Fifty-eight percent of Israelis define a Jew as someone who is the child of a Jewish mother, a poll conducted by BINA, the Center for Jewish Identity & Hebrew Culture revealed on Wednesday.
Ahead of the Jewish holidays and following the controversy surrounding the “conversion law”, the poll seeked to determine the public’s opinion regarding questions that have been preoccupying Israel for decades – who is a Jew?
The poll was conducted by the Geocartography research institute among a nationwide representative sample of 500 respondents – a representative sample of the adult Jewish population in Israel.
Results of the poll showed that 58% of Israelis believe that any child born of a Jewish mother is a Jew; 26% said that a Jew is “anyone who defines himself as Jewish and wishes to be considered one”.
The findings also revealed that 6% of of respondents believe that only those who believe in God and are committed to the commandments of the Torah and the Jewish law are considered Jews, while 6% think that a Jew is anyone who is involved in Jewish studies (for example out of interest or as part of an academic education). The other respondents answered: “none of the above”, “all are equally Jewish”, or “I don’t know”.
The results analysis shows that the younger part of the group is more faithful to the Jewish tradition on that particular issue than the rest of the sample group: The younger the respondent is, the more he sanctifies the Halachic criterion of the Jewish mother (they are also those who believe that every Jew should have faith in God and observe the Jewish Mitzvot).
At the same time the number of those who believe that a Jew is someone who considers himself as one, is declining. Segmentation using religious definitions indicates that 42% of secular Jews acknowledge the Jewishness of anyone who claims to be Jewish – in contrast to just 15% among conservative Jews and 3% among ultra-Orthodox Jews who would not agree with such an assertion.
Among the ultra-Orthodox Jews, 86% believe that a Jew is one who was born to a Jewish mother, in contrast to 63% conservative Jews and 43.5% secular Jews.
In the second part of the survey, the participants were presented with several possibilities that express Jewish identity and were required to choose the one to which they felt more connected; 30% chose living in Israel, usage of the Hebrew language and army service in the IDF.
Among the results, 27% of Israelis felt that Jewish culture and traditions are key aspects of Jewish identity, 18% chose observance of Jewish law, and 13% express their Judiasm by observing the Sabbath with their family.
Here too, in comparison to other respondents, the younger respondents chose less “civilian” characteristics such as IDF military service, speaking Hebrew and living in Israel as elements of their Jewish identity. They gave more weight to the Jewish mitzvoth, culture and tradition.
Among the adults the trend was just the opposite. Naturally, these patterns encompass the secular, conservative and ultra-Orthodox Jews.
BINA director Eran Baruch said that the “survey voices one of the most central ideas we believe in – that believing in god and observing the mitzvoth are not the only ways to engage in Judaism. There are various ways to be Jewish”.
“The survey shows the diversity of the Israeli public regarding its Jewish identity: nationalistic and cultural components such as language and military service along with a warm approach to the Jewish tradition such as celebrating the holidays with the family – all these serve as a central part of the Israeli Jewish identity.
“We encourage Israeli Jews - secular, conservative and ultra-Orthodox – to take an interest in Judaism in its many layers and connect to it by choice and out of identification with it.”