Tel Aviv tops religious freedom index, Bnei Brak, Dimona come last

The index gave increased weighting to issues which were of higher importance to the general public as determined by a survey conducted by political analyst and psychologist Haggai Elkayam.

Tel Aviv and central Israel from the West Bank (photo credit: KOBI SHAYU/TPS)
Tel Aviv and central Israel from the West Bank
(photo credit: KOBI SHAYU/TPS)
Tel Aviv is the most religiously free city in Israel according to the Israel Be Free secularist organization’s 2019 index, taking the crown from Modi’in which was last year’s victor.
The index, conducted under the academic supervision of Prof. Amit Schechter from Ben Gurion University, judged the 24 largest cities according to 10 criteria, including public transport on Shabbat; commerce on Shabbat; the budget for religious services; municipal supervision of external NGOs providing religious education in schools; provision for the LGBT community; availability of civil burial; and provision for non-Orthodox communities, among several others.
The index gave increased weighting to issues which were of higher importance to the general public as determined by a survey conducted by political analyst and psychologist Haggai Elkayam.
Points were accrued according to the secular aspects of a city’s policies. Cities with the lowest ratio of funds available for religious services compared to the size of the general municipal budget gained a higher score, as did cities providing more public transport and commerce on Shabbat as well as those providing for the fewest publicly-funded gender-separate events.
According to Israel Be Free, Tel Aviv topped this year’s index with a score of 77 out of 100 because it increased religious freedom for non-Orthodox and LGBT groups, allowed public transport and greater commercial activity on Shabbat, and in general “proved that municipalities can create freedom for Israeli citizens in their everyday lives, sometimes even more than the national government.”
Modi’in came in second, with 70 points, mostly because its municipal council directly operates religious services without a local religious council. It has been able to fund pluralist and non-Orthodox communities and events.
Modi’in also won praise for access to public transport on Shabbat, to civil burial and for supporting LGBT groups and organizations in the city.
Herzliya came in third with 63 points.
Propping up the bottom of the list was Bnei Brak on seven points, indicating the largest budget for religious services, some 3.7% of the general budget, and having no transport or commercial activity on Shabbat.
Israel Be Free acknowledged that this situation is in keeping with the city’s overwhelmingly ultra-Orthodox population, but said that a city where there is no religious freedom for minority communities cannot be considered free.
Dimona, Beit Shemesh, Ashkelon, and Petah Tikva came in with 17, 19, 21, and 26 points respectively, and made up the remaining bottom five cities for religious freedom.
“The era is over when locally elected officials can hide behind empty statements about the inability to lead the city because the government doesn’t allow them to do so,” said Israel Be Free director Uri Keidar, noting the broad, quasi-public transportation system that Tel Aviv and other municipal authorities have set up over the last year.
“To our delight, the Israeli public sees and reacts to these changes every day. Leaders who don’t adjust themselves to the spirit of this period in time will be ejected in the near future by the public which has stopped settling on the out-of-date status quo [on religion and state].”



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