Pew study: Reform, Conservative not catching on in Israel
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Pew study: Reform, Conservative not catching on in Israel

While most Israelis favor separation of religion and state, a majority opposes non-Orthodox rabbis conducting weddings

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

Reform female and male rabbis pray together at Robinson's Arch, the Western Wall site slated for future egalitarian services, on Thursday, February 25, 2016. (Y.R/Reform Movement)
Reform female and male rabbis pray together at Robinson's Arch, the Western Wall site slated for future egalitarian services, on Thursday, February 25, 2016. (Y.R/Reform Movement)

The Reform and Conservative movements do not have a major presence in Israel, and a majority of Israelis — while favoring separation of religion and state — are also opposed to having non-Orthodox rabbis officiate weddings in Israel, according to a Pew Research Center poll released Tuesday.

The survey interviewed 5,601 Israeli adults in person between October 2014 and May 2015. The margin of error among Jewish respondents was +-2.9%.

The research explained that while the Conservative movement, in Hebrew, is called the Masorti movement, it should not be confused with masorti (or traditional) Israelis who overwhelmingly identify as either Orthodox (65%) or with no particular stream (27%). Just 2% identify with both Reform and Conservative Jewry.

Meanwhile, some 5% of secular Jews identify as Reform and 2% as Conservative — but 23% align themselves with Orthodoxy, and 64% with no particular stream. Overall, 50% of Israeli Jews identified with Orthodoxy, and 41% with no denomination.

The findings were also translated into policy. A majority of Jewish Israelis (54%) opposed letting Reform and Conservative rabbis officiate at weddings in Israel (40% support it). Secular Jews mostly supported the measure (65% in favor, 28% against), but 70% of traditional (masorti) Jews (along with most of the Modern Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox) were opposed.

“Despite the fact that Masortim are sometimes compared with Conservative Jews in the US (and ‘Masorti’ is the Hebrew name of the Conservative movement in Israel), just 24% of Masortim favor allowing Conservative and Reform rabbis to officiate marriages in Israel,” it said.

Conservative, Reform Jews do not have a major presence in Israel (screen capture: Pew Research Center)
Conservative, Reform Jews do not have a major presence in Israel (screen capture: Pew Research Center)

Israeli Jews were also divided on whether to permit woman to pray aloud at the Western Wall (the survey was conducted prior to the Israeli cabinet decision in early 2016 to build an official mixed-gender area at the holy site). Some 47% of Jews were opposed and 45% were in favor. A majority of secular Jews supported it (55% for, 35% against), while the traditional were split (44% for, 48% against).

Traditional and Modern Orthodox men were far more likely than women to be opposed to female “out loud prayer” at the site. (It’s unclear why the survey chose to inquire about prayer out loud rather than reading from a Torah scroll, which is explicitly banned from the women’s section.) Some 76% of Modern Orthodox men expressed opposition, compared to 57% of Modern Orthodox women. Among the traditional, 55% of men and 41% of women were against it.

Most Israelis against non-Orthodox rabbis officiating weddings in Israel (screen capture: Pew Research Center)
Most Israelis oppose non-Orthodox rabbis officiating weddings in Israel (screen capture: Pew Research Center)

Despite their feelings on these issues, some six in ten Israelis say religion and state should be kept separate, and most (63%) are against shutting down all public transportation on Shabbat.

“An overwhelming majority of Hilonim (88%) prefer religion and government to remain separate. But similarly large shares of Haredim (82%) and Datiim (80%) say government policies should promote religious values and beliefs. Masortim are about evenly split, with similar shares taking each position,” it said.

A majority of secular, traditional Jews (94%, 52%) are against the absence of public transportation on Shabbat, while the vast majority of Orthodox Jews hold the opposite position (96% ultra-Orthodox, 85% modern Orthodox).

The poll also posed questions about whether woman and men should require the consent of their spouses to divorce them, thus addressing the agunah problem in which Jewish women must receive their husband’s consent for divorce and otherwise remain “chained.” In Israel, divorce is overseen by the rabbinate, which operates in accordance with Jewish law.

A majority of Jewish Israelis (69%) said a wife should have the right to divorce her husband without his consent, but among the ultra-Orthodox 59% were opposed. Modern Orthodox Jews were divided on this issue (49% in favor, 43% opposed).

The same number (69%) said Jewish men should be able to divorce their wives without their consent, but on this issue a majority within all the Jewish sub-groups agreed.

Some 86% of the ultra-Orthodox and 69% of the Modern Orthodox also said Jewish law should be state law in Israel. The issue was strongly contested by the secular (90%), and overall 64% of Jewish Israelis are against it.

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