Almost 80 percent of Israeli Jews say they believe in God according to a recent survey, up from 76 percent in 1999. The survey results reflect a marked move away from the socialist-secular ideals of the Eastern European Jews who were the driving force behind the founding of modern Israel.
The survey result "gives an answer to all those who said secular Zionism [support for a Jewish state] had … made a secular religion. It shows that there is a tendency towards religiosity," said research analyst Ayala Keisser-Sugarmen. The survey, released earlier this year, was conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute's Guttman Center for Surveys and the Avi Chai Foundation, a private foundation committed to the perpetuation of the Jewish people. Researchers say the results of the survey reflect the highest percentage of people who say they believe in a higher power since the same survey was taken previously in 1991 and 1999.
In the latest survey, 80 percent of respondents also said they believed they would be rewarded for good deeds and punished for misdeeds and said they believed in the power of prayer. Two thirds of the respondents said they had a strong belief in the unique character of the Jewish people and the Torah. About half expressed belief in the Messiah and the world to come and one third said they believed that a Jew who does not observe the precepts of his religion endangers the entire Jewish people.
Only 46 percent of Israeli Jews defined themselves as secular, down from 52 percent in 1999, while 22 percent defined themselves as either Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox, up from 16 percent in 1999. The remaining 32 percent termed themselves "traditional," virtually unchanged from 1999.
The survey results found a strong correlation between a person's ethnic background and level of religiosity, with 67 percent of Ashkenazim (Jews with mostly European heritage) considering themselves secular, compared to 73 percent of Jews with Mizrahi, or Eastern heritage, who identify as traditional, Orthodox or ultra-Orthodox.
Bar Ilan University Sociology professor Menachem Friedman said this trend in increased belief is part of a growing global tendency.
"Most people believe in God, but the question is what does that mean?" he said. "Here it certainly does not mean they behave as a religious Orthodox Jew." As for the 20 percent of Jewish Israelis who said they do not believe in God, Friedman noted that "Judaism is a religion but it is also a national feeling. To be Jewish doesn't necessarily mean to be a believer. It is a national identity."