust-era complicity in the persecution of Jews.


The Belgian Jewish community currently numbers around 29,000 out of a total population of 11 million, with most living in Brussels and Antwerp. Other smaller communities are in Arlon, Liège, Mons, Charleroi, Waterloo, Knooke, Ostend, and Ghent.

Community Life

In 1936, the World Jewish Congress Belgian Section was a constituent member at the WJC Plenary in Geneva. Dr. Arieh L. Kubowitzki (later Kubowy) of the WJC Belgian Section was the WJC Secretary-General from 1946 to 1948. In 1977, the WJC Belgian Section was merged into the Comité de Coordination des Organisations Juives de Belgique (CCOJB). WJC established its Brussels office in 1990.

Today, Judaism in Belgium is organized mainly around three institutions: two with apolitical profiles and one religious. The CCOJB is the political umbrella of some 40 national and French-speaking Jewish groups and organizations, whose mission is to protect and develop Jewish values in Belgium, fight against antisemitism, racism, and xenophobia, maintain the memory of the Shoah, support the State of Israel, and fight against its delegitimization. The Het Forum der Joodse Organisaties also politically represents the Jews of Antwerp and its surroundings. Lastly, the Belgian government employs rabbis and Jewish educators as civil servants through the federally recognized Consistoire Central Israélite de Belgique (CCIB), which is made up of 19 local religious groups.

Religious and Cultural Life

Belgium has 45 active synagogues, 30 of which (all Orthodox) are in Antwerp. Several synagogues also serve as houses of study for the ultra-Orthodox sects present in the city. There are more than 10 synagogues in Brussels, including two Reform congregations, one of them English-speaking, and three Sephardic synagogues. The chief rabbi of Belgium is appointed by the community and officiates at the country's main synagogue, La Régence, which was rededicated in 2008 as the Great Synagogue of Europe; both the chief rabbi and the main synagogue are funded by the government. 

Brussels has also a special Jewish communal lay center, the ‘Centre Communautaire Laïc Juif’, a Jewish museum, and a memorial to the Jewish martyrdom in Belgium.

Kosher Food

Kosher food is readily available in both Brussels and Antwerp.

Jewish Education

Almost all Jewish children in Antwerp receive a Jewish education; there are seven Jewish schools in Antwerp and three in Brussels, from kindergarten to secondary schools, as well as a few yeshivas. 


There are six Jewish youth organizations in Belgium.

In both Antwerp and Brussels are Bnei Akiva and Hanoar Hatsioni. Also in Brussels are Habonim Dror, Hashomer Hatzair, the Jeunesse Juif Laïque, which operate in tandem with each other as Brit Hairgounim Hakhaloutsim, and the Union des Etudiants Juifs de Belgique.

Since January 1982, Brussels has also been the headquarters of the European Union of Jewish Students (EUJS).

Jewish Media

The main publication in the French language is published by CCLJ called Regards. In Antwerp, the leading Jewish publication is Joods Actueel, in Dutch. Individual organizations produce magazines addressing agendas, like the Consistoire. There are several other publications some in Yiddish. The Brussels community also boasts of its own radio station, Radio Judaica. The Brussels based press agency, European Jewish Press, is the only online Jewish news agency in Europe, and was launched in 2005.

Information for Visitors

Visitors can learn about the history of Belgian Jewry at the Jewish Museum of Belgium in Brussels. In Anderlecht, is the ‘Memorial of the Jewish Martyrdom in Belgium,’ which bears the names of 23,838 Belgian Jews killed in the Holocaust. In Mechelen there is the Kazerne Dossin – Memorial, Museum and Documentation Centre on Holocaust and Human Rights- which is located next to the former Mechelen transit camp from which Belgian Jews and Gypsies were sent to concentration camps during World War II. 

Relations with Israel

Israel and Belgium have had diplomatic relations since 1950. While tensions arose in 2001 due to efforts, ultimately struck down by the Supreme Court, to try then Prime Minister Ariel Sharon with war crimes, relations between Brussels and Jerusalem have since improved. Since 1948, many thousands of Belgian Jews have immigrated to Israel, where they created their organization, the Association Originaires de Belgique en Israël.

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