Israel’s Religiously Divided Society

Source: Pew Research Center

Nearly 70 years after the establishment of the modern State of Israel, its Jewish population remains united behind the idea that Israel is a homeland for the Jewish people and a necessary refuge from rising anti-Semitism around the globe. But alongside these sources of unity, a major new survey by Pew Research Center also finds deep divisions in Israeli society – not only between Israeli Jews and the country’s Arab minority, but also among the religious subgroups that make up Israeli Jewry.

Nearly all Israeli Jews identify with one of four categories: Haredi (commonly translated as “ultra-Orthodox”), Dati (“religious”), Masorti (“traditional”) or Hiloni (“secular”).

Although they live in the same small country and share many traditions, highly religious and secular Jews inhabit largely separate social worlds, with relatively few close friends and little intermarriage outside their own groups. In fact, the survey finds that secular Jews in Israel are more uncomfortable with the notion that a child of theirs might someday marry an ultra-Orthodox Jew than they are with the prospect of their child marrying a Christian. (See Chapter 11 for more information.)

Moreover, these divisions are reflected in starkly contrasting positions on many public policy questions, including marriage, divorce, religious conversion, military conscription, gender segregation and public transportation. Overwhelmingly, Haredi and Dati Jews (both generally considered Orthodox) express the view that Israel’s government should promote religious beliefs and values, while secular Jews strongly favor separation of religion from government policy.

Israeli Jews see democracy as compatible with Jewish state but are divided on whether democratic princes or religious law should take priority

Most Jews across the religious spectrum agree in principle that Israel can be both a democracy and a Jewish state. But they are at odds about what should happen, in practice, if democratic decision-making collides with Jewish law (halakha). The vast majority of secular Jews say democratic principles should take precedence over religious law, while a similarly large share of ultra-Orthodox Jews say religious law should take priority.

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