Israel Religion and Beliefs

Prayer at the Western Wall, Jerusalem

The subject of Israel religion has much to do with traveling to the country, since religion plays a significant role in the culture and the identity of the country.

This is a broad subject that could be discussed at length, so I'm going to try to give you just the basic raw (and objective) data here about Israel's religions and beliefs.

Israel is known as the country of the Jewish people, and looking at the numbers you can quickly realize that it is largely so. Over 75% of the population is considered Jewish. However, while the country is recognized as the Jewish state, it still allows for freedom of religion per the law of the land. So if you are a Buddhist, a Rastafarian or whatever and want to practice your religion in Israel – just do it!

Islam is common to about 16% of the population – almost all of the Arab citizens of Israel are Muslims. However, some of them are Christian, and together with other non-Arab followers of Christianity, a total of 2% of the population are Christians. Yes, that’s right, despite the fact that Jesus was born, lived and is buried in the country - only a small percentage of the population is composed of Christians.



Judaism

While there are still more Jewish people in the U.S. than anywhere else in the world, Israel is the only country that has a majority of Jews.

In America the Jews divide into the Orthodox, Reform and Conservative movements. In Israel however, people define their Jewish identity based on the degree to which they observe Judaism in their daily routine. I will try to keep the distinctions simple.

Secular Jew & Religious JewA secular and religious Jew on a bench in Jerusalem. Picture by Yoel Zirah.

About half the Jewish people in Israel consider themselves secular – meaning they do not follow Judaism to any large degree. However, these people usually celebrate the Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashana), Passover (the festival celebrating the Jew's exodus from slavery in Egypt) and other major religious holidays. Most of them circumcise their new born sons and hold a Bar Mitzvah ceremony and celebration at age 13 (Bar Mitzvah is the Jewish practice for recognizing a boy's transition to manhood). However they don’t keep the Sabbath or follow many other Jewish traditions.

About 30% of Israelis are "traditional" in their own eyes and observe Judaism to varying degrees. For example, all of the “traditional” Jews in Israel keep kosher (this means observing Jewish dietary laws regarding things like preparing meat and not eating pork or shellfish). This is unlike some of the secular Israelis who won’t necessarily keep kosher.

About 10% are "religious," meaning they keep kosher, keep the Sabbath and follow most of the religious practices – such as praying three times a day. You can usually recognize the men pretty easily as they will wear a little hat called a Yarmulke (Kipa in Hebrew) at all times… except when they shower or such… The women are also recognizable by their garments as they dress quite traditionally - wearing a long skirt or dress instead of pants or jeans.

A Haredi (very religious) JewA Charedi (very religious) Jewish person

The rest (about 10%) are very observant Jews known as Charedim. They are super Orthodox and observe and dedicate their lives to the religion. The men always wear black clothing and a black hat. They tend to live in separate neighborhoods in Jerusalem and elsewhere in the country.


Islam

Most Arab Israeli citizens are Muslims. Most of them practice the Sunni version of Islam. The Muslims in Israel are free to practice their religion and teach it in schools and universities. Israel's ministry of religion recognizes the Waqf (the Muslim administration for holy sites) and allows it the authority in managing Muslim holy sites such as the Dome of the Rock and its next door neighbor the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

An Israeli ArabIsrael religion - a Muslim girl.

Christianity

An Israeli ChristianA Christian Arab with his baby in church during Christmas time

The other major Israel religion is Christianity, which has plenty to offer as far as holy sites, important churches and places of interest.

However, remember that only 2% of the people in Israel practice Christianity. Most of those are Arabs and the rest are immigrants who came to live and work in the land of the bible.

In recent years there are increasing numbers of Christians in Israel due to the foreign workers coming to work from the Philippines and other predominantly Christian countries.


Other Israel Religions and Beliefs

Other religions that can be found in Israel include the Druze, the Baha’i faith, a small number of Buddhists and a few other much smaller religions.





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