How Jewish Does Israel Have To Be?

Israelis agree that their nation should be both Jewish and democratic, but they can’t agree on what exactly either term means

By Aviel Schneider |
How Jewish does Israel have to be?
Photo: Flash90

To mark the nation’s 73rd anniversary, the Jewish People Policy Institute published the results of its latest poll, which showed that Israel’s various population groups see the identity of the state very differently.

Fifty-three percent of secular Jews in the country are of the opinion that the state is already “too Jewish.” By contrast, 90 percent of Orthodox and religious Jews hold the opposite view. Forty-seven percent of Jews with a traditional orientation agree with the religious that Israel should become “more Jewish.” Among liberal and secular Jews 62 percent of the opinion that Judaism is represented in a balanced way.

Either way, 98 percent of Israel’s Jewish population does agree that Israel must be Jewish. Eighty-eight percent also take the next step and understand that this is why the country must always have a Jewish majority. Furthermore, the Jewish majority (74 percent) in the country understands that the state must promote Jewish culture and promote Judaism in the Diaspora (69 percent). In addition to this complexity (and perhaps because of it), the majority of the Jewish population (66 percent) are in favor of allowing civil marriage, thus ending the Rabbinate’s monopoly on matrimony.

Unity and justice and freedom are also values that Israelis are fighting over.

The vast majority of Israeli Jews (69 percent) do not believe that the legal system in the Jewish state should be based on the Halacha (Jewish religious law). But a not-insignificant 22 percent does believe that Halacha should underly Israel’s legislative and legal systems. This position is taken by 70 percent of the Orthodox, 53 percent of the religious and 65 percent of the national religious settlers. Nearly 40 percent of the Jewish population advocate a legal preference for Jews in the state.

Another, not unimportant, controversy is the question of whether Jewish values ​​are higher than democratic values ​​in the Jewish state. In this case, only a minority of secular, traditional and religious liberals agree, while a majority of religious and Orthodox Jews prefer Jewish values ​​to democratic ones.

The poll illustrates why Israel is so divided. No wonder there was no agreement in the last four elections. The President of the Institute, Prof. Yedidia Stern: “We can learn from the study that even controversial issues can be solved. But it is politics that make everything difficult. It is precisely the field where unity should be established.”

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