Evolution a hard sell among Israeli Jews, Pew study finds
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Evolution a hard sell among Israeli Jews, Pew study finds

Only 3% of ultra-Orthodox believe humans evolved, while most secular Jews see conflict between science and religion; 70% of Haredim say they value secular education

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Visitors walk past an evolution exhibit at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, on June 23, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Visitors walk past an evolution exhibit at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, on June 23, 2015 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Secular Israeli Jews are more inclined than Modern Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Israelis to believe that science and religion conflict, a Pew Research Center poll on Israelis, published Tuesday, concluded.

The survey — conducted in-person with 5,601 Israeli adults, between October 14, 2014, and May 21, 2015 — also found that just a slim majority of Jewish Israelis believe in evolution, and 70 percent of ultra-Orthodox Israelis – a community that openly opposes secular education – say they value secular education for their children (but only 13% hold a college degree and roughly half don’t finish high school.) At the same time, the Haredim were less likely to value personal career success and world travel than other Israelis.

Just one-third of Israeli Jews have completed an undergraduate degree (far less, the poll points out, than their American Jewish counterparts, 58% of whom hold a college degree). A secular Russian-speaking Jewish woman is the most likely to have a higher education, while the ultra-Orthodox (13%) and Israeli Arabs (16%) were the least educated.

Education was also found to be a core value shared by nearly all Israelis (96% of Jews, 93% of Arabs), along with family ties (97% of both Jews and Arabs) and helping the needy (86% of Jews, 91% of Arabs).

Avihay Marciano, 26, a former ultra-Orthodox Jew, studies at an open university campus in Beersheva, Israel, December 15, 2015. (AP/Ariel Schalit)
Avihay Marciano, 26, a former ultra-Orthodox Jew, studies at an Open University campus in Beersheba, Israel, December 15, 2015. (AP/Ariel Schalit)

Science vs. religion

Some 73% of secular Israeli Jews view religion and science as inherently at odds – but 61% of ultra-Orthodox Israelis and 58% of Modern Orthodox Israelis insist there is no conflict. College-educated Israeli Jews were more likely than those who had a high school degree or less to identify tension between the two disciplines (68% vs. 57%, 49%).

“This fits a pattern also found in the United States, where less religious people are more likely to perceive religion to be in conflict with science,” the study said.

Meanwhile, just over half of Israeli Jews believe in evolution (53%), but huge disparities were found between religious groups on the subject. Just 3% of Haredi Jews, 11% of Modern Orthodox, and 35% of traditional Jews believe in evolution. Among the secular, 83% believe humans and other living things have evolved over time, and those with a university education subscribed to the belief more readily – 72%– than those that didn’t – 50%. Some 80% of Russian-speaking Jews believe in evolution.

Just over half of Jewish Israelis believe in evolution (screen capture: Pew Research Center)
Just over half of Jewish Israelis believe in evolution (screen capture: Pew Research Center)

A majority of Ashkenazi Jews believe in evolution (66%), while only 39% of Sephardic or Mizrahi Jews do. But more Israeli Jews than Arabs believe in evolution (37%), and Arab Israelis are also slightly less likely to believe religion and science are at odds (52% vs. 58% of Jewish Israelis).

Secular Israelis are more likely to be college educated (45%) than traditional (23%), Modern Orthodox (22%), and ultra-Orthodox Jews (13%). Slightly more women than men (35% vs. 31%) have completed their college studies, and Russian speakers were more educated (59%) than native Hebrew speakers (29%).

Students attend a lecture at The Hebrew University in Jerusalem (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)
Illustrative: Students attend a lecture at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. (Abir Sultan/Flash90)

An education gap was also found between Ashkenazi Jews (48% have a college degree) and Sephardic and Mizrahi Jews (18% have a college degree). Among Arab Israelis, 15% of Muslims, 18% of Christians, and 20% of Druze were found to have completed an undergraduate degree.

Both Jews and Arabs value secular education for their children (96%, 93%), including 69% of the ultra-Orthodox, who ranked it very or somewhat important (though some 49%, the report said, did not complete high school). Another 30% said it was not important. Those figures corresponded to attitudes toward career success, where 68% of Haredim said it was very or somewhat important, and 31% said it was not (92% of secular Jews, 91% of traditional, and 87% of Modern Orthodox said personal career success was very or somewhat important).

The ultra-Orthodox were also outliers in another category, namely whether the opportunity to travel the world was important to them. Just 16% said it was, compared to 69% of secular Jews, 55% of traditional Jews, and 44% of Modern Orthodox Jews.

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