A Hiddush Survey

Only 40% support leaving conversion under Chief Rabbinate

In honor of the Jewish festival of Shavuot, Hiddush - for Freedom of Religion and Equality commissioned a public opinion survey to examine the attitudes of Israel’s adult Jewish public on the matter of conversion.

A rabbinical court from the early twentieth century, source: WikipediaA rabbinical court from the early twentieth century, source: Wikipedia

The findings are unequivocal and reaffirm the findings of the many surveys commissioned by Hiddush on this subject in previous years, conducted by the Smith Polling Institute. Only 40% support maintaining the conversion process in Israel under the exclusive authority of the Chief Rabbinate! The majority of the public, 60%[!] wants to abolish the Chief Rabbinate's monopoly over the State of Israel's official recognition of conversions. Those who support removing this authority from the Chief Rabbinate are divided between those who want the State to recognize all conversions conducted by the established Jewish denominations [including Reform and Conservative] [35%]; and those who prefer to extend the recognition of Orthodox conversions to more lenient Orthodox City Rabbis, as proposed by some Zionist Orthodox circles [25%].

Examination of the survey findings indicates some important observations: 80% of the secular public wants the abolition of the Chief Rabbinate's monopoly on conversion. Even among the traditional Jewish Israeli public there is a majority for taking this authority away from the Chief Rabbinate. Among right-wing voters, only 43% support leaving the authority in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate. Among the voters for the other components of the potential “Change Coalition”, the percentage of support for the Chief Rabbinate is, of course, much smaller.

These findings are comparable, for example, to a survey commissioned by Hiddush in August 2019, in which 62% of Israel’s adult Jewish public expressed support for a change in the State's approach to conversion, as proposed in the “Vision Statement for Israel as a Jewish and Democratic State”, which Hiddush, in collaboration with leaders and rabbis of all Jewish denominations, launched to advance the following approach to conversion: “Those who wish to convert to Judaism must have the right to undergo this process with rabbis of their choice, by rabbis who are duly ordained and recognized by their respective major religious movements. These conversions must be accepted as valid proof of Jewishness by the State of Israel, even as we respect the prerogative of the different religious groups to apply their own criteria for conversion.” Only 38% opposed this far-reaching change.

Even in the midst of confronting hostilities on the Gaza border and beyond, we know that once a ceasefire is announced, Israel will be turning its full attention back to the ongoing political saga.

Even in the midst of confronting hostilities on the Gaza border and beyond, we know that once a ceasefire is announced, Israel will be turning its full attention back to the ongoing political saga. For anyone familiar with the religious extremism that characterizes the Chief Rabbinate and Israel’s ultra-Orthodox political establishment, it is clear that if Ruth the Moabitess had sought to convert today, she would have been rejected outright. Similarly, masses of new immigrants from the former Soviet Union and their offspring encounter obstacles if they wish to convert. Even those few that convert find themselves under constant criticism and review, which is sometimes translated into retroactive voiding of their conversions on the basis of underperforming religious obligations.

The ultra-Orthodox parties have repeatedly clarified their demands, should their participation in a governmental coalition be sought. High on their list is a demand for the enactment of a Conversion Law to perpetuate the monopoly of the Chief Rabbinate. It is therefore important to know that the majority of the Israeli public completely rejects religious coercion and the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly. In shaping Israel’s future, it is important to return to the fundamental values of the Declaration of Independence, which promises freedom of religion and equality. We know for a fact that the majority of Israelis want to open the gates of conversion and take the keys away from the Chief Rabbinate.

The survey was conducted between May 11-12, 2021 among 500 people, as a representative sample of the adult Jewish population in Israel. Sampling error ±4.5%.


Survey Findings

On conversion issues, which of the following alternatives do you support?

40% Maintain the authority over Jewish conversion exclusively in the hands of the Chief Rabbinate
25% State recognition of only Orthodox conversions, whether via the Chief Rabbinate or more lenient Orthodox City Rabbis
35% State recognition of both Orthodox and non-Orthodox converts (e.g. Conservative and Reform)


Break-down of survey data by background variables:


Survey data from August 2019:

Don’t agree + Don’t really agree Agree + Greatly agree  
38% 62% Those who want to join the Jewish people through conversion should be able to convert through qualified rabbis from various active Jewish denominations, including Modern Orthodoxy and non-Orthodox denominations; whereby the State of Israel recognizes all such conversions equally, without forcing any religious groups to recognize these conversions.

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