The New Discovery of the Secular Believer

It's not an oxymoron: Secular Jewish Israelis value a variety of Jewish religious practices.

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Still, Kopelowitz and Franco say this is an authentic, correct category that has been lacking in public discourse. It is a category that responds to the needs of a very large population of educated secular young people. They want to define themselves as complete Jews with a world view of their own that is not derived from religious or ultra-Orthodox Judaism, and is independent of both.

By this conception, tradition should serve as a source of strength, not a nuisance and not coercion. "When you find such a strong cognitive pattern within a specific population, we can claim that we found its Ani maamin ('I believe'--essentially the Jew's mission statement). The Ani maamin we found is liberal, with an integral component of Jewish tradition--the product of the Israeli Jewish experience."

The study of the secular Israeli Jew is part of a large study of Jewish identity, funded by the Jewish Agency, being carried out by Kopelowitz, who teaches at Ruppin College's Department of Behavioral Sciences, and who runs a research unit of the Jewish Agency. The study was carried out under his guidance by Hadar Franco, a third-year student of behavioral sciences at Ruppin.

Kopelowitz admits that the study was meant at the outset to see how Jewish identity is expressed by the secular Israeli, assuming that the secular Israeli does in fact have a Jewish identity. Kopelowitz admits this is a weak point of his research. "I am interested in the Jewish side, so I start from there," he explains.

Only in the Cafeteria

The study examined the students' attitudes toward general issues of principles and their opinions on specific questions, such as kashrut [Jewish dietary laws], Jewish marriage, Yom Kippur, and Passover seder.

Some 67 percent said the food in their home need not be kosher, and 73.5 percent said they do not make a point of eating kosher outside the home. Nevertheless, 70.5 percent favored maintaining the kashrut of university cafeterias, and about 85 percent said the food in the Israeli Defense Forces should be kosher.

The researchers found a liberal approach that differentiates between the private domain, in which the individuals can do whatever they like, and the public where the participants show consideration for religious and traditional Jews.

Almost 95 percent would like to see a bridal canopy at a Jewish wedding, 92.5 percent would like to see a ceremony in which the bride and groom exchange rings, and 81 percent are interested in a ketubah (a Jewish marriage contract). But 55 percent did not want kosher food at a Jewish wedding, and almost 70 percent would not want Jewish music or singing. About half of the respondents would want both the bride and groom at a Jewish wedding to be Jewish, but this was of no concern to the other half.

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Daliah Shehori is a journalist in Israel.