Many surveys are conducted in Israel. There, in the flow of new information regarding what Israelis think about an attack on Iran, whether they trust the prime minister, and where they would prefer to live, there is also a survey that calls for greater attention from those who are interested in work among Jewish people.
The Israeli Democracy Institute is an independent body that works to strengthen democracy in Israel. In 2009, they published a survey about beliefs among the Jewish people in Israel, comparing information from 1991, 1999, and 2009.
Between the first two surveys, there was a wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union. After this, the number of Jews saying Judaism and Jewish traditions are important declined. Between 1999 and 2009, that number increased again. This was taken as a sign that immigrants from the former Soviet Union had been assimilated into Israeli society and adopted Jewish traditions. But immigrants from the former Soviet Union are still mostly secular and even anti-religious; another explanation could be the demographic increase of Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jews.
The Jewish holidays are very significant for most Jews. In 2009, 90% said that it is very important to celebrate Passover, 68% that they fast on Yom Kippur, and 76% that they eat only kosher food at home. This shows that religious practice is widespread among Jews in Israeli society. When it comes to faith, the numbers differ more. For most secular Jews the holidays are important; they like to celebrate the Passover Seder, but without the prayers and Scripture readings. While the number of people who believe in the existence of God is quite high (80%), the number is lower when it comes to whether they are waiting for the Messiah (51%).
According to the survey, 34% think that a Jew who does not keep halakha is a danger to the Jewish people. For this reason, many Orthodox Jews not only guard themselves when it comes to keeping the Shabbat but in some places block the roads in order to prevent cars from driving, and on the political level they are trying to limit the things that are allowed in public on Shabbat. According to the survey, it doesn’t look like there is more friction between the secular and religious in 2009 than in 1999. This has to be taken with a grain of salt, since there is only one question in the survey about this; the impression from the media is that tensions between religious and non-religious groups have increased, especially in Jerusalem and its surroundings.
A typical Israeli has a positive view of religion’s place in the public sphere, but at the same time feels it’s important to maintain individual freedoms. In the same way, the average Israeli says that the State of Israel can be both a Jewish state and a democracy. There is disagreement, though, on how this can be fulfilled. The Orthodox want to emphasize halakha more than democratic values, and the non-Orthodox think that democracy should have a higher status.
Israeli society is pluralistic, but there is strong polarization between the different groups. The ultra-Orthodox groups have grown, and they do “mission work” among other Jews, especially new immigrants. This is especially noticeable in Jerusalem. Other cities have also seen large demonstrations against secularization. These groups’ resistance to Israel as a secular society, and partly also to democracy, create contradictions and confrontation in relation to other groups. Even the president of Israel, Shimon Peres, has expressed concern for the unity of Israeli society if the ultra-Orthodox gain more influence.
At the same time, the number of Jews who believe in Jesus is growing. This also creates challenges when it comes to human rights and the structure of Israeli society. Religious dividing lines have become clearer, making more room to discuss the state’s religious foundation and how faith and religion impact the further development of society. In that context, Messianic Jews definitely have an important voice. It is important to support this group in their civil responsibility without taking sides on the various political questions. We would like to see more Messianic Jews become politically active, especially in the ethical dilemmas that Israel as a modern society faces.
Read the survey report here: http://www.idi.org.il/sites/english/events/Other_Events/Documents/Abstract_GuttmanAviChai2012_Eng.pdf