Religion in Israel has always been a central feature of the country and has played a major role in shaping its culture and lifestyle throughout its short history. Some 65 year ago, the religious status quo was signed between David Ben-Gurion and the Orthodox parties at the time. The agreement decided upon the role that Judaism would play in Israel's government and the judicial system.
Since then, the country has seen heated debates over religion's place in the Israeli society. However, a recently released poll held by Ynet and the Gesher Foundation indicates that 62% of the Jewish public in Israel believes that the status quo agreement is still relevant in 2012.
The comprehensive survey was conducted by the Panel4All website among 300 respondents – a representative sample of Israel's Jewish population (maximum sampling error: 5.7%).
The status quo agreement was based upon a letter sent by Ben-Gurion to Agudat Israel in 1947. The agreement determined four key issues: kashrut, family laws, education and the observance of the Sabbath.
The survey's findings reveal that 42% of respondents believe that the agreement is still relevant in 2012 with minor adjustments made to it, while 20% are willing to adopt the letter as it is.
However, some 32% claimed that the agreement was no longer relevant – 21% of them believe state and religion should be separated, while 11% say they would draft a new and more relevant agreement.
An analysis according to levels of religious observance reveals that 76.5% of haredim, 91% of religious Jews and 76% of traditional Jews, agree with the status quo agreement as it is today, while 51% of seculars oppose the agreement. Within the secular respondents, 17% demanded that the agreement be redrafted and 34% said that they believe state and religion should be separated.
51% oppose the agreement
When asked, "Do you agree with the status quo determining that Saturday should be the day of rest in Israel?" 81% said yes – 65% of the respondents explained their answer by saying that the clause preserves the Jewish tradition, while 16% said that they wouldn't change the clause out of habit.
Meanwhile, 16% of respondents claimed the clause should be changed, while 9% said that the day of rest should be determined by the employee in an effort not to harm his freedom of occupation, and 7% said that the national day of rest should be on Sunday "in order for Israel to synchronize itself with the rest of the world."
Regarding the 65-year-old document's clause, which states that family laws (marriage, divorce etc.) shall be preserved in a single judicial system, 55% of the respondents (84% of seculars) said that the Rabbinical Court's monopoly on issues concerning family laws should cease immediately – 40% of respondents supported civil marriage while 15% said they would settle for the option of a Reform or Conservative wedding.
In the religious sector, 43% (100% of haredim, 79% of religious Jews and 54% of traditional Jews) said that they were in favor of leaving the laws as they are.
Another heated debate in the Israeli society has to do with the autonomy in education. The document stipulates the minimum standards in education in fields such as Hebrew, Jewish history, science etc. When asked about the subject, some 83% of respondents supported changing the article – 32% claimed that the core subjects should be mandatory in every school (51% of seculars, 20% of traditional Jews and 12% of religious Jews).
Some 20% said they believe Jewish studies should be mandatory (7% of seculars, 19% of traditional Jews, 27% of religious Jews and 77% of haredim).
Regarding the topic of Kashrut, Gesher's survey reveals that 77% of the respondents believe that Kashrut must be observed in the kitchens of official institutions. The survey further indicated that when asked about kashrut, a majority was found in all sectors.
In response to the survey, Gesher's Executive Director Ilan Geal-Dor said that "after 65 years, it appears that minor changes should be made to the document in order for it to reflect the transformation made in the Israeli society."