Meretz launches election campaign 370.
(photo credit: Ben Hartman)
It doesn’t take much to convince secular Israelis that religious coercion in the
form of closing places of entertainment on Shabbat or stopping public
transportation has the reverse effect on their the desire to become religious.
But now, years of comparative international research on religious markets (i.e.
the availability of religious resources) seems not only to support this thesis
but takes it one step further. If you want a more religious society in the sense
of more people believing in God, allow for more religious diversity and
Theories regarding religious markets stem from the application
of economic theories of supply and demand to affiliation in religious
organizations. Researchers argue that unregulated religious economies generate
increased religious participation, and conversely, tight state regulation is
correlated with low levels of participation in religious life.
often used as the most convincing case of a free market of religion, as more
than 2,000 faiths now compete for market share. Supporting the ability of free
religious markets to foster religiosity, one may be surprised to know that
according to a Gallup poll in 2011, 92 percent of Americans believe in God. In
contrast to the free market model, the regulated market is one in which
religious organizations do not compete on a level playing field. Israel is an
example of this where the Orthodox rabbinate sets the tone and other Jewish
denominations have illegitimate religious standing.
Applying the theory
of religious markets to the upcoming elections, one could argue that if at least
part of the Orthodox community in Israel is interested in hazara betshuva
more religious society, they may be voting for the wrong party! Granted the
twist will be that with a more open religious market, the religiosity that may
grow as a result of this freedom may not necessarily take the form of classic
Orthodox-style observant religiosity, but research from religious trends over
the past 15 years seem to be in their favor.
One trend noted in the
sociology of religion is that when given the choice, a significant number of
people in modern society seem to be favoring a more traditional form of
religiosity. The reasons for this are many. According to studies on recently
religious Orthodox Jewish women and on newly religious Protestant women, it is
in fact the more stringent gender roles that are most appealing to
Some “returnees” are overwhelmed by the superwomen ideal, having to
perfectly balance between being at the top of her career while raising a
close-knit family. Such stresses, along with feelings of a serious lack of sense
of community and support network in their secular lives, have drawn them to more
In light of these findings on the significance
of a free religious market to fostering increased religiosity and trends
pointing to increased secular interest in Orthodoxy, it could be that in
practice, if certain Orthodox communities in Israel really want a more religious
society, they should be considering voting Meretz.
The writer is the
Between Feminism and Orthodox Judaism: Resistance, Identity, and
Religious Change in Israel (Brill, 2011), and co-author of the book
diaspora: Russian Jews in Israel, Germany and the USA (Brill, 2006).