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Poll: 80% of Israeli Jews believe in God

Extensive Judaism study conducted by Guttman Institute and AVI CHAI Foundation points to increase in number of religious and haredi Jews, decrease in number of traditional and secular Jews; 63% don't mix meat and milk, but 65% watch TV on Shabbat

Kobi Nahshoni
Published: 01.28.12, 09:13 / Israel Jewish Scene

Eighty percent of Jews living in Israel believe in God, according to the findings of an extensive study conducted by the Guttman Center at the Israel Democracy Institute and published Thursday.

 

The study is a continuation of two previous surveys conducted in 1991 and 1999. A comparison shows that while the 1990s recorded a certain drop in affiliation to Jewish tradition, the following decade recorded an increase in affiliation up and beyond the numbers measured in 1991.

 

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The survey was commissioned by the AVI CHAI Foundation in Israel in 2009. Its findings are only being published now due to the passing of the head of the research team, Prof. Asher Arian.

 

It included face-to-face interviews with 2,083 Israeli Jews – a representative sample of this population.

 

Reward or punishment

The first part of the study dealt with the personal attitude toward religion. In general, a higher number of Jews defined themselves as religious or ultra-Orthodox compared to the previous decade.

 

Three percent were "anti-religious seculars" (compared to 6% in 1999), 43% were "seculars" (compared to 46%), 32% "traditional" (compared to 33%), 15% "religious" (compared to 11%) and 7% "haredi" (compared to 5%).

 

Although 46% of respondents defined themselves as secular, it turns out that this self-definition is not directly linked to a belief in extraordinary forces and in the veracity of the Jewish religion.

 

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Apart from the fact that four of five Israeli Jews believe in God, the study's findings revealed that 77% are convinced that the world is guided by an "extraordinary force", 72% believe that praying can improve a person's situation, 67% are convinced that the Jews are the chosen people, and 65% think Torah and mitzvot are a divine order.

 

According to 34% of the respondents, a Jew who fails to observe mitzvot puts his fellow people in danger.

 

As for the ramifications of the human conduct, 80% believe there is a reward for good deeds, and 74% say bad deeds are punished. Fifty-six believe in an "afterlife" and 51% believe in the coming of the Messiah.

 

Even more than the general faith in Judaism, the survey reveals that a very high percentage of Jews view traditional Jewish ceremonies to mark milestones in a person's life as extremely important: Ninety-four percent said so about circumcision, 92% about the seven days of mourning after a relative's death, 91% about the bar mitzvah ceremony, 90% about saying the Kaddish prayer over deceased parents, 86% about Jewish burial, and 83% about the bat mitzvah ceremony.

 

Eighty percent viewed marriage blessed by a rabbi as important, but at the same time – about half of the respondents (51%) believe Israel must allow civil marriage without Rabbinate involvement.

 

Shabbat and Jewish holidays

Despite the relatively high percentage of those who view mitzvot as a divine command, only one-third of respondents said they observe Shabbat "to a great extent" or "observe every single detail."

 

Most Jews in Israel maintain traditional characteristics: Eighty-four percent spend time with their family, 69% hold a special meal, 66% light candles and 60% say the Kiddush prayer.

 

On the other hand, 65% watch television or listen to the radio on the day of rest, and 52% surf the Internet. Thirty-seven percent engage in sports activities or go to the beach, 29% eat out, 16% go shopping and 11% work.

 

Like Shabbat, Jewish holidays are also respected by the Israeli public. Eighty-five percent of respondents believe it is important to mark Jewish holidays according to tradition – but how many implement it on a personal level?

 

Eighty-two percent light Hanukkah candles, 68% fast on Yom Kippur (fully or partially) and 67% avoid leavened food on Passover. On the other hand, only 36% take part in the reading of the Book of Esther on Purim and 20% in the study of religious literature during the first night of Shavuot.

 

Is it kosher?

From Jewish holidays, which usually include plenty of food, to kashrut: Most Jews in Israel eat kosher food at home (76%) and slightly fewer do the same outside (70%). However, only 63% are strict about not mixing meat and milk. Seventy-two percent say they never eat pork, with the common explanation being the religious mitzvah.

 

Additional figures reveal that 71% believe it is important to study the Bible and other Jewish holy and literary sources, but only 10% to 20% actually do so. Thirteen percent consult rabbis on personal matters and 24% visit tombs of the righteous.

 

An analysis of the results in the first part of the survey shows that among Sephardim there are more religious and traditional Jews and fewer seculars. Among those with a higher income or education, there are more secular Jews and less traditional Jews.

 

In general, most respondents said there was no change in their level of observing mitzvot, studying Judaism or "feeling of religiousness" compared to the past.

 

State and religion

The second part of the study examined participants' opinions on public issues of state and religion.

 

Eighty-five percent of haredim and 49% of religious Jews said they would obey Halacha rather than the law or democratic values in case of a clash between the two. On the other hand, 84% of anti-religious seculars and 65% of seculars who are not anti-religious said they would favor democracy. Forty-eight percent of traditional Jews said they would "sometimes favor Halacha and sometimes favor democracy."

 

In total, 44% of all respondents will obey law and democracy, 20% will favor Halacha and 36% have no unequivocal opinion.

 

In general, Jews in Israel support expressions of religion and tradition in the Israeli public sphere, but at the same time they seek to maintain personal freedom of choice.

 

For example, in terms of a public Shabbat, there is a significant majority in favor of everyday activities: Sixty-eight are in favor of keeping cafés, restaurants and movie theaters open on the day of rest, 64% are in favor of sports events, 59% support the operation of public transportation, and 58% are in favor of opening shopping centers on Shabbat.

 

Most Israeli Jews testified that they are "interested" or "very interested" in religion's place in the State of Israel (65%) and in the meaning of a "Jewish state" (70%). About half believe public life in Israel should continue to be conducted as they are today, about 25% believe Israel should be more religious, and about 25% believe it should be less religious.

 

Many Israeli Jews are interested in the question "Who is a Jew?" and accept the State of Israel's official stand, which supports Orthodox conversion. Seventy-three percent believe that those who have undergone proper conversion are Jewish, even if they don't observe mitzvot.

 

Forty-eight percent said that even those who have undergone non-Orthodox conversion are considered Jewish, 40% include a son of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother, and 33% say that anyone who feels Jewish is Jewish.

 

Prof. Tamar Hermann and Ayala Keisar-Sugarmen will present the report's findings at Beit Avi Chai at 8 pm Sunday. Entrance is free of charge.

 

 

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