New study: Who is the typical Israeli Jew today?

A new study classifies the majority in Israel today as “Jewish Israelis,” largely considered to be traditional Jews.

By Batya Jerenberg, World Israel News

An Israeli researcher and a professor of statistics have co-written a book based on a study of contemporary Jewish-Israeli society and what they see as a new tribe that dominates the Jewish state today, referring to them as “Jewish Israelis,” reported Emily Amrousi Thursday in Israel Hayom.

The book, penned by researcher Shmuel Rosner and Professor Camil Fuchs, is titled #IsraeliJudaism: Portrait of a Cultural Revolution, and it presents “Jewish Israelis” – i.e. traditional Jews, with variations – as the majority of the tribe living in the Jewish state.

Rosner is a senior fellow at the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI) and heads the Pluralism and Democracy in Israel Project. Fuchs is professor emeritus of the department of Statistics and Operations Research at Tel Aviv University and an expert pollster for Ha’aretz and Channel 10.

Jewish tradition and Israeli nationalism were the focus of the interviews conducted by the authors. They made sure to take a very large sampling of Israelis for their research in order to represent as accurately as possible the current demographic of Jews in Israel, broken down by age, gender and religious observance. They asked 3,005 people 300 questions in the first round and another 100 in the second regarding their religious and nationalistic observances. The latter, for example, included questions about serving in the army and what they do when the siren honoring fallen soldiers sounds on Memorial Day.

Broadly speaking, according to the authors’ conclusions, religious observance in Israel is declining, but irreligious Israelis are not as secular as people may think. Nationalistically, meanwhile, a whopping 70% feel strongly about the symbols of the state and their obligations towards the country.

At the end of the study, the interviewees could be divided into four groups: “Israelis,” 15% of the population, who are irreligious and emphasize their national identity; “Jews,” 17% of the group, who stress their religious identity and minimize their national identity; “Universals,” only 13% of those surveyed, who don’t care much about either stream; and the majority, 55%, whom Fuchs and Rosner call “Jewish Israelis.”

This group is mainly composed of people widely referred to as “traditional” Jews. They perform many religious rituals, such as reciting kiddush (a blessing over wine) before Friday night dinner and observing aspects of most, if not all, Jewish holidays. As the article notes, they “feel that it is important to be Jewish even without observing all the laws of Judaism.” But they are also firm about keeping their nationalist traditions and responsibilities alive and well.

‘In the midst of creating a new culture’

As Rosner commented, “The State of Israel allows us to be ‘lazy’ Jews. We can do nothing and still be under a constant barrage of Jewish culture.”

“We don’t jump to conclusions, we only assess the reality,” Fuchs told Israel Hayom. “But it is impossible not to see that something new has been created here. Israeli Judaism. The story isn’t complete, it’s still developing. We are in the midst of the creation of a new culture.”

When Amrousi asked what amazed them most from their study, Fuchs, who found himself to be a “Universalist,” said, “I was surprised to see a high percentage of completely secular people, like me, who believe in God…. Half of the secular people aren’t atheists! That means that in Israel, being secular is behavioral, not faith-based.”

‘A new, unfamiliar reality’

Rosner, who fell under the “Jewish Israeli” category, said that the dropout rate in the religious sector surprised him. “The level of observance is in decline if you compare the level of observance in the home a person grew up in to the level of observance in their home today. The religious public is having trouble keeping the next generation religious.”

According to Rosner, “The charm of Jewish culture over the course of history, and the reason it has not disappeared, is that we adapt quickly to new circumstances. The State of Israel qualifies as new circumstances – a new, unfamiliar reality – and Judaism adapts to it.”

“Zionism sought to eradicate anti-Semitism and ensure the safety of Jews’ lives. That didn’t happen. Anti-Semitism has not been eradicated. But something else happened – Zionism won an important victory in managing to rejuvenate Judaism and renew it in the modern era. It enabled people who don’t observe the laws of Judaism to live a life that accommodates their personal preferences while simultaneously supplying a thick layer of Jewish culture that accompanies them. It is like an ancient suitcase that they take with them everywhere they go.”