How Jewish Israelis Feel Towards Non-Jews and the Current Conversion Process – Shavuot Survey

June 5, 2019


Tamar Hermann and Or Anabi, Israel Democracy Institute, June 4, 2019

With permission, read full article at IDI.

Joining the Jewish people is a central theme of the Biblical story of Ruth the Moabite read on every Shavuot holiday. With the holiday quickly approaching we checked what relationships Jewish Israelis are ready to have with people who are non-Jewish according to Halacha (Jewish Law), as well as the conversion process in general and specifically –the current conversion process in Israel in particular.

Attitudes on relationships with those defined by Halacha (Jewish Law) as non-Jews 

Respondents were presented with several questions on their willingness to accept someone who is not Jewish as a neighbor or as a spouse for themselves or their children. A majority in all groups on the ultra-Orthodox – Secular spectrum are willing to accept a non-Jew as a neighbor, although this majority is smallest among the ultra-Orthodox.

The picture is starkly different when it comes to accepting someone who is not Jewish according to Halacha as a spouse for themselves or for their son/daughter. As the chart below shows, with the exception of Secular Jews, there is a large majority among all other groups who are not willing to marry or be in a relationship with someone who is not Jewish according to Halacha.

What does conversion to Judaism mean?

Our question: “In your opinion, is conversion a process of joining: The Jewish people, the Jewish religion, or joining both the Jewish people and the Jewish religion?” The largest group of respondents (45%) said that a convert joins both the Jewish religion and the Jewish people. The second most common answer is that a convert joins the Jewish religion (31%), and in third place – the Jewish people (18%).

However, there is a large difference between different groups along the ultra-Orthodox—Secular spectrum: for all groups, except for secular Jews, the largest group (a majority among ultra-Orthodox – 73%, and Traditional-religious – 57.5%) believes that conversion means joining both the Jewish people and Jewish religion. Nevertheless, among secular Jews, the largest number answered that converts are only joining the Jewish religion.

Should we make conversion easier or harder?

Our question: “In your opinion, should conversion be performed leniently (as far as possible within the boundaries of Halacha) in order to enable more converts to join the Jewish people, or should conversion be performed very strictly even if it means there will be fewer converts?” Overall, a small majority (52%) expressed their preference for greater leniency, while a minority (35%) preferred a stricter process.

However, as expected dividing up the sample by groups along the ultra-Orthodox – Secular spectrum shows, that the religious groups are more negative while the more secular groups (Traditional non-religious and Secular) are more in favor of making the process easier.

Who should be authorized to perform conversions?
Our question: “In your opinion, who should have the authority to determine that a person is a Jew for purposes of the state of Israel’s recognition of his / her Jewishness?” Possible answers (the respondent could cite more than one) were: The Orthodox Chief Rabbinate ; a new state conversion system to be established and anchored in law; Private conversion courts in Israel for all the streams – ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform; or conversion abroad for all the streams – ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, Conservative, and Reform. In the overall sample, the preference of about one third (the highest rate) is a new conversion system (31%), the preference of 27% is the current Orthodox conversion system overseen by the Chief Rabbinate; 15% private conversion courts in Israel and 7.5% private conversion courts in Israel and abroad.

Examining the responses of the groups along long the ultra-Orthodox – Secular spectrum reveals that the Orthodox conversion court overseen by the Chief Rabbinate received the highest level of support from ultra-Orthodox and religious respondents (89% and 66.5% respectively). Among the Traditional-religious, the Traditional non-religious and the Secular most supported the establishment of a new state conversion system that would be regulated by the law.

The IDF Conversion System

Our question: “The conversion process in the IDF is simpler and briefer. So far more than 10,000 soldiers have been converted in its framework. In your opinion: The IDF conversion system should be expanded; be left as it is; cut back; shut down. The data indicate that only the ultra-Orthodox want to shut down or cut back the conversion system in the IDF. All other groups support expanding it.

The Israeli Voice Index is a project of the Guttman Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research of the Israel Democracy Institute. In the survey, which was conducted on the internet and by telephone (supplements of groups that are not represented proportionally on the network) on May 20-22, 586 men and women were interviewed in Hebrew and 105 in Arabic, constituting a representative national sample of the entire adult population of Israel aged 18 and older. The maximum sampling error for the entire sample was 3.7%± at a confidence level of 95%. The fieldwork was done by the Rafi Smith Institute. For the full data file see: https://dataisrael.idi.org.il/