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25 November 2007

News for Thanksgiving and a Turkey in the Straw

Israel Becoming Less Secular

12 Kislev 5768, 22 November 07 07:53by Hillel Fendel(IsraelNN.com) An Israel Democratic Institute (IDI) demographic survey finds religious growth and secular decline - but most significant is that the proportion of religious in the public is highest among the youth.

The percentage of Jews describing themselves as secular has dropped sharply over the past 30 years, while the religious and traditional proportions have risen. The annual survey finds that the secular public comprises only 20% of the Israeli population - compared to 41%, more than twice as much, in 1974.

Nearly half the population, 47%, describes itself as traditional, while the hareidi-religious and religious together comprise 33% of the public.

The numbers were compiled based on a survey of representative sampling of 1,016 Israelis Jews.

Tradition Reigns
Over the past seven years, according to IDI statistics, the proportion of secular Jews has dropped sharply from 32% to 20% today. The "traditionalists" have traditionally had the lead in polls of this nature - except in 1974, when they trailed the seculars, 41% to 38%.

Other findings show that the Sephardic population is much more traditional and religious than the Ashkenazi sector. Only 7% of the former describe themselves as secular, compared to 36% of the Ashkenazim. At the same time, 56% of the Sephardim are religious or hareidi, compared to only 17% of the Ashkenazim.

It can be inferred from the numbers that Israel is a traditional society, and that it will become even more so as the years go by. 39% of those under age 40 are religious - more than those in their 40's and 50's (32%), and much more than those aged 60 and over (20%).

Country is Right-Wing; the Religious - Even More So
Politically, the religious are more right-wing, but so are the others. Among the religious, many more are identify with the right than with the left, by a 71-8 margin; among the traditional, it's 49-21, and among the secular, it's 43-27. In total, 55% of the population view themselves as right-wing, and only 18% are to the left.
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It is interesting to compare the IDI study with another research report recently released.
"Beyond Distancing, Young Adult American Jews and Their Alienation from Israel"
from The Jewish Identity Project of Reboot, Andrea and Charles Bronfman Philanthropies. The synopsis of the IDI study is that young Israelis are becoming more religious and more traditionally connected. The Beyond Distancing report measured and found young (non-Orthodox) American Jews growing increasing ambivalent towards Israel and less Jewishly connected.

The under 40 demographic in Israel and the 40-59 demographic are significantly more religious than the 60 and above demographic. Within the under 40 demographic 38.8% identify with the label "religious" while 44% identify with the label "traditional". By comparison, the over 60 crowd identifies most with the label "traditional" (57.4%) while only 19.8% claimed to be "religious". The consistent finding in Israel is that the secular label is relatively speaking flat, only moving from 22.8% in the 60 and above group down to 17.2% in the under 40 crowd. Overall, combining the categories of religious and traditional the social structure looks like this: 82.8% of the under 40 crowd are Jewishly connected, 77.4% of the 40-59 crowd in the same category, 77.2% for the above 60 crowd but heavily waited to the "traditional" label. The "traditional" label has clearly lost ground to the "religious" label in a generational sense.

In America, (not measuring the Orthodox, since the Beyond Distancing study factored out the Orthodox*) the younger generation of Jews has moved the other direction.

First lets look at some of the studies analyses and conclusions:

Yet these feelings of attachment may
well be changing, as warmth gives way to
indifference, and indifference may even give
way to downright alienation. Inevitably, if
sufficiently pronounced and widespread, this
prospective sea-change in attitudes toward
Israel will have profound effects upon American
Jews’ relationships with Israel, with
direct bearing upon Israel’s security.

Indeed, a mounting body of evidence
has pointed to a growing distancing from Israel
of American Jews, and the distancing seems
to be most pronounced among younger Jews.

The loci of Jewish identity have
shifted from the public to the private, from
ethnicity and politics to religion, culture and
spirituality (Cohen and Eisen 2000). Jews are
more thoroughly integrated with non-Jews,
and intermarriage is both a symptom and a
cause of this re-formulation of Jewish identities
in a direction that makes attachment
to Israel specifically, and identification with
collective loyalties generally, less intuitively

Thus, three trend lines converge to
make intermarriage a major factor in driving
down the Israel attachment scores of
younger adults. First, many more young
people are intermarried. Second, the
intermarried are more distant and more
alienated from Israel. Third, the youngest
intermarried are the most distant and alienated
from Israel.

Many American Jews are claiming
or reclaiming their identities as proud, equal,
Diaspora Jews who do not necessarily believe
that Israel is the center and America the
periphery of a global Judaism.

These results point to the continuing secularization of American Jews and the damage wrought by outer-marriage. American Jewish youth in greater numbers than their predecessors are acculturated to a religion neutral society where the open ticket to social acceptance is ditching all that crazy Jewish stuff. Where have we heard this before. But if that were only the case. The problem runs far deeper. This younger crowd merely has cultural Jewish identification without recognizing that it is the religion aspect which defines the nature of what real cultural identification is. This limb of the Jewish body is educated poorly in Judaism and the education that most receive is sparse and filled with non-traditional learning. The beliefs and understanding of this group reflects its background.

(all respondents)

1. How important is being Jewish in your life? .............
Very Fairly Not Very Not At All Not
Important Important Important Important Sure
45% 39% 12% 3% 1%

2. Do you see yourself as:
a. Religious? … 35%
b. Secular - 44%
c. Spiritual? - 61%
d. Observant (religiously)? - 31%
e. Jewish by religion? - 89%
f. Jewish by ethnicity? - 82%
g. Culturally Jewish? - 78%
h. Pro-Israel? - 82%
i. A Zionist? - 28%

3. With respect to your belief in God, which term best applies to you?
Believer: 67% Agnostic: 14% Atheist: 6% Not sure: 13%

8. Do you agree or do you disagree with
each of the following statements?

d. Being Jewish is the primary way I identify myself.......
Agree Strongly 25% Agree 30% Not Sure 10% Disagree 29%Strongly Disagree 5%

e. It is important to me to have friends who are Jewish..
Agree Strongly 21% Agree 40% Not Sure 13% Disagree Strongly 22% Disagree 4%

f. I wish I knew more Jewishly…………………………....
Agree Strongly 15% Agree 34% Not Sure 24% Disagree 24% Strongly Disagree 4%

k. I have a special responsibility to take care of Jews in need around the world……………………………
Agree Strongly 20% Agree 39% Not Sure 23% Disagree 16% Strongly Disagree 2%

m. It bothers me when people try to tell me that
there’s a right way to be Jewish…………………….
Agree Strongly 41% Agree 39% Not Sure 11% Disagree 8% Strongly Disagree 1%

t. Jews should marry whoever they fall in love with,
even if they’re not Jewish…………………………...
Agree Strongly 29% Agree 34% Not Sure 13% Disagree 14% Strongly Disagree 9%

u. I would be upset if a child of mine were to marry a non-Jew who did not convert to Judaism…….....
Agree Strongly 13% Agree 17% Not Sure 14% Disagree 29% Strongly Disagree 28%

9. Do you agree or do you disagree with each of the following statements

c. If Israel were destroyed, I would feel as if I had suffered one of the greatest personal tragedies of my life………….....................................
Agree Strongly 34% Agree 30% Not Sure 18% Disagree 13% Strongly Disagree 5%

e. I am sometimes uncomfortable identifying myself as a supporter of Israel……………………………………
Agree Strongly 3% Agree 11% Not Sure 15% Disagree 44%Strongly Disagree 27%

Another troubling observation which the study directors seem to take for granted and attempt to justify in their results is the measure of support for Israel based only upon war and political correctness. The authors imply that living through Israel's glory filled war history increases "support" and identification with Israel while the troubles since Rabin and Oslo (where only a non-religious Jew would conclude that a moral equivalency) have resulted in a distancing from Israel.

One explanation for these trends and
age-related variations looks to the impact
of history and how Israel has appeared in
various periods over the last 60 years.

What is obviously missing here is not a political determination of whether or not it is 'good' to support Israel but what is the Jewish thing to do. Where is the "Jewish blood" factor and the "all Jews are responsible one for the other" measurement? This is the reason, I would humbly conclude as to why the Orthodox were not measured in this survey. The survey is not really measuring support for Israel so much as it is measuring support or lack thereof for a single Jewish people. Despite the efforts to the contrary of late amongst the Reformists in particular to make the claim of a unique Jewish identity not based upon Jewish tradition and Torah but equal to it nonetheless (separate but equal) , the same benefit of equality isn't extended to the unification of all Jewry nor does it concern itself with Jewish life in Israel. Jews in Israel are Jews too. Israel will soon have a greater population of Jews than anywhere in the world (if not already). A large body of American Jewry is not ready to process this reality nor prepared to deal with the halachic consequences. The idea of a unified and equal Jewish people without Israel being intrinsically at the center, contains an inherent inconsistency of logic. Logic though, has never been a pre-requisite of non-traditional Jewry.

Some of the survey findings include broken down to age groups include:
(click to enlarge)

While Israeli youth grow more religious, American Jewish youth are increasingly losing interest with Israel, compared to the percentages of previous generations of American Jews and are less interested in Jewish life.

One of the reasons for free trips to Israel has been to stimulate interest in Israel affairs and Jewish communal responsibility. The focus of Israel education however is spiked by its being managed by non-religious Jews. Political correctness, the Pirke Avos of non-traditional Judaism demands looking at Israel "objectively" since Israel must be judged by the standards of "fairness" and "world peace". Israelis, on the other hand seem to better understand the traditional role of Jewish responsibility (possibly out of necessity).
American Jewry could better focus it's assets on teaching Torah and subsidizing Jewish day school education for all Jewish children than wasting it's time on other politically correct programs. Israel trips should be used as a reward for attending day school not as a means of last resort to save Jewish youth.

*"As might be expected, Orthodox
Jews maintain far different relationships
with Israel than those maintained by the
non-Orthodox. If anything, Orthodox engagement
with Israel has increased over the
years as Orthodoxy has been “Sliding to the
Right” (Heilman 2006)."

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