Almost everyone in “Christian” countries celebrates Easter and Christmas in some way, even if they don’t believe in Jesus at all, so it should come as no surprise to us that almost all Jewish people celebrate the Jewish feasts like Passover, even if they are ardent atheists. Secularism is on the increase in the west, but a recent survey tells us that far from becoming more secular Israel is going in the other direction. Belief in God is on the rise…
A survey charting religious belief in Israel
Earlier this year, the analyzed findings of the “Beliefs, Observance and Values among Israeli Jews”, survey were released. (The survey was conducted in 2009 but the results were only recently published this year). The survey, conducted by Guttman-Avi Chai, gives us a feel of the shifting spiritual climate in Israel. There is a marked increase in Jewish religious and spiritual beliefs since survey preceding it ten years before.
It found that 80 percent of Israeli Jews now believe that God exists – the highest figure found by the survey to date.
Secular atheism was a strong trend in post-Holocaust Israel, as the Jewish people staggered from the horrors of the Second World War. How could there be a God? Many asked at that time, and it is common for holocaust survivors to still struggle with doubts, questions and anger. Some of the early kibbutz agricultural communities defiantly set up signs declaring themselves to be God-free zones. These Israelis were determined to make it in this new land on their own, without the “incumberance” of religion. The army is well known to be predominantly a secular institution, and whilst the first prime minister, Ben Gurion, made the brave decision to make Israel a specifically Jewish state, he himself was also famously secular.
A Jewish State
The survey found that a massive 70 percent of respondents believe the Jews are the “Chosen People,” and that almost as many (65 percent) believe that the commands in the Old Testament are God-given. Overall, the survey found an increase in attachment to Jewish religion and tradition, following a decrease from 1991 to 1999, which can partly be explained by the mass immigration from the former Soviet Union during that decade. The researchers suggest that part of the reason for the increase in affiliation to Jewish religion is that these immigrants, having come from a Communist background, gradually came to adopt a stronger affiniation with Judaism and a stronger bond with the Jewish identity and way of life in Israel. The other factor is that, whilst anti-religious secularism may be on the decrease, Orthodox Judaism is increasing, mostly because of birth rates. Orthodox families tend to have larger numbers of children.
In the same way that some states are Muslim, following Sharia law, Israel is a Jewish state by foundation. The Shabbat is preserved nationally (more or less) with public services and transport grinding to a halt between Friday afternoon and Saturday evening, public institutions are required to serve kosher food, and to a degree, education and marriage laws are also subject to Jewish religious frameworks. And increasingly, the Jewish population of Israel is happy to keep it that way. The survey found that less than half of Israeli Jews favour democracy over Jewish religious law (halacha), in the event of a conflict between the two. Also, 61 percent felt it was important to “ensure that public life is conducted according to Jewish religious tradition,” compared to only 44 percent in the previous study.
A nation can change within a generation
When asked to reflect upon their own attitudes to faith and religion over the previous decade, more people said that they were feeling more religious than the number of those who felt that they were moving in the opposite direction, away from faith and religion. One notable example of this is that 85 percent of respondents said that “celebrating the Jewish holidays as prescribed by religious tradition” was “important” or “very important,” compared with just 63 percent in 1999.
However, two statistics that may perhaps be surprising are that only 56 percent believe in life after death, and only 55 percent are expecting the Messiah.
The survey also notes that there is some interest in New Age spirituality, and that people are looking on the internet to discover more about spiritual beliefs. Certainly, Israelis spend an enormous amount of time on the internet, and the statistics show that thousands of Israelis are specifically searching for the subject of Messiah, Yeshua, and the New Testament.
History has shown us repeatedly that God can do radical things in a people group within a generation. It has happened more than once in the Bible that the whole nation of Israel turned to God in unison, and we have also heard wonderful stories of revivals across the world stirred by the Spirit of God. The 1970s saw the Jesus Movement sweep across the United States and beyond, gathering many Jewish people among the thousands who came to faith. Many of the pastors in Israel today can trace their spiritual roots back to that movement. Let’s pray for another outpouring of God’s grace towards his people, Israel.
Pray for the Holy Spirit to lift the veil, to open eyes, and draw them to himself with his love. Pray for spiritual hunger and thirst to grow, pray for increasing interest in the person of Yeshua and his teachings, and that they would find him, when they seek with all their heart. Pray that spiritual fire will break out in Israel, setting hearts alight with real love for the triune God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Pray that one day, the “Beliefs, Observance and Values among Israeli Jews” survey will find a radical shift has happened among the Jewish people towards their Messiah, Yeshua.
The study, conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute’s Guttman Center for Surveys and the Avi Chai Foundation, is based on interviews with 2,803 Israeli Jews. You can read the report in full here