Support for equality of civic burden. Religious freedom? Less so.
2016 Religion & State Index: the Zionist Orthodox sector
Should Israeli actualize freedom of religion and conscience? - 95% of Zionist Orthodox moderates support this, as do 62% of mainstream Orthodox Zionists and 53% of Zionist ultra-Orthodox Israelis. The Index reflects the Government's total disregard for the public's will, but shows signs of hope within the moderate Zionist Orthodox community.
The 2016 Israel Religion & State Index [link] (the seventh annual Index conducted by the Smith Polling Institute and published by Hiddush) reveals a growth in public support for religious freedom, with most of Jewish Israelis expressing their support and their criticism of the Government's religion & state policies. The survey also revealed significant divides within the Zionist Orthodox community, with moderate Zionist Orthodox Israelis indicating their support for greater religious freedom and pluralism in Israel.
The Israel Religion & State Index is published annually on the Eve of Rosh HaShana in conjunction with Ynet news. The study is based upon a telephone survey conducted on July 25-27, with an unusually large sample of 700 adult Israeli Jews. The 2016 Index is the first to use an increased sample size of the Zionist Orthodox community in order to allow for a more reliable and thorough analysis of this sector's public positions, broken down according to three subcategories: Zionist Orthodox moderates, Mainstream Zionist Orthodox Jews, and Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Most of the Zionist Orthodox community favors mandating the State's core curricular studies for all state funded schools
The Index's findings show that most of the Zionist Orthodox public, including religious moderates and mainstream Zionist Orthodox Jews, hold similar views to traditional and secular Israelis on matters of integrating ultra-Orthodox Jews into Israeli society (e.g. enforcement of core curricular studies, and cutting the State budget for yeshivas). They likely consider these issues closely related to securing the future of Israel and Zionism. Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jews, on the other hand, expressed views more similar to the ultra-Orthodox community's.
Despite this, the Zionist Orthodox community's positions on matters of religious freedom in Israel were fairly conservative. Still, Zionist Orthodox Israeli moderates (13% of the Zionist Orthodox community) expressed opinions on these issues that were more aligned with traditional and secular Israelis, providing a ray of hope for cooperation and support on advancing policy changes in Israel's religion and state arena. 95% of Zionist Orthodox moderates support the actualization of freedom of religion and conscience, as promised by Israel's Declaration of Independence (compared to only 53% of Ultra-Orthodox Zionists). 44% of moderates support separation of religion and state (compared to 13% of Ultra-Orthodox Zionists and 12% of mainstream Orthodox Zionists). 44% support recognizing civil and non-Orthodox marriages (compared to 14% of mainstream Orthodox Zionists and 6% of ultra-Orthodox Zionists). 42% agree that the State of Israel should grant equal status to the 3 largest streams of Judaism (compared to 10% of the mainstream, and 0% of the ultra-Orthodox Zionists). On all of these matters, the Zionist ultra-Orthodox Israeli Jews took positions similar to those held by the ultra-Orthodox community, and the mainstream Zionist Orthodox community was more similar to the ultra-Orthodox community on these matters than the community of Zionist Orthodox moderates. The last year was marked by widespread struggles associated with the Reform and Conservative streams, and quite a few Index questions dealt with this. Quite likely, the negative responses to related Index questions were affected by current events, and it's quite likely that questions related to the secular Israeli public would have been received more favorably.
As noted, on matters of equality of civic burden and State funding of yeshivas, the mainstream Zionist Orthodox community expressed views similar to the Zionist Orthodox moderates, and very different than the views expressed by ultra-Orthodox Zionists. 79% of Zionist Orthodox moderates favor IDF conscription for all or most ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, as do 75% of mainstream Orthodox Zionists. However, 63% of ultra-Orthodox Zionists support the current policy, which allows most yeshiva students not to serve in the IDF because "their profession is Torah." 83% of the general Jewish public favors compulsory military or civilian service for all or most yeshiva students.
60% of Zionist Orthodox moderates and 50% of the Zionist Orthodox mainstream support doing away with or substantially cutting the State budget for yeshivas to a half or quarter of its current levels. However, 88% of ultra-Orthodox Zionists believe that the budget for yeshivas should be maintained as it is or increased as much as possible. 79% of the general Jewish public favor cancelling the budget entirely.
A similar breakdown of the Zionist Orthodox community was also evident on the issue of incorporating State core curricular studies in ultra-Orthodox schools: 81% of Zionist Orthodox moderates and 70% of the Zionist Orthodox mainstream support mandating core curricular studies in State funded schools, whereas 69% of ultra-Orthodox Zionists oppose this. 53% of moderate and mainstream Orthodox Zionists support sanctions against schools that do not teach the core curriculum, but 93% of ultra-Orthodox Zionists oppose this. 82% of the general Jewish public supports mandating state core curricular studies.
Freedom of religion and conscience in Israel
The Index question on actualizing freedom of religion and conscience in Israel is an annual question, and perhaps the most fundamental. Responses have not varied over the years. 84% of Israeli Jews support this, but Hiddush's analysis of the Zionist Orthodox community revealed some distinctions. 95% of Zionist Orthodox moderates support actualizing freedom of religion and conscience, as do 62% of mainstream Orthodox Zionists. Only 53% of ultra-Orthodox Zionists support this, similar to the 52% of the ultra-Orthodox respondents who expressed their support for freedom of religion and conscience.
The fact that on issues of religious freedom, the Zionist Orthodox mainstream holds opinions closer to the Zionist ultra-Orthodox community, rather than the community of Zionist Orthodox moderates, is exemplified in their responses to the question of which Western Wall plaza they would prefer to use once the Western Wall compromise is implemented. Hardly any ultra-Orthodox Zionists or mainstream Orthodox Zionists would make use of the new, egalitarian Western Wall plaza. In contrast, 42% of moderate Orthodox Zionists would make use of it - and 11% would use it exclusively, rather than the traditional Western Wall plaza with gender separation (31% would make use of both plazas).
Mainstream Zionist Orthodox respondents were very similar to the Zionist Orthodox ultra-Orthodox community in their attitudes towards Reform and Conservative Judaism. 42% of Zionist Orthodox moderates support granting official equal status to the three largest streams of Judaism in Israel (Orthodox, Conservative, Reform). However, 90% of the Zionist Orthodox mainstream and 100% of ultra-Orthodox Zionists oppose this.
Support for public transport on Shabbat and alternative wedding ceremonies
An overwhelming majority of the Jewish public supports initiatives on matters of religious freedom, which have been thwarted by the Government Coalition. Support for the operation of public transportation on Shabbat continues to steadily rise. 73% of the public supports the operation of full-scale (23%) or partial (50%) public transportation on Shabbat in Israel. This is compared to only 58% who support this measure in 2010. Support for official State recognition of all forms of marriage including Reform, Conservative, and civil, rose to 64% last year, and rose again to 66% this year. The distribution of responses from the Zionist Orthodox community was very significant. On the matter of Shabbat, for example, 63% of Zionist Orthodox moderates support compromises permitting some public transportation on Shabbat and limiting certain commercial activities. However, only 36% of mainstream Orthodox and 15% of ultra-Orthodox Zionists support such compromises.
The most revolutionary finding of the 2016 Index was the dramatic increase among respondents who would prefer not to have Orthodox weddings for themselves of their children, which rose from 37% in 2015 to 47% this year. Among secular 78% expressed this preference (i.e. 4 in 5 do not want Orthodox weddings). A common assumption over the years has been that while the battle for marriage freedom is central to the battle for religious freedom, most Israelis would continue to have Orthodox wedding ceremonies even if alternatives were legally recognized. The 2016 Index completely changes our understanding of this matter, for nearly half of Israeli Jews would prefer to get married outside the auspices of the official, monopolistic Chief Rabbinate.
This is not the only issue on which the public expresses no confidence in the Chief Rabbinate. 81% of Israeli Jews favor opening the kashrut certification market to competition and eliminating the Rabbinate's kashrut monopoly. Of these, 51% favor opening the kashrut certification market to organizations of all streams of Judaism, and 29% favor only opening the market to Orthodox certification organizations. (68% of Zionist Orthodox moderates, 57% of the mainstream, and 35% of Zionist ultra-Orthodox Jews support opening the kashrut certification market and doing away with the Rabbinate's monopoly).
Against this background, it's not surprising to find that 81% of Israelis are dissatisfied with the government's actions on matters of religion and state. Only a majority of the Shas party's voters (52%) expressed their satisfaction; a majority of voters for all the other parties were not pleased. (In the Zionist Orthodox sector, 81% of moderates, 49% of the mainstream, and 45% of ultra-Orthodox Zionists are dissatisfied). 54% of secular Jews and 38% of the general public said that they would be likely to vote for a new political party that would advocate for religious freedom and equality of civic burden. Support for the separation of religion and state also continues to rise. This year, it stood at 63%, compared to 61% in the previous two years, and 55% in most previous surveys. A huge majority, 84%, support the implementation of the Declaration of Independence's promise of freedom of religion and conscience, which has been a stable finding since the very establishment of the Index.
A warning to the civil political parties
Hiddush's Israel Religion & State Index is the most comprehensive annual public opinion research report on matters of religion and state in Israel. It is designed to allow for consistent monitoring of changes in public opinion on such matters. The project's head was Hiddush Vice President of Research and Information Shahar Ilan, and he has since returned to mainstream journalism as a reporter and commentator for the "Kalkalist" newspaper.
The Index reflects the Government's total disregard for the public's will on matters of religious freedom and equality of civic burden, and the gap between the Government Coalition's policies and the public's preferences is only growing. There is even an abysmal gap between the Government's actions and the positions held by the civil parties within the Government Coalition (Likud, Yisrael Beiteinu, and Kulanu). Still, the Index also reveals a ray of light in the form of the moderate Zionist Orthodox community, which expresses an openness to change direction on religion and state issues, and understands that Israel's collective fate will be sealed, should extremist ultra-Orthodox politicians continue to coercively dominate the arena of religious life. There is no doubt that the future will see increased cooperation between the leaders of civil society and those of the moderate Zionist Orthodox community, underscoring that the struggle for religious freedom in Israel is primarily between those who support Israel as a Jewish and democratic state and those who seek a Jewish state governed by religious Jewish law.
The civil political parties should carefully study the responses to the Index question that deals with the establishment of a new party that would prioritize advocating for religious freedom and equality of civic burden. There is no doubt that the broad support for such a new party is a reflection of the public's concern over matters of religion and state, and its sense of abandonment in this arena. The civil Coalition parties have sold the public's religious freedoms off to the Orthodox parties for a mess of political porridge, and the opposition parties are reluctant to speak out against the Coalition's policies on religion and state, hoping to someday form a left wing Government with the ultra-Orthodox parties as Coalition partners. All of the civil political parties should carefully heed this critical finding.