Temple Mount Western Wall on Shabbat by David Shankbone

Western Wall and Dome of the Rock, Jerusalem

Religion in Israel is a central feature of the country and plays a major role in shaping Israeli culture and lifestyle. Israel is the only country in the world where a majority of citizens are Jewish. According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, the population in 2005 was 76.2% Jewish, 16.1% Muslim, 2.1% Christian, and 1.6% Druze, with the remaining 4.0% not classified by religion.[1]

Israel has no constitution, but freedom of religion is anchored in law.[2] Legal accommodation of the non-Jewish communities follows the pattern and practice of the Ottoman and British administrations with some important modifications. The religions officially recognized under Israeli law are: Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Druze and Baha'i. Within the Christian religion the following denominations are recognized: Greek Orthodox, Greek Catholic, Latin (Roman Catholic), Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Maronite, Syrian Orthodox, Syrian Catholic, Chaldaic (Catholic) and Evangelical Episcopal (Anglican).[3] The fact that the Muslim population was not defined as a religious community is a vestige of the Ottoman era, when Islam was the dominant religion. The religious rights of the Muslim community are not affected by this, as even members of unrecognized religions are free to practice their religion.[2]

Religious self-definition

As of 2006, 7% of Israeli Jews defined themselves as Haredim; an additional 10% as "religious"; 14% as "religious-traditionalists" ; 22% as "non-religious-traditionalists" (not strictly adhering to Jewish law or halakha); and 44% as "secular" (Hebrew: חִלּוֹנִי‎, Hiloni).[4] As of 1999, 65% of Israeli Jews believe in God,[5] and 85% participate in a Passover seder.[6] However, other sources indicate that between 15% and 37% of Israelis identify themselves as either agnostics or atheists.[7][unreliable source?]

Israelis tend not to align themselves with a movement of Judaism (such as Reform Judaism or Conservative Judaism) but instead tend to define their religious affiliation by degree of their religious practice.

Of the Arab Israelis, as of 2008, 82.7% were Muslims, 8.4% were Druze, and 8.3% were Christians.[1] Just over 80% of Christians are Arabs, and the majority of the remaining immigrants are from the former Soviet Union who immigrated with a Jewish relative. About 81% of Christian births are to Arab women.[8]

Religion and citizenship

Israel was founded to provide a national home, safe from persecution, to the Jewish people. Although Israeli law explicitly grants equal civil rights to all citizens regardless of religion, ethnicity, or other heritage, it gives preferential treatment in certain aspects to individuals who fall within the criteria mandated by the Law of Return. Preferential treatment is given to Jews and their relatives who seek to immigrate to Israel. This serves to increase the Jewish population and provides asylum to people who face religious discrimination in the countries they emigrate from.

The criteria set forth by the Law of Return are controversial. The Law of Return differs from Jewish religious law in that it disqualifies individuals who are Jewish by birth but who converted to another religion, and also in that it grants immigrant status to individuals who are not Jewish by birth but are related to Jews by marriage.

Judaism in Israel

Most citizens in the State of Israel are Jewish, and most Israeli Jews practice Judaism in some form. In the last two centuries the largest Jewish community in the world, in the United States, has divided into a number of Jewish denominations. The largest and most influential of these denominations are Orthodox Judaism, Reform Judaism, and Conservative Judaism. All of the above denominations exist, to varying degrees, in the State of Israel. Nevertheless, Israelis tend to classify Jewish identity in ways that are strikingly different from American Jewry.

The secular-traditional spectrum

Most Jewish Israelis classify themselves as "secular" (hiloni) or as "traditional" (masorti). The former term is more popular among Israeli families of European origin, and the latter term among Israeli families of Oriental origin (i.e. Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa). The latter term, as commonly used, has nothing to do with the official "Masorti" (Conservative Judaism) movement in the State of Israel.[dubious ] There is ambiguity in the ways these two terms are used. They often overlap, and they cover an extremely wide range of ideologies and levels of observance.

Many Jewish Israelis feel that being Israeli (living among Jews, speaking Hebrew, in the Land of Israel), is in itself a sufficient expression of Judaism without any religious observances. This conforms to some classical secular-Zionist ideologies of Israeli-style civil religion. While many in the Jewish diaspora who otherwise consider themselves as secular will attend a synagogue or at least fast on Yom Kippur (the holiest Jewish holiday), this is not as common among secular Israelis. In 2007, a poll by the Israeli Democracy Institute found that only 27% of Israeli Jews say that they keep the Sabbath, while 53% said they do not keep it at all. The poll also found that 50% of the respondents would give up shopping on the Sabbath as long as public transportation were kept running and leisure activities continued to be permitted; however only 38% believed that such a compromise would reduce the tensions between the secular and religious communities.[9]

Because the terms "secular" and "traditional" not are strictly defined, published estimates of the percentage of Israeli Jews who are considered "traditional" range from 32%[10] to 55%.[11] Estimates of the percentage of "secular" Jews vary even more widely: from 20%[11][not in citation given] to 80%[12] of the Israeli population.

The Orthodox spectrum

The spectrum covered by "Orthodox" in the diaspora exists in Israel, again with some important variations. The Orthodox spectrum in Israel includes a far greater percentage of the Jewish population than in the diaspora, though how much greater is hotly debated. Various ways of measuring this percentage, each with its pros and cons, include the proportion of religiously observant Knesset members (about 25 out of 120), the proportion of Jewish children enrolled in religious schools, and statistical studies on "identity".

What would be called "Orthodox" in the diaspora includes what is commonly called dati ("religious") or haredi ("ultra-Orthodox") in Israel. The former term includes what is called Religious Zionism or the "National Religious" community (and also Modern Orthodox in US terms), as well as what has become known over the past decade or so as Hardal (haredi-leumi, i.e. "ultra-Orthodox nationalist"), which combines a largely haredi lifestyle with a nationalist (i.e. pro-Zionist) ideology.

Haredi applies to a populace that can be roughly divided into three separate groups along both ethnic and ideological lines: (1) "Lithuanian" (i.e. non-hasidic) haredim of Ashkenazic (i.e "Germanic" - European) origin; (2) Hasidic haredim of Ashkenazic (mostly of Eastern European) origin; and (3) Sephardic (including mizrahi) haredim. The third group has the largest political representation in Israel's parliament (the Knesset), and has been the most politically active since the early 1990s, represented by the Shas party.

There is also a growing baal teshuva (Jewish penitents) movement of secular Israelis rejecting their previously secular lifestyles and choosing to become religiously observant with many educational programs and yeshivas for them. An example is Aish HaTorah, which received open encouragement from some sectors within the Israeli establishment. The Israeli government gave Aish HaTorah the real estate rights to its massive new campus opposite the Western Wall because of its proven ability to attract all manner of secular Jews to learn more about Judaism. In many instances after visiting from foreign countries, students decide to make Israel their permanent home by making aliyah. Other notable organizations involved in these efforts are the Chabad and Breslov Hasidic movements who manage to have an ever-growing appeal, the popularity of Rabbi Amnon Yitzhak's organization and the Arachim organization that offer a variety of frequent free "introduction to Judaism" seminars to secular Jews, the Lev LeAchim organization that sends out senior yeshiva and kollel students to recruit Israeli children for religious elementary schools and Yad LeAchim which runs counter missionary programs. Shalom Hartman Institute of Jerusalem runs the Be'eri program to bring Jewish thought, philosophy, culture and history to "secular" to more than 50,000 Israeli school students[13] and IDF[14] officers without teaching religious practice or demanding observance of religious norms.

At the same time, there is also a significant movement in the opposite direction toward a secular lifestyle. There is some debate which trend is stronger at present.

Secular-religious status quo

The religious status quo, agreed upon by David Ben-Gurion with the religious parties at the time of the declaration of independence in 1948 is an agreement on the religious Jewish role in government and the judicial system of Israel. Under this agreement, which is still mostly held today:

  • The Chief Rabbinate has authority over Kashrut, Shabbat, Jewish burial and marital issues (especially divorce), and the conversion Jewish status of immigrants
  • Streets in Haredi neighborhoods are closed to traffic on the Sabbath
  • There is no public transport on that day, and most businesses are closed. However, there is public transport in Haifa, since Haifa had a large Arab population at the time of the British Mandate.
  • Restaurants who wish to advertise themselves as kosher must be certified by the Chief Rabbinate
  • Importation of non-kosher foods is prohibited. Despite prohibition, there are a few local pork farms in kibbutzim, catering for establishments selling white meat, due to its relatively popular demand among specific population sectors, particularly the Russian immigrants of the 1990s. Despite the status quo, the Supreme Court ruled in 2004 that local governments are not allowed to ban the sale of pork, although this had previously been a common by-law.

Nevertheless, some breaches of the status quo have become prevalent, such as several suburban malls remaining open during the Sabbath. Though this is contrary to the law, the Government largely turns a blind eye.

There have been many problems brought forth by secular Israelis regarding the Chief Rabbinate's strict control over Jewish weddings, Jewish divorce proceedings, conversions, and who counts as Jewish for the purposes of immigration.

The state of Israel enables freedom of religion for all its citizens but does not enable civil marriage - The state of Israel forbids and does not approve of any civil marriages or non-religious divorces performed amongst the secular Israeli Jews within the country. Because of this some Israelis choose to marry outside of Israel.

The Ministry of Education manages the secular (largest) and religious streams of various faiths in parallel, with a limited degree independence and a common core Curriculum.

In recent years, perceived frustration with the status quo among some members of the secular sector has strengthened parties such as Shinui, which advocate separation of religion from the state, without much success so far.

Today the secular Israeli-Jews claim that they aren't religious and don't follow the Jewish rules and that Israel as a democratic modern country should not force the old outdated religious rules upon its citizens against their will. The religious Israeli-Jews claim that the separation between state and religion will contribute to the end of Israel's Jewish identity.

Signs of the first challenge to the status quo came in 1977, with the fall of the Labor government that had ruled Israel since independence and the formation of a rightwing coalition under Menachem Begin. Right-wing Revisionist Zionism had always been more acceptable to the religious parties, since it did not share the same history of antireligious rhetoric that marked socialist Zionism. Furthermore, Begin needed the Haredi members of the Knesset (Israel's unicameral parliament) to form his coalition and offered more power and benefits to their community than what they were accustomed to receiving, including a lifting of the numerical limit on military exemptions.

On the other hand, secular Israelis began questioning whether a "status quo" based on the conditions of the 1940s and 1950s was still relevant in the 1980s and 1990s, and perceived that they had cultural and institutional support to enable them to change it regardless of its relevance. They challenged Orthodox control of personal affairs such as marriage and divorce, resented the lack of entertainment and transportation options on the Sabbath (then the country's only day of rest), and questioned whether the burden of military service was being shared equally, since the 400 scholars, who originally benefited from the exemption, had grown to 50,000 . Finally, the Progressive and Masorti communities, though still small, began to exert themselves as an alternative to the Haredi control of religious issues. No one was happy with the "status quo"; the Orthodox used their new-found political force to attempt to extend religious control, and the non-Orthodox sought to reduce or even eliminate it.

Chief Rabbinate

Jerusalem Great Synagogue

Great Synagogue in Jerusalem, seat of the Chief Rabbinate

It was during the British Mandate of Palestine that the British administration established an official dual Ashkenazi-Sephardi "Chief Rabbinate" (rabbanut harashit) that was exclusively Orthodox, as part of an effort to consolidate and organize Jewish life based on its own model in Britain, which encouraged strict loyalty to the British crown, and in order to attempt to influence the religious life of the Jews in Palestine in a similar fashion. In 1921, Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook (1864-1935) was chosen as the first Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi and Rabbi Yaakov Meir as the first Sephardi Chief Rabbi (Rishon LeTzion). Rabbi Kook was a leading light of the religious Zionist movement, and was acknowledged by all as a great rabbi of his generation. He believed that the work of secular Jews toward creating an eventual Jewish state in Eretz Yisrael was part of a divine plan for the settlement of the land of Israel. The return to Israel was in Kook's view not merely a political phenomenon to save Jews from persecution, but an event of extraordinary historical and theological significance.

Prior to the 1917 British conquest of Palestine, the Ottomans had recognized the leading rabbis of the Old Yishuv as the official leaders of the small Jewish community that for many centuries consisted mostly of the devoutly Orthodox Jews from Eastern Europe as well as those from the Levant who had made aliyah to the Holy Land, primarily for religious reasons. The European immigrants had unified themselves in an organization initially known as the Vaad Ha'ir, which later changed its name to Edah HaChareidis. The Turks viewed the local rabbis of Palestine as extensions of their own Orthodox Hakham Bashis ("[Turkish] Chief Rabbi/s") who were loyal to the Sultan.

Thus the centrality of an Orthodox dominated Chief Rabbinate became part of the new state of Israel as well when it was established in 1948. Based in its central offices at Heichal Shlomo in Jerusalem the Israeli Chief rabbinate has continued to wield exclusive control over all the Jewish religious aspects of the secular state of Israel. Through a complex system of "advice and consent" from a variety of senior rabbis and influential politicians, each Israeli city and town also gets to elect its own local Orthodox Chief Rabbi who is looked up to by substantial regional and even national religious and even non-religious Israeli Jews.

Through a national network of Batei Din ("religious courts"), each headed only by approved Orthodox Av Beit Din judges, as well as a network of "Religious Councils" that are part of each municipality, the Israeli Chief Rabbinate retains exclusive control and has the final say in the state about virtually all matters pertaining to conversion to Judaism, the Kosher certification of foods, the status of Jewish marriages and divorces, and monitoring and acting when called upon to supervise the observance of some laws relating to Shabbat observance, Passover (particularly when issues concerning the sale or ownership of Chametz come up), the observance of the Sabbatical year and the Jubilee year in the agricultural sphere.

The Israel Defense Forces also relies on the Chief Rabbinate's approval for its own Jewish chaplains who are exclusively Orthodox. The IDF has a number of units that cater to the unique religious requirements of the Religious Zionist yeshiva students through the Hesder program of combined alternating military service and yeshiva studies over several years.

The Chief Rabbinate is under constant criticism and pressure from both the "left" and "right" wings of Judaism and Jewish groups. Many secular Israelis dislike the fact that their private lives are subject to the rulings of a religious court, albeit a Jewish one. The Reform and Conservative movements based in the United States resent that they are locked out of Israel's religious establishment and remain unrecognized as official Jewish religious bodies in Israel. They have established offices and synagogues in Israel to propagate their views. Simultaneously, the Haredi population, including many Hasidic groups, view the Chief Rabbinate as "too lenient", "too Zionistic", and of being the "lackeys" of the Israeli political establishment, since, for example, even members of the Knesset who are not religious, are allowed to be part of the electoral college that elects each new set of Chief Rabbis every ten years.

Islam in Israel

The rock of the Dome of the Rock Corrected

Foundation Stone in the Dome of the Rock

Israel is home to Islam's third holiest site or shrine after those in Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia: The Haram al Sharif (Temple Mount) from which Muslims believe that Muhammad ascended to Heaven. This belief, not only by Israeli Muslims, but by all Muslims, raises the importance of the Dome of the Rock and the adjacent Al-Aqsa Mosque. Most Muslims are angered by rumors that the Israeli government is trying to demolish the shrines, replacing them with the Third Temple. These beliefs are unfounded; in 1967, the Government of Israel acknowledged the authority of the Waqf to administer Muslim holy sites.

Most Muslims in Israel are Sunni Arabs. From 1516 to 1917, the Sunni Ottoman Turks ruled the areas that now include Israel. Their rulership reinforced and ensured the centrality and importance of Islam as the dominant religion in the region. The conquest of Palestine by the British in 1917 and the subsequent Balfour Declaration opened the gates for the arrival of large numbers of Jews in Palestine who began to tip the scales in favor of Judaism with the passing of each decade. However, the British transferred the symbolic Islamic governance of the land to the Hashemites based in Jordan, and not to the House of Saud. The Hashemites thus became the official guardians of the Islamic holy places of Jerusalem and the areas around it, particularly strong when Jordan controlled the West Bank (1948-1967).

In 1922 the British had created the Supreme Muslim Council in the British Mandate of Palestine and appointed Amin al-Husayni (1895-1974) as the Grand Mufti of Jerusalem. The council was abolished in 1948, but the Grand Mufti continued as one of the most prominent Islamic and Arab leaders of modern times.

Israeli Muslims are free to teach Islam to their children in their own schools, and there are a number of Islamic universities and colleges in Israel and the territories. Islamic law remains the law of the land as concerns, for example, the marriages of Muslims, without the need for formal recognition arrangements of the kind extended to the main Christian churches. Similarly Ottoman law, in the form of the Mecelle, for a long time remained the basis of large parts of Israeli law, for example concerning land ownership.

Christianity in Israel


View of churches on the Mount of Olives

Christians are presently the smallest religious group and denomination of the Abrahamic religions in Israel. Most Christians living permanently in Israel are Arabs or have come from other countries to live and work mainly in churches or monasteries, which have long histories in the land.

A great paradox about the areas of Israel and its surroundings is that even though according to Christian teachings it is where Jesus was born, lived, and died (according to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is the place where Jesus died and was eventually buried—making Jerusalem one of Christianity's holiest sites), there are nevertheless very few Christians living in the area compared to Muslims and Jews. This is because: (1) the rise of Islam displaced Christianity in almost all of the Middle East, and (2) since the rise of modern Zionism, including changes in the geopolitical balance between the world's powers, millions of Jews have flocked to the newly-established State of Israel.

Nevertheless, Christianity in Israel reveals the vestiges of the land's past and present interaction with Christian powers. Most Christians in Israel belong primarily to branches of the Eastern Orthodox Churches that oversee a variety of churches, monasteries, seminaries, and religious institutions all over the land, particularly in Jerusalem. In the nineteenth century the Russian Empire constituted itself the guardian of the interests of Christians living in the Holy Land, and even today large amounts of Jerusalem real estate (including the site of the Knesset building) are owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

In modern times, one of the most vocal and active sectors of Christianity in support of Israel has come from the Protestant churches that support Evangelicalism. Each year hundreds of thousands of Christian Evangelicals come as tourists on private and organized trips to see Israel for themselves, to be inspired by "the land of the Bible", and in the process benefiting the local economy as well.

Nine churches are officially recognised under Israel's confessional system, for the self-regulation of status issues, such as marriage and divorce. These are the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Latin rite), Gregorian-Armenian, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Catholic, Chaldean (Uniate), Melkite (Greek Catholic), Ethiopian Orthodox, Maronite and Syriac Orthodox churches. There are more informal arrangements with other churches such as the Anglican Church and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

In recent years, the Christian population in Israel has increased significantly by the immigration of foreign workers from a number of countries. Numerous churches have opened in Tel Aviv, in particular.[15]

Anti-Christian discrimination

Judaism traditionally has taken a very harsh view on proselytizing religions. Ever since the formation of the Jewish state, orthodox Jewish communities have come under scrutiny for the negative stereotyping and scapegoating of Christian minorities in the region, up to and including violent acts against Christian missionaries and communities.[16] Israeli liberal journalist Isak Letz has chronicled numerous instances of Orthodox Jewish groups becoming increasingly active in their opposition to Jews converting to Christianity, including violent acts against converts. These attacks often go unpunished by Israeli authorities.[16]. In general, Christian missionaries limit proselytism in Israel due to Christian Zionist beliefs, and many believe reports of proselytism made by Orthodox Jewish groups are exaggerated as a pretext to attack Christians in the region.[16]

A frequent complaint of Christian clergy in Israel is being spat at by Jews, often haredi yeshiva students. Frequently, Jews accused of spitting respond, in court or in the media, that they were merely spitting at the ground, as a way of "fending off the evil eye" that they impute to priests, nuns and monks. This suggestion has a certain credibility since a) many Jewish stories from Europe refer to this practice and b) Christian notables would probably take almost as much offense at a Jew spitting at the ground as if he were spit upon. Even Christian ceremonial processions have been alleged to have been spat at, with one incident near the Holy Sepulchre causing a fracas which led to the destruction of the Armenian Archbishop's 17th-century cross. [17] The Anti-Defamation League has called on the chief Rabbis to speak out against the interfaith assaults. [18]

In May 2008, hundreds of New Testaments were burned in Or Yehuda, Israel after having been collected by the Deputy Mayor who described the material as "Messianic propaganda" and claimed the books were burned by 3 Yeshiva students.[19] In May 2009 a Russian orthodox church in Northern Israel was showered with stones thrown by yeshiva students, injuring many of the congregation.[20]

The standard plus symbol (+) is sometimes avoided in Israel and a half plus symbol (⊥) is used instead. This is because the plus symbol resembles a Christian cross.[21]

Other religious minorities


The Bahá'í Faith has its administrative centre in Haifa on land it has owned since Bahá'u'lláh's imprisonment in Acre in the early 1870s by the Ottoman Empire. Pilgrims from all over the world visit for short periods of time. Apart from the circa six hundred volunteer staff, Bahá'ís do not live or preach in Israel.[22][23]


Israel has 32,000 Buddhists, most of whom practice Tibetan Buddhism.


Israel is home to about 118,000 Druze who follow their own gnostic religion. The Druze live mainly in the Haifa area, Acre and Peki'in.


The small Hindu community in Israel is mostly made up of representatives of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

Messianic Judaism


Messianic Seal

Messianic Judaism, which is not Judaism, is a Christian religious movement that "incorporate[s] the elements of Judaism with the tenets of Christianity". In addition to worshipping God (the Father), as the Jews do, they also "worship Jesus, whom they call Yeshua".[24] They emphasise that Jesus himself was a Jew, as were his early followers. Most adherents in Israel reject traditional Christianity and its symbols, in favour of celebrating Jewish festivals. Although followers of Messianic Judaism are not considered Jews under Israel's Law of Return,[25] there are an estimated 10,000 adherents in the State of Israel, both former Jews and other non-Arab Israelis, many of them recent immigrants from the former Soviet Union.[26] In Jerusalem, there are twelve Messianic congregations[27][not in citation given]. On 23 February 2007, Israel Channel 2 News released a news documentary about the growing number of Messianic Jews in Israel.[28]

Sanctity of Jerusalem

Jerusalem plays an important role in the three monotheistic religionsJudaism, Christianity, and Islam. The 2000 Statistical Yearbook of Jerusalem lists 1204 synagogues, 158 churches, and 73 mosques within the city.[29] Despite efforts to maintain peaceful religious coexistence, some sites, such as the Temple Mount, have been a continuous source of friction and controversy.

Jerusalem has been sacred to the Jews since the 10th century BC. The Western Wall, a remnant of the Second Temple, is a holy site for Jews, second only to the Temple Mount itself.[30]

Christianity reveres Jerusalem not only for its role in the Old Testament but also for its significance in the life of Jesus. The land currently occupied by the Church of the Holy Sepulchre is considered one of the top candidates for Golgotha and thus has been a Christian pilgrimage site for the past two thousand years.[31][32] In 1889, the Ottoman Empire allowed the Catholic Church to re-establish its hierarchy in Palestine. Other ancient churches, such as the Greek, Armenian, Syrian, and Coptic churches are also well represented in Jerusalem.[33]

According to tradition, Jerusalem is the third-holiest city in Islam. The Temple Mount is topped by two Islamic landmarks intended to commemorate the event — al-Aqsa Mosque, derived from the name mentioned in the Qur'an, and the Dome of the Rock, which stands over the Foundation Stone, from which Muslims believe Muhammad ascended to Heaven.[34]

Religious tensions

The State of Israel allows freedom of religion for all religious communities, both in law and in practice. Freedom House reports: "Freedom of religion is respected. Each community has jurisdiction over its own members in matters of marriage, burial, and divorce." However, some minority religious communities face social pressure and, on occasion, obstruction from the government.

Religious tensions exist between Jewish haredi Israelis and Jewish non-haredi Israelis. Haredi Israeli males devote their young adulthood to full time Talmudic studies and therefore generally get exemptions from military service in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF). Originally the exemption from uniform conscription was intended to apply to a small number of elite religious students. Many leaders of haredi yeshivas encourage students to apply for exemptions from service, ostensibly to protect them from the secularizing environment of the IDF. Throughout the years the leadership of the religious public raised many times complaints on problems which were caused to the religious soldiers during the course of the army service and that the army should adapt itself to thus population - there have been complaints over certain soldiers not being permitted to display tzitzit, there have been complaints over certain soldiers being forced to shave during the omer period, and most of the complaints were thereon that the IDF's units comprise of mixed population of male and female soldiers and that the female soldiers are allowed to wear clothes (undershirts and pants) which are not considered to be modest by the religious and orthodox population in the units' perimeters.

Over the years, the number of exempt people has grown to be about 10% of conscriptable manpower. Many secular Israelis consider the system of exemptions to be systematic shirking of duty to serve in the IDF by a large segment of society. Because of uniform conscription the burden of defending Israel is intended to be shared by all social classes, giving everyone in society a stake in the Zionist enterprise. The haredi (theological) counter-argument is that it is only in the merit of intense Torah and Talmud learning that God grants the Jews the blessings of survival in a sea of hostile enemies.

Haredi couples tend to marry at a young age (usually late teens to early twenties) and often rely on government assistance sooner and to a greater extent than do secular Israelis. Haredi Israelis are also represented by haredi political parties, which like all smaller parties in a system of proportional representation may tend to wield disproportionate political power at the point when government coalitions need to be negotiated and formed following national elections.

As of June 2008, the two main Haredi parties in the Knesset are Shas with twelve seats in the Knesset representing Sephardi and Mizrahi interests, and the Ashkenazi party, United Torah Judaism, an alliance of Degel HaTorah (Lithuanian Haredi) and Agudath Yisrael (Hasidic), which holds 6 seats in the 17th Knesset.

Secular Israelis often view haredi Israelis with distrust or animosity. In recent years, the Shinui party was created as a backlash to the perceived influence of the haredi parties, and to represent the interests of secular Jews that supposedly were not seen to by the other non-religious parties.

Constant tensions also exist between the Orthodox establishment and the Conservative and Reform movements. In Israel the Orthodox Jewish movements are by far the largest and strongest, with Conservative and Reform being quite small (in marked contrast to the United States). Only the Orthodox Jewish movements are officially recognized in Israel (though conversions conducted by Conservative and Reform clergy outside of Israel may be accepted for the purposes of the Law of Return).

As a result, unlike Orthodox Synagogues (or Muslim mosques or Christian churches) Conservative and Reform synagogues do not receive much government funding and support. Conservative and Reform rabbis can officiate at religious ceremonies; thus their marriages, divorces, and conversions are not considered valid. In addition, there has been persistent tension, and even protests by outraged Orthodox worshipers, at the Western Wall, preventing Conservative and Reform Jews from holding services which violate Orthodox norms.

The Israeli government often intervenes to stop the construction of new synagogues, mosques, and churches for a variety of reasons. Often it may be due to safety and environmental concerns. All groups face the same governmental scrutiny for required building permits and correct construction methods. In May 2003, Israeli government officials destroyed a newly-built Bedouin mosque in the village of Tal el-Malah after villagers defied a government ban on building a mosque to serve the local 1,500 Muslims. The nearest mosque was more than twelve kilometers away. Permission has been denied for Muslims to build mosques in other Bedouin villages. [35]


Messianic Jews who are members of Messianic congregations, and separately Jehovah's Witnesses and evangelical Christians, are among the most active missionary movements in Israel. Their proselytising has faced frequent demonstrations and intermittent protests, most prominently by the Haredi anti-missionary group Yad LeAchim, which infiltrates those movements, as well as other proselytising groups including Hare Krishna and Scientology, and maintain extensive records on their activities.

Attempts by Messianic Jews to evangelize other Jews are seen by many religious Jews as incitement to "avodah zarah" (foreign worship or idolatry), a crime punishable by stoning according to the Mishna (Sanhedrin Chapter 7, p. 53a [2]). Over the years there have been several arson attempts and firebombings of messianic congregations.[36][37] There have also been attacks on Messianic Jews, and in May 2008 a case of burning of hundreds of New Testaments that had been distributed in Or Yehuda.[3][4][5][6][7]

While missionary activity is legal, it is illegal to offer money or other material inducements, and legislation banning missionary work outright has been attempted in the past.[38]

Marriage and divorce

Currently, Israeli marriage licenses are recognized only if performed under an official religious authority (whether it be Orthodox Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Druze, etc.) only between a man and a woman of the same religion, while civil marriages are only officially sanctioned if performed abroad. This is a major issue among secular groups, as well as adherents to non-Orthodox streams of Judaism. There is fear that civil marriage will divide the Jewish people in Israel between those who can marry Jews and those who cannot, leading to concerns over retaining the character of the Jewish state.

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 "Table 2.1 — Population, by Religion and Population Group". Statistical Abstract of Israel 2006 (No. 57). Israel Central Bureau of Statistics. 2006. 
  2. 2.0 2.1
  3. Sheetrit, Shimon (2001-08-20). "Freedom of Religion in Israel". Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Retrieved 2008-10-26. 
  4. Social Survey 2006 (in Hebrew)
  5. "A Portrait of Israeli Jewry: Beliefs, Observances, and Values among Israeli Jews 2000" (PDF). The Israel Democracy Institute and The AVI CHAI Foundation. 2002. p. 8. Retrieved 2008-01-28. 
  6. Ibid. p.11
  7. "Top 50 Countries With Highest Proportion of Atheists / Agnostics". 27 March 2005. 
  8. Moti Bassok (25 december 2007), Central Bureau of Statistics: 2.1% of state's population is Christian,,, retrieved 2008-01-29 
  9. "Sabbath Poll", Dateline World Jewry, World Jewish Congress, September, 2007
  10. [1][broken citation]
  11. 11.0 11.1 Daniel J. Elazar, How Religious are Israeli Jews?, Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs,, retrieved 2008-01-28 
  12. {{Citation |url= |title=The Other Israeli Conflict—The Jewish State Struggles Once Again Over How Jewish It Should Be |author=Anna R. Morgan |date=11 July 2004 |page=B03 |publisher=The Washington post |accessdate=[[2008-01-28}}
  13. ,, retrieved 2009-10-12 
  14. ,, retrieved 2009-10-12 
  15. Adriana Kemp & Rebeca Raijman, "Christian Zionists in the Holy Land: Evangelical Churches, Labor Migrants, and the Jewish State", Identities: Global Studies in Power and Culture, 10:3, 295-318
  16. 16.0 16.1 16.2 Persecution of Christians in Israel: The New Inquisition, Journal of Palestine Studies, Vol. 8, No. 1 (Autumn, 1978), pp. 135-140
  17. Barkat, Amiram (2009-06-27). "Christians in Jerusalem want Jews to stop spitting on them". Haaretz. 
  18. "ADL Calls On Chief Rabbis to Speak Out Against Interfaith Assaults In Old City". 2004-10-17. 
  19. "Hundreds of New Testaments torched in Israel". CNN. 2008-05-28. 
  20. "Church Showered with Stones in Northern Israel". Compass Direct News. 2009-06-24. 
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  • Leibman, Charles S. Religious and Secular: Conflict and Accommodation Between Jews in Israel. AVICHAI, 1990.
  • Leibman, Charles S. and Elihu Katz, eds. The Jewishness of Israelis: Responses to the Guttman Report. SUNY Press, 1997.
  • Mazie, Steven V. Israel's Higher Law: Religion and Liberal Democracy in the Jewish State. Lexington Books, 2006.

External links

cs:Náboženství v Izraeli

da:Religion i Israelhr:Religija u Izraelulad:Relijion en Yisrael no:Religion i Israel pt:Religião em Israel ru:Религия в Израиле