Religion and Education in Israel

Diversity and tension within both sectors.

There are numerous religious differences among Israel’s Jews, with Jews defining themselves as ultra-Orthodox (“haredim“), Modern Orthodox (“dati-leumi“), traditional (“masorati“), and secular (“hiloni“). There are tensions between the religious and secular sectors of Israeli society: Secular Jews resent the control that the rabbinic establishment has over some aspects of their lives, and many ultra-Orthodox Jews believe the country’s laws should reflect a greater affinity for Jewish tradition and law.

In addition, non-Jewish religions, particularly Christianity and Islam, are recognized by and receive funding from the Israeli government. The Christian community makes up 2.1 percent of the Israeli population while the Muslim community makes up 15 percent of the population. Israeli law allows for freedom of religious expression, hence these communities worship freely and are protected in this basic human right. These religious communities are autonomously governed by their respective religious leaders, although in recent times the Israeli government has had to mediate between Christian and Muslim communities in Israel. Other religions, of course, are also represented in multi-cultural Israel; the Bahai’s, for instance, maintain their international headquarters in the port city of Haifa.

Israel’s educational system reflects Israel’s religious and ethnic diversity, and so there are many different school systems catering to different populations. For example, there is a school system for the Arab population where the language of instruction is Arabic; a school system for the ultra-Orthodox where the language of instruction is Yiddish and at times modern Hebrew; a school system for the modern Orthodox where the language of instruction is Hebrew and religious studies are included in the curriculum; and a school system that caters to secular Israelis where Hebrew is the language of instruction and Jewish studies–including Bible–are studied in a cultural rather than a religious framework. In addition, an alternative school system, called the Tali Schools, strikes a middle-ground between the state-secular and state-religious schools, and experimental schools bring secular and religious Israeli Jews–as well as Arabs and Jews–together.

After completing their high school studies, Israeli Jews, male Israeli Druze, and some male Israeli Bedouin serve two to three years of compulsory service in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF).


Discover More

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda and the Making of Modern Hebrew

The Lithuania-born visionary turned an ancient language into a spoken one.

Terrorism in Israel: Questions and Answers

Palestinian attacks on civilians have been a feature of life in Israel since even before the country’s establishment.

Praying for the Welfare of the State of Israel

While following a tradition of praying for the government, this prayer has some significant differences.

Modern Israel at a Glance

An overview of the Jewish state and its many accomplishments and challenges.

What Do Jews Believe About Jesus?

How Judaism regards the man Christians revere as the messiah.

Converting to Judaism: How to Get Started

How to find an introductory Judaism class.

Israel’s War of Independence

Establishing a new nation and defending it

Judaism and Pets: Questions and Answers

What Jewish tradition says about cats, dogs and other companion animals.