A Word from Rabbi Schulman - 4/27/18
You know the old expression, 2 Jews, 3 opinions? I can tell you that in Israel, the ratio is much higher. For one of the defining characteristics about Israelis is that they are highly opinionated about everything.
This is especially true when it comes to how Israelis define being Jewish.
22% of the population is Orthodox. But there are many different kinds of Orthodox Jews including Ashkenazi, Sephardi, and Mizrahi Jews who are of Middle Eastern descent. There are ultra-Orthodox Jews who live in insular neighborhoods. There are Dati Leumi, Religious Zionists, who are fully integrated in Israeli society.
An even larger segment of Israeli society is completely non-religious. Secular Israelis compose nearly half of the Jewish population. They are distant from any religious practice. These are the Israelis you see on Tel Aviv’s beaches on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Somewhere in the middle are so-called Masorti Jews. They maintain many of the customs and practices of Judaism such as keeping kosher and observing Shabbat and Jewish holidays but they are not as stringent as the Orthodox.
Lastly, there are Reform Jews and those affiliated with the Conservative Movement. According to a Pew Research study, only 3% of Israelis belong to the Israeli Movement for Reform and Progressive Judaism and just 2% are Conservative.
Do all these kinds of Israelis accept one another? Do they all live “like brothers and sisters dwelling together in peace?” Maybe when the Messiah comes, but for now they argue over many things such as:
Who is a Jew? Who must serve in the Israeli Defense Force? How can somebody convert to Judaism? In what cemetery can a Jew be buried? Can a Reform rabbi sit on a municipal religious council? Can women read from the Torah at the Western Wall?
Israeli society can be very confusing. But I have a resource you can go to for help on the website of the Association of Reform Zionists in America (ARZA).
These infographics won’t resolve any arguments but at least you will have a better idea of why Israel is so complex