Israeli Jews becoming more religious, poll finds

85% of Israeli Jews say Jewish holidays important; over 50% support instituting civil marriage.

January 26, 2012 12:44
3 minute read.
Ultra-orthodox yeshiva students [illustrative]

Haredi ultra-orthodox yeshiva students 311. (photo credit: REUTERS/Baz Ratner)

Israeli Jews are becoming more religious, according to a study published Thursday.

The survey, entitled “A Portrait of Israeli Jews: Beliefs, Observance, and Values of Israeli Jews,” was the work of the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) in conjunction with the Avi Chai Foundation, and examined local levels of Jewish religiosity in 2009, compared to those over the past 20 years.

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According to the study, conducted in 2009 and involving face-to-face interviews with 2,803 local Jews above the age of 20, Jewish Israelis’ affinity for their religion and its traditions has increased notably since 1999.

“In 2009, we can say that Israeli Jews are interested in the role of religion in the State of Israel and in the significance of a ‘Jewish State,’ and express positive attitudes toward expression of religion and tradition in the public realm,” the report says.

“However, they seek to preserve freedom of personal choice, especially with regard to Shabbat observance in public.”

The two previous studies conducted by the institutes in 1991 and 1999 showed that between those years, a marked decline was recorded in the attachment to Jewish tradition and religion, most likely due to the mass immigration of Jews from the former Soviet Union in those years.

The reversal of the trend between 1999 and 2009, the study says, reflects both that the immigrants from the former Soviet Union have integrated into society and that the modern Orthodox and haredi (ultra- Orthodox) communities are increasing in democratic weight.

“The results of the survey are evidence that Israeli Jews are committed to two significant values: preserving Jewish tradition on the one hand, and upholding individual freedom of choice on the other,” said Dr.

Eli Silver, director of Avi Chai–Israel. “This fascinating combination is a source of tension, but it is also the basis of a broad Israeli-Jewish consensus that facilitates coexistence in the 21st century.”

In addition to finding that Israeli society as a whole has become more religious, the IDI study stated that both the modern Orthodox and haredi communities “observe religious precepts more stringently than they did in the past.”

This trend was not present among those who identified as “secular but not anti-religious” and “secular and anti-religious”; neither group has become more religious since the 1990s.

A majority of respondents (85 percent) said it was “important to celebrate Jewish festivals in the traditional manner.”

According to the study, 90% celebrate the Passover Seder, 67% are careful not to eat hametz (leaven) during Passover, 68% fast on Yom Kippur and 36% listen to the megilla on Purim.

The study also addressed the controversial issue of civil marriage, the subject of recent debate, with 51% of respondents saying they absolutely agreed, agreed or possibly agreed that the option of civil marriage – not under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate – should be established in Israel.

Support for conducting public life according to tradition is also on the rise, with 61% of respondents saying they were in favor, compared with 44% in 1991.

However, 68% said that weekday activities, such as going to cinemas, cafes and restaurants, should be available on Shabbat, and 59% said they were in favor of public transportation on Shabbat.

Regarding the status of women, the study indicated significant differences of opinion on gender roles. Sixty-seven percent of haredim believe that the husband should work and support the family while the wife stays home to take care of the children, while only 35% of the modern Orthodox feel that way.

Only 18%-20% of the secular community are of that opinion.

In addition, 73% of local Jews feel that Israeli and Diaspora Jews share a common destiny, while 61% feel that the Conservative and Reform movements should have equal status with the Orthodox.

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