Last week I discovered that, according to unpublished numbers from the Guttman Centre’s study on Israeli religiosity, the percentage of Israelis identifying themselves as “Progressive” or “Conservative” is higher than the percentage of those identifying themselves as “Haredi” (ultra-Orthodox). As I was expecting, this revelation attracted a lot of attention and many questions and comments.
The most common observations were by people who tended not to believe the numbers. “Dave”, commenting on my post, wrote that, “We are dealing with small percentages and methodological problems, in which Haredim are less likely to respond at all to these kinds of surveys, and live in more concentrated areas, which also tends to make their numbers look smaller.” Yoel Bogoch, writing on my Facebook page, had similar doubts: “Like many polls regarding Haredim, the problem is that in general the Haredim do not participate and thus the results are sometimes skewed.”
I did three things following these comments:
1. First I called Professor Tamar Hermann yet again to ask if there’s a possibility of so-called “non-response bias” related to this question. She says no, all questions were properly weighed to compensate for biases.
2. I compared the question on which I am writing to the one that appeared in the Guttman report: “How would you define yourself religiously? (Haredi, Orthodox, traditional, secular not anti-religious, secular anti-religious)” – and didn’t see much difference. In both questions the percentage of Israelis defining themselves as “Haredi” is seven per cent.
3. I checked the numbers at Israel’s very reliable Central Bureau of Statistics. In the 2009 survey, the percentage of respondents identifying themselves as “Haredi” is very similar to the one reported by the Guttman study: 8.2% (there’s no option for “Zionist-Haredi” in the CBS survey, so this number probably mirrors the 7% Haredi and 2% Zionist-Haredi in the Guttman survey). I must say, though, that I still have my own doubts, mainly because these numbers seem so detached from everything we’ve been hearing and writing about in recent years. More research is essential to understanding the proper context of the Guttman findings.
Some readers have emailed me to say that there’s no comparison between Haredi Israelis who live their Haredi way of life all day and every day, to the uncommitted Conservative and Reform respondents. I agree. What I’ve said in the past quite clearly is that the percentage of Conservative and Progressive doesn’t reflect commitment and real strength, but it might reflect bigger potential than previously assumed. And this potential seems to be greater than we previously thought, but for it to materialise a lot of work needs to be done. Even then, I don’t think the level of Haredi commitment can be matched, nor do I think anyone is going to try to match it.
Gilad Kariv, Executive Director of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism, believes that “the findings of the survey are good news for Israeli society, particularly in a period of religious extremism. Once again, it is striking that the political and legal reality in Israel regarding relations between religion and state lags far behind the true position of Israeli society. For sure, both movements still face significant challenges, but it is no longer possible to dismiss their activities in Israel or their impact on Israeli society. We believe that the development of both movements will eventually lead to a change in their political and legal status, and we intend to use the findings of the survey as part of our efforts to promote this important and vital change.”
I agree that “the political and legal reality in Israel regarding relations between religion and state lags far behind the true position of Israeli society”. I agree that “both movements still face significant challenges”. Saying that “it is no longer possible to dismiss their activities in Israel or their impact on Israeli society” is probably an overstatement. And I also think that the emphasis on “political and legal status” is problematic – these movements should be investing less in “status” and more in having “impact”.
by Shmuel Rosner