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Profile of Religion Pluralism In Israel Summer Institute, Department of Religion University of California Santa Barbara (UCSB). Khalid Sindawi Academic College of Emek Yezreel, Israel July 17, 2009.

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Profile of Religion Pluralism In IsraelSummer Institute, Department of ReligionUniversity of California Santa Barbara(UCSB)

Khalid Sindawi

Academic College of Emek Yezreel, Israel

July 17, 2009

The State of Israel was established on May 14,1948, Israel is a country in Western Asia located on the eastern shore of the Mediterranean Sea. It borders Lebanon in the north, Syria in the northeast, Jordan in the east, and Egypt on the southwest, and contains geographically diverse features within its relatively small area. Israel is the world's only predominantly Jewish state with a population of about 7.4 million people, of which approximately 5.62 million are Jewish. The largest ethnicminority group is the segment denominated as Arab citizens of Israel, while minority religious groups include Muslims, Christians, Druze, and others, most of which are found within the Arab segment.
Religion in Israel
  • According to the Israel Central Bureau of Statistics, the population in 2007 was 76.1% Jewish, 16.2% Muslim, 2.1% Christian, and 1.6% Druze, with the remaining 4.0% not classified by religion.
Religious self-definition
  • As of 2007, 10% of Israeli Jews defined themselves as Haredim; an additional 10% as "religious"; 14% as "religious-traditionalists" ; 22% as "non-religious-traditionalists" (not strictly adhering to Jewish law or halakha); and 44% as "secular" (Hebrew: חִלּוֹנִי‎, Hiloni). Among all Israeli Jews, 65% believe in God and 85% participate in a Passover seder. However, other sources indicate that between 15% and 37% of Israelis identify themselves as either agnostics or atheists.
  • Israelis tend not to align themselves with a movement of Judaism (such as Reform Judaism or Conservative Judaism) but instead tend to define their religious affiliation by degree of their religious practice.
  • As of 2007, 82.7% of the Arab Israeli were Muslims, 8.4% were Druze, and 8.3% were Christians. Just over 80% of Christians are Arabs, and the majority of the remaining immigrants are from the former Soviet Union who immigrated with a Jewish relative. About 81% of Christian births are to Arab women.
Judaism in Israel
  • Most citizens in the State of Israel are Jewish, and most Israeli Jews practice Judaism in some form. In the last two centuries the largest Jewish community in the world, in the United States, has divided into a number of Jewish denominations. The largest and most influential of these denominations are Orthodox Judaism, Reform Judaism, and Conservative Judaism. All of the above denominations exist, to varying degrees, in the State of Israel. Nevertheless, Israelis tend to classify Jewish identity in ways that are strikingly different from American Jewry.
The secular-traditional spectrum
  • Most Jewish Israelis classify themselves as "secular" (hiloni) or as "traditional" (masorti). The former term is more popular among Israeli families of European origin, and the latter term among Israeli families of Oriental origin (i.e. Middle East, Central Asia and North Africa). The latter term, as commonly used, has nothing to do with the official "Masorti" (Conservative Judaism) movement in the State of Israel. There is ambiguity in the ways these two terms are used. They often overlap, and they cover an extremely wide range of ideologies and levels of observance.
Many Jewish Israelis feel that being Israeli (living among Jews, speaking Hebrew, in the Land of Israel), is in itself a sufficient expression of Judaism without any religious observances. This conforms to some classical secular-Zionist ideologies of Israeli-style civil religion. While many in the Jewish diaspora who otherwise consider themselves as secular will attend a synagogue or at least fast on Yom Kippur (the holiest Jewish holiday), this is not as common among secular Israelis. In 2007, a poll by the Israeli Democracy Institute found that only 27% of Israeli Jews say that they keep the Sabbath, while 53% said they do not keep it at all. The poll also found that 50% of the respondents would give up shopping on the Sabbath as long as public transportation were kept running and leisure activities continued to be permitted; however only 38% believed that such a compromise would reduce the tensions between the secular and religious communities.
Because the terms "secular" and "traditional" not are strictly defined, published estimates of the percentage of Israeli Jews who are considered "traditional" range from 32% to 55%. Estimates of the percentage of "secular" Jews vary even more widely: from 20%] to 80% of the Israeli population.
The Community Structure of the Arabs of Structure
  • The community structure of the Arabs of Israel is the result of a prolonged historical development that has impressed its mark upon the countries of the entire Middle East through two basic factors that can still be discerned today:
  • The communal split, resulting from the sectarian factions in Islam and Christianity, over a long period of time and due to various causes that lessened in their inherent importance over the generations, but the outcome of which has been preserved in the mosaic pattern of religious sects created in the region.
  • The communal organization with special independent formations that were given expression within the framework of the Ottoman Empire in the “millet” system according to which the Muslim regime granted certain communities judicial autonomy in matters of personal status, the management of the waqf (sacred trust funds) and in the organization of religious institutions and the justice system.
The Numerical Ratio
  • During the Mandate period the Muslims were already a recognizable majority. In the first census that was conducted under British rule in 1922, there were 668,258 Arabs in the Palestain/Land of Israel, of which 88% were Muslim, 11% were Christians and only 1% were Druze and other denominations. This ratio remained constant until the Arab-Israeli war 1948, by which time owing to Jewish immigration, the ratio of the Arab population decreased from 89% in 1922 to 68% in 1947.
  • The communal-religious cross-section of the minorities in Israel is expressed in the following lines:
  • Muslims – about 1,189,600
  • Christians – about 150,300
  • Druze – about 118,600.
Islam in Israel
  • Muslims – about 1,189,600
  • Mainly in the Galilee, in the “small triangle”, in Jerusalem and among the Bedouin tribes in the Negev. Most Muslims in Israel are SunniArabs. Israeli Muslims are free to teach Islam to their children in their own schools, and there are a number of Islamic universities and colleges in Israel.
Christianity in Israel
  • Christians – about 150,300
  • The Greek-Catholic community – about 24.6%
  • The Greek-Orthodox community – about 33 %
  • The Roman Catholic community – about 8.4%
  • The Maronite community – about 4%
  • Others (Protestant sects, Armenians, Coptic-Ethiopian etc.) – about 20%. The data also covers the Christian communities in Jerusalem.
The Christians
  • The Christian population in Israel do not constitute a uniform pattern. It is split up into various communities that keep to their independent framework and even within themselves contain a varied spectrum of communities, religious orders and sects.
  • In the first years after the establishment of the State, they managed to acquire significant power far beyond their demographic value. They constituted a majority in three large urban centers of the Arab population: Nazareth, Shfaram and Haifa that were almost entirely emptied of their Muslim elite that had been uprooted during the fighting.
  • Christians are presently the smallest religious group in Israel. Most Christians living permanently in Israel are Arabs or have come from other countries to live and work mainly in churches or monasteries, which have long histories in the land.
A great paradox about the areas of Israel and its surroundings is that even though according to Christian teachings it is where Jesus was born, lived, and died (according to Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox tradition, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem is the place where Jesus died and was eventually buried -- making Jerusalem one of Christianity's holiest sites).
  • Most Christians in Israel belong primarily to branches of the Eastern Orthodox Churches that oversee a variety of churches, monasteries, seminaries, and religious institutions all over the land, particularly in Jerusalem. In the nineteenth century the Russian Empire constituted itself the guardian of the interests of Christians living in the Holy Land, and even today large amounts of Jerusalem real estate (including the site of the Knesset building) are owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.
In modern times, one of the most vocal and active sectors of Christianity in support of Israel has come from the Protestant churches that support Evangelicalism. Each year hundreds of thousands of Christian Evangelicals come as tourists on private and organized trips to see Israel for themselves, to be inspired by "the land of the Bible", and in the process benefiting the local economy as well.
  • Nine churches are officially recognised under Israel's confessional system, for the self-regulation of status issues, such as marriage and divorce. These are the Eastern Orthodox, Roman Catholic (Latin rite), Gregorian-Armenian, Armenian Catholic, Syriac Catholic, Chaldean (Uniate), Melkite (Greek Catholic), Ethiopian Orthodox, Maronite and Syriac Orthodox churches. There are more informal arrangements with other churches such as the Anglican Church and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  • In recent years, the Christian population in Israel has increased significantly by the immigration of foreign workers from a number of countries. Numerous churches have opened in Tel Aviv, in particular.
Other religious minorities
  • Druze
  • Druze who follow their own gnostic religion. During the population register after the establishment of the State, 14,500 Druze were listed, constituting 9% of the minority population. They live mainly in the Western Galilee and on Mount Carmel and today they number nearly 118,600 – about 9.5% of the minority population, and 1.8% of the entire population in Israel.
  • The Druze live in 18 settlements in Israel mainly in the Haifa area, Acre and Peki'in and only five villages are unmixed with the entire population belonging to the Druze community.
The Ahmads
  • Ahmadiyya is a new sect in Islam, founded at the end of the 19th century in the Punjab in India. Ahmadiyya sees itself as a world religion. On March 17, 1928 the “Center of the Ahmadi Delegation to the Countries of the Middle East” transferred from the city of Damascus in Syria to Haifa.
  • The adherents of this community in Israel are 1000 in number, and are concentrated in Kafr Kababir, on one of the western slopes of the Carmel. Two minaret towers rise up on the mountain opposite the seafront.
  • The Bahá'í Faith has its administrative centre in Haifa on land it has owned since Bahá'u'lláh's imprisonment in Acre in the early 1870s by the Ottoman Empire. Pilgrims from all over the world visit for short periods of time. Apart from the circa six hundred volunteer staff, Bahá'ís do not live or preach in Israel.
  • Israel has 32,000 Buddhists, most of whom practice Tibetan Buddhism.


  • The small Hindu community in Israel is mostly made up of representatives of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness.

Ethnic Minority

  • The Circassians:
  • The Circassians are Sunni Muslims, but are not Arab in nationality. They came originally from the Caucasian Mountains in the 19th century. Thousands of Circassian refugees fled after the defeat of the rebellion of the Caucasian peoples in the 1860s. Two villages were founded in this period in the Land of Israel:
  • Rihaniya in the Upper Galilee, north of Safed.
  • Kafr Kama in the Lower Galilee, near the Kfar Tavor-Kinneret Highway.
  • Thousands
  • Average population Population at end of year
  • Druze Christians Moslems Jews Grand total
  • 92.8 159.9 797.2 4,495.1 5,544.9 1995
  • 93.4 122.0 825.5 4,569.2 5,685.1 1996
  • 95.6 124.7 853.9 4,658.8 5,828.9 1997
  • 97.8 127.4 883.9 4,743.4 5,970.7 1998
  • 100.1 130.3 916.9 4,829.0 6,125.3 1999
  • 102.5 133.4 952.0 4,914.1 6,289.2 2000
  • 105.0 136.8 987.3 4,990.2 6,439.0 2001
  • 107.4 139.4 1,021.4 5,059.6 6,570.0 2002
  • 109.6 141.4 1,055.4 5,129.8 6,689.7 2003
  • 111.9 143.4 1,090.0 5,201.5 6,809.0 2004
  • 114.1 145.4 1,124.0 5,275.7 6,930.1 2005
  • 116.4 147.8 1,156.9 5,353.6 7,053.7 2006
  • 118.6 150.3 1,189.6 5,435.8 7,180.1 2007
  • Leibman, Charles S. Religious and Secular: Conflict and Accommodation Between Jews in Israel. AVICHAI, 1990.
  • Leibman, Charles S. and Elihu Katz, eds. The Jewishness of Israelis: Responses to the Guttman Report. SUNY Press, 1997.
  • Mazie, Steven V. Israel's Higher Law: Religion and Liberal Democracy in the Jewish State. Lexington Books, 2006.