Judaism poll points to 'lost generation'

59% of Israelis: Our level of Judaic knowledge, heritage mediocre or lower.

July 29, 2009 11:23
3 minute read.
Secular families demonstrate in support of J'lem M

Secular families demonstrate in support of J'lem M. (photo credit: Eyal Ackerman)


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Four-fifths of secular Israelis and more than half of Israelis overall define their knowledge of Jewish practice and Jewish heritage as mediocre or lower, according to a survey conducted by the Rafi Smith Research Institute for the World Union of Jewish Studies.

Five hundred Jewish Israelis age 18 and up participated in the phone survey, which was conducted from July 7 through July 9, and their answers were categorized based on their level of religious observance (secular, Masorti, religious and haredi).

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Participants were asked to rate their knowledge of Judaism. Those with children ages 12 and up were asked about their children's knowledge of Judaism as well, while individuals with either no children or children under 12 were asked about their parents' knowledge of Judaism.

The survey revealed that 80% of secular Israelis and 59% of Israelis overall define their level of Judaic knowledge and Jewish heritage as mediocre or lower. The percentage claiming a low level of knowledge was relatively high among adults over age 55 (21%), among Jews of Ashkenazi descent (22%), and among those with above-average incomes (20%).

Among the secular public, children's level of Judaic knowledge and Jewish sources was perceived as equal or slightly higher than that of their parents, while people without children over the age of 12 perceived their parents' Judaic knowledge as much higher than their own.

The survey therefore points to a "lost generation" of Jews who believe that everyone else - both their parents and their children - has a greater knowledge of Judaic studies than they do.


This contrasts with the generally perceived trend that secular Israelis' level of Judaic knowledge has been steadily decreasing - that today's adults know less than their parents do, and their children know even less than they do, the researchers say.

In contrast, the level of Judaic knowledge among haredim is increasing: parents estimate that their children are at least as knowledgeable as they are, if not more so.

The survey touches upon the increasing polarity in Israeli society, which it calls "the State of Tel Aviv against the State of Jerusalem," emphasizing the deep divide between them in terms of interest in Jewish knowledge.

Among secular Israelis who define their level of knowledge as low, only 25% want to expand their Judaic knowledge.

But nearly half (43%) of all secular Israelis want to increase their knowledge of Judaism and Jewish sources, with many citing such options as a secular beit midrash (Torah study center) (15%) or Jewish academic institutions (14%).

In addition, 70% of the "traditional" religious public want to expand their knowledge, while the vast majority of haredim want to expand theirs as well.

The survey was conducted in preparation for the 15th World Congress of Jewish Studies, organized by the World Association of Jewish Studies of Jerusalem's Hebrew University, which will be held from August 2-6.

"At the congress, the best scholars in the field of Jewish studies will present a broad picture of the spectacular achievements and renewal of research regarding the history of the Jewish people over the past 3,000 years," said Hebrew University Prof. Sarah Yefet, president of the World Union of Jewish Studies.

During the five-day gathering, thousands of participants will have the opportunity to choose from approximately 1,400 different lectures, including talks on the biblical world, the history of Israel, rabbinic literature and Talmud, literature and culture.

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