Much of the Jewish population in Israel defines itself as secular. Yet a study of the secular Israeli, funded by the Jewish Agency, reveals that although many Israelis define themselves as secular, many see Jewish traditions and practices as a source of spirituality in their homes. They view Judaism as something that can be pluralistic and open to change–a vision of Judaism shared by their co-religionists in the Diaspora, particularly the United States. This article explores the Jewish identity of so-called “secular Israelis” and was first published on December 9, 2002, in Haaretz Daily. It is excerpted with permission.
When they took part in a study on Jewish identity, students at Ruppin College came up with a term to describe themselves: “secular believer.” Most of them–91 percent– defined themselves as secular, and 10 percent of this group described themselves as “anti-religious secular.” Just seven percent of those taking part in the study described themselves as traditional, and two percent as national-religious. Nevertheless, the study indicated that beneath the secular veneer lies a craving for tradition and religion, if not exactly as Orthodox Jews would understand it. Instead they seek a traditional religious life that is open and liberal–a live-and-let-live Judaism, a post-modern approach that accepts any expression of Jewish identity.
It’s All About Choice
“Should a person feel a need to fast on Yom Kippur, it is equally acceptable as the person who chooses not to fast,” write the researchers. “The fact there is a mitzvah [commandment] of fasting on Yom Kippur does not make a person any more or less Jewish than someone else.”
The study was conducted in November 2001 and involved 278 undergraduate business administration and behavioral sciences students–most of them first-year, aged 21-26. About two-thirds were women and the majority, 88 percent, was unmarried. They were 94 percent Israeli born and 58 percent of them said their parents were also Israeli-born.