Israelis want American Jewish help in promoting religious pluralism, study finds
New survey showed most Jewish Israelis are far more liberal than their government, particularly on separation of religion and state.
The latest version of an annual survey shows that Jewish Israelis disapprove of how their government handles religious issues. It shows that they want more liberal religious policies. And it says they want American Jews to intervene in the debate.
The one wrinkle is that when Jewish Israelis talk about “religious freedom,” they are mostly talking about a different set of issues than their American counterparts. American Jewish institutions have poured their energy into changes at the Western Wall and blocking restrictions on Jewish conversion. But Jewish Israelis mostly care about quotidian issues like public transit on Saturdays and government funding of yeshivas.
Those are some of the takeaways from an annual survey of attitudes among Jewish Israelis on religion and state conducted by Hiddush, an Israeli organization that supports religious pluralism. The survey questioned 800 Jewish Israelis in July and has a margin of error of 3.5 percent.
“The overwhelming majority views negatively the government’s policy on religion and state, opposes practically every aspect of any decision or any issue, whether it’s the [military] draft or marriage or public transit on Shabbat,” said Rabbi Uri Regev, the founder and CEO of Hiddush. “The public does want freedom, does oppose government decisions and policies. The public wants Diaspora Jewish involvement in promoting religious freedom.”
As it does every year, the survey found that Jewish Israelis are far more liberal on religious issues than their government. The government’s religious policies are largely administered by the haredi Orthodox Chief Rabbinate, which only recognizes Orthodox rabbis, Orthodox weddings, Orthodox conversion and Orthodox kosher certification. Israel bans nearly all public transit on Shabbat. It does not recognize same-sex marriages performed in the country.
But two-thirds of Jewish Israelis support separation of religion and state, representing an increase of 10 percentage points since 2012. Seventy percent back government recognition of all forms of marriage, including civil marriage — an increase from 53 percent in 2009. Sixty-six percent support the three major denominations of Judaism — Orthodox, Conservative and Reform — enjoying equal status in Israel.
Nearly half support recognition of all forms of Jewish conversion, while an additional 28 percent support a liberalization of current conversion regulations. More than 70 percent want increased public transit on Shabbat.
The overwhelming majority views negatively the government’s policy on religion and state, opposes practically every aspect of any decision or any issue.
The survey does have some good news for fans of Israel’s religious status quo. On issue after issue — from conversion to marriage to kosher certification — younger respondents favored more traditionalist policies than their elders. While more than 80 percent of respondents over age 50 support separation of religion and state in Israel, for example, only 42 percent of those under 29 do.
Regev, a Reform rabbi, said part of this divide is due to high haredi birth rates. But he said it’s also due to “an element of contrarianism you find in young people.”
And while only 22 percent of Israelis identify as religious or haredi — and 13 percent self-identify as Conservative or Reform — a greater part of the population has traditional religious tendencies. Nearly half of Jewish Israelis observe Shabbat partially or fully. And given the choice between different types of weddings, most would still opt to be married in an Orthodox ceremony — either under the Chief Rabbinate’s auspices or outside of it.
But while 76 percent of Jewish Israelis express dissatisfaction with the current government’s religious policies, it may not make a difference. Israelis have not historically voted on religious issues, prioritizing security and economic concerns. PJC
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