Irreligion in Israel

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Irreligion in Israel refers to the lack, indifference to or rejection of religion in the State of Israel.

Measurement of religiosity or the lack thereof are particularly complex in the Israeli context. Religion plays a central part in national and social identity; Israelis are involuntarily registered as members of the state's fourteen recognized autonomous faith communities, which exercise control over marriage and burial.[1] Even subjectively, when polled, hardly anyone identifies as having no religion.[2] Some 4.5% of the populace are "religiously unclassified", but this status is conferred upon anyone (including Karaites or Buddhists) who is not a member of a recognized religion.[3] Many of the "unclassified" are Russian Orthodox Christian immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who arrived under the Law of Return and did not register their faith.[4] A small number of Jewish notables, spearheaded by author Yoram Kaniuk in May 2011, successfully petitioned courts for having their religious status changed from "Jewish" to "unclassified", citing antipathy towards the rabbinic establishment and the wish to be free from its control.[5] Religious courts retain a right of veto over the newly "unclassified" in cases of marriage.[6]

Among Israel's Jewish populace, while only 20% or so identify as "religious", this term implies being a strictly observant Orthodox Jew. The other 80% identify as either Masortim, "traditional" (30%-40%), or Hilonim, "secular" (40%-50%). Almost all the "traditional" and many of the "secular" both affirm various religious beliefs and practice a considerable number of Jewish rituals. Indeed, scholars argued that "secular" is problematic in translation[7] (likewise, though hostility toward the state rabbinate is ubiquitous, secularism in the common sense is rather rare in the country).[8] Researcher Yoav Peled preferred to render Hiloni – 60% of whom believe in God, according to polls, and 25% affirm that He literally revealed the Law at Sinai – as "nonobservant".[9] Emphasizing the superiority of practice to faith in Judaism, Israeli social scientists measure one's level of secularity in terms of the rigour of observance, not beliefs. The Guttman Center, running the most thorough survey of Jewish-Israeli religious attitudes, employs the category of "totally nonobservant" to identify the completely secular. In 2009, 16% of respondents identified as such. Owing to the prevalence of practices like selective dietary purity or fixing a doorpost amulet, and their amalgamation into Israeli ordinary lifestyle without an overt religious connotation, many of the "totally nonobservant" actually perform not a few of these. In the 1999 Guttman survey, while 21% stated they are "totally nonobservant", only 7% did not practice any of the ten common ritual behaviours studied.[10][9] Concerning the existence of a deity, the results of four major polls, conducted between 2009 and 2019, imply that some 20% of Jewish Israelis do not believe in God, and 9% are convinced atheists.[11] Regarding other supernatural notions, 28% of respondents to the Guttman 2009 survey denied efficacy to prayer, 33% disbelieved that the Jews are a chosen people, 35% disbelieved that the Law and the precepts are God-given, 44% rejected the notions of a World to Come and afterlife, and 49% disbelieved in a future coming of a Messiah. These findings largely commensurate with the 1991 and 1999 surveys.[12]

In the Israeli Arab populace, which is overwhelmingly Muslim, a small minority identify as "secular";[13] in the 2018 Israel Central Bureau of Statistics' general survey, 7% of Muslims identified as "not religious."[14] Yet the meaning of being "secular" is even weaker than among Israeli Jews. While some Israeli Muslims largely ignore religious commandments in their personal lives (avoiding daily prayer and not fasting on Ramadan are the main hallmarks), open disregard is virtually unheard of. Muslim society does not acknowledge non-religiosity, and has no concept of secularism. Scholar Ronald Kronish commented that "traditional" would be a more appropriate epithet for the "secular", estimated to constitute between 10% to 20% of the whole population.[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gal Amir, 1648 or 1948? No Room for Westphalia in the Middle-East. Journal on European History of Law, December 2018.
  2. ^ Israel’s Religiously Divided Society. Pew Research Center, 8 March 2016.
  3. ^ נוהל טיפול בעדכון מצב אישי לבן / בת זוג בברית הזוגיות לחסרי דת ("Status change for couples of no religion"). Israeli Ministry of the Interior, 1 May 2011. p. 1, 7.
  4. ^ Ian S. Lustick, Israel as a Non-Arab State: The Political Implications of Mass Immigration of Non-Jews. Middle East Journal Vol. 53, No. 3. pp. 1-3, etc.
  5. ^ Ilan Lior, Following Court Ruling, Hundreds of Israelis to Declare Themselves "Without Religion". Haaretz, 9 October 2011.
  6. ^ Ruth Halperin Kadri, הכל נשאר ברבנות. Haaretz, 19 October 2011.
  7. ^ Phil Zuckerman (editor), The Nonreligious: Understanding Secular People and Societies. Oxford University Press, 2016. p. 50.
  8. ^ Stephen Sharot, Comparative Perspectives on Judaisms and Jewish Identities. Wayne State University Press, 2011. pp. 232-234; Yaacov Yadgar, Sovereign Jews: Israel, Zionism, and Judaism. State University of New York Press, 2017. pp. 189.
  9. ^ a b Yoav and Hurit Peled, The Religionization of Israeli Society. Routledge, 2018. pp. 14-15.
  10. ^ Charles S. Liebman, Elihu Katz, Jewishness of Israelis, The Responses to the Guttman Report. SUNY Press, 2012. pp. 66, 130-131.
  11. ^ Shmuel Rosner, מי שמאמין: המספרים שמאחורי האמונה בחברה הישראלית. Ma'ariv, 2 November 2019.
  12. ^ A Portrait of Israeli Jews: Beliefs, Observance, and Values of Israeli Jews, 2009. Israeli Democracy Institute, 2012. p. 50.
  13. ^ a b Ronald Kronish, The Other Peace Process: Interreligious Dialogue, a View from Jerusalem. Rowman & Littlefield, 2017. pp. 64-69.
  14. ^ ICBS 2018 Survey, p. 26 (20).