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April 21, 2015 1:20 pm

Poll: Israel is One of the World’s Least Religious Countries

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Jewish woman praying by the Western Wall in Israel. Photo: Reuters

Perhaps it’s the Jewish state, but the state of Judaism in Israel might raise a few eyebrows: according to an international Gallup poll, Israel is now one of the world’s least religious countries.

Nearly two-thirds of the Israelis polled either described themselves as not religious, or convinced atheists. Fifty-seven percent of Israelis described themselves as non-religious, while 8% said they were convinced atheists. Just 30% described themselves as religious.

This makes Israel less religious than Japan (62%), Germany (59%), Switzerland (58%) and South Korea (55%). The Jewish state was neck-and-neck with the U.K. and the Netherlands, which both had a 66% non-religious population.

And it makes it far less religious than others in its neighborhood. Seventy-five percent of the population in the Palestinian Territories identified as religious. In the Middle East and North Africa, 82% of interviewees identified as religious.

The poll, however, may not be an accurate representation of religiosity in Israel because of one key element: the way Israelis view the word, “religious.”

According to Professor of Jewish Law at the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, Conservative Rabbi David Golinkin, Jews in Israel who keep certain elements of the tradition, while abstaining from some of Judaism’s more stringent laws, would not call themselves “religious.” Such Jews would consider themselves “traditional.”

“They are certainly not non-religious,” Golinkin told The Algemeiner.

Indeed, the latest poll conducted by the Israel Democracy Center showed that when a more nuanced approach is used to defining religiosity, only 46% claim they are fully non-religious, while 15% claimed to be Orthodox, 7% ultra-Orthodox, and 32% traditional — which would make 54% of the country at least nominally religious.

According to the Gallup poll, worldwide young people appear to be more religious than their elders. About 66% of people under 34 said they were religious, compared with other age groups.

And income seems to play an even higher role, with atheism over 15% higher among those in the medium high and high income brackets (22% and 25%, respectively) compared with low and medium low income (6% and 5%).

“With the trend of an increasingly religious youth globally, we can assume that the number of people who consider themselves religious will only continue to increase,” said President of WIN/Gallup International Association Jean-Marc Leger.

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  • Yehudit

    The pollsters have got to rephrase their question better. The people from whom I bought my home were vocally “not religious” but kept kashrut, shabbat, sent their children to religious schools (albeit fairly modern), were meticulous in telling us the status of every tree in the yard (orlah or not) and were fleeing the influx of “religious” people into the town. The bank clerk in tight jeans and a lowcut, sleeveless blouse,who made me stand waiting while she finished saying her daily perek of tehillim insists she isn’t religous (although apparently she wouldn’t dream of eating treif of desecrating Shabbat). The ponytailed, earringed taxi-driver, who cut across 4 lanes of traffic to have a conversation with the gabbai of his shul about shul business(he attends minyan daily although not 3 times a day) and keeps a well-thumbed Tanach and tehillim in his glove compartment and had a Torah station saying a devar Torah running on his radio also insisted he “wasn’t relgious”. Or the bus driver who launches into “tefilat haderech” regularly at the same point in the bus trip. Also vehemently “not relgious”. Or the lady in a miniskirt and no sleeves sitting on the mirpeset with us on Shabbat talking about G-d in a way that made Him feel extremely present (and who wouldn’t dream of violating Shabbat and who prays regularly, studies regularly, eats kosher, treats her fellow human beings with derech eretz and complete recognition of her Creator) also insists she “isn’t religious. Or how about the nice, secular Sephardic ladies who dropped in on a Chasidic rebbetzin in the neighborhood, who is very much loved but a fish out of water and huffed down the cold borsht she served as a drink because it would be sinful to insult her(the offense, from the conversation obviously being even more against G-d than the rebbetzin). It goes on and on. It just doesn’t mean the same thing here. There is a lot of cultural biases and a lot of ignorance–and yes a lot of sliding for convenience. But few Israelis are irrelgious or hostile to religion in the way the pollsters are thinking (and the dirty secret is that a significant chunk of their children and grandchildren embrace religion not having the emotional baggage their parents or grandparents brought to it). Its just a lot more organic for them. If they are going to impose their secular humanistic, Western mindset on the poll, they are only going to get garbage results.

  • Julian Clovelley

    If two thirds of Israeli are non religious then at least two thirds do not accept the present concept of Jewish identity which is entirely based on religious mythology with no historical basis.

    If you doubt that then here is the question that points the way. If two thirds of the population are secular and at the same time conversion is allowed – how can a person convert, as a Gentile, to being a “secular Jew”?

    • Desu


      Judaism is a nationality, a Religion and an ethnicity.

      You are confused because you wrongly decide that Judaism must be only a Religion,

  • Yitzchak ben-Baruch Strauss

    I wonder if many Israeli are more spiritual than religious. What I mean is the spirituality is simply a personal journey with G-d, without needing rituals and/or religious leadership. Religion is more of structured with rules and having religious leader and/or teacher as authority. I consider myself as a spiritualist and believe in HaShem in my heart, but have a hard time agreeing with the rabbis who consider themselves as the authority.

  • Emmett

    Like it or not, Israel’s politicians are supposed to be role models for the people. When the governments are made up of extremely corrupt Torah desecraters, what kind of message does that send to the people. Also, wouldn’t you think that in the Jewish state, Torah classes would be mandatory learning in public schools? Israel’s past & current governments have been working with the leftists to make it a secular state. Israel’s so called leaders are a disgrace to Judaism, the Land of Israel, & humanity.




    • Reform School

      ‘Journalists’ practicing their craft like they learned it from White House staffers and Leftist professors [is there a difference?] find it exceedingly difficult to remain silent and be thought fools rather than publish and remove all doubt. Passing off limited-sample opinion polls as news scrapes the bottom of the barrel, exposing The Algemeiner as the politically-correct socialist rag it has become. Your last chance is to read by May 30 and be tested on it by June 30. No cheating!

  • I consider myself as traditional a secular orthodox Jewess. In South Africa 95% of Jews are orthodox and of that I would say 75% are secular orthodox and I agree the young people are swinging more towards being proper orthodox. I think it’s the schooling they receive here

  • David Peters

    Maybe the pollsters should have asked the supposedly irreligious how they define ‘religious’. In Israel, the term is used by those who are not observant of a significant portion of the minutiae of Halacha, but still keep Kosher and celebrate the holidays.
    Better still, the pollsters should have asked themselves how they define the term. Not going to church on a regular basis may make them in their eyes irreligious; even American Jews (especially Reform) may think this way.
    In Israel, religion is more political; the Rabbis have temporal power more than spiritual authority. Non synagogue-attending Israelis are making a break for freedom, not from Jewish tradition.

  • Arty Cohn

    The pollsters did not realize that in Israeli society being ‘religious means being fully orthodox, wearing the talit katan, eating kosher , and praying at least three times a day. I have cousins in Israel, where the father of one family does all of these thingsf and whose family is considered religious, while his wife’s brother’s family does not, and is considered secular. Yet, this family attends High Holyday services, insisted on not riding, but walking to shul on Yom Kippur, and other things that for American Jewry would classify them as quite religious.

  • The confusion is that for some religions to be ‘religious’ is a state of mind, e.g. most Brits self-describe as ‘broadly Christian’ whereas for Israeli Jews ‘religious’ means observant, e.g. shomer Shabbos, shomer Kashrus and Taharas Mishpacha. From a Jewish perspective a Gentile is religious if he keeps the seven universal Laws of Noach. Only eight % of Israelis self-describe as ‘convinced atheists’ which to me means that 92% are believers and therefore in some sense ‘religious’. If you judge Israeli Jews by what % make a seder or do not drive a car on Yom Kippur you will get quite a high figure.

  • Lila lowell

    Doubt this is accurate. Most Israelis are believers and traditional but not observant of Halacha. example, about 80 per cent if not more, fast on Yom Kippur, eat Matzoh on Passover, have circomsicion for their boys, celebrate bar and bat Mitzvah for their children. Since regions observance has political overtones, pollsters need to know the culture here when polling.

  • Robert Kingsley

    If you ask the wrong question you will get the wrong answer.
    In Israel more than 70% fast on Yom Kippur, They also eat kosher at home and celebrate all the Jewish festivals.
    Because of the extreme lifestyle of Religious Jews at least 50% of all Jewish Israelis regard themselves as “not religious” but they actually mean not observant of the 631 religious laws.

  • sekasana

    since moses who received the law was a jew and jesus was born in israel israel would be a theocratic state.

  • Many are non religious because they give importance to themselves and not to history. People become religious only when they stand for their father

    • John Schuh

      Jesus was a Jew. In the New Testament we read he attended all the festivals in Jerusalem.

  • democracy has destroyed countries and religious belief! over human rights aiso has contributed to worsen religious and biblical practices

    • Julian Clovelley

      So to be religious is to make your fathers mistakes?

      Maybe not. The more you fight secularisation with tradition , the more certain it is that the whole religious house of cards will collapse

      I just hope it is soon enough to prevent a war in the Middle East