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Religion in Israel: A Consensus for Jewish Tradition

July 15, 2016 | By: Daniel Elazar

Israeli society is threatened by an ideological, cultural, and political division that separates the religious and secular communities. Deeply held and diverging beliefs about God and the state are expressed through policy disagreements concerning Judea and Samaria, the allocation of welfare services, the power of religious courts, and much else. Despite these political differences, and in contrast to the expectations of observers in the Diaspora, the Jewish religious tradition in fact plays a central role in most Israelis’ lives.

In this 1996 portrait of the Israeli populace, political scientist Daniel Elazar reveals a diverse society in which all communities, including those who call themselves secular, are concerned with Jewish tradition. Identifying four main groups—Haredi, Dati, Masorti, and Hiloni—Elazar finds that an attachment to Judaism has persisted in each of them. His claims invite the reader to wonder, however, whether this essential quality of Israeli nationalism is sustainable among secular Israelis whose attachment to Jewish identity is not especially religious. Can secular attachments to Judaism be perpetuated from generation to generation, even in the Jewish State?

In Israel’s part of the world, what counts are critical behavioral acts such as birth, marriage, and burial rites, and not necessarily for reasons of belief. In Judaism this is compounded by the intimate connection between nationality and religion which has been so substantially severed in the Protestant world and most especially in the United States. Thus Israeli Jews can perform acts for national reasons that would be deemed “religious” in the United States. On one hand, this eliminates the need for them to confront disparities between belief and action. It also makes it more difficult to change tradition without damaging national as well as religious ties.

Read the whole essay at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs.

More about: Religion and State in Israel  • Zionism