Israel is one of the least religious nations in the world, according to a recent WIN/Gallup International poll of residents of 65 countries around the world.
According to WIN/Gallup International, 63 percent of respondents across the globe identified themselves as religious.
While the Middle East was determined to be the most religious region on earth, with 86% of those polled describing themselves as religious, in Israel 65% “said that they are either not religious or convinced atheists, compared to just 30% who say that they are religious,” WIN/Gallup International reported.
WIN/Gallup International’s findings seem to directly contradict a 2009 study by the Israel Democracy Institute which found that while religious observance in Israel declined in the decade following the influx of Soviet immigrants after the end of the Cold War, it has since risen and “to a great extent” there was actually an increase in those who observe Jewish traditions.
More than 60% of respondents in the IDI’s study indicated that “tradition is ‘very important’ or ‘fairly important’ in their choice of a spouse,” while 80% affirmed their belief in God, either wholeheartedly or with occasional doubts.
Moreover, 67% answered that they believe that Jews are the “chosen people” while 65% deemed the Torah and its commandments to be God-given.
Ninety percent celebrate the Passover Seder, 67% are careful not to eat hametz (leaven) during Passover, 68% fast on Yom Kippur and 36% listen to the megila on Purim.
A majority of respondents (85%) said it is “important to celebrate Jewish festivals in the traditional manner.”
According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, 9.4% of Israelis define themselves as ultra-Orthodox while 10% are Orthodox, 13.6% are traditional religious, 22.6% are traditional nonreligious and 43% are secular.
From these numbers “you see that the minority are saying that they are secular. Forty-three percent is a large minority but still a minority,” said Prof. Yedidia Stern, the vice president of research at IDI.
Aside from those who are self-identified as either religious or secular, “the rest are traditional but not necessarily religious by self declaration,” he explained.
“Eighty percent believe in God.
Are they secular or religious? If we are speaking about [halachic observance], then many are not.
But if you ask if they believe God [is] relevant to Israeli life and they believe in it, then Israelis are a very religious kind of country,” he said.
Moreover, the political and social baggage associated with religion may drive many who are observant to some degree to disassociate themselves from the religious community due to disagreements over issues of religion and state, he added, explaining that “there are no black-and-white answers in Israel.”
Asked about the WIN/Gallup International poll, Dan Ben-David, president of the Shoresh Institution and an economist at Tel Aviv University, agreed, stating that it appeared to present “a binary distinction [i.e., yes or not religious] rather than one of degree – so maybe most people abroad believe in God, and thus consider themselves religious.”
“Here, on the other hand, the religious ‘categories’ are already taken by the entire spectrum from traditional to ultra-Orthodox, so even if you believe in God but do not count yourself in one of the officially religious categories, then your tendency in Israel may be to say that you are not religious.”
Different groups have proposed various reforms aimed at making Judaism more palatable to the general public.
Asked about the WIN/Gallup International poll, Yakov Gaon, executive vice president of the national-religious Tzohar rabbinic organization, said that while “there is no disputing that there is an increasing amount of religious alienation occurring within Israeli society… this is a challenge that can be addressed by enhancing our efforts to show all Israelis that religion is something to be embraced and not feared, and we feel confident that through a new approach to Jewish identity and practice, the perspective that many Israelis have toward how they define themselves as Jews will change.”
According to Uri Regev, a Reform rabbi and head of the religious pluralism NGO Hiddush, Israel’s “religious politics and established, coercive, rabbinate are the main forces responsible for undermining Israelis’ Jewish identity.”
Those who replied that they are not religious were “mostly expressing their dissociation from those who claim to represent the only authentic and binding Judaism, and from their interpretation of Judaism,” he said.
“Had religious pluralism reigned, and the promise of Israel’s Declaration of Independence for religious freedom and equality been fully realized, we would have seen many more Israeli Jews embracing the richness of the Jewish religious rainbow.”
Last year Economy Minister Naftali Bennett announced that “32% of first grade students in Israel are haredim,” while the CBS has forecast that the ultra-Orthodox will comprise 30% of Israel’s population within the next half century, indicating that religiosity may in fact be on the rise in the long term.The original version of this story reported that Gallup had conducted the poll referenced herein, it has since been corrected to indicate that the poll in question was in fact conducted by WIN/Gallup International.Jeremy Sharon contributed to this report.
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