Rosh Hashanah 5774

Majority of Israelis support freedom of religion, marriage

Annual study shows sizable segment of Jewish population highly dissatisfied with religious restrictions imposed by the state

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox and secular Jewish men face off in Jerusalem, 2008. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative: Ultra-Orthodox and secular Jewish men face off in Jerusalem, 2008. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

An overwhelming majority of Jewish Israelis support freedom of religion and conscience in Israel, and a large proportion support the right to freedom of marriage and same-sex marriage, a comprehensive annual study found.

According to Hiddush, an Israeli NGO advocating freedom of religion and equality, 83 percent of Jewish respondents to a survey said they support “freedom of religion,” and 61% advocated for the complete separation of religion and state.

The study, titled “The Religion and State Index,” was conducted for Hiddush by the Rafi Smith Polling Institute among 800 adult Jewish respondents who are representative of the adult Jewish Israeli population. It was published Tuesday ahead of the Jewish New Year.

The poll further found that 62% support recognition of civil, Reform and Conservative marriages in Israel, and 67% of secular Israeli Jews would like a non-Orthodox alternative to exist for their own marriage or for their children.

However, among the general Jewish population, 61% said they would prefer they or their children would be married in a religious Orthodox ceremony in any case.

Earlier this year, Hiddush published a study which asserted that Israel is ranked in the bottom 23%of world nations in terms of the restrictions it imposes on marriage — on a par with such countries as Saudi Arabia, North Korea and Iran.

The Hiddush website contains a list of the restrictions imposed by the country’s Orthodox rabbinic establishment on people who wish to marry.

The Religion and State Index also suggested that Jewish Israelis today were opposed to the so-called religious “status quo,” with 67% preferring the state to allow the opening of shopping centers on Shabbat and holidays outside of cities.

Forty-one percent said they support small-scale operation of public transportation during weekends, and 23% said they wished public transportation to be readily available for citizens just as it is on regular weekdays.

A majority of Jewish Israelis, just over 50%, said they believed the biggest threat to Israelis society was domestic conflict between ultra-Orthodox and secular Jews.

Eight-two percent of the Jewish public said they support compulsory army or national service for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students, and 75% support cuts in state funding to ultra-Orthodox yeshivas to motivate seeking work.

Sixty-three percent hold that the government should stop funding ultra-Orthodox schools that refuse to teach core curriculum, which includes math, science, English and civics.

With regard to the performance of conversions to Judaism, 67% said they support granting equal recognition by the government to rabbis from all Jewish denominations

In response to the study’s findings, Hiddush president Uri Regev said the government has a clear indication that Israelis expect fewer religious laws to be imposed upon them.

“It is clear from the Index that, at least regarding religion and state, there is an immense gap between the public’s strong will for freedom of religion and the government’s policies,” Regev said.

“We hope [the study] will help mobilize public action both in Israel and among Jewish communities outside Israel towards fully realizing the goal of ‘freedom of religion and conscience’ as promised in Israel’s Declaration of Independence,” he concluded.

Aaron Kalman contributed to this report.

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