How religious is Israel? Very, despite the polls

April 22, 2015 11:15 AM (UTC+8)

 

A new Gallup Poll, the Algemeiner reports, claims to show that Israel is one of the world’s least religious countries:

Perhaps it’s the Jewish state, but the state of Judaism in Israel might raise a few eyebrows: according to an international Gallup poll, Israel is now one of the world’s least religious countries.

Nearly two-thirds of the Israelis polled either described themselves as not religious, or convinced atheists. Fifty-seven percent of Israelis described themselves as non-religious, while 8% said they were convinced atheists. Just 30% described themselves as religious.

This makes Israel less religious than Japan (62%), Germany (59%), Switzerland (58%) and South Korea (55%). The Jewish state was neck-and-neck with the U.K. and the Netherlands, which both had a 66% non-religious population…

The poll, however, may not be an accurate representation of religiosity in Israel because of one key element: the way Israelis view the word, “religious.”

According to Professor of Jewish Law at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, Conservative Rabbi David Golinkin, Jews in Israel who keep certain elements of the tradition, while abstaining from some of Judaism’s more stringent laws, would not call themselves “religious.” Such Jews would consider themselves “traditional.”

Rabbi Golinkin is exactly right. In 2010, First Things magazine (where I was then a senior editor) ranked colleges by religious commitment of students, among other things, and New York’s Yeshiva University–attended almost exclusively by Orthodox Jews and whose curriculum requires as much study of Jewish traditional texts as secular subjects–scored very low on the religion scale. As I explained to my Christian colleagues, Yeshiva U. students use the word “religious” exclusively for the ultra-Orthodox, who in general eschew university education in favor of traditional Jewish study. For them, a “religious” university is a contradiction in terms.

Not long ago I had more or less the following conversation with an Israeli cousin:

Do you consider yourself religious, or secular?

Secular, of course!

What do you do on Saturday?

We walk to synagogue.

Would you ever drive?

Of course not.

Do you eat non-kosher food?

Never.

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