Wednesday, April 4, 2007

What secular and religious Israelis say about being Jewish

Earlier this week, in a post about preparing food for Passover, I wrote: "We can only guess what percentage of attachment to Judaic tradition lives inside your typical secular Israeli."

The next day, the Hebrew newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth printed an educated guess.

Yedioth, which is the country's biggest daily newspaper, reported on results of a survey conducted for it by Dr. Mina Zemach's Dahaf institute.

The survey found that adult Israeli Jews define themselves as follows:

Secular--50 percent
Traditional--30 percent
Religious--12 percent
Haredi ("ultra-orthodox")--8 percent.

Of those who identify as secular, 55 percent believe in the existence of God and an additional 16 percent believe in a supreme force. Aside from belief, 61 percent observe the religious prohibition against consuming meat and dairy products at the same meal, and 47 percent don't eat leavened bread at Passover. Some 34 percent eat only kosher food at home, and 39 percent would recommend a religious wedding for their children.

On the other hand, the survey found secular behaviors and ideology among the non-secular. Thus, 62 percent of the "traditional" Jews drive automobiles on the sabbath, and only 48 percent say that religion is what defines them as Jews. A majority of "traditional" Jews attribute their Jewish identity to nationality.

Taking everyone into account, the survey found that what defined the respondents as Jews was as follows:

Jewish religion -- 40 percent
Israeli nationality -- 33 percent
Jewish nationality -- 26 percent.

Some other findings about the entire Jewish population follow.

--77 percent believe in God (vs. 70 percent of U.S. Jews) and an additional 8 percent believe in the existence of a supreme force.

--65 percent eat only kosher at home.

--62 percent eat in non-kosher restaurants.

--62 percent of married women light sabbath candles.

--44 percent kiss the mezuzzah on a doorpost.

--25 percent of men pray daily in a synagogue.

--23 percent of men wear a skullcap.

--14 percent of men pray in synagogue only on sabbath and holy days.

The Dahaf institute, which conducted this survey, is known for political polling. Its director appears regularly in a televised political discussion show on Israel's Knesset channel.

A Hebrew report of this survey appeared on pages 12-15 of a pre-Passsover supplement in Yedioth's April 2 printed edition. The report stated that the polling sample was 1,000 adult Israeli Jews. It did not indicate the margin of error nor when the survey took place.

The author of Yedioth's report on the poll was Sever Plocker, who later commented on the survey in a column which is translated into English and available online. It is titled, "The new Israeli Jew."

"Survey conclusions are optimistic," he wrote. "The religious-secular gap is being bridged, and the risk of it[s] creating a rift is becoming more remote. The walls are being torn down, the borders distinguishing between the holy and the profane are being divided both ways, and there is a symbiotic relationship and mutual benefit between religious-traditional Judaism and secular Judaism."

He concluded: " Some will view this as the failure of Zionism, which sought to create a new type of Jew detached from his past and ghetto-like characteristics. This type of interpretation is erroneous: The more the nationalist elements of Judaism are strengthened the more Zionism will thrive, because it serves as the Jews' national freedom movement."

You can read the whole article at YnetNews, Yedioth's English-language site.,7340,L-3384538,00.html

A note on terminology: The survey's four-way division of Israeli Jews (into secular, traditional, religious and haredi) reflects a blind spot of Israeli pollsters and Israeli society in general. It makes no allowance for the Reform and Conservative denominations, which are active in Israel despite lack of official recognition. These denominations represent a majority of religiously affiliated U.S. Jews. The pollsters' terms "secular" and "traditional" represent 80 percent of Israeli Jews but do not necessarily correspond to Reform and Conservative. In an Israeli poll, "religious" does not embrace Reform or Conservative. The pollsters' "religious" corresponds to "orthodox" in U.S. English. "Haredi" is usually translated as "ultra-orthodox."

-- Joseph M. Hochstein, Tel Aviv

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