NEW public opinion studies on marriage freedom in Israel

Exploring Israel’s Jewish and Arab sectors, as well as the Zionist Orthodox community

This week, new perspectives regarding Israelis’ views on marriage freedom and related issues were presented to the public.

After years of polling Jewish public opinion, Hiddush initiated a special study of both Israel’s Jewish sector and its Arab sector, and its findings were released on Valentine’s Day. On the same day, another study initiated by the Modern Orthodox NGO Ne’emanei Torah v’Avodah, which focused on the views of Israel’s Zionist Orthodox sector, was published. Since these issues are clearly high on the priority list of Israelis when it comes to matters of religion & state, and they directly impact world Jewry, we are making these reports available in the resource section of the RRFEI website. We’ll be glad to provide further insights and background to those who request more details.

  • Click HERE for Hiddush’s report on the 2017 Valentine’s Day marriage surveys of the Jewish and Arab sectors of Israel (Hebrew)
  • Click HERE for Ne’emanei Torah v’Avodah’s report on the views of Israel’s Zionist Orthodox community (Hebrew)

Hiddush’s dual study offers an eye opening perspective as to the differences between Jewish Israelis and Arab Israelis on these issues. The findings can be better understood given the great disparity between the percentage of Israeli Jews who define themselves as secular (~50%) and the percentage of Israeli Arabs who identify as secular (12%).

Also, of great interest is the fact that whereas in the Jewish sector, the principled embrace of the right to “marriage freedom” is carried into support for enacting civil marriage and divorce, while in the Arab sector, 76% embrace the principle, but only 43% support instituting a civil option for marriage and divorce. This may be attributed to the far lower awareness among Arab Israelis of the inadequacy of religious control over marriage. It may also indicate that if they were made fully aware of the extent to which the right to marry in Israel is infringed upon, they would lend their support to the necessary remedy. It’s encouraging that among younger Arab Israelis, one finds a great level of support for a civil choice (60%), even though the majority of them would prefer religious marriage for themselves. Further, the high levels of opposition within the Jewish and Arab sectors to polygamy; and the high percentage of support for a bride’s right to choose her partner are of great interest.

On a related issue, public attention was drawn in the last few days to the shocking case of a battered wife who was not granted a divorce by an Israeli rabbinic court. It is of little surprise, therefore, to see that among Israeli Jews, 66% do not trust the Rabbinic Courts, as was found in the Hiddush study.

For RRFEI members, the study of the views of the Zionist Orthodox sector in Israel is of great interest. Hiddush placed special emphasis the views of this sector and its subgroups in the 2016 Israel Religion & State Index. The new study further validates the growing openness of Zionist Orthodox Israelis to moving away from the current Orthodox monopoly over marriage & divorce. It also confirms the existence of a liberal subgroup within this sector whose views on such matters are far closer to those of traditional and secular Israeli Jews.

At the same time, it should be pointed out that the methodology adopted by the pollsters of this Zionist Orthodox survey and the drafting of the questionnaire pose some challenges. Hiddush’s study points to a level of 23% support among the religious sector (excluding the ultra-Orthodox) for instituting civil marriage & divorce. However, the media headlines on the Zionist Orthodox sector study declared a cumulative level of 49% support for the various alternatives to the Chief Rabbinate’s monopoly that were presented to the respondents. This wide gap can be understood, given the following qualifications of the latter study:

  1. The sample was not presented with the option of maintaining the status quo. This report does not really provide information as to the extent of support for breaking the Chief Rabbinate’s control, but only the level of support for different alternatives, assuming that an alternative will be established.
  2. The alternatives were not presented side by side, not only in comparison to keeping the “status quo”, but also not in comparison to each other. The questionnaire did not ask which of the following alternatives do you support (if one of them is to be chosen), but rather presented each independently and measured support for each of them individually.
  3. An interesting and challenging common thread can be found in comparing the responses to the different questions. The views of the younger segment of the sample seem to be consistently more conservative than the average. It will be of great interest to bear this in mind when we analyze further studies of the Zionist Orthodox sector to see whether this is indeed a consistent.

All in all, these studies reaffirm what we have seen in previous ones: There is a growing openness among Israelis to changing the age old, restrictive marriage & divorce framework. A clear majority support the enactment of a civil alternative, and there is a widespread resentment on the part of the public towards the policies pursued by their respective political representatives.

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