Deep gulfs among Jews, as well as between Jews and Arabs, over political values and religion’s role in public life.
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, – 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.
Most 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.
Even more fundamentally, these groups disagree on what Jewish identity is mainly about: Most of the ultra-Orthodox say “being Jewish” is mainly a matter of religion, while secular Jews tend to say it is mainly a matter of ancestry and/or culture.
To be sure, When asked, “What is your present religion, if any?” virtually all Israeli Jews say they are Jewish – and almost none say they have no religion – even though roughly half describe themselves as secular and one-in-five do not believe in God. For some, Jewish identity also is bound up with Israeli national pride. Most secular Jews in Israel say they see themselves as Israeli first and Jewish second, while most Orthodox Jews (Haredim and Datiim) say they see themselves as Jewish first and then Israeli.
The survey also looks at differences among Israeli Jews based on age, gender, education, ethnicity (Ashkenazi or Sephardi/Mizrahi) and other demographic factors. For example, Sephardim/Mizrahim are generally more religiously observant than Ashkenazim, and men are somewhat more likely than women to say halakha should take precedence over democratic principles. But in many respects, these demographic differences are dwarfed by the major gulfs seen among the four religious subgroups that make up Israeli Jewry.
While Most non-Jewish residents of Israel are ethnically Arab and identify, religiously, as Muslims, Christians or Druze.
The survey shows that Israeli Arabs generally do not think Israel can be a Jewish state and a democracy at the same time. This view is expressed by majorities of Muslims, Christians and Druze. And overwhelmingly, all three of these groups say that if there is a conflict between Jewish law and democracy, democracy should take precedence.
But this does not mean most Arabs in Israel are committed secularists. In fact, many Muslims and Christians support the application of their own religious law to their communities. Fully 58% of Muslims favor enshrining sharia as official law for Muslims in Israel, and 55% of Christians favor making the Bible the law of the land for Christians.
Roughly , who are by far the biggest of the religious minorities. On this issue, Jews take the opposite view; the vast majority (74%) say they do not see much discrimination against Muslims in Israel.
At the same time, Jewish public opinion is divided on whether Israel can serve as a homeland for Jews while also accommodating the country’s Arab minority. Nearly half of Israeli Jews say Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel, including roughly one-in-five Jewish adults who strongly agree with this position.
The divisions between Jews and Arabs are also reflected in their views on the peace process. In recent years, Arabs in Israel have become increasingly doubtful that a way can be found for Israel and an independent Palestinian state to coexist peacefully. As recently as 2013, roughly three-quarters of Israeli Arabs (74%) said a peaceful two-state solution was possible. As of early 2015, 50% say such an outcome is possible.
Israeli Arabs are highly skeptical about the sincerity of the Israeli government in seeking a peace agreement, while Israeli Jews are equally skeptical about the sincerity of Palestinian leaders. But there is plenty of distrust to go around: Fully 40% of Israeli Jews say their own government is not making a sincere effort toward peace, and an equal share of Israeli Arabs say the same about Palestinian leaders.
Israel’s major religious groups also are isolated from one another socially. The vast majority of Jews (98%), Muslims (85%), Christians (86%) and Druze (83%) say all or most of their close friends belong to their own religious community.
Jews are more likely than Arabs to say all their friends belong to their religious group. To some extent, this may reflect the fact that the majority of Israel’s population is Jewish. Two-thirds of Israeli Jews (67%) say all of their friends are Jewish. By comparison, 38% of Muslims, 21% of Christians and 22% of Druze say all their friends share their religion.
These are some of the key findings of Pew Research Center’s comprehensive survey of religion in Israel, which was conducted through face-to-face interviews in Hebrew, Arabic and Russian among 5,601 Israeli adults (ages 18 and older) from October 2014 through May 2015. The survey uses the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics’ definition of the Israeli population, which includes Jews living in the West Bank as well as Arab residents of East Jerusalem. See survey methodology for more details.
The survey includes oversamples (i.e., additional interviews, over and above the number that would occur in a purely random sample) of five groups – Christians, Druze, Haredi Jews, Arabs living in East Jerusalem and Israeli settlers in the West Bank – in order to be able to analyze the views of people in these relatively small groups. However, the oversamples are statistically adjusted in the survey’s final results so that Christians, Druze, Haredim, Arabs in East Jerusalem and Israeli settlers are represented in proportion to their actual share of the Israeli adult population.
The survey probes Israelis’ religious identification, beliefs and practices; views on democracy and religion’s role in public life; moral values and life goals; perceptions about discrimination; views on intermarriage; and attitudes toward politics and the peace process.
Using data from Pew Research Center’s 2013 study “A Portrait of Jewish Americans,” the report also makes comparisons between Jews in Israel and Jews in the United States. For instance, Israeli Jews overall are more religiously observant than U.S. Jews. Politically, American Jews are more optimistic about the possibility of a peaceful two-state solution and more negative about Jewish settlements in the West Bank than are Israeli Jews. U.S.-Israeli comparisons are discussed in detail in Chapter 1.
Together, the current study and the previously published survey of Jewish Americans provide an in-depth look at the religious beliefs, values, and social and political views of an estimated 80% of the world’s Jewish population. These studies, funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts and the Neubauer Family Foundation, are part of a larger effort by Pew Research Center to understand religious change and its impact on societies around the world.
The rest of this Overview explores some sources of both unity and division in Israeli society, as revealed by the survey. While the major subgroups of Israeli Jews are united in their support of Israel as a Jewish homeland, they are deeply at odds over the role that religion should play in their country’s public life. And although Jews, Muslims, Christians and Druze in Israel share many life goals – placing great emphasis on maintaining strong families and obtaining a good education for their children, for example – they live religiously balkanized lives.
Israeli Jews united on need for Jewish homeland
Israel is no longer a predominantly immigrant society; at present, roughly three-quarters of Israeli adults are natives, and just one-quarter were born abroad. Yet with virtual unanimity, Israeli Jews of every kind – native-born and immigrant, young and old, secular and highly religious – agree that all Jews everywhere should have the right to make “aliyah,” or move to Israel and receive immediate citizenship.
This overwhelming support for Jewish immigration may be linked, in part, to perceptions about anti-Semitism. Fully three-quarters of Israeli Jews (76%) think that anti-Semitism is both common and increasing around the world, and roughly nine-in-ten (91%) say that a Jewish state is necessary for the long-term survival of the Jewish people.
Most But they do not see an inherent contradiction between a Jewish homeland and a functioning democracy. Asked whether Israel can be both a Jewish state and a democratic one, majorities of all four Jewish subgroups say “yes.” However, Haredim are less certain than other Israeli Jews that democracy is compatible with Jewish statehood. While a slim majority of Haredim surveyed (58%) say Israel can be both a Jewish state and a democracy, about one-third (36%) say it cannot.
This may be because many Haredim believe that religious law (halakha) should trump democratic decision-making. To test this, the survey posed a hypothetical question: “And if there is a contradiction between halakha and democratic principles, should the State of Israel give preference to democratic principles or halakha?” In such a situation, 89% of Haredim say halakha should be given preference, and only 3% of Haredi respondents would defer to democratic ideals. By contrast, among Hilonim, an equally lopsided share (89%) say the state should give preference to democratic principles; just 1% of secular Jewish respondents would yield to halakha.
When asked whether halakha should be made the official law of the land for Jews in Israel, majorities of Haredim (86%) and Datiim (69%) say they would favor this change. By contrast, most Masortim (57%) and an overwhelming majority of Hilonim (90%) oppose making halakha the law of the land for Jews in Israel.
The disagreements over what it means to live in a Jewish state are not merely hypothetical. The survey asks about numerous concrete policy issues in Israel – including marriage, divorce, conversion, military conscription, transportation, public prayer and gender segregation – and finds deep divides.
For example, the vast majority of Haredim and Datiim say public transportation should be shut down throughout the entire country on the Jewish Sabbath, while the vast majority of Hilonim (94%) oppose shutting down all public transport in observance of the Sabbath. Masortim are more evenly divided between those who favor shutting down public transport across the entire country on the Sabbath (44%) and those who want to keep buses, trains or other public transportation running in at least some areas (52%).
The public intermingling of men and women is another point of disagreement. A solid majority of Haredim (62%) favor gender segregation on public transportation, such as buses and trains, used by members of the Haredi community. Among Hilonim, meanwhile, just 5% favor this policy. The vast majority of Hilonim (93%) are opposed to enforcing gender segregation on any public transport, even when it is used by Haredim.
There is also debate on issues concerning family law. Israel does not allow civil marriage, and Jewish marriages conducted in Israel must be sanctioned by Orthodox rabbis. (For more details on marriage and divorce in Israel, see Chapter 11.) Haredim strongly oppose allowing non-Orthodox rabbis to conduct marriages in Israel, while a majority of Hilonim favor changing the current law to allow Reform and Conservative rabbis to conduct weddings.
Israeli Jews divided on the status of Arabs
Israeli The survey asked Jews whether they strongly agree, agree, disagree or strongly disagree with the statement that “Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel.” Roughly half of Israeli Jews strongly agree (21%) or agree (27%), while a similar share disagree (29%) or strongly disagree (17%).
Datiim are especially likely to favor the expulsion of Arabs. Roughly seven-in-ten (71%) say Arabs should be transferred.
Hilonim lean in the other direction: Most (58%) disagree and say Arabs should not be expelled from Israel, including 25% who strongly disagree. But even among these self-described secular Israeli Jews, about one-third (36%) favor the expulsion of Arabs from the country.
Where Jews place themselves on the political spectrum – on the left, in the center or on the right – is strongly correlated with their views on the expulsion of Arabs. Among the 8% of Jews who say they lean left, an overwhelming majority either disagree (25%) or strongly disagree (61%) that Arabs should be expelled. By contrast, roughly seven-in-ten of those on the political right agree (35%) or strongly agree (36%) that Arabs should be expelled or transferred.
More details on this question can be found in Chapter 8.
Politically, Datiim lean toward the right; most Hilonim see themselves in the center
The spectrum of religious observance in Israel – on which Haredim are generally the most religious and Hilonim the least – does not always line up perfectly with Israel’s political spectrum. On some issues, including those pertaining to religion in public life, there is a clear overlap: Haredim are furthest to the right and Hilonim are furthest to the left, with Datiim and Masortim in between.
But on other political issues, including those related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the expulsion of Arabs from Israel, smaller shares of Haredim than of Datiim take right-leaning positions. These differences may partly reflect the ambivalence some Haredi Jews have felt about the State of Israel ever since its establishment; some Haredi leaders opposed the formal creation of a Jewish state before the arrival of the Messiah. In addition, some Haredi leaders have, at various points in Israel’s history, advocated for centrist or left-leaning positions, such as opposing Jewish settlements in the West Bank and supporting the possibility of giving up land in a peace agreement with the Palestinians. And in pragmatic Israeli politics, the chief concern of Haredi political parties has often been the economic well-being and support of their community, while Datiim are often more ideologically motivated with respect to Israel’s security.
Overall, more Datiim place themselves on the political right (56%) than in the center (41%). Haredim, on the other hand, are about equally likely to place themselves in the ideological center (52%) and the right (47%); the same is true of Masortim. Most Hilonim (62%) identify as political centrists. Hilonim are more likely than members of the other Jewish subgroups to place themselves on the left side of the spectrum – but, still, only 14% do so.
The survey also asked respondents what political party they identify with, if any. Within each Jewish subgroup, no single political party constitutes a majority. But at the time the survey was fielded (October 2014 to May 2015), Haredim generally supported parties that represent the interests of their community, including the Shas party and Yahadut Hatorah (United Torah Judaism).
Among Masortim and Hilonim, the most common party affiliation was Likud, the largely secular, center-right party that currently leads the ruling coalition government in Israel (Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party). Among Hilonim, there was also some support for the center-left Avoda party (Labor), the leading opposition party to the current government; Yisrael Beytenu, a largely secular right-leaning party that draws support from many Russian immigrants; and Yesh Atid, a secular party representing mostly middle class interests.
Datiim were about equally likely to identify with Habayit Hayehudi (Jewish Home) – a right-leaning, religious Zionist and pro-settlement party – and the Shas party (a religious party that traditionally supports Mizrahi interests). Both Jewish Home and Shas are currently part of Likud’s governing coalition.
Among Arabs, there was significant support for the United Arab List, Hadash and Balad, three of the parties that have allied as the Joint List as part of the opposition to the current government.
Some Jews see their Jewish identity as religious, others as cultural or ethnic
The large differences among the various Jewish groups on the kind of Jewish state they envision may be tied to fundamentally different understandings of Jewish identity.
Seven-in-ten Haredim (70%) and roughly half of Datiim (52%) say being Jewish is mainly a matter of religion, while 3% of Haredim and 16% of Datiim say being Jewish is mainly a matter of ancestry and/or culture. Among Hilonim, by contrast, only 4% see being Jewish as primarily a matter of religion, while 83% say Jewish identity is mainly a matter of ancestry and/or culture. However, at least some members of all of these groups see their Jewish identity as bound up with both religion and ancestry/culture.
(For more on Jewish identity in Israel, including a sidebar on different types of Jewish ethnic identity, see Chapter 3.)
The survey also asked Israeli Jews whether they see themselves as Jewish first or Israeli first. About nine-in-ten Haredim (91%), eight-in-ten Datiim (80%) and roughly six-in-ten Masortim (59%) consider themselves Jewish first, while about six-in-ten Hilonim (59%) take the opposite position, saying they see themselves as Israeli first. Among Masortim and Hilonim, about one-in-five do not take either position.
Many, but not all, Israeli Jews also identify with Zionism. Historically, the term “Zionist” usually referred to a supporter of the establishment of the State of Israel as a national homeland for the Jewish people. Today in Israel, however, “Zionist” may have additional shades of meaning, perhaps roughly equivalent to nationalist, patriotic or idealistic. Rather than trying to define the word, the survey simply asked Jewish respondents how accurately it describes them, personally.
Overall, majorities of Datiim, Masortim and Hilonim say “Zionist” describes them either very accurately or somewhat accurately. But most Haredim say the term describes them either “not too” (24%) or “not at all” (38%) accurately. Once again, Haredi Jews’ reluctance to describe themselves as Zionists may reflect their historical ambivalence toward the Jewish state. Among Haredim who identify as Zionists, 85% say Israel is necessary for the long-term survival of the Jewish people; by contrast, among Haredim who do not describe themselves as Zionists, just 55% agree.
Wide variation in religious observance among Israeli Jews
Across numerous measures of religious belief and practice, Datiim closely resemble Haredim in some ways, although they report somewhat lower levels of daily prayer and synagogue attendance. Masortim include some people who are highly observant as well as some who are not, but on several standard measures of religious observance, Masortim tend to show medium levels of religious observance.
For example, about three-quarters of Haredim say they pray at least once a day (76%), as do most Datiim (58%). By comparison, just 1% of Hilonim say they pray daily, and 79% never pray. Self-described Masortim display less uniformity in their prayer habits: About one-in-five say they pray daily (21%), 15% say they pray at least weekly, about one-third say they pray monthly or seldom (32%), and about three-in-ten Masortim (31%) say they never pray.
Similarly, majorities among both Haredim (85%) and Datiim (74%) say they attend religious services on a weekly basis, while among Hilonim, relatively few (1%) do this and 60% say they never attend synagogue. Again, Masortim display a range of worship attendance habits.
These major differences in religious commitment among the four Jewish subgroups also are reflected in many specific Jewish religious practices. For example, very few – if any – Haredim or Datiim say they travel by car, bus or train on the Jewish Sabbath (from Friday evening to Saturday evening). By comparison, travel on the Sabbath is nearly universal among Hilonim (95%). On this question, Masortim are closely divided, with a slightly higher share saying they travel on the Sabbath (53%) than saying they do not (41%).
Secular Jews’ understanding of their Jewish identity as primarily a matter of ancestry or culture is reflected in their beliefs and practices. Not only do few Hilonim say they attend synagogue on a weekly basis or pray with regularity, but many (40%) also say they do not believe in God. However, substantial proportions of Hilonim practice what could be seen as cultural aspects of their religion. For example, 87% of Hilonim say they hosted or attended a Seder last Passover, and about half (53%) say they at least sometimes light candles before the start of the Sabbath.
By some measures, Jewish men in Israel are more religiously observant than Jewish women. Among Haredim, Datiim and Masortim in particular, men are more likely than women to report that they pray several times a day and attend synagogue weekly. In part, this reflects the fact that Jewish law (halakha) requires daily prayer in a prayer quorum (minyan) for men and not for women, and halakha makes similar exemptions for women regarding many other mandated rituals. But the survey also finds that among Masortim, men are more likely than women to say religion is “very important” in their lives, and more Masorti men than women refrain from travel on the Jewish day of rest.
Among both highly religious and secular Jews, there are few differences in religious observance between older and younger Israeli adults.
Chapter 4 looks at measures of religious commitment in Israel in more detail.
Overall, Arabs in Israel are more religious than Jews
Arabs in Israel – especially Muslims – are more religiously observant than Jews as a whole. Fully two-thirds of Israeli Arabs say religion is very important in their lives, compared with just 30% of Jews. Israeli Muslims (68%), Christians (57%) and Druze (49%) all are more likely than Jews to say religion is very important to them, personally. In addition, more Arabs than Jews report that they pray daily and participate in weekly worship services.
Generally, Muslims in Israel are the most religiously observant of the four major religious groups. For example, a majority of Muslims say they pray daily (61%), compared with 34% of Christians, 26% of Druze and 21% of Jews. And while 25% of Druze, 27% of Jews and 38% of Christians say they attend religious services at least weekly, roughly half of Israeli Muslims (49%) report that they go to a mosque on at least a weekly basis.
Among Muslims in Israel, adults between the ages of 18 and 49 are generally less observant than their elders. For example, those under 50 are less likely than older Muslims to say they pray daily or attend mosque weekly. This is not the case among Jews; as previously noted, there are few, if any, significant differences in religious observance between younger and older Israeli Jewish adults.
Data collected by the Israeli Social Survey on religious observance among all non-Jews in Israel – Muslims, Christians and Druze combined – show a net uptick in the proportion of adults who say they are “very religious” or “religious,” from 51% in 2002 to 56% in 2013. Over the same 11-year period, there has been a slight net decline in the proportion of non-Jewish adults who say they are “not so religious” or “not religious,” from 49% to 44%.
(Trends over time in religious observance among Israeli Jews are discussed in a sidebar at the end of this Overview.)
Few friendships and marriages in Israel cross religious lines
Jews and Arabs of different religious backgrounds are separated by more than just their religiosity and political opinions. The survey finds that these groups are also relatively isolated from one another socially.
This is even true within Israeli Jewry. Particularly among Haredim and Hilonim, few adults say they have many close friends from outside their own community, and intermarriage is rare. In addition, the vast majority of Haredim say they would not be comfortable if one of their children were, someday, to marry a Hiloni Jew – and vice versa.
Masortim are the one Jewish group that is more likely than others to have close friends from a variety of other Jewish groups. Only about half of Masortim (48%) say that all or most of their close friends are also Masortim; by comparison, among Haredim and Hilonim, roughly nine-in-ten adults say all or most of their close friends belong to the same Jewish subgroup. Among Datiim, 72% say all or most of their close friends are Datiim.
Similarly, 95% of married Haredim say their spouse is also Haredi, while 93% of Hilonim who have a spouse or partner say that person is Hiloni. Datiim also are very likely to have a spouse who is Dati (85%). As with friendships, Masortim are most likely to have a marriage that crosses Jewish subgroups; 64% are married to another Masorti Jew, but roughly one-third are married to a Jew they describe as either Dati (20%) or Hiloni (15%).
The vast majority of Haredim and Hilonim also are uncomfortable with the idea of future intermarriage between their two communities. About nine-in-ten Hilonim say they would be “not too” comfortable (20%) or “not at all” comfortable (73%) if their child someday married a Haredi Jew, while nearly all Haredi respondents (95%) say they would be “not too” comfortable (17%) or “not at all” comfortable” (78%) if their child were to someday marry a secular Jew. Haredim are also generally uncomfortable with the idea of their children taking a Masorti spouse (88% say they would be uncomfortable with this) or a Dati spouse (58%).
On this hypothetical question, the divisions are less stark when it comes to some other groups that are adjacent to one another on the religious spectrum. Only a minority of Masortim say they would be uncomfortable with their child marrying either a Dati or Hiloni Jew. Similarly, minorities of Datiim indicate they are uncomfortable with the idea of their child having a spouse who is Haredi or Masorti.
Hilonim are generally uncomfortable about the idea of intermarriage with Orthodox Jews – including both Haredim and Datiim. But fewer than half of Hilonim (45%) say they would be uncomfortable with the idea of their child having a spouse who is Masorti.
Religious intermarriages cannot be performed in Israel (although civil marriages that take place in other countries are legally recognized in Israel). This is reflected in the rarity of marriages between members of different religious communities in the country. Nearly all Israelis in the survey who are married or living with a partner say their spouse or partner shares their religion. Relatively few married Muslim, Christian and Druze residents (1%) say their spouse has a different religion, and only 2% of married Jews say they have a spouse who belongs to a non-Jewish religion or is religiously unaffiliated.
Not only is intermarriage rare in Israel, nearly all Israeli Jews and Arabs included in the survey say they would prefer their children to marry within their own religious circle. Among Jews, 97% say they would not be comfortable with their child someday marrying a Muslim, and 89% say this about their child ever marrying a Christian. Similarly, 82% of Muslims, 88% of Christians and 87% of Druze say they would be uncomfortable with the idea of their child marrying a Jew.
Among Arabs, there is also uneasiness with marriage between religious groups. Three-quarters of Muslims say they are not too or not at all comfortable with the idea of intermarriage with a Christian. Similarly, most Christians (80%) say they would be uncomfortable with their child marrying a Muslim. Druze are about equally opposed to the idea of one of their children marrying a Jew (87% uncomfortable), a Muslim (85%) or a Christian (87%).
Arabs see more discrimination in Israeli society
Social divisions within Israeli society may be connected to perceptions of discrimination. Roughly eight-in-ten Arabs (79%) say there is a lot of discrimination against Muslims in Israel today, while just 21% of Israeli Jews share this view.