Israel

In recent years, the Jewish population of Israel has become the largest of any nation, reaching just under 6.6 million in 2018, according to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics. Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated the Jewish population of Israel at 6,336,400 as of 2016. The fabric of Jewish Israeli society is composed of immigrants, and descendants of immigrants, from every Jewish community in the world. The major sociocultural groups among Israeli Jews today may be sorted along religious lines (haredi [ultra-Orthodox], dati-leumi [national religious - Orthodox], masorti [traditional – non-Orthodox], and hiloni [secular]), with distinctions between large immigrant groups (e.g., Ethiopian, Russian, French, and native English-speakers) more noticeable among olim [immigrants] and their immediate descendants. The Jews in Israel show relatively high rates of involvement in religious life, with 25% reporting that they attend synagogue weekly, and another 39% reporting that they attend at least infrequently. Fifty-one percent describe themselves as observant of Jewish ritual to at least some extent, with a third of secular Israeli Jews keeping kosher in the home. Living in the historic Jewish homeland, together with Jews descended from every Jewish community around the world, engenders in Israeli Jews a vibrant sense of peoplehood. The WJC affiliate representing Israeli Jewry is World Jewish Congress-Israel, an autonomous Israeli non-profit organization. In addition, the WJC (Global) maintains a representative office to carry out activities, initiatives, and programs of the WJC.

WJC Affiliate

Gad Ariely, Chairman, WJC-Israel Executive
and WJC Vice-President

World Jewish Congress-Israel

Telephone: +972 2 633 3000
Fax: +972 2 659 8100

Chairman of the WJC-Israel Executive: Gad Ariely, also WJC Vice-President
Director: Dr. Laurence Weinbaum


Community News


History

The history of Jews in the Land of Israel goes back to Biblical times. According to tradition, there was an Israelite presence in the Land as early as the 13th century BCE. Centuries of autonomous rule followed in the kingdoms of Israel and Judah, at times independent and at other times living within the framework of larger empires. After more than a millennium, the majority Jewish presence in the Land came to an end after Rome destroyed the Second Temple, razed the Judean capital of Jerusalem, and began the major Diaspora. During the 18 centuries of Diaspora, the Jews who remained in the Land (toward the end concentrated in Jerusalem, Hebron, Tiberias, and Safed) lived under the rule of a succession of empires. This began with Rome and then the Christian Byzantines, under whose rule the rabbis remaining in the Land of Israel compiled and redacted the Jerusalem Talmud (likely in the Galilee). The Byzantines were defeated in the 7th century by the Arab conquest, which brought 1,300 years of Muslim rule (interrupted by the Crusader kingdoms of the 11th and 12th centuries) to the Land of Israel. Six major Muslim empires ruled the area during that time, the last of them being the Ottoman Empire, which gained control in the 16th century, ruled for 400 years, and was defeated by the British in the World War I. This would bring an end to total Muslim rule in the Land of Israel and begin thirty years of British rule under the mandate of the League of Nations.      

During the centuries of Muslim rule, the Jewish inhabitants of the land (as the descendants of the Judeans came to be called) were accorded the status of dhimmi, a special protected class of non-Muslim residents who were seen as members of the wider community, but of an inferior status and religion that did not provide them the same privileges enjoyed by Muslims. In the first few centuries of Muslim rule, Jewish communities expanded in coastal towns from Rafah to Caesarea where they were treated as a tolerated minority. Throughout the centuries, Jerusalem and the other holy cities maintained their status as pilgrimage sites for Jews around the world, and those who had the means would send their dead to be buried in the cemeteries directly outside Jerusalem's walls. Toward the end of Ottoman rule, romantic nationalism began to sweep across Europe, both exacerbating existing antisemitism and inspiring a minority of European Jews to envision a national renaissance for themselves in the Land of Israel. This manifested in the first two waves of aliyah to Ottoman Palestine at the end of the 19th century and up to the start of World War I. At the same time, twenty years before the fall of the Ottoman Empire, Theodore Herzl convened the First Zionist Congress with the aim of establishing a legally recognized home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Jewish philanthropists, most famous among them the Baron de Rothschild, began to purchase plots of land in Ottoman Palestine to be worked by Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe who would study agriculture and Hebrew in preparation for their immigration. Three more major waves of immigration followed in the interwar years. All together, these five waves of Jewish immigration brought over four hundred thousand Jews to Palestine from Central and Eastern Europe, Yemen, and elsewhere.  

As the Jewish population of Palestine continued to grow under the British Mandate, conflict with the local Arab population intensified. In an attempt to appease the Arabs, the British closed Palestine to Jewish immigration just before and during the Holocaust, leading to Jewish resistance and clandestine attempts to bring Jews in from Europe. After World War II, the United Nations voted to partition the land into an Arab state and a Jewish one. The British withdrew from the Mandate, and on May 14, 1948 (5 Iyar, 5708), the establishment of the State of Israel was declared. The ongoing violence that had persisted between the Jews, the British, and the local Arabs erupted into full-scale war between Israel and the Arab states of the region, most of which had recently gained independence themselves. After the horrors of the Holocaust made obvious the need for a Jewish state, most of world Jewry, which had always considered the Land of Israel as its spiritual homeland, committed itself to working toward the establishment and, later, the wellbeing, of the State of Israel.

The Years of the Holocaust

During the Holocaust, the British ruled in the Mandate of Palestine, and they continued to strictly enforce the immigration quota they had set in their 1939 White Paper, allowing only 75,000 Jews to enter Palestine over a period of five years. This was stiffly opposed by the Yishuv and by Zionists abroad. There were many covert attempts to bring Jews into Palestine by sea without the knowledge of the British. The immigrants who arrived this way were referred to as ma'apilim, who in the end numbered around 115,000. The British intercepted many of these ships, interning their passengers in detention facilities. Many ships sank in accidents or as a result of attack, leading to the deaths of hundreds of Jewish refugees.

The British restrictions on Jewish immigration into Palestine during the Holocaust no doubt cost hundreds of thousands of lives. At the same time, there was cooperation between the British and the Yishuv [Jewish community in pre-state Palestine] in some respects during World War II. As David Ben-Gurion, the Zionist leader who would become the State of Israel’s first prime minister, famously said, "We will fight the White Paper as if there is no war, and we will fight the war as if there is no White Paper." The Jews of the Yishuv were not unaffected by the war itself. When Italy joined Germany and declared war on Britain, several air raids were carried out on Haifa and Tel Aviv. As Rommel and the Afrika Korps were making their way across Egypt, the Jews in Palestine were terrified that the Germans might succeed in conquering the country. After the war, researchers discovered German plans to slaughter the Jews of Palestine. It was during this time that the Haganah formed its special strike force, the Palmach, with the aid of the British. Moreover, toward the end of the war, the British allowed for the formation of a Jewish brigade from Palestine that would fight in Europe under the British military (an offer the Yishuv had extended for years, which the British only accepted in 1944). In the aftermath of the Holocaust, hundreds of thousands of survivors were held in displaced persons camps in Europe, and the British still would not allow them entry into Palestine. The underground Irgun and Lehi waged a fierce campaign to compel the British to leave the country. On November 29, 1947, after the British decided to withdraw, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution to partition Palestine into two independent Jewish and Arab states was passed. However, only following the and the establishment of the State of Israel on May 14, 1948  did free immigration begin. The newborn state was immediately invade by the neighboring Arab countries determined to abort the birth of a Jewish state.

Demography

According to the Israel Bureau of Statistics, as of 2018 the Jewish population of Israel stands at 6,738,500, which comprises 74.5% of the population of the state. Hebrew University demographer Sergio DellaPergola estimated the Jewish population of Israel at 6,336,400 as of 2016. Since the establishment of the state, 3.2 million Jews have made aliyah, the majority in two large waves: the first lasted from the establishment of the state until the mid-1950s, bringing nearly 700,000 Jews to Israel mainly from Muslim countries, and the second in the early 1990s brought nearly 900,000 Jews to Israel, mainly from the Former Soviet Union.

Community Life

As the world's only Jewish state, where the majority Jewish population's interests are inseparable from the national interest, communal organization takes on a different form than anywhere else. In Israel, religious organizations formed by the ultra-Orthodox haredim take on a political nature in representing their specific communities' interests in the Knesset as formal parties. The subdivisions within the Jewish populace, however, do not require any structured liaison between themselves and the government since the government is democratically elected and directly represents the interests of the voters.

Religious and Cultural Life

The population of Jews can be roughly divided into four subgroups based on religious affiliation: hilonim [secular Jews] make up 45% of the population, masortim—those who are not Orthodox-observant but identify as religious rather than secular—comprise 25%, datiim leumiim [national religious Orthodox] comprise 16% of the population, and the ultra-Orthodox haredim make up the remaining 14%.

Orthodoxy is the only officially recognized stream of Judaism in Israel. The Chief Rabbinate is the state body that regulates public religious life in the state including standards of kashrut, as well as personal status issues with implications in the private sphere (e.g., marriage, divorce, burial, and conversion). Its decisions have force of law in the areas in which it enjoys jurisdiction. The Ashkenazi and Sephardi communities each have a chief rabbi, who together supervise the Rabbinate. Yitzhak Yosef is the current Sephardi chief rabbi and David Lau is the Ashkenazi chief rabbi, both serving ten-year terms that began in 2013.   The Orthodox enjoy a plethora of educational institutions and yeshivot dotted across the land

Progressive streams of Judaism exist in Israel, but their institutions do not receive state funding (aside from a few exceptions, which receive funding from the Ministry of Sport and Culture rather than the Ministry of Religions). The Masorti movement (Israel's equivalent of the Conservative or Neolog movement) supports over 70 congregations and minyanim [prayer quora] throughout the country, and a rabbinical school, alongside the Israeli Reform movement's 35 congregations and eight schools. The Reform movement's rabbinical seminary, Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion, operates a campus in Jerusalem that serves as the center of HUC-JIR’s Israel experience for stateside students, including the Year-in-Israel Program, and prepares Israeli students for leadership in the Israel Rabbinical Program, M.A. Program in Pluralistic Jewish Education with the Melton Centre of Hebrew University, and the Blaustein Center for Pastoral Counseling’s Mezorim Program. Likewise, the Masorti (Conservative) movement maintains the Schechter Institutes in Israel, including the Schechter Rabbinical Seminary, the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies, the TALI Education Fund, and the Neve Schechter Center for Jewish Culture.

The rhythm of public life in Israel is determined by the Jewish calendar. Jewish festivals are the national holidays, and public celebrations take place in every city, town, and village with a Jewish community across the country. Most businesses and public transit lines close on Shabbat in Jewish areas, and the symbols of holiday festivities fill the streets each season, from the traditional booths that pop up on balconies and gardens across the country after Yom Kippur in advance of the Sukkot festival to bakeries stocking sufganiyot [doughnuts] for weeks leading up to Hannukah.

Jewish Education

Jewish parents in Israel enjoy the benefit of having their tax dollars funding state-operated schools, which offer Jewish education in three major categories. The most widely attended variety of school is the mamlachti, or state, school. There, required subjects comprise three-quarters of the curriculum, including the subjects standard in secular schools around the world, in addition to Jewish studies (taught from a cultural, not religious perspective). The remaining portion of the curriculum leaves room for each individual school community to decide how to supplement the students' experience. Some schools, like those in the TALI network, have chosen to put extra emphasis on Jewish studies. The next category is referred to as mamlachti-dati [state-religious] schools, where secular subjects are covered, and Jewish studies are given special emphasis in the curriculum. The school, staff, and students are Torah observant (at least during school hours) and Orthodox religious life (including daily prayer and dress codes) permeates the environment. The haredi community, per the status quo agreement struck with Ben-Gurion at the time of the establishment of the state, have their own state-funded school system devoted to Torah study in which the government does not determine curriculum or involve itself in the hiring process. There is also the option to send students to private schools that the government has accredited but which teach the state curriculum according to their own philosophy. The Ministry of Education also determines the curriculum in the Israeli-Arab school system. Other religions maintain schools of their own. The variety ensures that parents can find the form of Jewish education most suited to their children, but also prevents much interaction between students in the different categories of schools.
With the highest number of museums in the world per capita, Israel offers an impressive variety of museums dedicated to the heritage of the Jewish people. Two of the most significant are Beit Hatfutsot: The Museum of the Jewish People in Tel Aviv, and Yad Vashem, the World Holocaust Remembrance Center in Jerusalem. Beit Hatfutsot was founded in 1978 by Nahum Goldman, then president of the World Jewish Congress. It tells the collective story of the Jewish people from antiquity to today and acts to strengthen the identity of Jewish visitors from around Israel and the Diaspora. Yad Vashem is the world's leading Holocaust research institute and serves as the museum and memorial of the Jewish people to the victims of the Shoah, working to commemorate and preserve their memories and to transmit them to future generations. In addition, Israel boasts countless museums preserving the memory of Jewish diaspora communities whose members' descendants make up the fabric of the Jewish population of Israel. Several examples include the German-Speaking Jewry Heritage Museum in Tefen, the Museum of North African Jewry in Jerusalem, the Memorial Museum of Hungarian-Speaking Jewry in Tzfat, and the Babylonian Jewry Heritage Museum in Or Yehuda. Alongside Yad Vashem are several museums throughout Israel dedicated to the study and memorialization of the Shoah. The oldest is Beit Lohamei Hagetaot [the Ghetto Fighters' House Museum], located in the Lohamei Hagetaot Kibbutz. It was the first museum of the Holocaust in the world, founded by survivors who wanted future generations to remember the resistance of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. The Yad Mordechai Museum located in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai tells the story of European Jewry in the first half of the 20th century, also with a focus on the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. Lastly, The Massuah Institute for the Study of the Holocaust located in Tel Yitzhak offers programs in Holocaust education and memorialization, focusing on promoting discourse concerning the significance of the Holocaust in our society today.

youth

There are thirteen youth movements in Israel that receive funding from the Ministry of Education, several of which were founded nearly a century ago in Jewish communities across Europe and were involved in the founding of the State of Israel. They are intended to provide an informal educational atmosphere where Israeli youth are taught core principles that prepare them for responsible citizenship in Israeli society, including identification with the values of the Declaration of Independence, human rights, involvement in civil society, and respect for the other. The youth movements range in theme, with some organized around political ideologies (such as HaNoar HaOved V'halomed, Hashomer Hatzair, and Betar) and others around religious practice (for example Bnei Akiva, the religious-Zionist youth movement founded in 1929). There are also haredi youth movements such as Ezra (founded by haredi Zionists in 1919 in Germany) and youth movements organized around non-Jewish ethnic and religious identities including for Muslim, Orthodox Christian, Druze, and Arab youth. The Masorti movement also has a youth movement called Noam, which stands for Noar Masorti [Masorti youth] and the Reform stream in Israel has a youth movement called Telem, now considered the Israel branch of Netzer Olami—World Union for Progressive Judaism's youth movement—and a partner of NFTY, the North American Reform movement's youth movement. 

jewish media

In the Jewish State, all Hebrew media might be considered "Jewish media." The major print media publications with the widest readership are Yediot Ahronot and Yisrael Hayom, followed by Haaretz and Ma’ariv, with Globes and The Marker focusing on economic matters. There are several main television and radio news stations that appeal to the broad public, with the haredi communities producing news publications and radio shows for their internal consumption. The Jerusalem Post, Haaretz, and the Times of Israel also serve Israel's English-speaking community and allow readers from around the world to stay up to date on current events in Israel. There are newspaper in a number of other languages spoken by immigrants, especially Russian. However, over time many of these publications have closed down as the Israeli-born progeny of immigrants integrate into the Israeli mainstream.

Information for Visitors

Israel is replete with sites of extraordinary historical and religious significance for Jews, Muslims, and Christians. Its topography is astonishingly varied, given its small area. Tour guides in Israel are certified through a rigorous program that equips them to educate visitors on the history of the Land of Israel from the perspectives of the three monotheistic faiths, as well as on Zionism, architecture, archeology, and botany.  Israel is a land of contrasts—a country at the forefront of technological innovation with a modern infrastructure that exists alongside material evidence of ancient cultures.

updated

 

October 2018

Sign up to receive our weekly newsletter
The latest from the Jewish world