Israeli Population Growing More Religious

Nov. 26, 2007

A new study conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute shows that the secular sector in the Zionist state is shrinking: Only 20% of Jewish Israeli citizens define themselves as secular the lowest number in 34 years.

According to the data, the traditional sector has maintained its dominancy over the last three decades and currently accounts for 47% of the population. The ultra-Orthodox and religious sectors comprise another 33%.

The study was conducted by Eliyahu Sapir and was based on the Democracy Institute's Guttman Center's Israeli Democracy Index. The 2007 Index polled 1,016 respondents who were a representative sample of Israels adult, Hebrew-speaking Jewish population.

Sapir found that over last three decades the ratio of traditionals has been rising over the years while the ratio of seculars has been continuously dropping (from 41% to 20%) with the most acute drop occurring in the last decade (from 32% in 2001 to 20% in 2007). It should be noted that 1974 was the first and only year in which there was a secular majority (41%).

Sapir also examined the respondents' heritage and its influence on religious affiliation. As predicted, the findings showed that the Sephardim are the most observant sector 56% are religious and/or ultra-Orthodox and 7% seculars. In the Ashkenazi group, 36% reported they are secular versus 17% who said they were religious or ultra-Orthodox.

Another correlation was found between the respondents' age and the religious affiliation. 39% of the respondents ages 40 and under define themselves religious. Among 40-59 year olds, the number drops to 32%, and down to 20% among respondents' 60 years old and over.

How does education fit in? Data indicate that there is an inverse ratio between education and observance: Of high-school educated respondents, 47% are traditional, 37% religious and 16% secular. Among college-graduates the number of religious drops to 24% and the number of traditional rises to 50%. Twenty-six percent of college-graduates are secular.

Finally, some politics: In the religious group 71% are right-wing, compared with 49% of the traditional and 43% of secular. Only 8% of religious, 21% of traditional and 27% of secular reported they are left-wing. The overall picture: 18% of respondents identified themselves as "left," 27% "center" and 55% see themselves as "right wingers."

Researcher Eliyahu Sapir told Ynet that the Israeli society has gone through dramatic changes in the past three decades (political reforms, rapid economic growth, increase in population, and four wars), and that sociologists' predictions that the society will be secularized were proved false.

Sapir said he was surprised to learn that young Israelis are more observant than older ones: "That means that when these youngsters age, the society will be even more traditional than it is today."

Our comment:

This means that the ultimate battle within the Jewish people over Zionism will be waged on religious grounds. The central questions will not be tied to the secular concepts of morality, democracy, Western thought and the writings of the founders and early leaders of the Zionist movement. The forums of discussion will not be the colleges, universities or secular publishing houses. Rather, it will be a struggle between those who uphold the Torah, prophets and Talmud as they have been understood by Jews in all past centuries and those who wish to reshape the Torah, the prophets and the words of our Talmud Sages to support their belief in the Zionist "redemption". It will be a showdown between traditional Judaism and the new Judaism characterized by Zionism. The battlegrounds will be the yeshivas and the religious neighborhoods.