A few days ago Pew Research Center published a report entitled “Israel’s Religiously Divided Society”. The survey is comprehensive in its scope of questions and is based upon the results of face-to-face interviews in Hebrew, Arabic and Russian among 5,601 Israeli adults (18 and older) from October 2014 until May 2015. It included surveys with Jews in the West Bank and with Arab residents of East Jerusalem (thus using the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics’ definition of the Israeli population). The results are very interesting and over the next two blogposts I am going to pick out some of the data contained within 16 page overview/introduction. For those of you who are really interested, I encourage you to read the entire report. Today I want to concentrate on the religious findings of the report, while in my next post I will focus on the political findings.

81% of those living in Israel are Jewish. This 81% can be broken down into four categories into which Israelis identify with: Haredi (ultra-orthodox) which make up 8% of the Israeli population; Dati (religious) who make up 10%; Masorti (traditional) who make up 23% of the population; and Hiloni (secular) the largest grouping at 40% of the population. Of the remaining 19% of Israel’s population, 14% are Muslim, 2% are Christian; 2% are Druze and 1% are “Other” or no religion.

This make up of Israel’s population has changed somewhat since Israel’s independence in 1949. The proportion of the population that is Jewish has declined about 10%, the Christina population has declined by a third while the Muslim proportion of the population has doubled.

The identification of “no religion” as a category separate from all of the subgroups of Jews is problematical – many of those identifying as secular Jews would say they are also of “no religion”. In fact the report states that only 22% of Israeli Jews say being Jewish is mainly a matter of religion. They are vastly outnumbered by the majority (55%) who see Jewishness as mainly a matter of ancestry/culture and by those who say that it’s a mixture of both (23%). Not surprisingly, 70% of Haredim see being Jewish as a matter of religion, while 83% of Hilonim see it as a matter of ancestry and culture.

The difference in viewing Jewishness as a religion or as a culture can be seen in the breakdown of religious practices. Again, not surprisingly those identifying as Haredim are much more likely to: pray daily (76% of Haredim say they do this); attend synagogue weekly or more (85%); fast all day on Yom Kippur (99%); and do not travel on Sabbath (more than 99%) than the other groups. The corresponding numbers for Hilonim are (1%), (1%), (30%) and (3%). Interestingly there is no marked difference in religious practices between the age groups – the older generation is not noticeably more devout than the younger one.

The Jewish population is becoming more polarised in its religious practices and beliefs. Since 2002 the number of Haredi and Dati within the Jewish population have grown from about 16 to 20%. The numbers of Hiloni has also increased slightly by 1% while those in the middle of the spectrum, the Masorti, have decline by about 4%. In the future the numbers of Herdim are likely to grow as they have more children than the other Jewish subgroups. Fully 28% of Haredi aged 40 years and over have had 7 or more children. This compares with 5% of Dati, 2% of Masorti and negligible numbers of Hiloni. The share of Haredi in the population by age cohort show that they are a larger share of the younger age groups while the Hiloni are more likely to be found in the older age brackets.

This polarisation can also be seen from the answer to the question: “How many of the Jewish religious traditions do you observe? Some, all/most or none?”. In 1991, those who answered “some” were the largest group with 41%. Those who answered “all/most” were at 38% and those who answered “none” were at 21%. In 2015 those who answered “all/most” were now the largest group at 39%, while those who answered “some” had dropped back to 34%. The “none”s had increased though to 26% suggesting that most of those who had moved from “some” had gone to “none”.

Overall Muslims are the most devout of all four of Israel’s major religious groups. A majority (61%) of Muslims say they pray daily, while only 34% of Christians, 26% of Druze and 21% of Jews say the same thing. When it comes to attending a religious service at least weekly the corresponding numbers are 49% of Muslims, 38% of Christians, 27% of Jews and 25% of Druze.

Israel’s population will continue to be explored in my next post when I will look at the more political findings…

Marcus Roberts is a Senior Researcher at the Maxim Institute in Auckland, New Zealand, and was co-editor of the former MercatorNet blog, Demography is Destiny. Marcus has a background in the law, both...