Over half of Israel’s Jews would prefer lesser role for religion in state – poll

Over half of Israel’s Jews would prefer lesser role for religion in state – poll
Some 55 percent of Jewish Israelis would like a review of the longstanding policy that sees Judaism and the state fused to a great extent, a new poll shows. The same percentage of respondents believe the current policy reflects an ultra-Orthodox view.

The authors of the survey, which was commissioned by the Israel Democracy Institute, asked groups of Israel’s Jewish population with various religious backgrounds about their opinion on the status quo, a consensus on the role of religion in the life of the Jewish state reached between secular and religious parties that dates back to its early days.

The main pillars of the policy were outlined in a letter by one of Israel’s founders, its first prime minister, David Ben-Gurion, from June 1947, and later enshrined in Israeli law. That includes limiting business and public activity on Shabbat, putting rabbinical courts solely in charge of any matters concerning marriage and divorce of Jewish Israelis and not allowing the option of a civil marriage for anyone. As for the non-Jewish population, including Christians and Muslims, the letter purported to guarantee a freedom of conscience giving them permission not to follow Shabbat and providing other exceptions.

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While two-thirds of secular Israelis surveyed said that the present secular-religious status chimes with the views of “haredi” or ultra-Orthodox Israelis, nearly 100 percent of them favored the idea of mitigating the role of religion or separating it from the state altogether, the Jerusalem Post reported.

Eighty percent of those who declare themselves traditional but non-religious Jews also back greater separation of state and religion, while a considerably lower share among traditional religious Jews, 49 percent, support the idea of a more secular state.

On the contrary, those who back Orthodox beliefs, religious Zionists and haredi, appear to be less enthusiastic about a prospect of a change to the status quo. Only 46 percent of Zionists and 42 percent of haredi are willing to challenge the established consensus. As far as the direction of this change is concerned, 72 percent of haredi and 48 percent of Zionists believe religion and the state are not intertwined enough under the status quo.
A majority of haredi, 57 percent, think that at present the situation reflects either traditional or secular values.

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In total, a slight majority of 55 percent believe it is time to amend the system, while 33 percent don’t see any need for change.

With the Jewish state’s population growing increasingly diverse, the observance of the status quo has become a contentious issue. Last September, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to withdraw permission for carrying out maintenance work on railways during Shabbat sparked protests, with people demanding public transportation be resumed. The move that was thought to be in violation of the secular-religious status quo, which allows for such kind of work by public institutions during holidays, was rumored to be made at the bidding of the haredi leadership.