Religion in Israel

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
Western Wall and Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem
(Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem is internationally disputed).[note 1]

Circle frame.svg

Religion in Israel (2011)

  Judaism (75.4%)
  Islam (16.9%)
  Christianity (2.1%)
  Druzism (1.7%)
  Baha'i (0.3%)
  Unknown (4%)

Religion in Israel is a central feature of the country and plays a major role in shaping Israeli culture and lifestyle, and religion has played a central role in Israel's history. Israel is also the only country in the world where a majority of citizens are Jewish. According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, the population in 2011 was 75.4% Jewish, 20.6% Arab, and 4.1% minority groups.[1] The religious affiliation of the Israeli population[vague] as of 2011 was 75.4% Jewish, 16.9% Muslim, 2.1% Christian, and 1.7% Druze, with the remaining 4.0% not classified by religion, and a small Baha'i community.[2][3]

Israel has no entrenched constitution, but freedom of religion is anchored in law. While the Basic Laws of Israel that serve in place of a constitution define the country as a "Jewish state," these Basic Laws, coupled with Knesset statutes, decisions of the Supreme Court of Israel, and various elements of the common law current in Israel, also protect free practice of religion in the country.[4][5] Legal accommodation of the non-Jewish communities follows the pattern and practice of the Ottoman and British administrations with some important modifications. Israeli law officially recognizes five religions, all belonging to the Abrahamic family of religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Druzeism and the Bahá'í Faith. Furthermore, the law formally recognizes ten separate sects of Christianity: the Roman, Armenian, Maronite, Greek, Syriac, and Chaldean Catholic Churches; the Eastern Orthodox Greek Orthodox Church; the Oriental Orthodox Syriac Orthodox Church; the Armenian Apostolic Church; and Anglicanism.[6] Members of unrecognized religions are free to practice their religion.[4]

Religious self-definition[edit]

As of 2009, 8% of Israeli Jews defined themselves as Haredim; an additional 12% as "religious"; 13% as "religious-traditionalists" ; 25% as "non-religious-traditionalists" (not strictly adhering to Jewish law or halakha); and 42% as "secular" (Hebrew: חִלּוֹנִי, Hiloni).[7] As of 1999, 65% of Israeli Jews believe in God,[8] and 85% participate in a Passover seder.[8] However, other sources indicate that between 15% and 37% of Israelis identify themselves as either atheists or agnostics.[9][unreliable source?] A survey conducted in 2009 showed that 80% of Israeli Jews believe in God, with 46% of them self-reporting as secular.[10] Israelis tend not to align themselves with a movement of Judaism (such as Reform Judaism or Conservative Judaism) but instead tend to define their religious affiliation by degree of their religious practice.

Of the Arab Israelis, as of 2008, 82.7% were Muslims, 8.4% were Druze, and 8.3% were Christians.[3] Just over 80% of Christians are Arabs, and the majority of the remaining are immigrants from the former Soviet Union who immigrated with a Jewish relative. About 81% of Christian births are to Arab women.[11]

Religion and citizenship[edit]

Israel was founded to provide a national home, safe from persecution, to the Jewish people. Although Israeli law explicitly grants equal civil rights to all citizens regardless of religion, ethnicity, or other heritage, it gives preferential treatment in certain aspects to individuals who fall within the criteria mandated by the Law of Return. Preferential treatment is given to Jews and their relatives who seek to immigrate to Israel. This serves to increase the Jewish population and provides asylum to people who face religious discrimination in the countries they emigrate from.

The Law of Return does not strictly follow the traditional Jewish religious law (halakha) in relation to the definition of who is a Jew. For example, some individuals who would be considered Jewish under halakha are excluded from the rights under the Law of Return - e.g. those who converted to another religion; while others are entitled to immigration though they are not considered Jewish under halakha, e.g. they are related by marriage to a Jew or a grandparent may have been a Jew.

Abrahamic faiths[edit]


Most citizens in the State of Israel are Jewish, and most Israeli Jews practice Judaism in some form. In the last two centuries the largest Jewish community in the world, in the United States, has divided into a number of Jewish denominations. The largest and most influential of these denominations are Orthodox Judaism, Reform Judaism, and Conservative Judaism. All of the above denominations exist, to varying degrees, in the State of Israel. Nevertheless, Israelis tend to classify Jewish identity in ways that are strikingly different from American Jewry.

Secular-traditional spectrum[edit]

Main articles: Hiloni and Shomer Masoret
Cyclists ride down the deserted Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv on Yom Kippur

The Israeli term for Shomer Masoret (or Masorati) covers a wide range of ideologies and levels of observance, and is based on a self-definition phenomenon rather than an organized movement. However, the Shomer Masoret generally perceive themselves as a partly observants.

In 2007, a poll by the Israeli Democracy Institute found that 27% of Israeli Jews say that they keep the Sabbath, while 53% said they do not keep it at all. The poll also found that 50% of the respondents would give up shopping on the Sabbath as long as public transportation were kept running and leisure activities continued to be permitted; however only 38% believed that such a compromise would reduce the tensions between the secular and religious communities.[12]

Because the terms "secular" and "traditional" are not strictly defined, published estimates of the percentage of Israeli Jews who are considered "traditional" range from 32%[13] to 55%.[14] Estimates of the percentage of "secular" Jews vary even more widely: from 20%[14][not in citation given] to 80%[15] of the Israeli population.

Orthodox spectrum[edit]

Main articles: Religious Zionism, Hardal and Haredi
"Tehillim neged Tilim" ("Psalms [recting] to counter Missiles").
A slogan initially coined during the First Gulf War, 1991, and turned into a popular slogan-sticker ever since, especially among the Israeli Religious Zionism ("National Religious") community and the Haredi Judaism sector

The spectrum covered by "Orthodox" in the diaspora exists in Israel, again with some important variations.[16] The Orthodox spectrum in Israel includes a far greater percentage of the Jewish population than in the diaspora, though how much greater is hotly debated. Various ways of measuring this percentage, each with its pros and cons, include the proportion of religiously observant Knesset members (about 25 out of 120), the proportion of Jewish children enrolled in religious schools, and statistical studies on "identity".

What would be called "Orthodox" in the diaspora includes what is commonly called dati ("religious") or haredi ("ultra-Orthodox") in Israel. The former term includes what is called Religious Zionism or the "National Religious" community (and also Modern Orthodox in US terms), as well as what has become known over the past decade or so as Hardal (haredi-leumi, i.e. "ultra-Orthodox nationalist"), which combines a largely haredi lifestyle with a nationalist (i.e. pro-Zionist) ideology.

Haredi Jews

Haredi applies to a populace that can be roughly divided into three separate groups along both ethnic and ideological lines: (1) "Lithuanian" (i.e. non-hasidic) haredim of Ashkenazic (i.e. "Germanic" - European) origin; (2) Hasidic haredim of Ashkenazic (mostly of Eastern European) origin; and (3) Sephardic (including mizrahi) haredim. The third group has the largest political representation in Israel's parliament (the Knesset), and has been the most politically active since the early 1990s, represented by the Shas party.

There is also a growing baal teshuva (Jewish penitents) movement of secular Israelis rejecting their previously secular lifestyles and choosing to become religiously observant with many educational programs and yeshivas for them. An example is Aish HaTorah, which received open encouragement from some sectors within the Israeli establishment. The Israeli government gave Aish HaTorah the real estate rights to its massive new campus opposite the Western Wall because of its proven ability to attract all manner of secular Jews to learn more about Judaism. In many instances after visiting from foreign countries, students decide to make Israel their permanent home by making aliyah. Other notable organizations involved in these efforts are the Chabad and Breslov Hasidic movements who manage to have an ever-growing appeal, the popularity of Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak's organization and the Arachim organization that offer a variety of frequent free "introduction to Judaism" seminars to secular Jews, the Lev LeAchim organization that sends out senior yeshiva and kollel students to recruit Israeli children for religious elementary schools and Yad LeAchim which runs counter missionary programs. Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem runs the Be'eri program to bring Jewish thought, philosophy, culture and history to "secular" to more than 50,000 Israeli school students[17] and IDF[18] officers without teaching religious practice or demanding observance of religious norms.

At the same time, there is also a significant movement in the opposite direction toward a secular lifestyle. There is some debate which trend is stronger at present. Recent polls show that ranks of secular Jewish minority in Israel continued to drop in 2009. Currently the secular make up only 42%.[19]

Secular–religious status quo[edit]

Main article: Status quo (Israel)

The religious status quo, agreed to by David Ben-Gurion with the Orthodox parties at the time of Israel's formation in 1948, is an agreement on the role that Judaism would play in Israel's government and the judicial system. The agreement was based upon a letter sent by Ben-Gurion to Agudat Israel dated 19 June 1947.[20] Under this agreement, which still operates in most respects today:

  • The Chief Rabbinate has authority over kashrut, shabbat, Jewish burial and personal status issues, such as marriage, divorce, and conversions.
  • Streets in Haredi neighborhoods are closed to traffic on the Jewish Sabbath.
  • There is no public transport on the Jewish Sabbath, and most businesses are closed. However, there is public transport in Haifa, since Haifa had a large Arab population at the time of the British Mandate.
  • Restaurants who wish to advertise themselves as kosher must be certified by the Chief Rabbinate.
  • Importation of non-kosher foods is prohibited. Despite this prohibition, a few pork farms supply establishments selling white meat, due to demand therefore among specific population sectors, particularly the Russian immigrants of the 1990s. Despite the status quo, the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that local governments are not allowed to ban the sale of pork, although this had previously been a common by-law.

Nevertheless, some breaches of the status quo have become prevalent, such as several suburban malls remaining open during the Sabbath. Though this is contrary to the law, the government largely turns a blind eye.

Many parts of the "status quo" have been challenged by secular Israelis regarding the Chief Rabbinate's strict control over Jewish weddings, Jewish divorce proceedings, conversions, and the question of who is a Jew for the purposes of immigration.

While the state of Israel enables freedom of religion for all of its citizens, it does not enable civil marriage. The state forbids and disapproves of any civil marriages or non-religious divorces performed amongst within the country. Because of this, some Israelis choose to marry outside of Israel.

The Ministry of Education manages the secular and Orthodox school networks of various faiths in parallel, with a limited degree of independence and a common core curriculum.

In recent years, perceived frustration with the status quo among the secular population has strengthened parties such as Shinui, which advocate separation of religion and state, without much success so far.

Today the secular Israeli-Jews claim that they aren't religious and don't observe Jewish law, and that Israel as a democratic modern country should not force the observance thereof upon its citizens against their will. The Orthodox Israeli-Jews claim that the separation between state and religion will contribute to the end of Israel's Jewish identity.

Signs of the first challenge to the status quo came in 1977, with the fall of the Labor government that had been in power since independence, and the formation of a right-wing coalition under Menachem Begin. Right-wing Revisionist Zionism had always been more acceptable to the Orthodox parties, since it did not share the same history of anti-religious rhetoric that marked socialist Zionism. Furthermore, Begin needed the Haredi members of the Knesset (Israel's unicameral parliament) to form his coalition, and offered more power and benefits to their community than what they had been accustomed to receiving, including a lifting of the numerical limit on military exemptions for those engaged in full-time Torah study.

On the other hand, secular Israelis began questioning whether a "status quo" based on the conditions of the 1940s and 1950s was still relevant in the 1980s and 1990s, and reckoned that they had cultural and institutional support to enable them to change it regardless of its relevance. They challenged Orthodox control of personal affairs such as marriage and divorce, resented the lack of entertainment and transportation options on the Jewish Sabbath (then the country's only day of rest), and questioned whether the burden of military service was being shared equitably, since the 400 scholars who originally benefited from the exemption, had grown to 50,000[citation needed]. Finally, the Progressive and Masorti communities, though still small, began to exert themselves as an alternative to the Haredi control of religious issues. No one was happy with the "status quo"; the Orthodox used their newfound political force to attempt to extend religious control, and the non-Orthodox sought to reduce or even eliminate it.

In 2010 a report released by the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics showed that 8% of Israel's Jewish population defines itself as ultra-Orthodox, 12% as Orthodox, 13% as traditional-religious, 25% as traditional, and 42% as secular, on a descending scale of religiosity. Among the Arab population it showed that 8% define themselves as very religious, 47% as religious, 27% as not very religious, and 18% as not religious.[21]

Chief Rabbinate[edit]

Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, seat of the Chief Rabbinate

It was during the British Mandate of Palestine that the British administration established an official dual Ashkenazi-Sephardi "Chief Rabbinate" (rabbanut harashit) that was exclusively Orthodox, as part of an effort to consolidate and organize Jewish life based on its own model in Britain, which encouraged strict loyalty to the British crown, and in order to attempt to influence the religious life of the Jews in Palestine in a similar fashion. In 1921, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1864–1935) was chosen as the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi and Rabbi Jacob Meir as the first Sephardi Chief Rabbi (Rishon LeTzion). Rabbi Kook was a leading light of the religious Zionist movement, and was acknowledged by all as a great rabbi of his generation. He believed that the work of secular Jews toward creating an eventual Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael was part of a divine plan for the settlement of the land of Israel. The return to Israel was in Kook's view not merely a political phenomenon to save Jews from persecution, but an event of extraordinary historical and theological significance.

The Kotel is under the supervision of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel

Prior to the 1917 British conquest of Palestine, the Ottomans had recognized the leading rabbis of the Old Yishuv as the official leaders of the small Jewish community that for many centuries consisted mostly of the devoutly Orthodox Jews from Eastern Europe as well as those from the Levant who had made aliyah to the Holy Land, primarily for religious reasons. The European immigrants had unified themselves in an organization initially known as the Vaad Ha'ir, which later changed its name to Edah HaChareidis.The Turks viewed the local rabbis of Palestine as extensions of their own Orthodox Hakham Bashis ("[Turkish] Chief Rabbi/s") who were loyal to the Sultan.

Thus the centrality of an Orthodox dominated Chief Rabbinate became part of the new state of Israel as well when it was established in 1948. Based in its central offices at Heichal Shlomo in Jerusalem the Israeli Chief rabbinate has continued to wield exclusive control over all the Jewish religious aspects of the secular state of Israel. Through a complex system of "advice and consent" from a variety of senior rabbis and influential politicians, each Israeli city and town also gets to elect its own local Orthodox Chief Rabbi who is looked up to by substantial regional and even national religious and even non-religious Israeli Jews.

Through a national network of Batei Din ("religious courts"), each headed only by approved Orthodox Av Beit Din judges, as well as a network of "Religious Councils" that are part of each municipality, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate retains exclusive control and has the final say in the state about virtually all matters pertaining to conversion to Judaism, the Kosher certification of foods, the status of Jewish marriages and divorces, and monitoring and acting when called upon to supervise the observance of some laws relating to Shabbat observance, Passover (particularly when issues concerning the sale or ownership of Chametz come up), the observance of the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee year in the agricultural sphere.

The Israel Defense Forces also relies on the Chief Rabbinate's approval for its own Jewish chaplains who are exclusively Orthodox. The IDF has a number of units that cater to the unique religious requirements of the Religious Zionist yeshiva students through the Hesder program of combined alternating military service and yeshiva studies over several years.

Karaite Judaism[edit]

The Karaites are an ancient Jewish community that practices a form of Judaism distinct from Rabbinical Judaism, dating ostensibly to between the 7th and 9th centuries based on textual evidence,[22][23][24] though they claim a tradition at least as old as other forms of Judaism. Once making up a significant proportion of the Jewish population,[25] they are now are an extreme minority compared to Rabbinical Judaism. Nearly the entirety of their population, between 30,000 to 50,000 currently live in Israel,[26] and reside mainly in Ramla, Ashdod and Beer-Sheva. There are an estimated additional 10,000 additional Karaites living elsewhere around the world, mainly in the United States, Turkey,[26] Poland,[27] and elsewhere in Europe.


Israel is home to the only significant populations of Samaritans in the world. As of November 1, 2007, there were 712 Samaritans.[28] The community lives almost exclusively in Kiryat Luza on Mount Gerizim and in Holon. Their traditional religious leader is the Samaritan High Priest, currently Aabed-El ben Asher ben Matzliach. Ancestrally, they claim descent from a group of Israelite inhabitants from the tribes of Joseph (divided between the two "half tribes" of Ephraim and Manasseh), and the priestly tribe of Levi.[29] Despite being counted separately in the census, for the purposes of citizenship, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate has classified them as Jews according to law.[30]


Foundation Stone in the Dome of the Rock
Ramadan decorations in Jerusalem
Main article: Islam in Israel

Jerusalem is a city of major religious significance for Muslims worldwide. After capturing the Old City of Jerusalem in 1967, Israel found itself in control of Mount Moriah, which was the site of both Jewish temples and Islam's third holiest site, after those in Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia: The Haram al Sharif (Temple Mount) from which Muslims believe that Mohammad ascended to Heaven. This mountain, which has the Dome of the Rock and the adjacent Al-Aqsa Mosque on it, is the third-holiest site in Islam (and the holiest in Judaism). Since 1967, the Israeli government has granted authority to a Waqf to administer the area. Rumors that the Israeli government are seeking to demolish the Muslim sites have angered Muslims. These beliefs are possibly related to excavations that have been taking place close to the Temple Mount, with the intention of gathering archeological remnants of the first and second temple period,[31][32] as well as the stance of some rabbis and activists who call for its destruction to replace it with the Third Temple.[33]

Most Muslims in Israel are Sunni Arabs with a small minority of Ahmadi Arabs.[34] From 1516 to 1917, the Sunni Ottoman Turks ruled the areas that now include Israel. Their rulership reinforced and ensured the centrality and importance of Islam as the dominant religion in the region. The conquest of Palestine by the British in 1917 and the subsequent Balfour Declaration opened the gates for the arrival of large numbers of Jews in Palestine who began to tip the scales in favor of Judaism with the passing of each decade. However, the British transferred the symbolic Islamic governance of the land to the Hashemites based in Jordan, and not to the House of Saud. The Hashemites thus became the official guardians of the Islamic holy places of Jerusalem and the areas around it, particularly strong when Jordan controlled the West Bank (1948–1967).

In 1922 the British had created the Supreme Muslim Council in the British Mandate of Palestine and appointed Amin al-Husayni (1895–1974) as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The council was abolished in 1948, but the Grand Mufti continued as one of the most prominent Islamic and Arab leaders of modern times. Israeli Muslims are free to teach Islam to their children in their own schools, and there are a number of Islamic universities and colleges in Israel and the territories. Islamic law remains the law for concerns relating to, for example, marriage, divorce, inheritance and other family matters relating to Muslims, without the need for formal recognition arrangements of the kind extended to the main Christian churches. Similarly Ottoman law, in the form of the Mecelle, for a long time remained the basis of large parts of Israeli law, for example concerning land ownership.

In 2008 16.5% of the population of Israel, excluding the West Bank and Gaza, were Muslims. The percentage of people who graduated from Israeli universities in 2008 who were Muslim was 4.8%.[35]


Main article: Ahmadiyya in Israel

Ahmadiyya is a small Islamic sect in Israel. The history of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Israel begins with a tour of the Middle East in 1924 made by the second caliph of the Community Mirza Basheer-ud-Din Mahmood Ahmad and a number of missionaries. However, the Community was first established in the region in 1928, in what was then the British Mandate of Palestine. The first converts to the movement belonged to the Odeh tribe who originated from Ni'lin, a small village near Jerusalem. In the 1950s they settled in Kababir, a former village which was later absorbed by the city of Haifa.[36] The neighbourhood's first mosque was built in 1931, and a larger one, called the Mahmood Mosque, in the 1980s. Israel is the only country in the Middle East where Ahmadi Muslims can openly practice their Islamic faith. As such, Kababir, a neighbourhood on Mount Carmel in Haifa, Israel, acts as the Middle Eastern headquarters of the Community.[37][38] It is unknown how many Israeli Ahmadis there are, although it is estimated there are about 2,200 Ahmadis in Kababir.[39]


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre, considered to be one of the most sacred sites to the Christian religion.

Most Christians living permanently in Israel are Arabs, or have come from other countries to live and work mainly in churches or monasteries, which have long and enduring histories in the land. Nine churches are officially recognized under Israel's confessional system, for the self-regulation of status issues, such as marriage and divorce. These are the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Latin rite), Gregorian-Armenian, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Catholic, Chaldean (Uniate), Melkite (Greek Catholic), Ethiopian Orthodox, Maronite Catholics and Syriac Orthodox churches, as well as Anglicanism.

The largest Christian community in Israel is that of the Greek Catholics (Melkite), with 40% of the total Christian population. They are followed by the Greek Orthodox (32%), the Latin rite Catholics (20%), and the Maronites, who number about 7%. The remaining Christian groups amount to around 1% of the total.[40][dubious ]

Christian Arabs are one of the most educated groups in Israel. Maariv has described the Christian-Arab sector as "the most successful in the education system",[41] since Christian Arabs fared the best in terms of education in comparison to any other group receiving an education in Israel.[42] Arab Christians were also the vanguard in terms of eligibility for higher education,[42] and they have attained a bachelor's degree and academic degree more than the median Israeli population.[42]

According to historical and traditional sources, Jesus lived in the Land of Israel, and died and was buried on the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, making the land a Holy Land for Christianity. However, few Christians now live in the area, compared to Muslims and Jews. This is because Islam displaced Christianity in almost all of the Middle East, and the rise of modern Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel has seen millions of Jews migrate to Israel. The Christian population in Israel has increased significantly with the immigration of foreign workers from a number of countries, and the immigration of accompanying non-Jewish spouses in mixed marriages. Numerous churches have opened in Tel Aviv.[43]

Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches[edit]

Most Christians in Israel belong primarily to branches of the Eastern Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches that oversee a variety of church buildings, monasteries, seminaries, and religious institutions all over the land, particularly in Jerusalem. In the 19th century the Russian Empire constituted itself as the guardian of the interests of Christians living in the Holy Land, and even today large amounts of Jerusalem real estate (including the site of the Knesset building) are owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.[citation needed]


In modern times, one of the most vocal and active sectors of Christianity in support of Israel has come from the Protestant churches that support Evangelicalism. Each year hundreds of thousands of Christian Evangelicals come as tourists to see Israel, to be inspired by the land of the Bible, and in the process, benefiting the local economy as well.

Messianic Judaism[edit]

The Messianic Seal of Jerusalem, a symbol of Messianic Judaism
Main article: Messianic Judaism

Messianic Judaism is a religious movement that incorporates elements of Judaism with the tenets of Christianity. They worship God the Father as one person of the Trinity. They worship Jesus, whom they call "Yeshua". Messianic Jews believe that Jesus is the Messiah.[44] They emphasise that Jesus was a Jew, as were his early followers. Most adherents in Israel reject traditional Christianity and its symbols, in favour of celebrating Jewish festivals. Although followers of Messianic Judaism are not considered Jews under Israel's Law of Return,[45] there are an estimated 10,000 adherents in the State of Israel, both Jews and other non-Arab Israelis, many of them recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union.[46] In Jerusalem, there are twelve Messianic congregations[47][not in citation given]. On 23 February 2007, Israel Channel 2 News released a news documentary about the growing number of Messianic Jews in Israel.[48] In Israel Jewish Christians themselves, go by the name Meshiykhiyyim (from Messiah, as found in the Franz Delitzsch Hebrew New Testament) rather than the traditional Talmudic name for Christians Notzrim, (from Nazarene).[49][50]

Religious minorities[edit]


Druze man in Peki'in
Main article: Israeli Druze

Israel is home to about 102,000 Druze who follow their own gnostic religion. Self described as "Ahl al-Tawhid", and "al-Muwaḥḥidūn" (meaning "People of Oneness", and "Unitarians", respectively), the Druze live mainly in the Haifa area, Acre and Peki'in.[51] Since 1957, the Israeli government has also designated the Druze a distinct ethnic community, at the request of the community's leaders. Until his death in 1993, the Druze community in Israel was led by Shaykh Amin Tarif, a charismatic figure regarded by many within the Druze community internationally as the preeminent religious leader of his time.[52]


The Bahá'í Arc from the International Archives building

The Bahá'í Faith has its administrative and spiritual centre in Haifa on land it has owned since Bahá'u'lláh's imprisonment in Acre in the early 1870s by the Ottoman Empire. The progress of these properties in construction projects was welcomed by the mayor of Haifa Amram Mitzna(1993–2003).[53] As far back as 1969 a presence of Bahá'ís was noted mostly centered around Haifa in Israeli publications.[54] Several newspapers in Israel since then have noted the presence of Bahá'ís in the Haifa area of some 6-700 volunteers with no salaries, getting only living allowances and housing,[55][56] and that if an Israeli citizen were to wish to convert they would be told that "the religion does not seek or accept converts in the State of Israel"[56][57] and that if they persist it is a personal matter between them and God and not a matter of joining a community of believers.[56] Bahá'ís generally practice a "staunch political quietism"[53] and "do not engage in any missionary activity in Israel".[53] Even Bahá'ís from outside Israel are not supposed to "teach" the religion to citizens of Israel.[58] As such, self-identifying as Bahá'ís have been noted in Israel: in 1990 World Christian Encyclopedia estimated there were 9500 Bahá'ís, in 2000 near 14,000 were reported,[59] and they continue to grow.[60] Bahá'ís from other countries, wishing to visit Israel, have to seek written permission from the Universal House of Justice prior to their visit for Bahá'í pilgrimage,[61] although some Baha'is have ignored such notices when not seeking pilgrimage.[62]


Israel has 6,400 Buddhists, most of whom practice Tibetan Buddhism.[citation needed]


Main article: Hinduism in Israel

The small Hindu community in Israel is mostly made up of representatives of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. In 2002, most of the devotees lived in Katzir-Harish.[63]

Sanctity of Jerusalem, Mount Gerizim, and Haifa/Acre[edit]

Jerusalem plays an important role in three monotheistic religionsJudaism, Christianity, and Islam - and Haifa and Acre play a role in a fourth - Baha'i. Mount Gerizim is a holy site to what can be considered a fifth - Samaritanism. The 2000 Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem lists 1204 synagogues, 158 churches, and 73 mosques within the city.[64] Despite efforts to maintain peaceful religious coexistence, some sites, such as the Temple Mount, have been a continuous source of friction and controversy. Jerusalem has been sacred to the Jews since the 10th century BC.[citation needed] The Western Wall, a remnant of the Second Temple, is a holy site for Jews, second only to the Temple Mount itself.[65]

Christianity reveres Jerusalem not only for its role in the Old Testament but also for its significance in the life of Jesus. The land currently occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered one of the top candidates for Golgotha and thus has been a Christian pilgrimage site for the past two thousand years.[66][67] In 1889, the Ottoman Empire allowed the Catholic Church to re-establish its hierarchy in Palestine. Other ancient churches, such as the Greek, Armenian, Syrian, and Coptic churches are also well represented in Jerusalem.[68]

In Islam, Jerusalem is the third-holiest city, after Mecca and Medina.[69][70] The Temple Mount is topped by two Islamic landmarks intended to commemorate the event — al-Aqsa Mosque, derived from the name mentioned in the Quran, and the Dome of the Rock, which stands over the Foundation Stone, from which Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to Heaven.[71] As for the importance of Haifa and Acre in Baha'i Faith, it is related to Bahá'u'lláh, who was imprisoned in Acre and spent his final years there. Mount Gerizim is the holiest site to Samaritans, who used it as the site of their temple.

Religious relations[edit]

Within the Jewish community[edit]

The State of Israel allows freedom of religion for all religious communities, both in law and in practice. Freedom House reports: "Freedom of religion is respected. Each community has jurisdiction over its own members in matters of marriage, burial, and divorce."

Religious tensions exist between Jewish haredi and non-haredi Israeli Jews. Haredi Israeli males devote their young adulthood to full-time Talmudic studies and therefore generally get exemptions from military service in the Israel Defense Forces. Many leaders of haredi Judaism encourage these students to apply for exemptions from the mandatory army service, ostensibly to protect them from the secularizing influence of the Israeli army. Over the years, the number of exemptions has grown to about 10% of conscriptable manpower. Many secular Israelis consider these exemptions to be a systematic shirking of their patriotic duty by a large segment of society.

Political poster for Shas, featuring Eli Yishai.

Haredi Israelis are represented by haredi political parties, which like all smaller parties in a system of proportional representation may tend to wield disproportionate political power at the point when government coalitions need to be negotiated following national elections. As of June 2008, the two main Haredi parties in the Knesset are Shas, representing Sephardi and Mizrahi interests, and United Torah Judaism, an alliance of Degel HaTorah (Lithuanian Haredi) and Agudath Yisrael. The Shinui party was created as a backlash to the perceived influence of the haredi parties, and to represent the interests of secular Jews that supposedly were not seen to by the other non-religious parties.

Tension also exists between the Orthodox establishment and the Conservative and Reform movements. Only Orthodox Judaism is officially recognized in Israel (though conversions conducted by Conservative and Reform clergy outside of Israel may be accepted for the purposes of the Law of Return). As a result, Conservative and Reform synagogues receive minimal government funding and support. Conservative and Reform rabbis cannot officiate at religious ceremonies and any marriages, divorces, and conversions they perform are not considered valid. Conservative and Reform Jews have been prohibited from holding services at the Western Wall on the grounds that they violate Orthodox norms regarding participation of women.

Tensions exist surrounding Mehadrin bus lines, a type of bus line in Israel which mostly runs in and/or between major Haredi population centers, in which gender segregation are applied. Non-Haredi female passengers have complained of being harassed and forced to sit at the back of the bus.[72] In a ruling of January 2011, the Israeli High Court of Justice stated the unlawfulness of gender segregation and abolished the “mehadrin” public buses. However, the court rule allowed the continuation of the gender segregation in public buses on a strictly voluntary basis for a one-year experimental period.[73]

Between Jews and Christians[edit]

Messianic Jews who are members of Messianic congregations, and separately Jehovah's Witnesses and evangelical Christians, are among the most active missionary movements in Israel. Their proselytising has faced demonstrations and intermittent protests by the Haredi anti-missionary group Yad LeAchim, which infiltrates those movements, as well as other proselytising groups including Hare Krishna and Scientology, and maintains extensive records on their activities. Attempts by Messianic Jews to evangelize other Jews are seen by many religious Jews as incitement to "avodah zarah" (foreign worship or idolatry). Over the years there have been several arson attempts of messianic congregations.[74] There have also been attacks on Messianic Jews and hundreds of New Testaments distributed in Or Yehuda were burned.[75] While missionary activity itself is not illegal in Israel, it is illegal to offer money or other material inducements. Legislation banning missionary work outright has been attempted in the past.[76]

Orthodox Jewish communities in Israel have come under scrutiny for the negative stereotyping and scapegoating of Christian minorities in the region, including violent acts against Christian missionaries and communities.[77] A frequent complaint of Christian clergy in Israel is being spat at by Jews, often haredi yeshiva students.[78] The Anti-Defamation League has called on the chief Rabbis to speak out against interfaith assaults.[79] In January 2010, Christian leaders, Israeli Foreign ministry staff, representatives of the Jerusalem municipality and the Haredi community met to discuss the problem. The Haredi Community Tribunal of Justice published a statement condemning the practice, stating that it was a "desecration of God's name". Several events were planned in 2010 by the liberal Orthodox Yedidya congregation to show solidarity with Christians and improve relations between the Haredi and Christian communities of Jerusalem.

Marriage and divorce[edit]

Main article: Marriage in Israel

Currently, Israeli marriage licenses if performed under an official religious authority (whether it be Orthodox Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Druze, etc.) only between a man and a woman of the same religion. Civil marriages were officially sanctioned only if performed abroad, but 2010 changes in Israeli law allow secular marriage in Israel for people that have proven to lack any religion also.[80][81] This is a major issue among secular groups, as well as adherents to non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. There is fear that civil marriage will divide the Jewish people in Israel between those who can marry Jews and those who cannot, leading to concerns over retaining the character of the Jewish state.

Relative sizes of the religious communities in Israel[edit]

The census results are in thousands.[82]

Year Druze Christians Muslims Jews Total
1949 14.5 34 111.5 1,013.9 1,173.9
1960 23.3 49.6 166.3 1,911.3 2,150.4
1970 35.9 75.5 328.6 2,582 3,022.1
1980 50.7 89.9 498.3 3,282.7 3,921.7
1990 82.6 114.7 677.7 3,946.7 4,821.7
2000 103.8 135.1 970.0 4,955.4 6,369.3
2010 127.5 153.4 1,320.5 5,802.4 7,695.1
2011 129.8 155.1 1,354.3 5,907.5 7,836.6
2012 131.5 158.4 1,387.5 5,999.6 7,984.5
2013 133.4 160.9 1,420.3 6,104.5 8,134.5

In the 2011 census, non-Arab Christians, estimated to number 25,000, were counted as "Jews and others".[83]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Haaretz Service (16-09-2009). "Israel on eve of Rosh Hoshanah: Population hits 7.5m, 75.4% Jewish". Haaretz. Retrieved 2009-12-26.
  2. ^ Fazel, Seena (2012). THE BAHA’IS OF IRAN: Socio-Historical Studies. p. 223. 
  3. ^ a b "Table 2.1 — Population, by Religion and Population. As of may 2011 estimate the population was 76.0 Jewish. Group". Statistical Abstract of Israel 2006 (No. 57). Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. 2006. 
  4. ^ a b [1]
  5. ^ [2]
  6. ^ Sheetrit, Shimon (2001-08-20). "Freedom of Religion in Israel". Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 2008-10-26. 
  7. ^ [3] (in Hebrew)
  8. ^ a b "A Portrait of Israeli Jewry: Beliefs, Observances, and Values among Israeli Jews 2000" (PDF). The Israel Democracy Institute and The AVI CHAI Foundation. 2002. p. 8. Archived from the original on 30 June 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-28. [dead link]
  9. ^ "Top 50 Countries With Highest Proportion of Atheists / Agnostics". 27 March 2005. 
  10. ^
  11. ^ Moti Bassok (25 December 2007). "Central Bureau of Statistics: 2.1% of state's population is Christian". Retrieved 2008-01-29. 
  12. ^ "Sabbath Poll", Dateline World Jewry, World Jewish Congress, September 2007
  13. ^ [4][broken citation]
  14. ^ a b Daniel J. Elazar. "How Religious are Israeli Jews?". Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  15. ^ Anna R. Morgan (11 July 2009). "The Other Israeli Conflict—The Jewish State Struggles Once Again Over How Jewish It Should Be". The Washington Post. p. B03. Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  16. ^ "Chabad course explores Israel bond" (NEWS BRIEF). Jewish Telegraphic Agency. October 17, 2007. The six-week course by Chabad’s adult education arm, the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute, will be featured at 750 locations around the world. “Israel: The Land and the Spirit,” which has been in development for two years, comes on the heels of a major study that showed only half of American Jews under 35 are “comfortable” with the idea of a Jewish state. Read more: 
  17. ^ 2009-10-12
  18. ^ 2009-10-12
  19. ^ Haaretz: Poll shows ranks of secular Jewish minority in Israel continued to drop in 2009
  20. ^ The Status Quo Letter (DOC) (Hebrew) English translation in Israel in the Middle East: Documents and Readings on Society, Politics, and Foreign Relations, Pre-1948 to the Present, editors Itamar Rabinovich and Jehuda Reinharz. ISBN 978-0-87451-962-4
  21. ^,7340,L-3890330,00.html
  22. ^ Mourad El-Kodsi, The Karaite Jews of Egypt, 1987.
  23. ^ Ash-Shubban Al-Qarra’in 4, 2 June 1937, p. 8.
  24. ^ Oesterley, W. O. E. & Box, G. H. (1920) A Short Survey of the Literature of Rabbinical and Mediæval Judaism, Burt Franklin:New York.
  25. ^ A. J. Jacobs, The Year of Living Biblically, p. 69.
  26. ^ a b Isabel Kershner, "New Generation of Jewish Sect Takes Up Struggle to Protect Place in Modern Israel",The New York Times 4 September 2013.
  27. ^ "Charakterystyka mniejszości narodowych i etnicznych w Polsce" (in Polish). Warsaw: Ministerstwo Spraw Wewnętrznych (Polish Interior Ministry). Retrieved7 April 2012.
  28. ^ "Developed Community", A.B. The Samaritan News Bi-Weekly Magazine, November 1, 2007
  29. ^ David Noel Freedman, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, 5:941 (New York: Doubleday, 1996, c1992)
  30. ^ Shulamit Sela, The Head of the Rabbanite, Karaite and Samaritan Jews: On the History of a Title, Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Vol. 57, No. 2 (1994), pp. 255-267
  31. ^
  32. ^
  33. ^
  34. ^ Ori Stendel. The Arabs in Israel. Sussex Academic Press. p. 45. ISBN 1898723249. Retrieved June 2, 2014. 
  35. ^ Mansour, Johnny (2012) Palestinian Christians in Israel. Facts, Figures and Trends. Dyar. ISBN 978-9950-376-14-4. pp.21,43
  36. ^ Emanuela C. Del Re (March 3, 2014). "Approaching conflict the Ahmadiyya way: The alternative way to conflict resolution of the Ahmadiyya community in Haifa, Israel". Springer. p. 116. 
  37. ^ "Kababir and Central Carmel – Multiculturalism on the Carmel". Retrieved February 17, 2015. 
  38. ^ "Visit Haifa". Retrieved February 17, 2015. 
  39. ^ "Kababir". Israel and You. Retrieved February 17, 2015. 
  40. ^ Mansour, Johnny (2012) Palestinian Christians in Israel. Facts, Figures and Trends. Dyar. ISBN 978-9950-376-14-4. p.23
  41. ^ המגזר הערבי נוצרי הכי מצליח במערכת החינוך)
  42. ^ a b c Christians in Israel: Strong in education
  43. ^ Adriana Kemp & Rebeca Raijman, "Christian Zionists in the Holy Land: Evangelical Churches, Labor Migrants, and the Jewish State", Identities: Global Studies in Power and Culture, 10:3, 295-318
  44. ^ Steiner, Rudolf; George E. Berkley (1997). Jews. Branden Books. p. 129. ISBN 0-8283-2027-6. A more rapidly growing organization is the Messianic Jewish Alliance of America, whose congregations assemble on Friday evening and Saturday morning, recite Hebrew prayers, and sometimes wear talliot (prayer shawls). They worship Jesus, whom they call Yeshua. 
  45. ^ Daphna Berman. "Aliyah with a cat, a dog and Jesus". WorldWide Religious News citing & quoting "Haaretz," 10 June 2006. Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  46. ^ Larry Derfner and Ksenia Svetlova. "Messianic Jews in Israel claim 10,000"., citing & quoting Jerusalem Post 29 April 2005. Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  47. ^ "Messianic perspectives for Today". leeds Messianic fellowship. Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  48. ^ "Israel Channel 2 News - 23 February 200...". 8 April 2007. Retrieved 2008-01-28.  (9 minute video, Hebrew audio, English subtitles)
  49. ^ Avner Falk Franks and Saracens: Reality and Fantasy in the Crusades p4 2010 - 225 "Nonetheless, the Talmudic Hebrew name (as well as the modern Hebrew name) for Christians is not meshikhiyim (messianic) but notsrim (people from Nazareth), referring to the fact that Jesus came from Nazareth."
  50. ^ example: The Christian Church, Jaffa Tel-Aviv website article in Hebrew יהודים משיחיים - יהודים או נוצרים?
  51. ^ Identity Repertoires among Arabs in Israel, Muhammad Amara and Izhak Schnell; Journal of Ethnic and Migration Studies, Vol. 30, 2004
  52. ^ Pace, Eric (1993-10-05). "Sheik Amin Tarif, Arab Druse Leader In Israel, Dies at 95". The New York Times. Retrieved 2010-03-29. 
  53. ^ a b c Adam Berry (September 22, 2004). "The Bahá'í Faith and its relationship to Islam, Christianity, and Judaism: A brief history". International Social Science Review. ISSN 0278-2308. Retrieved March 5, 2015. 
  54. ^ Zev Vilnay; Karṭa (Firm). The new Israel atlas: Bible to present day. Israel Universities Press. p. 38. 
  55. ^ * Nechemia Meyers (1995). "Peace to all nations - Baha'is Establish Israel's Second Holy Mountain". The World & I. Retrieved Mar 5, 2015. 
  56. ^ a b c Donald H. Harrison (April 3, 1998). "The Fourth Faith". Jewish Sightseeing (Haifa, Israel). Retrieved Mar 5, 2015. 
  57. ^ Universal House of Justice (Jan 13, 2015). "Humanitarian Responses to Global Conflicts". Letters from the Universal House of Justice. Retrieved March 5, 2015. 
  58. ^ "Teaching the Faith in Israel". Bahá'í Library Online. 1995-06-23. Retrieved 2007-08-06. 
  59. ^ David B. Barrett, World Christian Encyclopedia (2001)
  60. ^ Global Institutions of Religion, page 88, Katherine Marshall - 2013
  61. ^ "Other visits to the Holy Land". Bahá'í World Centre. Retrieved 2010-03-24. 
  62. ^ The Middle East and North Africa 2003 - Page 151, Eur
  63. ^ of Devotion
  64. ^ Guinn, David E. (2006-10-02). Protecting Jerusalem's Holy Sites: A Strategy for Negotiating a Sacred Peace (1st ed.). Cambridge University Press. p. 142. ISBN 0-521-86662-6. 
  65. ^ "What is the Western Wall?". The Kotel. Retrieved 2007-03-06. 
  66. ^ Ray, Stephen K. (October 2002). St. John's Gospel: A Bible Study Guide and Commentary for Individuals and Groups. San Francisco, CA: Ignatius Press. p. 340. ISBN 0-89870-821-4. 
  67. ^ O'Reilly, Sean; James O'Reilly (2000-11-30). PilgrFile: Adventures of the Spirit (1st ed.). Travelers' Tales. p. 14. ISBN 1-885211-56-2. The general consensus is that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre marks the hill called Golgotha, and that the site of the Crucifixion and the last five Stations of the Cross are located under its large black domes. 
  68. ^ Preserving Identity in the Holy City
  69. ^ Third-holiest city in Islam:
    • Esposito, John L. (2 November 2002). What Everyone Needs to Know about Islam. Oxford University Press. p. 157. ISBN 0-19-515713-3. The Night Journey made Jerusalem the third holiest city in Islam 
    • Brown, Leon Carl (15 September 2000). "Setting the Stage: Islam and Muslims". Religion and State: The Muslim Approach to Politics. Columbia University Press. p. 11. ISBN 0-231-12038-9. The third holiest city of Islam—Jerusalem—is also very much in the center... 
    • Hoppe, Leslie J. (August 2000). The Holy City: Jerusalem in the Theology of the Old Testament. Michael Glazier Books. p. 14. ISBN 0-8146-5081-3. Jerusalem has always enjoyed a prominent place in Islam. Jerusalem is often referred to as the third holiest city in Islam... 
  70. ^ Middle East peace plans by Willard A. Beling: "The Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount is the third holiest site in Sunni Islam after Mecca and Medina".
  71. ^ "The Early Arab Period - 638-1099". Jerusalem: Life Throughout the Ages in a Holy City. Bar-Ilan University Ingeborg Rennert Center for Jerusalem Studies. March 1997. Retrieved 2007-04-24. 
  72. ^ "Egged launches 11 'mehadrin' bus lines". Jerusalem Post. December 1, 2006. Retrieved 2011-03-08. 
  73. ^ Izenberg, Dan; Mandel, Jonah (January 6, 2011). "Court scraps ‘mehadrin’ buses". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2011-03-08. 
  74. ^ Elaine Ruth Fletcher (26 June 2000). "Orthodox Suspected in Jerusalem Conservative Synagogue, Church Attacks". Retrieved 2007-01-28. 
  75. ^ "Orthodox Jewish youths burn New Testaments in Or Yehuda", HaAretz (Associated Press), 20 May 2008
  76. ^ Larry Derfner (29 April 2005). "A matter of faith". The Jerusalem Post. 
  77. ^ Persecution of Christians in Israel: The New Inquisition, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Autumn, 1978), pp. 135–140
  78. ^ Barkat, Amiram (2009-06-27). "Christians in Jerusalem want Jews to stop spitting on them". Haaretz. 
  79. ^ "ADL Calls On Chief Rabbis to Speak Out Against Interfaith Assaults In Old City". 2004-10-17. 
  80. ^
  81. ^ Fleet, Josh (2010-11-04). "Israel To Allow Civil Marriages". Huffington Post. 
  83. ^ Juni Mansur (2012) Arab Christians in Israel. Facts, Figures and Trends. Dyar. ISBN 978-9950-376-14-4. pp.13,20


  1. ^ The Jerusalem Law states that "Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel" and the city serves as the seat of the government, home to the President's residence, government offices, supreme court, and parliament. United Nations Security Council Resolution 478 (20 August 1980; 14–0, U.S. abstaining) declared the Jerusalem Law "null and void" and called on member states to withdraw their diplomatic missions from Jerusalem. The United Nations and all member nations refuse to accept the Jerusalem Law (see Kellerman 1993, p. 140) and maintain their embassies in other cities such as Tel Aviv, Ramat Gan, and Herzliya (see the CIA Factbook and Map of Israel). The U.S. Congress subsequently adopted the Jerusalem Embassy Act, which said that the U.S. embassy should be relocated to Jerusalem and that it should be recognized as the capital of Israel. However, the US Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel concluded that the provisions of the act "invade exclusive presidential authorities in the field of foreign affairs and are unconstitutional". Since passage of the act, all Presidents serving in office have determined that moving forward with the relocation would be detrimental to U.S. national security concerns and opted to issue waivers suspending any action on this front. The Palestinian Authority sees East Jerusalem as the capital of a future Palestinian state. The city's final status awaits future negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority (see "Negotiating Jerusalem," Palestine–Israel Journal). See Positions on Jerusalem for more information.


  • Leibman, Charles S. Religious and Secular: Conflict and Accommodation Between Jews in Israel. AVICHAI, 1990.
  • Leibman, Charles S. and Elihu Katz, eds. The Jewishness of Israelis: Responses to the Guttman Report. SUNY Press, 1997.
  • Mazie, Steven V. Israel's Higher Law: Religion and Liberal Democracy in the Jewish State. Lexington Books, 2006.

External links[edit]