Land of Israel: Religious Life and Communities

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under ottoman rule

The Jews of the pre-Zionist old yishuv, both *Sephardim (from the Orient) and *Ashkenazim (of European origin), dedicated their lives to the fulfillment of religious precepts: the study of the *Torah and the meticulous observance of its commandments; prayer at the holy sites for the coming of the Messiah and interment of their remains in the Holy Land to await his advent. They lived apart – mainly in the holy cities of Jerusalem, Hebron, Safed, and Tiberias – under the authority of their rabbis and religious courts (battei din, see *Bet Din), which dealt with civil disputes as well as problems of *halakhah, with their own autonomous educational, charitable, and social institutions. Many of the most renowned Jewish religious scholars of the time were to be found in the old yishuv. Indeed, religious learning was so widespread that even the humblest possessed a basic knowledge of the Torah, if not more.

Communal Organization

While the yishuv was still very small, Ashkenazim and Sephardim prayed together and occasionally intermarried. As the number of Ashkenazi immigrants increased, however, the two communities moved apart, while the Ashkenazim were divided among themselves according to their respective lands of origin. Social and political conditions under Ottoman rule militated against the participation of the Jewish population in the economic life of the country. Moreover, many of the immigrants were elderly people who had come to the Holy Land to be buried there, and there was a high proportion of widows and orphans. Hence, the old yishuv had to depend for its sustenance upon contributions from abroad, known as *ḥalukkah.

Accordingly, in every community there were subcommunities called kolelim (or kolelot), each with its va'ad, (committee), which distributed the funds received from its place of origin. This was the only form of communal organization that existed at the time. At the turn of the century, there were Sephardi kolelim of Jews from North Africa, Georgia, Persia, Aleppo, Iraq, Bukhara, Daghestan, Afghanistan, and Yemen. The Ashkenazim were even more fragmented. They were not only divided into *Ḥasidim and Perushim (descendants of disciples of *Elijah of Vilna), but subdivided into over 30 kolelim, which maintained the only registers of births and deaths, marriages and divorces. Each kolel kept to itself; each prospered or declined in proportion to the support it received from its parent community in the Diaspora. Although the total amount contributed may have been increased by the splintering, the resultant dissension impeded the development of the yishuv.

Aware of the neglect of the common good caused by the proliferation of the kolelim, and influenced by the dominant personality of R. Samuel *Salant (see below), rabbis and communal leaders of the Jerusalem Ashkenazi community established in 1866 an overall committee of all kolelim, which they named Keneset Yisrael. Its functions were: to handle the affairs of the Ashkenazim in Jerusalem, especially the payment of taxes to the government; to distribute ḥalukkah funds to families not belonging to any of the kolelim; and to provide help in special individual cases. Its income was derived from funds collected in countries not connected with any specific kolel, such as the United States, Great Britain, and South Africa.

The supervision of sheḥitah (ritual slaughter) to ensure perfect kashrut was a matter of great concern, as in any Orthodox Jewish community. At first, complete control was in the hands of the Sephardim, but in 1864 the ḥakham bashi (chief rabbi) was persuaded to allow the creation of a separate sheḥitah board for the Ashkenazi community in Jerusalem. The fees paid for its certification became an important source of revenue for the Ashkenazi rabbis and other religious functionaries. In the other cities Sephardim and Ashkenazim also kept their sheḥitah separate.

Like the kolelim, the voluntary burial societies became more and more fragmented as time went on. At first all interments took place in the ground owned by the Sephardim on the Mount of Olives, but in 1858 the Ashkenazim acquired their own section on the mount and established a separate burial society. Important as a source of revenue from legacies and the sale of plots, the burial societies became the adjuncts of the various kolelim, and to this day there is a multiplicity of such societies in Jerusalem.

The Rabbinate and its Courts

Supreme religious and judicial authority was vested in the ḥakham bashi of Jerusalem, also entitled rishon le-Zion, who was elected by the leaders of the local Sephardi community. On the recommendation of the ḥakham bashi of the Ottoman Empire, he received a firman from the Sublime Porte appointing him official representative of the Jewish community of the Holy Land in its dealings with the government, and investing him with authority over all Jewish spiritual and religious affairs. He and his courts had exclusive jurisdiction in matters of matrimony, personal status, charitable trusts, certification of wills, and legacies of all Jewish Ottoman subjects. His investiture was marked by a solemn ceremony conducted in the R. Johanan b. Zakkai Synagogue in Jerusalem. In the discharge of his functions, he was assisted by two committees: one consisting of Sephardi rabbinical judges, for religious affairs; the other, composed of lay communal leaders, for dealing with the government, etc.

The office was held by Raphael Meir *Panigel (1879–93) and then by Jacob Saul b. Eliezer Elyashar (1893–1906). R. Elyashar's death was followed by a virulent controversy over the succession. When R. Ya'akov *Meir, who, in addition to his rabbinic knowledge, had studied languages and sciences on his own, was elected by a majority, the conservative section of the community vigorously opposed him, and he consequently left the country and accepted the post of chief rabbi in Smyrna. In 1907 the more progressive element elected R. Eliyahu-Moshe *Panigel, who had studied for a while at the modern Laemmel school, but he was forced to resign in 1908 and was replaced by R. Naḥman Batito, who held the office until his death in 1915. In the following year R. Nissim Yehudah Danon was elected, but he relinquished his post in 1918, and no further appointment was made until the official establishment of the Chief Rabbinate in 1921.

The Ashkenazim, who for the most part were foreign nationals, conducted their own rabbinic courts and maintained their own educational and philanthropic institutions. In practice, the large kolelim were autonomous, and the ḥakham bashi made no effort to interfere. R. Samuel Salant was recognized as the undisputed head of the Ashkenazi community in Jerusalem for almost 70 years (1841–1909), as it grew from 500 to 30,000 souls, though he refused to accept any formal appointment. His enormous erudition and piety earned him the deference of the Sephardim as well. He curbed dissension and also the opposition of the old yishuv to the new. As he became weakened by advancing age, he appointed R. Eliyahu David *Rabinovich-Teomim (known as "the adeReT") in 1901 to assist him as head of the bet din of the Ashkenazi community of Jerusalem, but the latter died in 1903. On the death of R. Samuel Salant in 1909, R. Ḥayyim Berlin assumed the title and held it until his death in 1915. No new appointment could be made during World War i. In 1895 R. *Shneur Zalman of Lyady, who had settled in Jerusalem, founded, together with local ḥasidic dignitaries, a ḥasidic bet din in the city, which functioned in harmony with that of the Ashkenazi majority. In the Sephardi communities, too, separate rabbinic courts emerged for the Moroccan and Yemenite communities. In Safed, Tiberias, and Hebron, the Ashkenazi and Sephardi rabbinates conducted their respective religious courts.

Decisions in all matters, civil and religious, public and private, were rendered in accordance with the law of the Torah. The litigants willingly submitted to the verdicts of the battei din; very rarely was it necessary to compel a recalcitrant to comply with a court order by withholding his ḥalukkah allotment or imposing some other penalty. Deviations from orthodoxy could be punished by the imposition of the *ḥerem ("ban"), which was invoked against many prominent rabbis and notable persons. In 1886 R. Naphtali Herz ha-Levi Weidenbaum was sent from Jerusalem to be rabbi of the growing community in Jaffa. In 1890, the Ashkenazim elected a community council, which was joined by the Sephardim and which conducted its deliberations in Hebrew.

In 1904, R. Abraham Isaac ha-Kohen *Kook was appointed rabbi of Jaffa and the surrounding Jewish villages. His was the first appointment made independently of Jerusalem, though he still received his modest salary from Keneset Yisrael, supplemented by fees from the Rishon le-Zion wine cellars for his certificate of kashrut. His appointment created a veritable revolution in Jewish religious life. He was the first outstanding rabbi in Ereẓ Israel who was a Zionist. His strong character, rabbinic erudition, and mastery of philosophic and mystic teachings enabled him to pursue his own independent course. Holding that even the least religious of the new settlers had been motivated by deep, subconscious religious impulses to become pioneers in the Land of Israel, and that secular Zionism would therefore ultimately become religious, he treated the nonobservant with respect and affection, proffering them his warm friendship. To the new yishuv he was an inspiration, and even the most doughty anti-Zionists among the old had to treat him with respect. R. Ben-Zion Meir Ḥai *Ouziel, appointed Sephardi chief rabbi of Jaffa in 1912, was also an avowed Zionist. Having gone abroad to attend a world conference of *Agudat Israel in 1914, Rabbi Kook was prevented from returning to Jaffa by the outbreak of World War i.


The *yeshivot were of the same pattern as their Diaspora counterparts, except that in the Holy Land heads of families and even the elderly continued to study and draw students' stipends in addition to their regular ḥalukkah allocations. In the earliest-founded villages, the farmers' sons would study Torah in the evenings, generally with the local *shoḥatim as teachers. Between 1900 and 1905 a few more progressive ḥadarim were founded, and R. Zerah Braverman, head of the Me'ah She'arim Yeshivah, together with his associates, established talmud torahs where secular subjects were taught in conformity with the spirit of Jewish tradition (see also Israel, State of: *Education).


A new issue erupted as the result of the existence of Jewish farming villages. The *sabbatical year (shemittah) 5649 (1888/89), when Jewish law required farmers to leave their fields fallow, was approaching. The question arose as to whether they must actually abstain from cultivating their fields or could evade the prohibition by the legal device of having the land "sold" formally to a non-Jew. The Jerusalem rabbis adamantly opposed the formal sale of the land. Some of the settlers abstained from all work, some relied on the rabbinically prepared bill of sale, and others openly defied the shemittah laws. The debate was acrimonious and prolonged, growing more intense from one sabbatical year to the next. For the year 5670 (1909/10), Rabbi Kook himself arranged the bill of sale and the conflict reached its peak. The Ashkenazi rabbis of the old yishuv endeavored to enlist support all over the world against anything but the complete cessation of all work on the land, although Rabbi Kook pleaded that such rigid adherence to the restrictions would threaten the very existence of the Jewish villages.

under the british mandate

The New Yishuv Expands.

From 1919 onward the texture of the yishuv began to change, as large numbers of immigrants streamed in; ten or fifteen years later the new yishuv had, in numbers, overtaken and surpassed the old. Many of the middle-class families who arrived from eastern Europe were religious, some Ḥasidim. They gravitated toward Tel Aviv and Haifa, where they founded their synagogues and other religious institutions in the traditional mode. They differed from the old yishuv, however, in their positive attitude to organized communal life and their western clothing. Many of them filled the ranks of the Orthodox Agudat Israel movement and established its educational system. The Yemenite immigrants who flocked to the newer settlements, especially to Jaffa and Tel Aviv, were deeply religious in outlook and feeling. A considerable number of German Jews who arrived during the 1930s were observant Jews; they established synagogues and religious institutions of their own and made their contribution to religious education.

The Chief Rabbinate

With the end of Turkish rule, the office of ḥakham bashi ceased to exist. Furthermore, there had been no president of the Ashkenazi bet din of Jerusalem from 1915. On the initiative of Chaim *Weizmann and communal leaders the office of the Rabbinate of the Jewish Community in Jerusalem was established with the participation of Sephardi and Ashkenazi rabbis. Its budget was covered by the Zionist Commission with funds provided by the American Jewish *Joint Distribution Committee. The British authorities granted some measure of recognition, and the rabbinate functioned both as a court of first instance and as a court of appeal. The Va'ad Kelali (Jerusalem community council) convened a national conference of rabbis and heads of kolelim, yeshivot, and other institutions, which invited Rabbi Kook, who was about to return to the country, to become president of the bet din and chief rabbi of Jerusalem. His former antagonists bitterly opposed the nomination, but he accepted the position. Rabbi Kook's prestige and influence extended far beyond the area of his jurisdiction.

Some of the rabbis of Jerusalem, led by R. Yiẓḥak Yeruḥam Diskin and R. Yosef Ḥayyim *Sonnenfeld, regarded the newly inaugurated rabbinate as a Zionist institution and a disaster for religious Jewry. They went so far as to designate the anniversary of its founding a day of fasting and prayer. They therefore organized their own Ashkenazi council, which later became the Edah ha-Ḥaredit ("Orthodox Community") of Agudat Israel, with its own bet din (today more or less identical with the *Neturei Karta, who do not recognize the State of Israel). In 1920 the first British high commissioner, Sir Herbert *Samuel, appointed a committee headed by Norman *Bentwich, the attorney general, to consider the creation of a united Chief Rabbinate for the entire country. The committee recommended that a board of 71 electors, of whom two-thirds would be officiating rabbis and one-third laymen, elect a Chief Rabbinate Council for Palestine. This body would consist of Sephardi and Ashkenazi chief rabbis as joint presidents, three Sephardi and three Ashkenazi rabbis as members, and three laymen in an advisory capacity. The Rabbinate would function both as a court of first instance and as a court of appeal. A committee met early in 1921 to arrange the election. It drew up a list of 88 officiating rabbis (59 of them from Jerusalem) and 34 laymen. Later that year, the electors assembled in Jerusalem under the presidency of R. Yehudah Leib Fishman (*Maimon). After prolonged discussion, particularly over the proposal for lay counselors, the elections took place on February 23, and the council was elected, with R. Kook and R. Ya'akov Meir as chief rabbis (The Sephardi chief rabbi retained the title of rishon le-Zion). The government immediately recognized the council and any bet din sanctioned by it as "the sole authorities in matters of Jewish Law" and undertook to execute through the civil courts judgments given by its bet din. The appointment of ḥakham bashi was declared to have lapsed. In 1922 the jurisdiction of the Chief Rabbinate was defined by the Order-in-Council. Section 53 of the order stipulated: "The Rabbinical Courts of the Jewish Community shall have:

(a) exclusive jurisdiction in matters of marriage and divorce, alimony and confirmation of wills of members of their community other than foreigners…

(b) Jurisdiction in any other matter of personal status of such persons, where all the parties to the action consent to their jurisdiction.

(c) Exclusive jurisdiction over any case as to the constitution or internal administration of a Wakf or religious endowment constituted before the Rabbinical Courts according to Jewish Law."

In 1928, when the government finally approved the Regulations of the Jewish Community Keneset Yisrael, the Chief Rabbinate Council was recognized by it as the supreme religious body of the Jewish community.

The Chief Rabbinate was not recognized by the religious zealots of Jerusalem. Nonreligious Jews set up their own Courts of Peace (battei mishpat ha-shalom), which followed a combination of civil and Jewish law. Although the Mandatory authorities and their High Court of Justice tended to restrict the jurisdiction of the Rabbinate, it regulated a number of matters that had been neglected. It supervised, for example, compliance with the biblical precepts concerned with the cultivation of the soil, such as the separation of tithes (ma'aser) from agricultural produce, and the proper observance of the laws of *orlah and kilayim. With the decline of the craft of the scribe in Eastern Europe, all manner of individuals in Jerusalem began to engage in the writing of scrolls of the law and the texts for *tefillin and *mezuzot. By its certification stamp, the Rabbinate was able to assure purchasers that the articles were produced in conformity with the prescriptions of Jewish religious law. The Rabbinate also arranged for the immigration of some 3,000 rabbis from Europe above the regular immigration quota.

The Chief Rabbinate Council was enlarged by the co-option of a number of renowned religious scholars. The first incumbents were succeeded by Chief Rabbis Isaac Halevi *Herzog (1936–59) and Ben-Zion Meir Ḥai Ouziel (1939–54). During their tenure, relations with the lay authorities were harmonious and fruitful. R. Herzog played a leading role in the relations between the Jewish population and the Mandatory government. He frequently appeared on behalf of the yishuv before the high commissioner and the various commissions appointed to investigate the situation in Palestine. Together with his colleague, R. Ouziel, he initiated cooperation between scientists and rabbis in seeking technological solutions to halakhic problems. He hailed the emergence of the new State of Israel as the beginning of the ultimate redemption.

Local Rabbinates

According to the regulations of Keneset Yisrael, the battei din and communal rabbis appointed by a local community and sanctioned by the Chief Rabbinate were recognized as official rabbis and served as the religious representatives of the community in its relations with the governmental district authorities. The local rabbinates served as courts of first instance, and their offices worked harmoniously with the committees of the local communities. With the increase in the population of Jaffa and, later, in Tel Aviv, hundreds of synagogues, houses of study (battei midrash) and yeshivot were established and many district rabbis were appointed. Battei din with limited jurisdiction were set up to deal with divorce, kashrut, etc. The two local chief rabbis were R. Solomon *Aronson and R. Ouziel. Rabbi Aronson was succeeded, on his death in 1935, by R. Moshe Avigdor *Amiel, a leader of the World Mizrachi movement, and R. Ouziel was followed, on his appointment as joint chief rabbi of Palestine in 1939, by R. Moshe *Toledano, a native of Tiberias. In Haifa R. Yehoshua Kaniel, of Jerusalem, was appointed in 1922 to the bet din and later became the Ashkenazi chief rabbi of the city. Among the Sephardi chief rabbis of Haifa were R. Eliahu Reine (1923–43), R. Nissim Ohanah (1943–66), and Rabbi Eliahu Bakshi-Doron (1975–1993).

the kehillot (community councils).

A single community council had served both the Ashkenazim and Sephardim of Jaffa and continued to function for both towns when Tel Aviv was founded. At first it drew its income from sheḥitah fees; only in 1919 was a small, direct tax levied, yielding LP 500–1,000 per annum from 1919 to 1925. A joint council was elected in Haifa in 1908 and conducted its operations energetically from its inception. The other communities, however, lacked resources and could not control the local institutions or provide adequate communal services; for generations they had been accustomed to rely on outside support from the ḥalukkah or other forms of financial aid. In Jerusalem the first community council was elected in 1918, and similar bodies came into being in Tiberias, Safed, and Hebron in 1919. It was only after the regulations governing the kehillot were finally approved by Keneset Yisrael in 1928 that the community councils began to increase their activities. They determined the number of rabbis to be appointed and set up their own sheḥitah boards, later called religious councils, which organized and supervised religious facilities and services: sheḥitah, synagogues, ritual immersion pools (*mikva'ot), interments, the separation of tithes from agricultural produce, etc. Where not less than three-quarters of the local population were Jewish, the municipal authority, according to an act of 1921, also performed the functions of the community council or kehillah.

Only in 1932, after protracted negotiations with the existing council in Jerusalem, did elections for a new council finally take place there. Several years had to pass before the Jerusalem community council embraced all public services: welfare, culture, education, etc.; its religious council was responsible for sheḥitah, kashrut, burials, and so forth. In 1929, the Va'ad Le'ummi, the executive organ of Keneset Yisrael, resolved that the community council of Tel Aviv and Jaffa should amalgamate with the Tel Aviv municipal council, which, as Tel Aviv was a totally Jewish city, could fulfill the functions of both bodies. The community council refused to accept the decision, however, and held its own elections in 1933. Its activities were limited to religious services and in 1939 it was absorbed by the municipality. The community council in Haifa was founded in 1931. In Safed elections for the community council took place in 1932 and in Tiberias in 1934. The Jews of Hebron, who were evacuated after the Arab massacre of 1929, returned in 1931 and elected their community council, but were obliged to leave again in 1936 on account of Arab violence. By the beginning of the 1940s, community councils had been set up in Petaḥ Tikvah, Bene Berak, Ramat Gan, Netanyah, Ḥaderah, Reḥovot, and Bat Yam; in other localities, local committees were recognized as community councils, while in some places religious councils were also established.

Education and Settlement

In 1920 the Mizrachi combined its schools with some other religious ones under a supervisory committee headed by R. Ouziel. This religious network, which consisted of 15 primary schools and eight kindergartens, with 2,137 pupils (compared with 6,622 in the general schools), became a part of the Zionist school system with an inspector of its own, and, after prolonged negotiations, was granted autonomy within the system (see Israel, State of: *Education). The Mizrachi "trend" grew rapidly: in 1928 it had 61 schools and 5,774 pupils. In 1948, there were 26,654 pupils in the Mizrachi trend – about one-fifth of the total; 7,253 in Agudat Israel schools; some 3,000 in those of the old yishuv; 2,000 in private schools; and 4,000 in yeshivot.

Modern secondary yeshivot were founded by the religious youth movements: *Bnei Akiva (the first at Kefar ha-Ro'eh in 1940); No'ar Mizrachi (the first at *Pardes Ḥannah in 1945) and Ezra, the youth movement of *Po'alei Agudat Israel.

Apart from the religious pioneering youth movements, which established collective and cooperative settlements, Ḥasidim from Poland arrived in the 1920s, during the Fourth Aliyah, and participated in the "return to the soil." Although they had never worked with their hands before, they stood up to their knees in the marshes, their caftans tucked in at the waist, devoting themselves with ḥasidic fervor to what they regarded as a sacred task: draining the swamps of the Holy Land. In 1924 they founded the first religious moshav, *Kefar Ḥasidim, in the valley of Zebulun. *Bene-Berak, near Tel Aviv, was founded in 1925 by another group of Ḥasidim from Poland. It was planned as a moshav, but in the course of time it became a city with a large religious majority and many yeshivot.

in the state of israel

Religious Jewry – with the exception of the ultraorthodox Neturei Karta – played its full part in the struggle for statehood: yeshivah students fought with the *Haganah and other underground organizations; bearded and sidelocked Jews helped to build the emergency "Burma road" to besieged Jerusalem in 1948. Agudat Israel, which had refused to join the institutions of Keneset Yisrael and the Jewish Agency, was represented in the provisional council of state and the provisional government. The mass immigration of the first few years contained a high proportion of religious Jews – especially from the Oriental countries. Hundreds of synagogues were built, and refugee scholars from Europe set up yeshivot bearing the names and continuing the traditions of those destroyed by the Nazis.

At the first elections to the *Knesset, the four religious parties – Mizrachi, Ha-Po'el ha-Mizrachi, Agudat Israel, and Po'alei Agudat Israel (see Israel, State of: *Political Life and Parties) – formed the United Religious Front, which joined the first coalition government after its demands on religious questions, such as the deferment of yeshivah students and the exemption of religious girls from the military service, had been met.

Article 2 of the government's statement of Basic Principles, presented to the Knesset on March 8, 1949, reads:

The state will provide for the public religious needs of its inhabitants but will prevent coercion in matters of religion. The Sabbath and the Jewish holy days will be fixed days of rest in the State of Israel. The right of non-Jews to their Sabbath and days of rest will be safeguarded.

These principles were restated and rephrased by later governments. From 1959 they were supplemented by the obligation to "guarantee religious education to all children whose parents so desire" and to "maintain the status quo in the state in religious matters," thus confirming an unwritten agreement which had been in force since the establishment of independence.

One of the reasons why the Knesset did not immediately proceed to enact a comprehensive written constitution was the opposition of the religious parties. In the debate on the subject in 1950, they objected to a constitution which did not clearly express the religious character of the Jewish people; the Agudat Israel representatives declared that "Israel's Torah is her constitution" and no other was needed.

Ministry of Religious Affairs

The powers of the Mandatory high commissioner in matters of religion were transferred to the minister of religious affairs, who was responsible for the administrative aspects of the Chief Rabbinate and the rabbinical courts, the religious councils and religious committees, and the appointment and maintenance of local rabbis. The ministry deals with kashrut, yeshivot, synagogues, mikva'ot, the supervision of burials, and the provision of ritual appurtenances and sacred books. It is responsible for the arrangements at the Western Wall and supervises the activities of the Sabbath Observance Council and Keren Yaldenu ("Our Child's Fund"), which counteracts the use of material inducements by missionary organizations. The ministry also provides religious services for Karaites and Samaritans, Muslims, Christians, and Druze.

Rabbinical Courts and the Chief Rabbinate

In 1953 the Knesset passed the Rabbinical Courts Jurisdiction (Marriage and Divorce) Law, which gave the Chief Rabbinate and the religious courts sanctioned by it exclusive jurisdiction of all matrimonial cases, including alimony and support of children, for all Jewish residents, including foreign nationals. Jews may marry only by the traditional ceremony (ḥuppah ve-kiddushin) after the marriage has been duly registered with the rabbinate, and only rabbis approved by the Chief Rabbinate may conduct marriage ceremonies. Rabbinical courts also have jurisdiction in matters of trusteeship, confirmation of wills, etc., where the parties involved accept their authority. Attempts have been made to legalize civil marriages by appeals to the High Court of Justice, and some people get around the law by civil marriage abroad (particularly in nearby Cyprus). A certain status has, however, been accorded by law to "common law wives." Rabbinical judges (*dayyanim), who have the same status as judges of district courts, are appointed by the president of the state on the recommendation of a special committee and take the oath of allegiance in his presence.

Sephardi Chief Rabbi Ouziel died in 1954, and in the same year the minister of religious affairs promulgated new regulations for the election of the chief rabbis and the Chief Rabbinical Council. Rabbi Yiẓḥak *Nissim was elected rishon le-Zion and Sephardi chief rabbi for a five-year term in 1955. On the death in 1959 of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Herzog and the approaching end of Chief Rabbi Nissim's term of office, arrangements had to be made for new elections. After a lengthy controversy over the composition of the election arrangements' committee and of the electoral college, new regulations were issued by the minister of religious affairs in 1963, increasing the number of electors from 75 to 125. Rabbi Nissim was reelected and R. Issar Yehudah *Unterman was elected Ashkenazi chief rabbi.

The Chief Rabbinical Council has departments for kashrut, supervision of *scribes (soferim), and committees for marriage licenses; confirmation of rabbinical ordination (*semikhah); precepts specific to the Holy Land; and responsa on matters of halakhah. The chief rabbis preside over the Bet Din Gadol (Rabbinical Supreme Court), which hears appeals from decisions of the district rabbinical courts in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Haifa, Petaḥ Tikvah, Reḥovot, Tiberias, Safed, Beersheba, and Ashdod-Ashkelon. Regulations governing the election of local rabbis were issued by the minister of religious affairs in 1966.

Religious Councils

Under the Religious Services Budget Law (1949), which was given its final form in 1967, every local authority is required to appoint a religious council consisting of religious individuals that will provide all public religious facilities for the local population. The composition of each religious council must be ratified by the minister of religious affairs. Forty-five percent of the members are nominated by the minister, 45% by the local authority, and 10% by the local rabbinate. Any deficits in the operation of the religious council are covered by the local authority (two-thirds) and the government (one-third). In 1970, 185 such councils were in existence and their combined budgets totaled il 28,500,000.


Under the "trend" system, which was incorporated in the Compulsory Education Law of 1949, the state took over the responsibility for providing religious education at the option of the parents. At the beginning of the year, the Agudat Israel network had been recognized as a fourth trend, so that there was now a choice of two types of religious school – Mizrachi and Agudat Israel (in addition to talmud torah and other schools outside the state system) – as alternatives to the general and labor trends. To cater to the numerous religious families among the new immigrants, especially from the Muslim countries, a religious subtrend (Reshet Dati) of the labor network was developed by Ha-Oved ha-Dati, but was frowned on by the religious parties. There was considerable difficulty in implementing the parents' rights to choose between the four trends in the immigrants' camps, particularly among the newcomers from Yemen and the other Oriental countries, who could not be expected to understand the differences between the various types of school. Besides, the Mizrachi and Agudat Israel argued that the Reshet Dati was being elevated to the status of a fifth, unauthorized, trend. At first it was agreed, as a compromise, that the Ministry of Education and Culture should run religious classes for the Yemenites, while in the other camps the parents would choose between religious and general classes, but the agreement broke down when the minister of education and culture, David *Remez, refused to apply it to the *ma'abarot (transitional settlements). The controversy led to a cabinet crisis in February 1951 and a premature general election.

The problem was solved by the passing of the State Education Law (1953), which abolished the trend system and instituted two types of schools, state and state religious, both under the control of the ministry. The Agudat Israel system remained independent. By this time, the Mizrachi trend had more than doubled in size, with almost 55,000 pupils. It became the nucleus of the state religious system, which was also joined by the schools of the Reshet Dati and a few of the Agudat Israel ones. The law provided that the system should have no connection with any party, communal, or other nongovernmental body and that the schools should be religious in their curriculum and way of life. An autonomous wing for state religious education was established in the ministry, with power to supervise the religious aspects of the schools' work and ensure that teachers, inspectors, and headmasters were satisfactory from the religious point of view. Defining the goals and attitudes of state religious education, a brochure published by the ministry in 1953 stated:

In Israel a religious kindergarten, primary school or secondary school is an institution which aims at the religious personality. It does all the work which a kindergarten or an elementary school has to do in general, but does it in such a manner, with modes of presentation and interpretation of common subject matter, and with classroom and school life organized in such a way, that the pupil may be expected to grow into maturity imbued with ideas, principles and values that mark him as an observer, in deed and in creed, of the Jewish religion.

In 1968–69 the primary schools of the state religious system had 109,358 pupils, over 28% of the total in Jewish schools, in 363 institutions with 4,062 classes (29% and 30% of the total, respectively).

More intense religious study was pursued in 26 yeshivah high schools, where students spend the majority of their day in the study of Talmud and also study secular subjects for the matriculation examination; there were also 15 vocational and agricultural yeshivah high schools; and four schools for girls in the Bnei Akiva movement.

Hundreds of yeshivot had been established by 1970: yeshivot ketannot, for students aged 14–15; yeshivah high schools, described above; yeshivot gedolot (for those aged 18–25); and kolelim, for married men, some of which gave training for dayyanim in rabbinical courts, while others encouraged research in specific fields. In 1969/70, there were 62 yeshivot ketannot, with over 4,000 students; 26 yeshivah high schools, with 4,235 students; 15 vocational and agricultural yeshivot, with 2,355 students; 66 yeshivot gedolot with 5,350 students; and 96 kolelim, with 2,900 students – a total of over 20,000 students, including 800 from abroad. In 1969 the Ministry of Religious Affairs allocated il 2,400,000 toward the maintenance of yeshivot. After the Six-Day War, new yeshivot were established in the Old City of Jerusalem, Kefar Eẓyon, and Hebron.

In *Bar-Ilan University students are required, in addition to the regular curriculum, to take a number of courses in Judaic studies and to conform to religious standards. The Jerusalem College for Women, established in 1964, provided a three-year course, and its graduates were recognized as having the equivalent of a B.A. degree for high school teaching purposes. The type and intensity of the religious training was similar to that of the yeshivah. There was also a religious technical college in Jerusalem, which provided intensive talmudic training, in addition to the study of technical subjects.

Agudat Israel schools, which preferred to stay out of the state system and established its Ḥinnukh Aẓma'i (Independent Education), were recognized and supervised (though not controlled) by the state, and 85% of their costs was met from the state budget. The system opened in 1953/54 with an enrollment of 16,000; in 1969/70 it had 228 schools with over 31,000 pupils. Religious education, in the aggregate, covers some 35% of the pupils in Jewish schools.

Ḥasidic Settlement

Soon after Israel became independent, the rabbi of Lubavitch, the head of the *Chabad Ḥasidim, who lived in the United States, urged some of his followers, originally from the Soviet Union, to settle in Israel. They founded *Kefar Ḥabad, the Lydda Yeshivah, and a number of other institutions. Other ḥasidic leaders have followed in their wake. R. Yekutiel Halberstam, the rabbi of Klausenburg, founded the Kiryat Zanz quarter in *Netanyah and a quarter in Jerusalem; the rabbi of Vizhnitz founded a quarter in Bene-Berak and the rabbi of Bobova one in Bat Yam; the rabbi of Sasov established Kiryat Yismaḥ Moshe and Rabbi Shemuel Ehrenfeld, Kiryat Mattersdorf. Even the rabbi of Satmar, the leader of the Neturei Karta, an inveterate opponent of the "Zionist state," built quarters for his followers in Jerusalem and Bene-Berak.

Various Religious Trends

A number of groups, some of them loosely organized, tried to work out the implications of modern conditions, particularly the revival of statehood, in the sphere of Jewish religious thought and practice. They expressed their views on public platforms, in the press, and in periodicals devoted to religious study and thought. Some religious intellectuals, like Yeshayahu *Leibowitz and Ernst *Simon, maintained that the halakhah was created to meet the needs of Diaspora life and must therefore be adapted to the new exigencies and opportunities of Jewish sovereignty. The Movement for Torah Judaism, headed by Ephraim *Urbach, worked for the regeneration of religious life on a nonparty basis within the framework of the halakhah. Both groups had some influence in academic circles, especially among student groups like the Yavneh Association, which sought to harmonize the achievements of science and technology with Jewish religious principles and called on the rabbinate to march with the times. There were also various unattached scholars and thinkers, like Samuel Hugo *Bergmann and Dov *Sadan, who tried to establish religious ideas on philosophical, scientific, or mystical foundations.

The radio helped increase interest in the Jewish religious heritage by regular daily Bible readings and commentaries, talks on the Talmud and the Midrash, and discussions on religious problems; there were weekly television programs for the end of the Sabbath and special features for festivals. The Bible Study Association held well-attended conventions, arranged study groups, and issues publications in which religious and nonreligious scholars combine to cast light on the Scriptures. There were various schemes to encourage and facilitate systematic study of a daily page of Talmud, or paragraph of the Mishnah, by disseminating, in pamphlet form, selections from talmudic material and rabbinic commentaries. Religious ceremonials associated with family occasions, such as circumcision, bar mitzvah, marriage, and interment and mourning, are observed by the vast majority, even of those who would not define themselves as "religious."

Controversy over Religious Questions

Though the nonobservant majority regard religion as a matter for the conscience of the individual and resent administrative or legislative restrictions imposed on religious grounds, no Kulturkampf developed in the first 20 years of Israel's existence. The observant did, however, manifest a tendency to isolation, some of them concentrating in predominantly religious areas. Controversies flared up from time to time over the application of religious laws and principles to matters in the public domain. Examples are: complaints of inadequate provision for religious education, partially resolved by the appointment of a National Religious Party member as deputy minister of education and culture; licenses for Sabbath work in factories; road traffic on the Sabbath, particularly in the vicinity of religious quarters in Jerusalem; kashrut, e.g., the controversy over the proposal to install two kitchens, one non-kasher, in the Zim liner Shalom; *autopsies, which were sanctioned by the more Orthodox only in rare cases and which, in the view of moderate religious circles, were performed too frequently and with inadequate safeguards; the refusal of the rabbinate to recognize divorces issued by Conservative rabbis in America; the Chief Rabbinate's directives on marriages with members of the *Bene Israel community from India; and the inauguration of television broadcasts on the Sabbath.

The most prolonged controversy has been that over the question of "Who is a Jew?" i.e., how should Jewish "nationality" (le'om) be defined for the purpose of the population register? The argument led to a cabinet crisis in 1958 and broke out again in 1970, after the Supreme Court ruled by a majority that a Jewish father, married to a non-Jew, was entitled to have his children registered as Jews "by nationality." The Knesset thereupon passed a law providing that only persons recognized as Jews by the halakhah (i.e., children of a Jewish mother or those converted to Judaism) may be registered as Jews by nationality, but amended the *Law of Return to extend the privilege of automatic citizenship to the non-Jewish spouses and close relatives of Jewish immigrants. The controversy was reopened in mid-1970, however, over the recognition of conversions to Judaism performed by Reform and other rabbis not recognized by the Chief Rabbinate.

The Six-Day War and its aftermath intensified the feelings of the Orthodox. The Western Wall draws worshipers at all hours of the day and night, and the crowds swell to tens of thousands on outstanding dates in the Jewish religious calendar. Orthodox Jews were in the forefront of the establishment of yeshivot and synagogues in the Old City of Jerusalem, the resettlement of the *Ezyon area, and the reestablishment of a Jewish community in *Hebron.

[Mordechai Hacohen]

sabbath and jewish holidays in modern israel

The outstanding feature of the Jewish Sabbath and festivals in Israel is their public character. Even before the establishment of the State of Israel, shops, offices, factories, and most restaurants in Jewish towns and areas were closed; most public transport was suspended, and there was a pervading atmosphere of calm and repose. In Tel Aviv the Oneg Shabbat ("Joy of the Sabbath") meetings, founded by Ḥ.N. Bialik, drew large audiences. Observance was no longer, as in the Diaspora, hampered by the influence of the environment, but open and unrestrained.

In the State of Israel this trend became even more explicit. There is a virtual standstill in labor and trade on Sabbath and holy days: no newspapers are published; bus transportation is mostly suspended; no trains run; government offices and places of amusement are closed. Synagogues are full of worshipers and crowds stroll at their leisure in the streets and gardens. On the other hand, there are many taxis and private cars on the road; the television and radio operate; football and other matches are watched by large crowds of enthusiasts; privately organized trips by bus and truck take thousands of holidaymakers to the beach and countryside.

Some traditions observed in the Diaspora by only the most conscientious, however, are part and parcel of the national scene in Israel. Thus, on the Day of Atonement broadcasting stops and there is virtually no vehicle to be seen in the streets. The traditional booths are seen everywhere during the Feast of Sukkot – in the courtyards or on the balconies or roofs, of even non-religious homes. On Simḥat Torah and the following evening, the Scrolls of the Law are carried in procession through the streets by dancing and singing worshipers. Mass pilgrimages to Jerusalem, especially, since 1967, to the Western Wall, have become a traditional feature at Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot, the pilgrim festivals of ancient times. On Ḥanukkah, the Feast of Lights, eight-branched candelabra blaze over public institutions and glow in every home. Young torch-bearers carry the light from the birthplace of the Maccabees in Modi'in to the president's residence in Jerusalem. At dusk on the eve of the fast of the Ninth of Av, restaurants, cafés, kiosks, and places of entertainment shut down to mark the anniversary of the destruction of the First and Second Temples. Tens of thousands walk to the Western Wall to chant the kinot ("dirges").

Minor festivals hardly observed in the Diaspora have been revived; they include Tu bi-Shevat, the New Year of Trees, on which thousands of trees are planted, and Lag ba-Omer, on which tens of thousands assemble in *Meron, the traditional resting-place of R. *Simeon b. Yoḥai, and bonfires lit by youngsters all over the country illuminate the skies at night. During the Purim holiday brightly costumed children parade the streets and transform it into a kind of popular carnival. Efforts have been made to evolve ways of celebrating Yom ha-Aẓma'ut (*Independence Day) along Jewish traditional lines: special synagogue services are held, and several collections of prayers and songs have been published for the purpose. However, usages for converting the day into a full religious festival have not yet been universally accepted.

Public Services

Vital public services and utilities, such as power stations, water-pumping installations, telephone exchanges, and police services, continue to function on the Sabbath. Religious leaders and members of the Association of Religious Scientists are seeking technical ways and means of avoiding violation of the Sabbath. Some religious kibbutzim have developed automatic irrigation systems and milking machines for the purpose. The idea of using non-Jewish labor on the Sabbath has evoked much discussion and has met with considerable opposition. In many instances, the principle of *pikku'aḥ nefesh ("saving of human life"), which permits work on the Sabbath, has been applied; thus the supply of electric power and water to hospitals enables their use post factum in private homes. One extreme religious group does not, however, take advantage of this provision for nonurgent purposes.

In the Army

Rules for the observance of the Sabbath and festivals, as worked out by the chief chaplaincy of the *Israel Defense Forces, are laid down in the standing orders of the general staff. They take into account the need for the army to be permanently alerted against potential attack. On Sabbaths and festivals all work ceases, except for duties which are essential for security. Leave is so timed that no soldier need travel on the Sabbath on his way home or on returning to his base. The chaplaincy, under Rabbi Shlomo Goren, produced a unified prayer book for Ashkenazim and Sephardim. It deals with the elucidation of the religious law to meet every situation or eventuality. For example, on Rosh Ha-Shanah those in positions near the enemy lines are exempt from the injunction to listen to the sound of the shofar if there is a danger that the enemy may hear it. During actual fighting on the Day of Atonement a soldier in battle must break his fast as soon as he feels that hunger is affecting his fighting capacity; in hot areas, like the Arabah, he must drink water. On Sukkot, those in outlying posts near enemy lines are exempt from the duty of dwelling in a sukkah by day and by night. On Ḥanukkah soldiers having no candles or suitable oil may light the menorah with rifle or lubricating oil.

New Patterns

In the course of time new patterns of festival observance emerged in the collective agricultural settlements, both religious and secular. In the nonreligious villages they were almost entirely transformed into nature festivals, and religious aspects were given a secular interpretation, while the religious settlements added modern nuances to old traditions. In the secular kibbutzim, the reaping of the omer is celebrated on the second day of Passover and the bringing of the bikkurim ("firstfruits") is observed on the eve of Shavuot. The religious settlements, however, feared that a revival of ancient custom in this form might be regarded as a transgression of the halakhah, which forbids "the bringing of the offering outside the precincts of the Temple area." In all kibbutzim, both religious and nonreligious, the seder is celebrated as a large communal festivity, but while the religious kibbutzim keep to the traditional text of the Haggadah, the nonreligious ones have introduced alterations in the traditional text and added modern literature and pieces of a topical nature.

The Legal Framework

Under the British Mandate, attempts to promulgate a countrywide Sabbath law applying to the Jewish population were unsuccessful. Consequently the religious representatives in the Jewish townships and municipalities pressed for local legislation. In 1948, on the eve of the establishment of the state, such bylaws, varying from one place to another, were in force in 42 towns and localities. One of the first legislative acts of the Provisional State Council after independence was aimed at safeguarding the social aspect of Sabbath and festivals throughout the country. This was the Days of Rest Ordinance of June 3, 1948, which prescribed the Sabbath and the Jewish festivals as regular days of rest, while assuring non-Jews of the right to observe their own Sabbath and festivals.

The Hours of Work and Rest Law of 1951 grants every employee at least 36 continuous hours of leisure each week. For Jews this weekly rest period coincides with the Sabbath, and a similar rest is prescribed on the Jewish festivals. This law, however, does not cover cafés, the self-employed, or cooperative enterprises, including public transport. These are regulated by municipal ordinances, which are not uniform. While cafés are open on the Sabbath, for instance, in Tel Aviv, they are closed in Jerusalem. In both cities the buses do not operate, while in Haifa they run on a limited schedule. In some townships with a mainly religious population, certain streets or quarters are closed to all road transport on Sabbath and festivals. The Council for the Sabbath, which operates within the framework of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and local groups endeavor to have the existing laws enforced, and to have appropriate bylaws introduced in new communities. They also conduct extensive educational activity and press for further legislation.

The law grants the minister of labor authority to permit work on the Sabbath in enterprises regarded as vital to national security or the economy, or installations like blast furnaces or cement kilns which require continuous operation. The issue of licenses to work on Sabbath is subject to approval by a committee consisting of the prime minister, the minister of religious affairs, and the minister of labor.

[Benjamin Zvieli]

developments in the 1970s

Synagogue attendance grew considerably from 1970 to 1980. Compared with some 6,000 Orthodox synagogues in 1970, there were in 1980 approximately 8,000, and they existed even in some secular veteran kibbutzim, such as En Ḥarod.

The rise in population, due largely to immigration and the development of new townships, created a shortage of places of worship. In 1978 there was a shortage of 600 synagogue buildings, and temporary places of worship were established in huts, basements, shelters, schools, and private houses. These were being replaced by permanent houses of worship with the assistance of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the Ministry of Housing, the Jewish Agency, religious organizations, and other agencies. In order to facilitate, and economize on, the erecting of new synagogues the Ministry for Religious Affairs prepared 12 standard models of synagogue buildings.

A chain of 30 Young Israel synagogues was set up. More than 40 synagogues were established by the Wolfson Trust and others were under construction. The old Ramban (Nahmanides) synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem was restored, following the renewal of the Sephardi Great Synagogue named after Rabban Johanan Ben Zakkai, which includes four synagogues in a single large block.

The Western Wall itself served as a large synagogue at which services were held continuously throughout the day and night. It was estimated that the Wall was visited by two million people annually, naturally with especially large attendances on festivals and days of remembrance. The celebration of bar mitzvahs at the Wall became commonplace, including boys who come from abroad.

A new and modern prayer book (siddur) of both the Ashkenazi and Sephardi rites was published, in which all the omissions and alterations of the text in the Diaspora editions, due to censorship, were restored; it includes new prayers, e.g., for Remembrance Day, for Independence Day and Jerusalem Day, and for the welfare of the State of Israel, etc. A series of maḥzorim (prayerbooks for the Jewish holidays) in the format of the siddur has also appeared.

Translations of the siddur, the Bible, and the Passover Haggadah into Russian were published to serve the needs of the new Russian immigrants.


The publication of numerous books on biblical and halakhic subjects is a prominent feature of Israel religious life. Important projects, such as the complete Jerusalem Talmud, the Enẓiklopedyah Talmudit, Oẓar ha-Posekim, and the special edition of the new biblical commentary Da'at Mikra by the Rabbi A.I. Kook Institute, continued through the 1970s. The ancient manuscript of the Bible from Aleppo, the so-called Keter (of the tenth century) was published, and additional volumes of the new Talmud edition accompanied by a modern commentary by Rabbi A. Steinsalz appeared.

Since the establishment of the State of Israel, both chief rabbis served jointly, both as presidents of the Supreme bet din and as chairmen of the Chief Rabbinate Council, and candidates for appointment as dayyanim (judges in religious courts) have had to be approved by both. Under a new law enacted in 1980, however, the two chief rabbis would henceforth hold one of these offices in rotation for five years, while their term of office was increased from five to ten years. The Chief Rabbinate Council (Moeẓet ha-Rabbanut ha-Rashit), the representative rabbinical body in Israel, was enlarged from 12 to 16 members.

At the end of the 1970s there were about 500 officiating rabbis in Israel, 210 of whom were entitled to perform and register the marriage ceremony.

Rabbinical courts functioned in nine places throughout the country, besides the Supreme bet din, the seat of which is in the Old City, Jerusalem. Those courts were served by 90 dayyanim (judges).

There was a Religious Council (Mo'eẓah Datit) in practically each town and settlement, whose duty was to supervise religious matters in the local community. The functions of the Religious Councils were supervised by a special department in the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

New types of yeshivot emerged. An interesting new development was the establishment of a number of yeshivot for "penitents" (*ba'alei teshuvah), i.e., people who were hitherto estranged from Jewish observance and practice and had now accepted its responsibilities, and they also included synagogues. In addition, together with the traditional advanced yeshivot, a number of yeshivot for juniors, as well as high school yeshivot which combine secular education with Torah studies, were established, while several yeshivot hesder, where students combine military service with intensive Torah studies, made their impact on Jewish youth. Ulpanim were established for girls, in which extensive study of Torah and a high standard of general studies prepare them for their future role in Israel society.

[Benjamin Zvieli]

non-orthodox congregations

Conservative Judaism

The first Conservative congregation in Ereẓ Israel, called Emet ve-Emunah, was founded in 1937 in Jerusalem by newcomers from Germany and headed by Rabbi Kurt David Wilhelm, who was authorized to perform marriages by Chief Rabbi Kook. Rabbi Wilhelm was succeeded by R. Aharon Philipp (1948–70), who was also authorized. In 1970 there were also Conservative congregations in Ashkelon, Haifa, Netanyah, and Tel Aviv, of which the first two had recent arrivals from the United States as rabbis. These congregations were a part of the Conservative World Council of Synagogues, forming a separate branch. The teaching arm of Conservative Judaism, the *Jewish Theological Seminary of America, maintained a student center in Jerusalem, and Conservative youth groups conducted summer educational programs in Israel.

At its convention in Jerusalem in 1970, the second to be held in Israel, the World Council of Synagogues urged the Israel authorities to grant full recognition to Conservative rabbis in all spheres of religious life. The convention recognized the importance of "fostering a greater climate of understanding, awareness, and commitment among our communities toward the serious problems facing Israel" and resolved to encourage aliyah, visits by students, and other forms of direct contact with Israel.

Developments in Conservative Judaism in the 1970s

By the close of the 1970s Israel had 35 Conservative congregations, of which nine were in Jerusalem. There was also a national youth movement consisting of 23 youth groups in various cities.

The Center for Conservative Judaism in Jerusalem maintains a youth hostel, conducted along traditional religious lines, and a religious educational program for university youth (Beit Atid). In 1978, the synagogue of the center reorganized as a membership congregation which included approximately 200 families. In the same year, a national organization, Hatenuah Le'yahadut Mesortit, was established. The organization represented the United Synagogue of Israel and the Israel Branch of the Rabbinical Assembly, which numbered 100 Conservative rabbis who had taken up permanent residence in Israel. Both bodies were associated with the World Council of Synagogues, the international arm of the Conservative movement. From 1968, the biannual conventions of the World Council took place in Jerusalem.

While the impulse for the establishment of Conservative congregations in Israel came initially from immigrants from the United States, they also attracted a growing number of immigrants from other countries, as well as those Israeli-born. Thus, for example, the congregation in Ashkelon, Nezach Yisrael, included in its membership 20% native born Israeli families; 20% immigrants from English-speaking countries; 23% of eastern European origin, 18% from South America, 12% of western European origin, and 7% Russian immigrants.

Rabbinical students of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America were now required to spend one year at the American Student Center (Neve Schechter) established in Jerusalem as part of their pre-rabbinic training, and in 1978, a school known as Midreshet Yerushalayim opened which offers a one-year program of Jewish study for non-theological students. In addition, the center maintains an institute, known as Machon Chai, in which courses in Judaism are offered to high school students.

In 1976, the World Council of Synagogues officially joined the World Zionist Organization, thus broadening to a considerable extent the direct involvement of the Conservative movement in Zionism.

[Theodore Friedman]

Progressive Judaism or Reform Judaism

Progressive or Reform Judaism was introduced into Israel in 1957 at the initiative of the Israel Committee of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. After a visit by Rabbi Herbert Weiner, a founding committee was established in Jerusalem under the chairmanship of Shalom Ben-Chorin. The services were held first in an apartment and later in a public hall until, in 1962, the congregation moved into its own synagogue, the Har-El. Congregations were also established in Tel Aviv, Haifa, Ramat Gan, Kefar Shemaryahu, Nahariyyah, Upper Nazareth, Beersheba, and Natanyah, as well as a second congregation in Jerusalem at the *Hebrew Union College. In 1959 the Progressive community joined the World Union for Progressive Judaism, which sent rabbis to serve it.

The Progressive congregations in Israel were organized in the Va'ad Arẓi (National Board), which worked with the Israel Committees of the World Union for Progressive Judaism and the Union of American Hebrew Congregations. Four full-time rabbis constituted the Mo'eẓet ha-Rabbanim ha-Mitkaddemim – Maram (Council of Progressive Rabbis), which discussed policy on liturgy, halakhah, and public issues. The movement published its own prayer book, the first issued by the Reform movement entirely in Hebrew, and a maḥzor for the High Holidays. The main differences between these services and the traditional ones were that men and women prayed together and that congregational singing was accompanied on the organ. The Leo Baeck School in Haifa (founded in 1939), with 700 primary and 250 secondary pupils, and the Hebrew Union College Biblical and Archaeological School, Jerusalem, founded in 1963, were affiliated to the wupj.

The Progressive movement in Israel had no official status. Its rabbis were not entitled to perform weddings, grant divorces, or carry out conversions. The Biennial Conference of the wupj, held in Jerusalem in 1968, demanded "full and unreserved recognition of the religious rights of all Jews in Israel who are not Orthodox, and the complete and uncompromising accordance to them of all privileges, prerogatives and services presently enjoyed by the Orthodox Jewish Community of the Jewish State." As first steps the Conference urged that: 1) Progressive Jews in Israel be allowed to marry those registered in the Rabbinate as eligible for marriage; 2) anyone converted to Judaism by Reform or Liberal rabbis anywhere be recognized by Israel as Jews and admitted to Israel under the Law of Return; 3) Progressive congregations in Israel receive full support and aid from the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The amendments to the Law of Return and the Population Registry Law passed by the Knesset on March 10, 1970, which did not define the term "conversion," implicitly conceded the second claim in regard to conversions carried out abroad. The minister of justice stated subsequently, however, that in Israel the position was governed, in his view, by the Mandatory Ordinance of 1927, which required the consent of the Chief Rabbinate to conversions to Judaism.

[Schalom Ben-Chorin]

During the 1970s significant developments took place within the Israeli Progressive Movement, and in the programs of World Progressive Judaism in Israel: (1) Rabbinical Conferences – The Central Conference of American Rabbis became the first rabbinical group from the United States to convene its annual meeting in Israel, in 1970, and for a second time in 1974. Yom ha-Aẓma'ut was declared an official religious holiday and a special service drawn up and included in the regular liturgy of the Reform Movement. (2) Rabbinical Training – Both the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and the Leo Baeck College in London adopted a policy requiring every student for the rabbinate to spend his first year in Israel in an intensive Hebrew ulpan program, and the former embarked on a program for the training of Israeli rabbis at its Jerusalem campus. All candidates were required to obtain an M.A. degree at The Hebrew University in addition to their rabbinic studies, and the first student was ordained in the summer of 1979. (3) Education – The Leo Baeck School, a secondary school in Haifa, which combines a solid program of secular studies with a liberal orientation in Jewish studies, erected a magnificent new campus; (4) Youth Programs – An Israeli youth movement was established and a national youth center opened in Jerusalem; (5) Kibbutz Movement – Kibbutz Yahel, the first Progressive Jewish collective settlement, was established in 1976; (6) Affiliations with the World Zionist Organization – In 1976 the World Union for Progressive Judaism became the first international Jewish religious organization to affiliate with the World Zionist Organization, and was followed by affiliation with the Conservative and Orthodox religious movements; and (7) Advocacy of Jewish Religious Pluralism – The Progressive Movement continued to advocate the creation of conditions conducive to Jewish religious pluralism in Israel, as well as to oppose successfully all attempts to amend the Law of Return to the detriment of the non-Orthodox movements, and sponsored a resolution adopted by the 29th World Zionist Congress calling for religious pluralism within the World Zionist movement and the State of Israel "to implement fully the principle of guaranteed religious rights for all its citizens, including equal recognition of religious authorities and equal governmental support for all religious movements within Judaism."

[Richard Hirsch]

Other Trends

Another non-orthodox manifestation in Israel's religious life was represented by the Jerusalem congregation Mavakkeshei Derekh (which was unaffiliated with any trend). This grew out of a series of national meetings (in 1962ff.) between city and kibbutz intellectuals who were trying to find a new way of expressing their religious beliefs in the context of the new situation emerging from the realities of the State of Israel, which they saw as a potential religious force in world Jewry and not only in Israel. The emphasis was not so much on halakhah as on Judaism as a communal force. Its prayer service represents the consensus of the group and is built around the reading of the Torah and study (see *Conservative Judaism).

developments through the early 1990s

Jewish religious institutions continued to be linked to political developments, with a drop in the influence of the modern Orthodox and a parallel rise in the ultra-Orthodox (ḥaredi) community. Politically, the *National Religious Party, which spoke for modern Orthodoxy, declined sharply from the 1960s, when it had 11 or 12 representatives in the Knesset. In the 1984 elections, this party won four seats, in 1988, five, and in 1992, six. In contrast, the parties to the religious right of the nrp, which had had six seats in the 1960s, won eight seats in 1984, 13 seats in 1988, and ten in 1992.

The modern Orthodox camp, and in particular, the National Religious Party, had become identified with *Gush Emunim, the movement favoring Jewish settlement of the entire Land of Israel, and in particular, the Administered Territories. The religious obligation to retain all of the Land of Israel was associated with a belief in the potential arrival of the Messiah. The most extreme form of this messianism found expression in movements aimed at restoring a Jewish presence on the Temple Mount, either in addition to, or in place of, the Muslim shrines occupying the site. One small group of extremists was arrested while planning to destroy the mosques there. A group known as the Faithful of the Temple Mount, which had previously attempted unsuccessfully to conduct public Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, organized a "cornerstone-laying" ceremony with a block of stone weighing several tons, but was barred from the area by the police. Another organization, the Jerusalem Temple Institute, occupied itself with creating ritual objects and garments to be used in the Temple upon its restoration.

A relatively small number of Orthodox leaders tried to disassociate themselves from this trend, by organizing, in 1982, *Netivot Shalom, a religious group loosely identified with the Israeli peace movement, and founding Meimad, a moderate religious party, in 1988. Although Meimad won considerable sympathy in left-wing non-Orthodox circles, it failed to garner even the minimum of votes needed for one seat in the Knesset.

Political developments in the ultra-Orthodox camp were highlighted by the fragmentation of *Agudat Israel, which had formerly been its sole political representative. *Shas, a Sephardi ultra-Orthodox movement, combined religious fervor with bitterness over the discrimination and wrongs of the past. The party participated in the 1983 Jerusalem municipal election and then went on nationally to become the dominant ultra-Orthodox voice. Seeking votes outside the traditional ultra-Orthodox strongholds, Shas brought a new flavor to the local political scene, especially in the 1988 elections when the secular public was bemused to see a television election advertisement in which a group of black-clad rabbis pronounced a formula releasing voters from promises to vote for other parties.

Degel ha-Torah, organized in 1988, was an Ashkenazi split-off from Agudat Israel. Despite the desertions, Agudat Israel enjoyed considerable success in this election, thanks to the support of the Chabad Ḥasidim, who had previously refrained from supporting any party. The change was a result of the bitter attacks by Degel ha-Torah's leader, Rabbi Eliezer Schach, head of the anti-ḥasidic camp, on Chabad's Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, a fellow nonagenarian. Rabbi Schach, who enjoyed an adulation from his followers not unlike that bestowed on ḥasidic rebbes, became the object of harsh criticism in the wake of the 1988 elections, when he ruled out any coalition with Labor because of the lack of religious observance in kibbutzim, whose very Jewishness he questioned.

An apparent victory for the nrp was the election, in 1983, for a ten-year term, of Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi Avraham *Shapiro and Sephardi Chief Rabbi Mordechai *Eliahu, both identified with the nationalist-religious ideology of the nrp. Rabbi Shapiro, in particular, was the principal of the Merkaz ha-Rav yeshivah, the ideological cradle of Gush Emunim. However, the chief rabbinate became more alienated from the secular Jewish majority, while in Orthodox circles, an increasing public looked to the ultra-Orthodox ḥaredi rabbis for spiritual leadership.

The challenge to the chief rabbis was especially effective from Rabbi Ovadiah *Yosef, Eliahu's predecessor, who continued to be regarded by many as the rightful leader of Sephardi Jewry. Yosef, the spiritual mentor of Shas, challenged a halakhic ruling by Shapiro and Eliahu that it was impermissible to give up any part of the Land of Israel, even for the sake of peace. Yosef ruled that territorial concessions were permissible to prevent bloodshed.

Another challenge to the chief rabbis concerned the observance of the sabbatical year, during which it is forbidden to work the land of Israel. Prior to the sabbatical year which began in October 1986, the chief rabbis, following a precedent set by their predecessors, ruled that in order to promote Jewish settlement, it was permitted, and even desirable, for Jewish farmers to nominally "sell" their land to a non-Jew and continue to work it. The ḥaredi rabbis ruled that one could not eat produce grown as a result of such a ruling and succeeded in convincing the Ministry of Commerce and Industry to import grain, so bakeries would not use that grown locally. This incident highlighted a tendency by food producers to seek kashrut certification from ḥaredi institutions, although legally, only the official rabbinates were empowered to issue such certification.

In the schools, a growing number of parents preferred the ḥaredi schools to the modern Orthodox State Religious system. Even within the State Religious system there was a tendency to extremism, with the establishment of new schools to cater to a more religiously strict public, and many existing schools opted for separate classes for boys and girls. Part of the success of the ḥaredi school networks could be attributed to the increasing funds allocated to them as the price for government coalitions. Especially remarkable was the flourishing of ḥaredi yeshivot, where a growing number of adults studied religious subjects full-time. It was estimated that there were more yeshivah students than ever before in Jewish history.

The growth of the yeshivot became a source of contention with the secular majority, many of whom were unhappy at the government subsidies which went to such institutions. Both the secular and many modern Orthodox objected to the fact that in a country in which universal military service was the rule, the yeshivah students received automatic deferment, often until an age at which they were no longer fit for military service. At one point it was estimated that some 20,000 young men were enjoying such deferment.

The question of public Sabbath observance continued to be an issue, with a tendency for some public desecration of the Sabbath, despite repeated protests and demonstrations. In particular in Jerusalem, for the first time, several cinemas began to have Friday night showings, and a large number of pubs, discotheques, and cafes opened their doors on the Sabbath.

There were acrimonious disputes in Jerusalem over the issue of the exhumation of the bones of Jews. According to the ultra-Orthodox interpretation, land even suspected of containing Jewish remains should remain untouched, so as to facilitate resurrection of the dead. This interpretation led to considerable conflict between Atra Kadisha, an organization devoted to preserving Jewish burial sites, and archeologists and civil engineers. In 1982 and 1983, Atra Kadisha led public protests against the archeological excavations at the City of David. According to Atra Kadisha, the site contained a medieval Jewish cemetery. The archeologists, who denied this, succeeded in completing the excavations. In 1992, a number of tombs from the Second Temple period were uncovered during construction of a major highway interchange at French Hill, and a large burial area which archeologists insisted was Christian, because of the presence of Christian symbols, was uncovered during construction of the Mamilla project. Archeologists removed and then, following violent protests, returned for burial, the bones and sarcophagi of one tomb from French Hill. At Mamilla, the builders removed the bones and bulldozed the burial area in the dead of night. The young demonstrators who reacted introduced a new level of violence into religious-secular disputes, violently confronting the police, stoning cars, and burning garbage dumpsters.

The immigration of Jews, both from Ethiopia and from the former Soviet Union, presented a challenge to the religious establishment. The Ethiopian Jews (see *Beta Israel) were intensely observant, but their practice differed considerably from normative Judaism. When large numbers began to arrive as a result of Operation Moses in 1984, the chief rabbis ruled that they would have to undergo a symbolic conversion ceremony before they could be married. In protest over what they saw as a questioning of their Jewishness, the Ethiopian Jews objected to the ruling and held a sit-in strike for a month, across from the offices of the chief rabbis. Although the Ethiopian Jews garnered considerable public sympathy and support, they were unable to win over the chief rabbis, who eventually circumvented the issue by allowing a rabbi sympathetic to their cause to register their marriages. In 1992, the Ethiopian Jewish community was again unsuccessful in a confrontation with the chief rabbinate, this time in a bid for the community's traditional religious leaders, the qessim (Amharic: qessotch), to be allowed to perform marriages and carry out divorces in Israel.

Yet another religious dilemma faced the Ethiopian Jewish community after Operation Solomon, the mass airlift in which the bulk of Ethiopian Jewry was brought to Israel in May 1991. Remaining in Ethiopia were thousands of Falash-Mura (falas moura), Jews who had become estranged from the Jewish community and in many cases had converted to Christianity. Although the qessim, for the most part, regarded these people as renegades, to be abandoned, most members of the community in Israel agitated for them to be returned to Judaism and brought to Israel. The government eventually decided that close relatives of those living in Israel could be brought in as a humanitarian gesture.

A different type of problem resulted from the mass immigration from the former Soviet Union. Although some of the immigrants from the Baltic states and Central Asia had some basic knowledge of Judaism, many of the others were almost totally ignorant of even the most basic elements of Jewish history, religion, and culture. A considerable number of these immigrants were either the offspring of mixed marriages or brought with them non-Jewish spouses. It was not clear how many were actually Jewish according to halakhah. During the years that Rabbi Yitzḥak Peretz of Shas was the absorption minister, the ministry embarked on a campaign of "spiritual absorption," introducing the immigrants to the practices of ultra-Orthodoxy, with questionable success. The immigrants studied some essentials about Judaism at the ulpanim in which they learned Hebrew, and a wide variety of public institutions and organizations offered courses in Judaism. Perhaps the most promising indication of the immigrants' desire to return to Judaism was the large number of men who asked to be circumcised.

Non-Orthodox movements continued to make limited progress. Their main success was in barring a change in the Law of Return, which would have, in effect, excluded those converted to Judaism by Conservative and Reform rabbis abroad from recognition as Jews eligible for Israeli citizenship. Although the number of such converts immigrating to Israel was minimal, many Jews abroad, particularly in the U.S., saw this as a crucial issue, in view of the high rate of mixed marriages and the fact that a growing part of the American Jewish community included converts or their children. The failure of the religious parties to gain support on this issue from the other parties was a result of massive pressure by American Jewish organizations.

A related issue was the decision of the Interior Ministry not to register such converts as Jews in their identity cards and in the population registry. After Shoshana Miller, a Reform convert from the U.S., successfully petitioned the High Court of Justice to be registered as a Jew, the ministry continued to try to circumvent the decision. It proposed registering all converts as such in the identity cards, a move that aroused opposition not only from the non-Orthodox, but from the chief rabbis and many other Orthodox rabbis, who pointed out that Jewish law forbade reminding a convert of his or her non-Jewish origins.

In 1992, the first woman rabbi, Naama Kelman-Ezrachi, was ordained by Israel's Reform rabbinical school and, in the same year, the rabbinical school of the local Conservative (Masorti) movement decided to admit women as students in its rabbinical program. In 1986, Leah Shakdiel, an Orthodox schoolteacher, was elected to the religious council of Yeruḥam, the first woman to be elected to such a body, but she did not take her seat until the High Court of Justice ordered the religious affairs minister to validate her election two years later. In 1988, women won the right to serve on the body electing the Tel Aviv chief rabbi.

However, the High Court rejected the petition of another women's group, the Women of the Wall, which included women of all religious streams, who aroused the fury of ultra-Orthodox worshipers when they attempted to read from a Torah scroll at the Western Wall. The Court upheld a Religious Affairs Ministry ruling which forbade them to wear prayer shawls, read from a Torah scroll, or even sing aloud at the Western Wall.

[Haim Shapiro]

the 1990s and after

At no time in Jewish history has there been such a great flourishing of religious institutions and Jewish life anywhere in the world as in late 20th century Israel. This is a result of the high birth rate among the religious public, the wave of people returning to religion and traditional roots, government allocations to religious services, the Israeli welfare state enabling thousands of yeshivah students to study for many years, and the exemption from military service for yeshivah students.

In May 2000, the Ministry of Religious Affairs was supporting 196,000 students at yeshivot, kolelim (yeshivot for married men), and schools with extended Torah studies. These included 41,000 at kolelim and 38,000 at yeshivot for unmarried men over the age of 18. Among the important yeshivot in Israel: the Hebron and Mir yeshivot in Jerusalem, with 4,000 students, and the Ponivezh yeshivah in Bene Berak. Yeshivah study was funded by a number of ministries (Religious Affairs, Education, Welfare), as is the establishment of synagogues (Religious Affairs, Housing and Construction, Interior). Research shows that two-thirds of *ḥaredi men studying at yeshivot do not work, and, as a result, Menachem Friedman, a researcher studying the ḥaredi population in Israel, has called them the "society of scholars."

It is hard to find reliable data on the number of synagogues since these are often private and unfunded institutions, and so it can only be estimated that there are many thousands. According to Ministry of Religious Affairs figures, in 2001 there were no fewer than 750 mikva'ot operating in Israel, 400 of them in small communities.

Religious Education

The great flourishing of religious life in Israel is also manifested in the field of education. Between 1989/90 and 2004/5 the share of ḥaredi elementary education in the Hebrew elementary education system (grades 1 to 8) increased from 6.5% to 20%. The main reasons for this were the high birth rate in the ḥaredi population, the establishment by Shas of its own network of schools, and the establishment of Torah-based schools aimed at bringing secular and traditional Jews back to religion. During the same period, state religious education declined from 21% to 19%.

The majority of ḥaredi schools do not belong to the state or state religious education systems and are defined as "recognized but unofficial" or "exempt" (exempt from the Compulsory Education Law). In other words, these are private institutions with only limited state supervision of their educational content.

In the middle of the 1980s Shas established its Ma'ayan ha-Ḥinukh ha-Torani network, competing with the independent education system of Agudat Israel. A large number of its students came from the non-ḥaredi Sephardi religious public and the traditional public. The result was that many more students were recruited from state religious and state schools than from the ḥaredi schools.

As of the beginning of the 1980s, a split developed in the Ashkenazi ḥaredi education system. Many ḥasidic sects established independent educational institutions. Independent talmud torah schools attracted pupils from the Lithuanian stream, and as a result, independent education became, to a large extent, a network of schools for girls and schools operating in provincial towns.

Since the 1950s, the ḥaredi education track for girls has directed all its graduates towards working as teachers and supporting their husbands studying in the kolel, and therefore ḥaredi girls of high school age study at teachers seminaries. As of the 1980s, there has been a shortage of teaching positions in the ḥaredi sector. The schools employ many teachers in part-time positions, but even this is not enough to solve the women's employment needs, and some seminaries are opening training tracks in other fields, such as computers.

Despite the establishment of Shas schools, the Sephardi ḥaredi elite, including senior members of Shas, continue to send their children to the schools, yeshivot, and seminaries of the Lithuanian ḥaredi community. Many of these institutions, especially the girls' seminaries, have a quota of between 10% and 30% for Mizraḥi students, which is against Israeli law and has provoked harsh public criticism.

In the 1970s and 1980s the Ashkenazi ḥaredi schools cut back their efforts to recruit traditional students from the Mizraḥi communities, among other things due to a fear that these students would have a bad influence on the ḥaredi students. At the end of the 1990s special schools were set up alongside Agudat Israel's independent education system, specializing in bringing children back to the religious fold – the Netivot Moshe schools which compete, in practice, with Ma'ayan ha-Ḥinukh ha-Torani; and Shuvu, focusing on immigrants from the former Soviet Union and also providing a high standard of general education. These were established with the support of Agudat Israel in the U.S., which also raises funds for them on a large scale. The main recruitment of students is through the Lev LeAchim organization, and the aim is to use the children to bring the whole family back to a religious way of life.

The Compulsory Education Law in Israel prohibits the state from recognizing institutions which do not teach the foundation curriculum, including basic general studies preparing students for life and work in a modern country. For the first 50 years of the state's existence, this law was not applied, and a large number of ḥaredi institutions, in particular boys' schools, offered almost no general studies. Following a petition submitted to the High Court of Justice in 1999 by mk Yosef Paritsky of Shinui, the court instructed the Ministry of Education to implement the law. The ministry began a process of gradual implementation of the curriculum, arousing considerable resistance in the ḥaredi public.

Since the 1980s, education in Israel has been characterized by an accelerated process of privatization and a move by the elite from state schools to exclusive schools. Whereas among the secular public this has resulted in the opening of experimental and democratic schools, among the national religious public the result has been the establishment of a Torah-based education system, where there is far greater emphasis on keeping the religious precepts than in state religious schools. At the same time, private schools have opened for the moderate religious public, some of which also include secular students.


Some of the graduates of talmud torah schools and ḥaredi schools for boys continue to junior high school or equivalent institutions, and some go straight to yeshivah ketanah, which is the ḥaredi equivalent of high school. Graduates of yeshivah ketanah go on to yeshivah gedolah at the equivalent of army age and, after marriage, study in a kolel.

Lessons at ḥaredi yeshivot focus on the Talmud and its interpretations, and also include subjects such as Pentateuch and Ethics, but do not include general studies. The ḥaredi curriculum does not train students for any occupation outside the realm of religion. In the 1990s there began to be institutes offering professional and academic training to yeshivah and kolel graduates, in fields such as computers, the law and social work.

The national religious yeshivah study track usually includes a yeshivah high school combining religious and secular studies and preparing students for matriculation and hesder yeshivah. The hesder yeshivah track lasts five years, three and a half years in yeshiva and a year and a half in the army. In 2000, the Ministry of Religious Affairs supported some 5,000 hesder yeshivah students – a thousand students in each year. In other words, unlike ḥaredi youth who, almost without exception, attend yeshivah gedolah, only a small percentage of national religious youth go on to hesder yeshivah.

In the 1990s, a new track was developed for national religious youth in which graduates of religious or yeshivah high schools study for a year in a pre-army mekhinah (preparatory course) and then go on to full military service. The mekhinah is intended to meet two main challenges: the desire of many national religious young men to serve a full three years rather than the shortened hesder service, and strengthening the students' faith and reducing the number who turn away from religion in the army.

Returning to the Religious Fold

During the 1940s and 1950s, the demographic movement between the ḥaredi and secular public was almost exclusively towards the secular. But as of the 1970s the direction has been reversed. Among the reasons for the wave of people returning to religion are the worldwide trend, the moral crisis in Israeli society following the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the failure of secular education, and more. An entire network of organizations has been set up in ḥaredi society to bring people back to the fold and absorb them on their return. These include the Arakhim organization, focusing mainly on seminars to bring people back to religion, and the Or ha-Ḥayyim institutes, which operate yeshivot for the newly religious and schools for their children.

A distinction is usually drawn between two types of return to religion. One is the move from a completely secular life, such as on a kibbutz, to an extreme ḥaredi lifestyle. This is usually associated with the Ashkenazi public. The other involves the traditional public drawing closer to religion and becoming more religious. This is usually associated with the Mizraḥi sector and apparently accounts for the majority of the newly religious.

During the 1990s, the Ministry of Religious Affairs financed the studies of 43,000 people in institutes aimed at those returning to religious observance – 27,000 men and 16,000 women. According to a survey carried out by the Dahaf Institute for Yedioth Aharonoth, 7% of the adult Jewish population, more than 200,000 people, have returned to religion. Whereas in the beginning lectures and seminars were the main means of bringing people back, in the 1990s the ḥaredi pirate radio stations and religious schools for secular children also served this purpose.

The Ministry of Religious Affairs

The 1990s were marked by control over the religious establishment moving from the NRP to the increasingly strong religious party Shas. Between 1990 and the end of 2003 the ministry was headed by no fewer than 13 ministers, an average of one minister a year. This power struggle was symbolized more than anything by the period between 1996 and 1999, when it was agreed that both parties would have deputy ministers in the Ministry of Religious Affairs. The position of minister was rotated annually between the parties. During the 1990s the ministry's budget was one and a half billion shekels a year. Although this is a small budget in terms of a government ministry, this ministry had considerable power because it controlled the transfer of thousands of allocations to religious organizations every year, as well as many religious positions – religious judges, rabbis, and so forth.

In the 1980s and 1990s the Ministry of Religious Affairs became a symbol of corruption to the Israeli public. A series of reports by the state comptroller revealed large-scale fictitious reporting and fraudulent expenses. The report submitted by State Comptroller Miriam Ben Porat in 1995 on allocations in the Ministry of Religious Affairs states that: "The picture emerging from this report is very serious, as if ethical values and fundamental principles of truth and integrity have ceased to exist. The ministry has failed in its role of responsibility for allocating public funds."

Demands to dismantle the ministry were brought up again and again. This move was also supported by ḥaredi figures, such as mk Moshe Gafni, who felt that the ministry in its then current form was a cause of blasphemy. At the end of 2003 it was dismantled. The majority of its budget, including the yeshivah budgets, was transferred to the Ministry of Education and Culture. Religious services, including the Chief Rabbinate and the religious councils, kashrut, and burial services, were placed in the hands of the Prime Minister's Office. As a result, strong criticism was voiced over the fact that the Likud was introducing dozens of political appointees into the religious services. In 2005 religious services in the Prime Minister's Office became the responsibility of a national authority for religious services.

The Chief Rabbinate

At the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st, Israel's Chief Rabbinate lost much of its status and spiritual authority. The ḥaredi public took advantage of its political strength to take control of the Chief Rabbinate. The chief rabbis are usually people supported by the ḥaredim, despite the fact that the ḥaredim do not obey the Chief Rabbinate. These are rabbis who, even in the view of the ḥaredim, are not among the first ranks of leadership. The waning of the Chief Rabbinate was symbolized by the abandonment of its home in the Heikhal Shelomo Synagogue in the center of Jerusalem in 1997, and the move to simple offices in the increasingly ḥaredi Romema neighborhood. Heikhal Shelomo was considered a symbol of the state rabbinate and an alternative it to the ḥaredi rabbinate.

The last two chief rabbis to be perceived as major rabbis in the religious community and as having an influence beyond this community were rabbis Shlomo Goren and Ovadiah Yosef, who served from 1972 to 1983. Goren was chief rabbi of the idf for many years, and was strongly identified with the army and Israel's wars. Yosef was considered to be the unquestioned spiritual leader of the religious and traditional Sephardi public. The period of their tenure was characterized by numerous squabbles and infighting. In 1983 the two were forced out of office against their will and the status of the Chief Rabbinate began to decline. Not merely did the supporters of Rabbi Yosef continue to call him Rishon le-Zion, the title of the Sephardi chief rabbi, but he continued to be considered the most important Sephardi rabbi, undermining the status of all those who came after him.

Goren and Yosef were replaced by rabbis Avraham *Shapira and Mordecai *Eliyahu. The two were seen as the spiritual leaders of the national religious public, considered to be the hard core of supporters of the Chief Rabbinate. At the same time, they had very limited influence beyond this group. During their tenure the rabbinate moved towards the political right wing.

In 1993 rabbis Israel *Lau and Eliyahu *Bakshi Doron were elected with the support of rabbis from Shas and Yahadut ha-Torah (utj), and were seen as subordinate to them. Rabbi Lau was outstanding in the field of public relations, and was very popular among the secular public. Bakshi Doron solved a number of difficult halakhic issues, including reducing to a minimum the list of people prohibited from marrying. In 2003 rabbis Shlomo Amar, also a disciple of Rabbi Yosef, and Yona Metzger were elected to the position. Metzger had previously been a neighborhood rabbi, and there were complaints that he did not have sufficient experience for the position.

Chief rabbis are elected for a period of 10 years. They serve in rotation as president of the Chief Rabbinate Council and president of the High Rabbinical Court. The religious establishment is the last state body in Israel to retain an ethnic structure. There are two chief rabbis, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, and the same is true in a number of towns. The election of dayyanim (religious judges) to the High Rabbinical Court also unofficially preserves the ethnic balance. Proposals to elect a single chief rabbi have not been accepted. But in 2000 Minister of Religious Affairs Yossi *Beilin introduced regulations severely limiting the possibility of electing two rabbis in the same town. As a result, today there is only one chief rabbi of Tel Aviv.

Religious Councils

Religious services in Israel's towns and local councils are provided by 133 religious councils, 21 of them regional religious councils. In 2001, they received a budget of nis 137 million from the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Among other things, the councils provide marriage registration services, kashrut supervisors, mikva'ot, neighborhood rabbis, eruvim, etc. Proposals to reform religious services have been discussed again and again, with the aim of simplifying elections and funding and reducing political influence, but as of the end of 2005 this had not been implemented.

Since the 1990s the religious councils have been in a state of severe crisis, for a number of reasons. The method of funding the religious councils is very complex, with the government funding 40% and the local council providing 60% of their budget. The severe budgetary crisis in the local authorities meant that many of them did not transfer funds to the religious councils, which were then unable to pay salaries and pensions. The religious prohibition against striking religious services such as mikva'ot and burial made it very hard for employees of the religious councils to protest effectively. The image of the councils as corrupt and hostile to the secular public also made it very difficult for them to enlist public support.

Another central factor in the crisis in the religious services was the very complex method of appointing members of the religious councils. This method gives representation on the councils to the minister of religious affairs (45%), the local authorities (45%), and the town rabbis (10%), and requires consultation between the three bodies and a reciprocal right of veto. Differences of opinion are passed on for decision by a committee of ministers. As a result, the religious councils are not reconvened on time, sometimes being delayed by many years.

The main issue regarding the composition of the religious councils involves political power struggles. Until 1992 the nrp (National Religious Party) controlled the Ministry of Religious Affairs and had sole control over the religious councils. With the rise to power of Shas, which also took control of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, there began to be serious power struggles between the two parties, which were frequently referred to the High Court of Justice for decision.

In 1987 the High Court of Justice instructed that Leah Shakdiel be appointed to the religious council of Yeruḥam, and ruled that there should be no discrimination regarding the appointment of women to the religious councils. Despite the objections of the religious establishment to this ruling, it came to terms with it, among other things because for the most part the women elected to serve on the councils are religious or traditional and obey the rulings of the rabbis.

During the 1990s the High Court of Justice ruled a number of times that Reform and Conservative Jews should be allowed to be appointed to the religious councils. To prevent the entry of Reform and Conservative Jews to the religious councils of large cities, in some places these councils were not convened for a number of terms.

Religion and State

During the 1980s and 1990s consensus in Israeli society was on the wane, including the sphere of religion and state. The political upset of 1977 that brought the Likud to power also considerably increased the influence of the religious parties and increased ties between religion and state and the funds transferred by the State for religious education, religious services, and religious job slots. Those who support this state of affairs see it as an expression of the Jewish character of the state, while those who object claim that the result is religious coercion and corruption. The fact that religion is identified with infighting, coercion, and corruption has seriously damaged the image of the religious establishment and increased tensions between the religious and secular populations.

Religious budgets have become a central issue in coalition negotiations and the negotiations over the state budget.

Thus, for example, between 1996 and 1999 (during the government of Binyamin Netanyahu, when the religious parties were a central component of the coalition) the budget for yeshivot in the Ministry of Religious Affairs increased from nis 691 million to nis 878 million, an increase of 27%. The budget for the Ma'ayan ha-Ḥinukh ha-Torani schools of the Sephardi ḥaredi party Shas increased during the 1990s by over 100%, from nis 12.5 million in 1990 to nis 137.5 million in 1999, an indication of the growth of this school system and the increasing power of Shas.

Among the struggles that took place at this time with regard to the authority of the religious establishment and public religious adherence were the following: the demand for civil marriage, the fight over non-Orthodox conversion, passage of the law prohibiting the public display of ḥameẓ during Passover, the demand that the Chief Rabbinate not take into consideration Sabbath observance and modesty when giving kashrut certification, etc. The Supreme Court played a central role in these religious struggles, usually ruling in favor of increased freedom from religion and religious equality, and acquiring the reputation of an anti-religious entity. Among the court's rulings provoking considerable resistance among the religious and ḥaredi public were: permitting the import of non-kosher meat to Israel, recognizing the common-law rights of same-sex couples, recognizing Reform and Conservative conversion carried out abroad, etc. This conflict reached a climax when a quarter of a million ḥaredi and religious demonstrators held a prayer rally against the Supreme Court at the entrance to Jerusalem.

Since the 1970s there has also been a radicalization in the lifestyle of both sides, religious and secular. The secular lifestyle has become more free, as seen, among other things, in provocative billboard advertisements, entertainment and shopping on Friday nights, the opening of many non-kosher restaurants, etc. The lifestyle of the ḥaredim and part of the national religious community has been characterized by the establishment of separate settlements and neighborhoods, and the increasing number of prohibitions in spheres such as women's clothing, kashrut, and the use of electronic devices. A national ḥaredi group has emerged among the national religious public characterized by zealous observance of religious law. The shared life of secular and ḥaredi has become almost impossible.

The Wave of Immigration

The wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union during the 1990s, bringing more than a million immigrants under the Law of Return, created a new phenomenon in Israel. Among the immigrants were 300,000 Russians who were not Jewish. These immigrants, including the non-Jews, were absorbed into Jewish society and created, for the first time in Israel, a significant phenomenon of assimilation and marriage between Jews and non-Jews. Many people, including Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, aimed for mass conversion of the non-Jewish immigrants, but the Orthodox establishment placed obstacles in the way of conversion, by requiring converts to live a religious lifestyle. The result was a relatively limited rate of conversion of fewer than a thousand immigrants from the fsu each year. A particularly thorny issue is created by the fact that the only recognized form of marriage in Israel is religious. As a result, the 300,000 non-Jewish immigrants are not able to realize their right to marry in Israel and have to go abroad for this purpose. Another trend brought by the immigrants is the opening of dozens of non-kosher food stores in all neighborhoods where there are a large number of immigrants, selling pork and ham. In addition, there is a chain of luxury supermarkets by the name of Tiv Ta'am that remains open on the Sabbath and also attracts secular non-immigrants.

Reform and Conservative congregations

A phrase that is considered characteristic of the attitude of non-religious Israelis to the progressive streams of Judaism is: "The synagogue I don't attend is Orthodox." During the 1990s and early 2000s the Reform and Conservative streams made a few significant achievements, but they were unable to change the overall picture. Only a few thousand people belong to the congregations of each of these movements, representing a very small percentage of the membership of Jewish religious congregations in Israel. In 2005 the Reform movement had 26 congregations in Israel and the Conservative movement had 42.

Where they have had greater success is the increasing trend among the secular population to turn to Reform and Conservative rabbis for their religious ceremonies, weddings, bar mitzvahs, and circumcision. Particularly noteworthy in this field is the Beit Daniel congregation led by Rabbi Meir Ezri which, in many respects, has become the religious institution serving the north Tel Aviv elite. In the 1990s the phenomenon of women serving as rabbis also reached Israel. This is still limited to a few individuals, and even the debate over what they should be called in Hebrew – rava, rabbi, or rabbanit – has not yet been settled.

The Reform movement has been very visible in the legal and public battles undertaken by its lobby, the Center for Jewish Pluralism, led for many years by rabbi and attorney Uri Regev. Among other things, petitions submitted by the movement to the High Court of Justice forced the Ministry of Religious Affairs to fund Reform and Conservative religious institutions.


The most important battle waged by the Reform and Conservative movements is the one known as "who is a Jew?" In practice, the question is who is a rabbi or who is qualified to carry out conversion, and whether Reform and Conservative rabbis may do so.

This question is of the greatest importance, because Judaism is the only criterion by which someone who is not a family member of an Israeli can obtain citizenship. As a result, conversion courts hold the keys to citizenship in the Jewish state. The Reform and Conservative streams that make up the majority of United States Jewry see the obstacles that Israel places in the path of recognition of their converts as a kind of statement that their rabbis are second-class rabbis.

The battle over the issue of conversion is being carried out in a way that is very characteristic of the religious struggles in Israel, with the Reform and Conservative movements trying to make use of the High Court of Justice, while the Orthodox movements rely on their political power in the Knesset. These battles have two practical aspects. One is registration as a Jew in the Ministry of the Interior – in the population registry and in identity cards. This is largely a symbolic matter and is of particular importance to converts who are in any case entitled to Israeli citizenship (for example, those with a Jewish spouse or Jewish father) and are interested in symbolic recognition of their Jewishness. In order to sidestep the issue of registration, in 2002, then-Minister of the Interior Eli Yishai of Shas decided to cancel the section denoting nationality in the identity card.

The more significant question is recognition of Reform and Conservative converts under the Law of Return, for receiving Israeli citizenship and the broad economic assistance given to new immigrants. In 1989 the High Court of Justice ruled that the state must recognize every conversion carried out in a recognized Jewish community in the Diaspora – Orthodox, Reform or Conservative – and give converts rights under the Law of Return. At the same time, the legal battle over the fate of Reform and Conservative converts converted in Israel is still underway. The fight over "who is a Jew?" reached its peak in 1997, when the religious parties tried to amend the law so as to ensure an Orthodox monopoly over conversion in Israel, and a serious split arose between the government and leaders of the Reform and Conservative movement in the United States. Following this crisis, a committee was set up to examine the subject of conversion, under the leadership of attorney Ya'akov Ne'eman. Due to its inability to reach agreement, the committee's recommendations were never signed. Nonetheless, the government decided to implement some of them. A joint conversion institute was set up for all three streams of Judaism, with graduates undergoing Orthodox conversion.


Israeli law does not recognize non-Orthodox marriage and divorce for Jews. However, at the beginning of the 1960s the Supreme Court ruled that, under the international charters signed by Israel, and in accordance with population registration laws, the Ministry of the Interior was obliged to register Israelis married in an official ceremony outside Israel as married. In this way the concepts of "Cyprus marriage" and "Paraguayan marriage" came into being. Paraguayan marriages were performed for many years by mail. This option has been blocked, but even today it is possible to marry with only one of the partners being present. This offers a solution for couples where one partner is unable to leave the country (for example, for fear that a foreign partner will not be permitted to return). The problem of the absence of civil marriage in Israel was considerably exacerbated in the 1990s, with the arrival of some 300,000 immigrants from the former Soviet Union who are defined in Israel as having no religion and are therefore unable to marry in Israel. Some of them return to their country of origin in order to get married. The number of Jewish couples marrying in Israel in 1970 was 24,000, and the same number married in 1990. This shows a decrease in the number of couples getting married, an increase in the age of marriage, and a decreasing willingness to be married by the Orthodox rabbinate. According to the website of the New Family organization, a few thousand Israeli couples get married abroad each year, some because they cannot get married in Israel and others because they do not want a religious marriage ceremony. It is hard to obtain more precise data, among other things because many of the couples that marry abroad are never registered in Israel. Many couples prefer to live together in a common-law relationship without marrying at all.

Divorce and the Rabbinical Courts

Even couples married in a civil marriage service are required by Israeli law to divorce in the rabbinical court. In 2004, 9,650 Jewish couples divorced in Israel. In 2005 the court system included 12 regional courts and the High Rabbinical Court of Appeals. The position of dayyan (religious judge) is considered highly desirable in the rabbinic world, because of the high salary, linked to that of regular judges, and because of the considerable prestige. Dayyanim are elected by the Committee for the Election of Dayyanim, in which political entities, especially the religious parties, have great influence.

The rabbinical court system is headed by the president of the High Rabbinical Court and the director of the rabbinical courts. The presidency, which is held by one of the chief rabbis, changes hands every five years. The fact that some chief rabbis have very little experience as dayyanim and nonetheless are automatically appointed as president of the High Rabbinical Court has aroused criticism. At the beginning of 2004, as part of the dismantling of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, the rabbinical courts were placed under the control of the Ministry of Justice, which thus became the ministry responsible for all the courts in Israel.

The status of the rabbinical court system began to be considerably eroded as of the 1980s. Serious claims were raised against the rabbinical courts, among other things due to the fact that the majority of dayyanim are ḥaredim and are not familiar with the secular lifestyle, which includes sexual relations before marriage and extramarital relationships. It was also claimed that there was discrimination against women, with unsatisfactory solutions for *agunot ("chained" women) and women refused a get (religious divorce), many delays and absenteeism on the part of the dayyanim, limited working hours, etc. In 1995 the Knesset passed a law enabling the religious courts to impose sanctions on husbands refusing to give their wives a get, including imprisonment, preventing them from leaving the country, and taking away their driving license.

The establishment of the Family Courts in 1995 made it possible for a large portion of the public to negotiate almost the entire divorce process in an alternative system, coming to the rabbinical courts with a signed agreement. In a letter sent by the director of the rabbinical courts, Rabbi Eliyahu Ben Dahan, to the dayyanim in 1998 he warned that "the public is voting against us with its feet." Ben Dahan ended his letter with an appeal to the dayyanim to search their souls and improve their service, because "if we do not come to our senses soon, the day is not far off when we will find ourselves doing nothing more than arranging divorce papers."

However, while the secular public is seeking out alternatives to the rabbinical courts, opposition to them actually developed among the religious public. Religious women's organizations began to lead the fight with regard to agunot, as well as the demand to improve the attitude of the dayyanim towards women and towards the rabbinic pleaders representing them.


Until the beginning of the 1990s, the Hevra Kaddisha burial societies had an absolute monopoly over Jewish burial in Israel. The most significant entity in this field was the Tel Aviv Hevra Kaddisha, which had a monopoly throughout almost the entire Dan region, in which almost half of Israel's Jewish residents live. Serious claims were made against this burial society regarding the payment of huge salaries and very high pensions. The society underwent a series of crises, the management was changed several times, and salaries were drastically cut. Jerusalem, on the other hand, suffers from a surfeit of ethnic burial societies. According to the data of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, in 2001 there were 600 burial societies operating in Israel.

Under Israeli law, burial is free and the burial societies are funded by the National Insurance Institute. However, the law permits the burial societies to charge a fee for the purchase of burial plots during a person's lifetime, for reserving a plot alongside a spouse, for purchasing a plot in a closed cemetery (in which only a few plots remain), and in other cases. During the 1980s and 1990s there was considerable criticism over the high prices charged by the burial societies for the purchase of plots, often as much as nis 20,000, and in exceptional cases even nis 50,000. In July 2001 the Knesset passed a law setting the maximum price for purchasing burial plots in different areas, ranging from nis 2,000 to nis 11,000.

At the end of the 1980s a movement for secular burial got underway, in the form of associations called "Menuḥah Nekhonah." Outwardly, the religious establishment did not object to these initiatives, and it was even argued that it was preferable for observant Jews that secular Jews not be buried alongside them. In practice, the religious establishment engaged in foot dragging, and the only association to succeed in starting burial services by 2005 was Menuḥah Nekhonah Beersheba. Secular people wishing to hold non-religious burial services are forced to turn to the kibbutzim that have opened commercial cemeteries.

A serious problem arose in the mid-1990s following the wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union, when no place was found to bury people without a religion and some bodies lay in the morgues for many days. The problem was eventually solved by the allocation of separate plots in Jewish cemeteries for people without a religion, and by burying some of the non-Jewish immigrants in kibbutz cemeteries.

The Jewish method of burial in the earth is very wasteful of space, only allowing for 250 graves per dunam (a quarter acre). In the 1990s the burial societies began making use of a number of methods for high-density burial, in order to save on land use: multi-level burial (Rama burial) with bodies buried in the earth on each level; burial in niches (Sanhedrin burial) in which the graves are in the walls; and so on. The cost of these burial structures is very high, three times higher than open burial. In 2005 a crematorium began operating in Israel for the first time. On the face of it, there was no legal reason why crematoria did not operate in Israel prior to this. It is reasonable to assume that the main obstacle was the fact that the concept of the crematorium is linked in the Israeli consciousness to the Holocaust.

[Shahar Ilan (2nd ed.)]


to 1970.

In 1970, over 105,000 Christians, representing almost all the principal branches of Christendom, lived under Israeli rule, mainly in Jerusalem, Bethlehem, Ramallah, Nazareth and Galilee, Haifa, and Jaffa. Most of them were town-dwellers and over 80% spoke Arabic. Juridically, most belonged to religious communities enjoying a large measure of autonomy in matters of personal status and led by patriarchs, who were both their high priests and ethnarchs. The "Community" is the ancient framework of the religious minorities in the Muslim world, but its roots go back to pre-Islamic times. The Ottoman government officially recognized a definite number of them, the so-called millets. This system was maintained by the British Mandatory power between 1918 and 1948 and still persists in Israel. In a schedule added in 1939 to the Palestine Order-in-Council of 1922, the religious communities are listed as follows: the Eastern (Orthodox), the Latin (Catholic), the Gregorian Armenian, the Armenian (Catholic), the Syrian (Catholic), the Chaldean (Uniate), the Greek (Catholic) Melkite, the Maronite, and the Syrian Orthodox. Neither the Copts and Ethiopians, nor the Anglicans and other Reformed Churches are mentioned in this list. The Church of England and the Evangelical Lutheran Church were subsequently granted official status by the government of Jordan, however, and the Evangelical Episcopal Church was recognized by the government of Israel in 1970.

Each community, as a rule, is headed by a patriarch assisted by a synod. The clergy (sometimes with the assistance of lay assessors) constitute the ecclesiastical courts of first instance; the synods form ecclesiastical courts of appeal. These courts have jurisdiction in certain matters of personal status, such as marriage, divorce, alimony, and confirmation of wills. In other matters of personal status, such as legitimation and adoption, guardianship, maintenance, and succession, their jurisdiction is conditional upon the consent of the interested parties.

The Christian religious communities have their headquarters in Jerusalem, where the most venerated Christian sanctuary is the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Equally sacred to all Christian communities, it is controlled in practice largely by the Greek Orthodox, Latin, and Armenian patriarchates. The Syrians and the Copts have small chapels within its precincts, while the Ethiopians and Anglicans have the use of chapels in its immediate neighborhood. This situation is the "provisional" result of centuries of struggle among the various churches over the *holy places. Since the question of the holy places has never been solved, the position has been left, by agreement, in status quo ante. Other holy places are to be found in Nazareth and Bethlehem, and on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.

the (greek) orthodox

The most ancient ecclesiastical body in the Holy Land is the (Greek) Orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem, which is probably the closest successor to the original Judeo-Christian community of St. James. A gentile, Greek-speaking, Christian community emerged in the city, then called Aelia Capitolina, before the middle of the second century, and gained importance in the days of Constantine (after the discovery of the holy places). In 451 Bishop Juvenal received the rank of patriarch. The Church of Jerusalem prospered in Byzantine times, decayed under the Arabs, was superseded by a Latin patriarchate during the Crusades, languished in the later Middle Ages, and recovered some strength under the Turks. At the beginning of the present century, however, it numbered a mere few thousand, fighting for the preservation of Orthodoxy in the Holy Land. In 1969 there were some 37,000 Orthodox in Israel and the Israel-controlled territories.

The head of the church is the patriarch, who is assisted by a holy synod of 14 to 18 members. He is also supported by the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher, made up of a hundred monks, almost all of Hellenic origin, which is the dominant factor in the life of the church, and from whose ranks patriarchs, bishops, archimandrites, and other office-bearers are elected. The Orthodox Church of Jerusalem is therefore an Arabic-speaking community led by an almost exclusively Greek-speaking hierarchy. The lower, married, clergy are Arabic-speaking. The Brotherhood enjoys important rights in the chief holy places, and is the sole owner of some. The patriarchate possesses 45 historic monasteries (some dating back to early Byzantine times) and numerous churches. The seat of the patriarch and the headquarters of the Brotherhood is the Convent of St. Constantine and St. Helena in Jerusalem, which also houses a library containing thousands of manuscripts, some going back to the tenth century.

The Orthodox patriarchate of Jerusalem is the only autocephalous church in the country, all others being dependent in various degrees upon supreme hierarchs residing abroad, for example in Rome, Etchmiadzin (Soviet Armenia), Damascus, and Beirut. In Sinai there is a further autonomous (though not autocephalous) Orthodox church: founded in the third century as a missionary outpost, it is today a tiny monastic community, headed by an abbot with the title of archbishop. In 527 Justinian built a fortified monastery there, and in 566 a church in memory of his wife Theodora. In the ninth century, the monastery received the name of St. Catherine. It houses a famous library which includes numerous priceless manuscripts.

Jerusalem is also the seat of two Russian Orthodox missions. One of them represents the Moscow patriarchate; the other, the Russian Church Abroad. Both claim to be the legitimate successors of the ecclesiastic mission established by the Russian Government in the 19th century. The Moscow mission is in possession of the cathedral in Jerusalem and of a few churches in Jaffa, Haifa, Nazareth, and Tiberias, while the other is in charge of eight establishments, including the Church of St. Magdalene in Gethsemane. The mission of the Church Abroad, being out of communion with the patriarch of Moscow, is not recognized by the Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem. A representative of the Romanian patriarch is in charge of a church and a tiny community in Jerusalem.

the non-chalcedonians

These are the Churches which recognize only the dogmas defined by the first three ecumenical councils.

The Armenians

This group had 72 monasteries in the Holy Land in the seventh century, and its numbers increased considerably under the Arabs and crusaders. As a result, much of Mount Zion became the property of the Armenian Church as early as the tenth century, and many splendid buildings were built there, e.g., the Church of St. Thoros. They prospered during the existence of the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia, when they enjoyed the support of Armenian kings and princes and received numerous pilgrims. In 1311 (or perhaps 1281) their bishop was raised to the rank of patriarch. In later times they fared less well, losing all but six of their 72 monasteries, but they managed to maintain – against the Greek Orthodox – what they considered their rights in the main holy places. In Mandatory times (1918–48) they formed a prosperous community of some 5,000 souls, with their own churches, schools, and cultural institutions. Many have emigrated (to Soviet Armenia and elsewhere), and today they number over 2,500 in Israel-controlled territories.

The Armenian patriarchate is organized as the Monastic Brotherhood of St. James, composed of nine bishops, 32 archimandrites, and 70 monks. Only 36 serve in Israel; the remainder minister abroad. The head of the brotherhood is the patriarch, the leader of the church, president of all its assemblies, and governor of church property, who also represents his community before the state. He is assisted by a holy synod, which derives its authority from the general assembly of the brotherhood. Supreme in Jerusalem, the patriarch is, however, to some extent dependent on the Katholikós of all the Armenians in Etchmiadzin (Soviet Armenia). The patriarchate of Jerusalem is of great significance to the entire Armenian nation, on account of the holy places and the religious and cultural institutions of which it is in charge. The Armenian patriarch enjoys a position similar to those of the Greek Orthodox and Latin patriarchs, with whom he shares the basilicas of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem and of the Nativity in Bethlehem. He also holds in common with the Orthodox the Tomb of the Virgin on the outskirts of Jerusalem. The seat of the patriarchate is on Mount Zion, where the convent, the Cathedral of St. James with its historic treasures, the seminary, and the schools are situated. The library contains some 4,000 manuscripts, mostly of the Cilician period, including the oldest gospel in erkataguir characters, probably of the eighth century.

The Syrian Orthodox and Copts

The Syrians have had a bishop in Jerusalem since 1140, the Copts since 1236. The Syrian Orthodox (also called the Jacobites), numbering about 2,000 in what was formerly the whole of Jordan, are headed by an archbishop residing in the monastery of St. Mark. On Christmas, the Syrians and Copts celebrate at the Armenian altars in the Church of the Nativity. On other solemn occasions they officiate in their own tiny chapels in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher.

The Ethiopians

Although they owned a considerable number of chapels and altars in various holy places from the Middle Ages until the first part of the 16th century, the Ethiopians are today confined to the Deir al-Sultan on the roof of the subterranean chapel of St. Helena (in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher), a beautiful church and monastery (Debre Gennet) in western Jerusalem, and a chapel near the Jordan River.

the catholics

The Catholic Church is represented in Israel by Latins and Uniates (Melkites, Maronites, Chaldeans, Syrian Catholics, and Armenian Catholics). Each community belongs to an independent jurisdiction, but all depend, severally, upon the Sacred Congregation of the Oriental Churches in Rome.

The Latins

The Latins number more than 24,000 Europeans, Arabs, and others. They are headed by a patriarch, under whose jurisdiction are those Latins living in Transjordan and Cyprus. The Latin patriarchate of Jerusalem, which was founded by the crusaders in 1099, ceased to exist in 1291 but was reestablished in 1847/48. The patriarch is assisted by a coadjutor, two auxiliary bishops and a chapter of canons. Seventy diocesan clergy are in charge of 47 parishes distributed over Israel, Jordan, and Cyprus. A patriarchal seminary was founded in 1853.

Within the Latin community there are more than 40 religious orders and congregations. These include the Salesians with their orphanages and trade schools, the Brethren (Frères) with their colleges, the White Fathers and the Fathers of Beth Harram with their seminaries, the Trappists with their abbey at Latrun; the Benedictines with their abbey of the Dormition in Jerusalem, the Dominicans with the École Biblique, also in Jerusalem, the Carmelites, with their sanctuaries on Mt. Carmel, the Assumptionists, with their large organized pilgrimages, the Jesuits with their Pontifical Biblical Institute, and, most important, the Franciscans. There are 25 communities of women with more than 12,000 members and several hundred houses. These include the Sisters of the Rosary (who are of local origin), the Sisters of St. Joseph, the Filles de la Charité, the Carmelite Sisters, the Sisters of Zion, and the Poor Clares.

Most of these religious "families" went to the Holy Land during the last 120 years, but the Franciscans had arrived centuries before the other orders. For more than 500 years (since 1333), their "Custody of the Holy Land" was the sole agency in charge of Catholic interests in Palestine and the Near East. They endeavored to regain rights of worship and possession in the major sanctuaries, rehabilitated abandoned shrines, attended to numberless pilgrims, and ministered to the tiny "Latin" communities that sprang up around their convents. In 1848, they surrendered some of their functions and prerogatives, but not the most important, to the restored patriarchate. With over 400 members drawn from 28 nations, they are still the guardians of the most important Catholic sanctuaries. While sharing, under the status quo, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Grotto of the Nativity with the Orthodox and the Armenians, they hold in exclusive possession sacred sites in Nazareth, Cana, Capernaum, Tabor (all in Galilee), Gethsemane, Bethany, and Bethpage (all near Jerusalem), and Mt. Nebo. With worldwide Catholic aid, they have erected many churches and chapels, notably the monumental Basilica of the Annunciation in Nazareth, completed in 1967. Their Studium Biblicum is now a section of the theological faculty of the Pontifical University of St. Anthony in Rome. The numerous religious, cultural, educational, and welfare activities of the Latin Church in Israel, Jordan, and Cyprus are supervised by the apostolic delegate, representing the Holy See.

The Uniates (the Oriental churches in communion with Rome)

The Uniates are represented in Israel by comparatively small communities, except for the strong Melkite community. The Maronites number about 3,000, for the most part near the Lebanese border; the Chaldeans and the Syrian and Armenian Catholics are a mere handful. Though all Uniate patriarchs reside in the Arab countries, their jurisdiction is recognized in Israel, where they are represented by patriarchal vicars in Jerusalem. None of the Uniate churches has rights in the principal Holy Places.

The Melkites are a most significant community. They are 26,500 strong: 23,500 in their diocese of Acre and Galilee and smaller numbers in Jerusalem and in the Israel-controlled territories. Under the guidance of their former archbishop, Georges Hakim (from 1967 Patriarch Maximus v of Antioch), they made great strides, increasing numerically, building numerous churches, establishing schools and seminaries, and integrating into the country's economic and social life. Arabic of speech, Byzantine of rite, and Catholic in church allegiance, they feel that they can play an important role in inter-church, and perhaps intercommunal, relations.

anglicans and protestants

Reformed Christianity came to the Holy Land some 150 years ago. One of its aims was missionary work among Jews and Muslims, but most of its converts came from the (Greek) Orthodox. In 1841 an Anglican bishopric was established in Jerusalem in cooperation with Prussian Lutherans, the first incumbent being Michael Solomon *Alexander, a convert from Judaism. The original accord between the English and the Germans broke down in 1881, and the bishopric was reconstituted in 1887 on a solely Anglican basis, the Lutherans carrying on independently.

Anglicanism prospered, especially in the Mandatory period, but by 1948 most of its English-speaking adherents left the country. Today the Evangelical Episcopal Church, some 3,000 strong, is overwhelmingly Arabic-speaking. The bishopric was raised to archiepiscopal rank in 1957, and the Anglican archbishop in Jerusalem presides over a synod composed of the bishops of Egypt and Libya, Sudan, Iran, and Jordan. In 1970 the church was recognized by the Israel government as a separate religious community. The Anglicans have no rights in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, but they enjoy the privilege of occasionally celebrating in the nearby (Greek) Orthodox chapel of St. Abraham. The archbishop's own cathedral is the Collegiate Church of St. George in Jerusalem, consecrated in 1898.

German Lutherans established schools, hospices, and hospitals in the Holy Land, the best-known being the Augusta Victoria Hospice (now a hospital) on Mount Scopus, the Hospice of the Order of St. John in Jerusalem, the Talitha Kumi School at Bayt Jālā near Bethlehem, and the German Evangelical Institute for Archaeological Research in the Holy Land. Despite setbacks as a result of the two world wars, the Lutherans have reestablished themselves. Led by a propst, residing in the building of the Church of the Redeemer in the Muristan area of the Old City, they now form the Evangelical Lutheran Church numbering about 1,500, mostly Arab.

Non-German Lutheran institutions include the Swedish Theological Institute in Jerusalem, the Swedish school and hospital in Bethlehem, the Finnish Missionary School in Jerusalem, and the Scandinavian Seamen's Church in Haifa. Reformed Christianity is also represented by a number of minor Protestant groups and agencies which, being mostly of foreign and recent origin, do not enjoy the status of official communities, although of course they have complete freedom of worship. These include Presbyterians, Baptists, Pentecostalians, the Society of Friends (Quakers), Adventists, and Brethren.

[Chaim Wardi]

developments among the christian communities in the 1970s

Despite some emigration, the Christian population of Israel and the administered areas rose from 105,000 in 1970 to over 120,000 in 1980. The 1970s were marked by manifold activities and developments in the Christian Churches, especially in Jerusalem. In addition, an unprecedented number of congresses and colloquies, seminars and study tours were conducted in Israel by Christian organizations and groups from all over the world, while local ecclesiastics represented their Churches in many overseas forums.

In addition to Christians News from Israel published by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, which provides a comprehensive survey of Christian life in Israel, the various communities published their own periodicals and bulletins. They included Nea Sion (Greek Orthodox), Sion (Armenian), Terra Sancta and Christian Information Centre Bulletin (Franciscan), Jerusálem (Latin), Proche-Orient Chrétien (White Fathers), Ar-Rabita (Greek Catholic), Aram (Syrian Orthodox), Envangelische Gemeinde Jerusalem (Lutheran), Ha-Yahad (Baptist), and ucci News (United Christian Council in Israel). The Jerusalem Post also published a regular column, Oekomenikos on Christian life and developments in the country.

Holy Places

A number of major holy places, a focal point of Christian religious life, were renovated, among them the Tomb of Mary at the church in Gethsemane and the Cenacle (Room of the Last Supper). Restoration of Christianity's most venerated shrine, the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher, entered its final stage after nearly two decades of intensive work. The Greek Orthodox and Armenian Patriarchates of Jerusalem and the Franciscan Custody of the Holy Land, the three major communities with rights of property and worship in the Basilica, embellished their respective sections and were sharing equally in the restoration of the foundations and facade, the parvis and portals, the Stone of Unction, and the floor and dome of the Rotunda. Despite the traditional sensitivity in inter-Church relations, the work in the Basilica were carried out in a spirit of cooperation, predicated on a strict adherence to the precepts of the status quo and, where agreement between the communities proved impossible, repairs were financed and executed by the Ministry of Religious Affairs, acting as a neutral agent. The ministry likewise undertook improvements at the room of the Last Supper, contested by the Moslems and Franciscans since the sixteenth century, and at Deir el-Sultan in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher complex, the object of a century-old conflict between the Coptic and Ethiopian Churches. The latter dispute was taken up in 1971 by a Ministerial Committee of the government which sought to move the sides towards an agreed solution. The question of ownership of the holy places and properties of the Russian Orthodox Church has been the subject of two lawsuits lodged in Israeli courts by the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia: one contests the control of Russian church property in pre-1967 Israel by the Moscow Patriarchate's Russian Orthodox Mission; the other seeks to annul a transaction of 1965, by which the Government of the Soviet Union sold Russian property, mainly real estate in the "Russian Compound" in Jerusalem, to the Israel Government.

Religious Life

The 1970s saw the construction and the refurbishing of tens of churches and monasteries throughout the country. The Greek Orthodox Patriarchate renovated many of its more than 50 historic monasteries and churches and built new shrines in Jericho and Shepherds' Field, near Bethlehem. The Armenian Patriarchate was putting up a magnificent new shrine on Mount Zion incorporating archaeological remains which were excavated in 1971–72 and span two and a half millennia. Among the new Catholic sanctuaries and religious institutions were an open-air basilica on the Mount of Olives, commemorating the mystery of the Ascension, a Byzantine style church being built at Tabgha to enshrine the celebrated mosaic pavement and the other remains of the 4th/5th century basilica that stood on the traditional site of the multiplication of the loaves and fishes, a church in Zababadeh in the West Bank, and a retreat house of the Sisters of St. Joseph in Abu Ghosh (Kiryat Ye'arim). The Franciscans repaired many of the shrines in their charge. The Greek Catholic (Melkite) community consecrated new churches in towns and villages in Galilee, and restored others in Jerusalem and the West Bank. The other Uniate Churches have also been active in this respect: in Jerusalem, the Maronites readied a renewed center and chapel, and the Syrian, Armenian, and Chaldean Catholics extensively renovated their respective houses of worship. There was a new Ethiopian convent in Bethany, and the small Church of the Romanian Orthodox Mission in Jerusalem was beautified. Also in the capital, the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer and St. Paul's (Anglican) Church were completely refurbished. The Church of the Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) and an ecumenical Christian group each developed a memorial garden on the Mount of Olives, offering local residents and visitors of all faiths and denominations verdant retreats for meditation and private prayer.

In 1975 the new premises of the 140-year-old Armenian theological seminary for the training of priests for the whole Armenian Church were opened during the visit to Jerusalem of the supreme head of the Armenian Church. Distinguished alumni of the seminary, among them the Patriarch of Istanbul and the Primates of Egypt, Europe, Australia and America, gathered in Jerusalem for a world congress on the contemporary situation and mission of the Armenian Church. The school of the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, which prepares aspirants to the Brotherhood of the Holy Sepulcher, is housed in the renovated Holy Trinity monastery on Mount Zion. Catholic clergy were trained at theological academies in Jerusalem, Beit Jala, and Cremisan.

Major organizational changes in the Anglican and Lutheran churches granted a far greater degree of local autonomy than heretofore, and for the first time each was headed by an Arab bishop.

Practical steps were taken towards liturgical renewal. The Latin Patriarchate played a central role in the promulgation of catechisms and translations into Arabic of new liturgical texts. For the first time, the Syrian Orthodox Church in Jerusalem published an edition of the eucharistic liturgy in which the Syriac text in the ancient Aramaic characters is accompanied by an Arabic transcription and translation. The Armenian Patriarchate completed the translation of the New Testament into modern Western Armenian. The United Christian Council in Israel, comprising nineteen Protestant and Anglican Church representations, published several liturgical and scriptural works.

A number of the more than 40 Catholic religious orders and congregations celebrated the centenary of their presence in the Holy Land, among them the Rosary Sisters, the Italian Sisters of the Nigrizia, the White Fathers, the Christian Brothers (Frères), the Fathers of the Sacred Heart of Bétharram, and the Fathers of Our Lady of Zion. In addition, some ten new orders have arrived in the last decade.

Among the ranking prelates who came to Israel during the period under review were the Armenian Catholicos, the Orthodox Patriarchs of Russia, Georgia, Bulgaria and Romania, the Patriarch of Ethiopia, the Primate of the Russian Orthodox Church Outside Russia, a large number of Roman Catholic Cardinals and Vatican officials, the Minister General of the Franciscan order, the secretary-general of the World Council of Churches and several successive Moderators of the Church of Scotland. The total of Christian visitors and pilgrims arriving annually has risen from 100,000 in 1969 to 600,000 in 1980. In 1975 it was swelled by many Catholics who included the Holy Land in their Holy Year pilgrimage to Rome.

In 1977 a law passed by the Knesset making it illegal to promise, give, or receive material benefits in exchange for religious conversion caused a concerned reaction from the Christian communities, who felt the legislation might affect religious liberty in general and the functioning of their philanthropic institutions in particular. In reply to a petition submitted to the President of the State by the Greek Orthodox, Latin and Armenian Patriarchs and the Custos of the Holy Land, it was made clear however, that the government had no intention whatsoever of restricting in any way the religious freedom of the Christian, or any other, communities in Israel, or of impeding their pursuit of normal educational, social or philanthropic activities.

The proposed draft of the Basic Law on the Rights of Man studied in the 1970s by the Committee on Constitution, Law and Justice of the Knesset, and particularly the sections dealing with religious freedom, aroused considerable interest among Christian bodies and interfaith groups.


The Church authorities expanded and remodeled many of their 85 schools which had an enrollment of some 20,000, including a large number of Muslims. These schools are directed and, to a large degree, financed, by the various Churches. At the request of the Greek Catholics, however, the government recently assumed the burden of the teachers' salaries in their schools.

There was a marked rise in the number of Christian students, theologians and clergy coming to Israel from all parts of the globe, with an increasing number from the Third World, to participate in courses given by some thirty local religious centers. Among the new programs opened for them in Jerusalem were the sessions of spiritual renewal organized by the White Fathers for members of the Order working in Africa; courses at the Inter-Community Bible Center of Bethesda; the seven-month program of the Dormition Abbey's "Beit Yosef" on Mount Zion, for theology students from West Germany, Austria and Switzerland; courses at Ratisbonne monastery directed by the Congregation of Our Lady of Zion and the Fathers of Zion; the study project for Mormon students from Brigham Young University in the United States; the annual seminars for Dutch and Belgian theologians; and the one-year program at The Hebrew University which is sponsored by West German Protestant Churches. The Institute of Holy Land Studies (Protestant), St. George's College (Anglican), and the renovated Swedish Theological Institute (Lutheran) expanded their existing study programs. An Ecumenical African Institute for Biblical Studies was set up in Jerusalem to help African clergymen and theologians explore the sources of their Christian faith. At the new Mater Ecclesiae Center in Tiberias, nuns from Asia and Africa attend six month sessions of spiritual renewal.

Many of these projects benefited from a close cooperation between local Christian and Jewish scholars. A most significant example was the program initiated in 1975 by the prestigious Pontifical Biblical Institute (Jesuit), which brought students from Africa, Asia, Europe and the Americas under the tuition of scholars from The Hebrew University of Jerusalem. These studies constitute a basic part of the three-year course at the Pontifical Biblical Institute in Rome leading to Licenciate in Sacred Scripture, which prepares priests as instructors in Catholic seminaries throughout the Christian oecumene.

A Dominican scholar in Jerusalem, who was consultant to the Vatican Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, was appointed head of the philosophy department at The Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Social and Cultural Activities

The Christian Churches were attentive to the social and cultural needs of their communities and, during the 1970s, a number of new institutions and services were added to the scores already existing.

In Bethlehem, the ultra-modern Caritas Baby Hospital and the Ephpheta Institute for deaf-mute children were opened under Catholic patronage; the unique Institute of Medical Genetics and Twin Studies, on Mt. Olives, staffed by the recently arrived Congregation of the Handmaids of the Sacred Heart, was steadily being developed, while, nearby, the Polish Sisters of Saint Elizabeth established an orphanage for girls. The Lutheran World Federation and Catholic Relief Services instituted a number of new projects, several of them in cooperation with the Ministry of Social Affairs and the Military Government in the West Bank. The Greek Orthodox and Armenian Patriarchates opened new health centers in Jerusalem. In Haifa, homes for the aged were inaugurated by the Greek Catholics and the Lutherans.

Community centers were set up by the Greek Orthodox in a number of towns. The Greek Catholics opened such centers in villages in Galilee and instituted mobile library services in that area.

Two major cultural institutions being developed in the capital have won wide acclaim. For the first time, the accumulated art treasures of the centuries-old Armenian community in Jerusalem were put on permanent display to the public in a forty-room museum which was opened in 1979 in the Armenian Quarter of the Old City. The exhibits include ritual objects, illuminated manuscripts, icons, painted tiles, copper work, mosaics and tapestries. The Notre Dame of Jerusalem Center, which was formally decreed a "Pontifical Institute" in 1978, is to include a hostel for pilgrims, an arts and crafts pavilion where Christian artisans will have facilities for creating and displaying their works, and a large meeting-hall electronically equipped for simultaneous translations for the use of local Catholic communities and pilgrim groups.

A number of Christian clergy were awarded the title of "Distinguished Citizen of Jerusalem" (Yakir Yerushalayim) for their contributions to the spiritual and cultural life of the capital.

Ecumenical and Interfaith

Several new ventures were helping the cause of positive relations and cooperation among the various Christian communities. Foremost among them was the Ecumenical Institute for Advanced Theological Studies at Tantur, near Jerusalem, inaugurated in 1972. It provided a place where Christian theologians from all over the world could come together to pursue their own research and to participate in a community dedicated to the recovery of Christian unity through theological study, in the environs in which the Church first came into existence. The Institute seeks also to take advantage of its location in the midst of Jewish and Muslim cultures. In 1979 the Institute launched a major project of research and reflection of Christianity in the Holy Land.

A different undertaking is the Christian Information Center which opened its doors in 1973 in the Old City of Jerusalem. The Center gathers and dispenses information on behalf of all the Christian Churches. The ecumenical spirit is also evident in the increasing participation by Christians from all denominations in the annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, and in the activities of the Ecumenical Theological Research Fraternity in Israel.

Reference has already been made to the cooperation between Christian and Jewish scholars in Israel. Christian involvement in groups such as the Israel Interfaith Committee and the Rainbow Group is also noteworthy, as are the "Hope" seminars initiated in 1973, and the appearance, in 1972, of a semi-annual bulletin of religious thought in Israel, Immanuel, published by the Ecumenical Fraternity. Two significant interfaith symposia were organized in 1980, one on the occasion of the 15th centenary of the birth of St. Benedict, the other commemorating Armenian Martyr's Day and entitled "Genocide and Collective Responsibility."

Initiatives of another kind are the interfaith Neve Shalom center on land near Latrun, and Nes Amim, a Protestant moshav (co-operative farm village) in Western Galilee, which in 1975 inaugurated a new center to house seminars and study projects which further its ideal of promoting understanding between Jews and Christians through constructive co-existence. A second Protestant moshav, Yad ha-Shemonah, was under development near Abu-Ghosh by a group from Finland. An international Christian "embassy" was opened in Jerusalem by evangelical Christians who wish to demonstrate and promote Christian support for Israel.

In the main, Christian involvement in interreligious activities in Israel remained limited, and was primarily the province of western Christians. The political situation, the lack of a tradition of pluralism among Oriental Churches, and the essential western character of interreligious contacts in Israel tended to minimize the participation of the predominantly Arab indigenous Churches.

Generally speaking, the Churches continued to follow a policy of neutrality in the political realm. In internal matters, such as religious life, administration, culture and education, they maintained their traditional independence.

[Daniel Rossing]

the 1980s and after

According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, the estimated Christian population of the State of Israel at the end of 1991 was 128,000, compared with 94,170 Christian inhabitants counted in the 1983 decennial census. Estimates vary greatly regarding the extent to which this number has been augmented by Russian and Ethiopian Christians who arrived in Israel with the most recent waves of immigration from those countries. On the other hand, Christian sources note that in the face of continuing political tension and an uncertain future in the Middle East, a growing number of Christian families in Jerusalem and the Territories have now chosen emigration to the West.

The various strands – Christian, Israeli, Arab, Palestinian – intertwined in the identities of Christians in the land, have been colored by political conflicts in the area during the past decade. The civil and religious strife in Lebanon and renewed contact with fellow-Christians there in the wake of the 1982 War in Lebanon, stirred, especially among Christians in Galilee, stronger feelings of identity with their particular Christian community. The protracted intifada, on the other hand, has induced many Christians living in Jerusalem and the Territories to accentuate their Palestinian identity and advocate solidarity with their Muslim neighbors, despite, or perhaps because of, rising Islamic fundamentalism. In the latter circumstance, some Christians have begun to formulate a Palestinian Christian "theology of liberation," designed to strengthen local Christians in their Palestinian context and identity. Church leaders in Jerusalem on their part have issued with increasing frequency joint public statements and pastoral letters expressing their deep dismay over the suffering of their faithful. Israel government officials in turn have accused Church leaders of being one-sided in their political positions, and fault them for their failure to speak out on Palestinian violence and their refusal to publicly acknowledge recurrent instances of Muslim extremism directed against their members and institutions.

The sensitive situation of the Christian communities in the present political climate was brought to the fore in 1990 by the St. John's Hospice Affair. Over the past decade, Muslims have continued without opposition to purchase, lease, or rent many properties in the Christian Quarter of Jerusalem's Old City. However, when a group of Orthodox Jews managed, with assistance from the Ministry of Housing, to sub-lease and subsequently take up residence in a building in the vicinity of the Holy Sepulcher owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate, Christians felt obliged to protest loudly in order to avert Muslim accusations of collusion with Zionist designs. The initial support for the Christian side which was forthcoming from many Jewish circles weakened significantly when the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, Diodoros i, traveled to Rome to enlist the support of the pope, and to Damascus where President Assad readily offered his help to defend the Christians of the Holy Land.

In line with a process of indigenization in evidence throughout the Catholic world, for the first time in the history of the Latin Patriarchate a local Arab Christian, Monsignor Michel Assad Sabbaḥ, took office as Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem in January 1988. During the past decade his Church and the various Uniate Catholic communities have dedicated a significant number of new houses of worship and refurbished many of their older churches and convents throughout the country. The spiritual life of the local Catholic Church has been strengthened by the arrival of 11 additional religious orders and congregations, and by the publication of a new missal and lectionnaire in Arabic in accord with the liturgical reforms recommended by the Second Vatican Council.

Through official visits to the leaders of Orthodox Churches abroad, and by hosting them in Jerusalem, the Greek Orthodox patriarch of Jerusalem has attempted to reassert the centrality of Jerusalem as the "Mother" Church of the Christian oecumene. For the first time in several centuries, representatives of Orthodox Churches from throughout the world gathered in Jerusalem in October 1986 at his initiative to discuss issues of world peace. The patriarch has also labored to more effectively capitalize on the extensive real estate holdings of his Church, in order to generate the funds required for an ambitious project of renovation of the Patriarchate's historic shrines and convents throughout the country. The Palestinian laity of his community, both in Israel and in Jordan, have lobbied ever more forcefully for a greater say in the affairs of the Patriarchate and for the redirecting of its resources to educational and welfare projects for their benefit.

In February 1990, Yegishe Derderian passed away after 30 years of service as Armenian Patriarch during which the Jerusalem Patriarchate played a central role in the religious and cultural life of the Armenian diaspora. Under the leadership of his successor, Archbishop Torkom Manoogian, renewed access to the Armenian homeland has brought benefit to the community, but also the burden of the tragedies and tribulations of their fellow-Armenians living there.

The religio-political divide within the Protestant communities in the country has widened during the last decade. Among those who deeply identify with Jews, whether as an affirmation of the Jewish roots of their faith or with an aim to pave a path for missionary inroads, western evangelical circles close to the International Christian Embassy have been ever more vocal in their political support for the State of Israel, at times in ways which have irritated the indigenous Churches. On the other hand, most Arab Protestants and many of the expatriate Christians who work among and empathize with them, have adopted a much more critical posture vis-à-vis the State of Israel and endeavor to distance themselves from any religious or political links, past or present, with Israel.

Holy Places

Significant progress has been made in the restoration of major Christian shrines throughout the country. Renovations in the Church of the Holy Sepulcher have continued, although in parts of the basilica progress is still impeded by age-old disputes concerning the Status Quo. The three principal communities – Greek Orthodox, Armenian, and Latin – have completed most of the works of restoration and beautification in the sections of the shrine held respectively by them, and have finally jointly agreed concerning the embellishment of the ceiling of the dome of the Rotunda, darkened for decades by the ugly scaffolding left in place pending the outcome of their deliberations. The Civil Administration in Judea and Samaria has repeatedly patched the roof of the Basilica of the Nativity in Bethlehem but has not been able to achieve agreement among the Churches concerning the major repairs called for since the days of the British Mandate. The annual general cleaning of that shrine has become in recent years the scene of altercations between the three main communities. Both the Egyptian and Ethiopian governments have continued to actively press for a resolution of the long-standing Coptic-Ethiopian dispute over Deir al-Sultan, the monastery on the roof of the Holy Sepulcher, which would favor their respective countrymen.

Among other holy places which have been reconstructed or undergone repairs are the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes at Tabgha, the traditional house of St. Peter in Capernaum, over which a controversial octagonal "memorial" structure has been erected, and the Tomb of the Virgin near the Garden of Gethsemane. The Cenacle on Mount Zion, traditional site of the Last Supper, has been refurbished by the present caretaker, the Ministry for Religious Affairs, and the East Jerusalem Development Corporation has esthetically renovated the Via Dolorosa. The traditional place of the baptism of Jesus at Qasr al Yahud, located in a closed security zone along the Jordan River southeast of Jericho, remains inaccessible to the general public, but in recent years the Civil Administration in the Administered Territories has made arrangements for an annual Catholic pilgrimage to the site, and for the Orthodox celebration of the Feast of Epiphany there. The Government Tourist Corporation has developed baptismal facilities for the convenience of pilgrim groups along the Jordan river just south of the Sea of Galilee.

Education, Social, and Cultural

Nearly all the Christian schools in the State of Israel, with the exception of those in East Jerusalem, have in the course of the last decade received official recognition from the Ministry of Education and Culture and now benefit from extensive funding from the state budget, which has made it possible for them to expand and improve their programs. Christian schools in the Territories have been severely affected by the civil unrest and repeated closures during the Intifada. However, there too Christian educational activities have continued to expand, for example through additional facilities inaugurated at Bethlehem University and at the Salesian Technical School in Bethlehem, as well as through a new theological seminary opened in the village of Beit Sahour by the Greek (Melkite) Catholic Church.

The dozens of study frameworks available to Christians from abroad have been augmented by the Vatican-sponsored Centre Chrétien des Etudes Juives opened in Jerusalem in 1987 at the Monastery of Saint Pierre de Sion (Ratisbonne). The new graduate institute is run under the academic direction of the Institut Catholique de Paris, and, like many other Christian study programs in Israel, benefits from close collaboration with The Hebrew University. Among Jewish educational institutions in the capital which have developed special study programs for Christians are the Shalom Hartman Institute for Advanced Jewish Studies and the Melitz Centers for Jewish-Zionist Education.

A protracted controversy surrounding the construction of a new Mormon Church-affiliated Brigham Young University study center on Mount Scopus was defused by a written undertaking of officials of the Church that the center's staff and students will scrupulously refrain from any missionary activity in the country.

The local Churches, with the financial support of western coreligionists, have devoted increasing attention to the social and cultural needs of their communities. The Greek, Armenian, and Coptic Orthodox, as well as the Latin, Syrian, Greek, and Maronite Catholics, have all established additional community and retreat centers or expanded existing facilities.

Several Churches have initiated much-needed housing projects for Christian residents. Christian medical services have been expanded and improved, inter alia, at the Caritas Baby Hospital and the Holy Family Maternity Hospital in Bethlehem and at the Scottish Hospital in Nazareth. Historical museums have been opened to the public in Jerusalem by the Latins, Armenians, Greek Orthodox, and Greek Catholics. During the past decade many of the Christian hospices have been renovated and modernized to meet the needs of today's pilgrim.

The Jerusalem Municipality has honored several Christian personalities with the title "Distinguished Citizen of Jerusalem" and, in January 1987, the Knesset paid special tribute to "Righteous Gentiles" living in Israel.

EcumenicaI and Interfaith

Ecumenical and interfaith activities in Israel have continued to attract primarily persons of Western background. Attempts to involve representatives of the dominantly eastern or Arab Christian population have met with little success. Ecumenical contacts among local Christians have focused mainly on discussion of political rather than theological issues. Steps were taken to establish an Arab Christian-Muslim dialogue, but significant progress was impeded by difficulties, magnified by present political realities, in coming to grips with the less than happy history of Muslim-Christian relations in the region.

The opening of formal talks between representatives of the Vatican and the Government of Israel in 1992 was received with mixed emotions by many Christians in the country. There is, on the one hand, deep apprehension that official Vatican recognition of the State of Israel might imperil their fragile relations with their Muslim neighbors, and on the other, the cautious hope that formal agreements between the State and the Vatican will clarify and even enhance their position in local society. Both the Government and the Vatican have stressed that the outcome of the talks will in no way prejudice the existing Status Quo in the Holy Places, and that any rights and privileges which might be secured by the Catholic Churches and institutions would be extended to other Christian communities in the country as well.

The most noteworthy event of the decade was Pope John Paul ii's millennium visit to Israel in 2000, with tens of thousands of Christian pilgrims coming in his wake. The pope celebrated mass at the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, as well as in Nazareth, and visited Yad Vashem.

At the beginning of 2005 there were 117,000 Christians in Israel, constituting 2% of the population. The demographic balance between Muslim and Christian Arabs has changed in mixed towns. In Nazareth, for example, the biggest Arab city in Israel with a population of 62,000 in 2002, the balance went from near parity to a 67% percent majority for the Muslims, their new-found hegemony creating tensions, as in their attempt to build a mosque near the Church of the Annunciation.

The internal breakdown of the Christian community in Israel is as follows: 37% Greek Catholic, 30% Greek Orthodox, 23% Latin Catholic, 5% Maronite, and 5% others.

[Daniel Rossing]


under turkish rule

Islam drew no distinction between "church" and state, for the latter had both political and religious functions. The Muslims of the Holy Land, therefore, saw no reason to organize as a community. They felt that they were the state, and the government should put their needs first. It was the non-Muslims who needed communal organizations recognized by the authorities and enjoying internal autonomy to protect their interests. The Muslims were almost all Sunnites, most of them, especially in the villages, belonging to the Shāfiʿī school, though the Shariʿa (Muslim religious) courts were conducted according to the Ḥanafī school, prevalent in the towns. Religious life in the countryside followed tradition, receiving inspiration and content from the mosques and the tombs of holy men. In some of the villages, especially the district of Samaria, renowned for its religious fervor, orders of zealots developed which maintained zawāyā (small prayer houses) as meeting places for their adherents. Traditional religious education was given in both town and village, the imam serving as teacher, in addition to his other duties. These classes were replaced in the course of time by more modern schools, which were taken over by the British Mandatory government. The pilgrimage to Mecca was the aspiration of all, even the poor making great efforts to get there despite the expense and danger involved, and the return of a pilgrim was a major event. Sufi orders maintained zawāyā and takāyā (hostels) in Jerusalem, where lodgings were provided for pilgrims on their way to Mecca and bread and soup for the poor, drawing their revenues from waqf (religious trust) funds and contributions from the pilgrims. Such institutions were founded by immigrants from North Africa, India, Bukhara, and Afghanistan.

However, the charitable and educational institutions which the Egyptian rulers had founded in the Ayyubid period, especially in Jerusalem around the Al-Aqṣā Mosque, were in a state of progressive decline. They depended for their maintenance on the waqf revenues, estimated to total 40,000 Turkish pounds, which the government sent to Constantinople, instead of devoting them to the purposes for which they were destined. This was one of the grounds for the dissatisfaction expressed in the Arabic newspapers that started to appear after the revolt of the Young Turks in 1908. Articles were published denouncing the neglect of educational and religious establishments, which was said to have led to a religious and spiritual decline. The writers demanded that the government use the income from the charitable trusts for the maintenance of the institutions and the establishment of new ones, such as a college for religious studies and a vocational school for the children of the poor, aid for the distressed and indigent, and the preservation of the Muslim holy places, some of which were beginning to pass into Christian hands. Fears were expressed for the future of the younger generation, many of whom were being educated in schools run by foreigners, whose teachings were not compatible with Ottoman loyalty or the principles of Islam.

These demands fell upon deaf ears – Turkey was too preoccupied with her wars to pay attention to them. One new religious institution, al-Madrasa al-Ṣalāḥiyya, a training college for religious functionaries, was opened in Jerusalem during World War i in order to counteract the influence of religious leaders in the service of the British, but was shut down when the war ended.

under british rule

The passage from four centuries of Ottoman rule to the rule of a Christian government did not, at first, present serious problems for the Muslims. The experienced officials of the British military administration, transferred from Egypt to deal with civilian affairs, did much for religious life. Festivals were celebrated with great splendor under the patronage of the British authorities; plans were prepared for the repair of the Al-Aqṣā Mosque, and the expenses of the annual pilgrimage to Nebi Mūsā (the reputed tomb of the Prophet Moses) were borne by the government. In 1921 the Palestine Administration set up the Muslim Higher Council, a secular body, which managed the religious and judicial affairs of the community, ran the charitable trusts, and was responsible for maintaining mosques. Subject to government approval, it appointed religious judges and functionaries, as well as inspectors and other officials. The Council did little, however, to further religious life. Its attempt, in 1922–23, to set up a secondary school in Jerusalem to train religious functionaries was a failure. The only institution of the kind was the al-Jazzār school in the mosque of that name in Acre.

During the period of British rule, however, nationalist trends, previously not in evidence, came into prominence, working in close alliance with religion. From its inception, the Muslim Higher Council introduced the religious element into the Arabs' political struggle against the Jews. Mass celebrations of Islamic festivals became political demonstrations, often ending in violence. The younger generation was inflamed by religious fanaticism and incited to attack the Jews. Delegations were sent to all Islamic countries to warn the faithful of the danger of Jewish domination over the Al-Aqṣā Mosque, the third in importance in the Muslim world. As a result of the efforts of the mufti of Jerusalem, Hajj Amim *al-Hussei ni, a Muslim Congress was held in Jerusalem in 1931, which helped to weld Muslim solidarity while furthering the mufti's political ambitions.

The Council was widely criticized in the Muslim community for its commercial enterprises, the preferential treatment of the favored few, the neglect of the villages and their religious functionaries, and the failure to build new mosques and further post-primary education. After the Arab revolt of 1936–39 some of the council's members were dismissed, and it passed to government control. Several groups and institutions freed themselves from its domination and there was a revival of interest in religious life and education. In Haifa, for example, the improving economic situation and the desire to compete with local Christian institutions stimulated the Muslims to establish their own charitable trusts and educational institutions. After World War ii a number of societies and clubs were set up to intensify devotion to Islam and reform Muslim social life on the basis of Islamic principles. The Muslim Brotherhood, founded in Egypt, established a few branches in Palestine.

under israeli rule

The end of the British Mandate saw the complete collapse of Muslim public life. Most of the religious leaders, who had played a prominent part in political activity, fled the country. The religious judiciary crumbled and the charitable trusts were abandoned. Great difficulty was experienced in finding replacements for religious judges and functionaries, especially in the towns, and the whole system of Shariʿa courts had to be reconstructed, with the aid of Sheikh Ṭahir al-Ṭabarī, the only qadi who remained. For the first time in the history of the relations between Judaism and Islam, Jewish authorities had to be responsible for organizing Muslim religious life.

The Israeli government, through the Ministry of Religious Affairs, took steps to restore the institutions of the Muslim community. Shariʿa courts were set up in Jaffa, Acre, Haifa, Nazareth, and Ṭayyiba (for the central region, where Muslims are numerous) and religious functionaries appointed under the authority of the qadis to mosques in towns and villages. Muslim advisory commissions were set up in Jaffa, Ramleh, Lydda, Haifa, and Acre to look after holy places and promote religious and welfare services. The revenues of the waqf properties, which were administered by the Custodian of Absentee Property, were used to finance the work of the commissions in religious education, health, and welfare, as well as the repair of mosques and the erection of new ones. The management of the holy places was entrusted to the Muslim Department of the Ministry of Religious Affairs, and the government assumed responsibility for the salaries of religious judges and functionaries. By a law of 1965, the Custodian of Absentee Property was empowered to release waqf properties, the fruits of which were destined for religious purposes, education, and welfare to committees of trustees, which replaced the advisory commissions, appointed wherever there were waqf properties and Muslim communities.

The adaptation of Muslim life to the laws of the land was a relatively smooth process. There was understanding, on the whole, for the laws that made primary education compulsory for girls as well as boys, fixed the minimum age of marriage for girls at 17, gave women equal rights, prohibited bigamy and regulated divorce. These were not found to be in conflict with Muslim doctrine; the Israel Supreme Court ruled, for example, that polygamy is not obligatory under Islam.

There were about 100 mosques in pre-1967 Israel, over 20 of which had been built after 1948 – notably the Mosque of Peace in Nazareth, the first to be erected to serve the city's 16,000 Muslims. Many mosques were restored with the government's assistance: for example, it contributed over il 100,000 to repair the mosque of al-Jazzār in Acre. Some 200 religious functionaries receive monthly government stipends. The four Shariʿa courts (the one at Jaffa also has authority over Jerusalem), exercise exclusive jurisdiction over members of the community in matters of personal status, such as marriage, divorce, and inheritance.

The Circassians are one of the minority communities in Israel, adhering to the Muslim faith and numbering about 3,000. When their country, Cherkessia, was subjugated by Russia in 1864, a mass emigration to Turkey took place, some of the refugees later settling in Galilee, where they now inhabit two villages, *Kafr Kama and *al-Riḥaniyya. Circassian (Adyghe) was an unwritten language when they emigrated, and though they still speak it, the language of instruction in their schools is Arabic. Wishing to overcome this drawback, they applied to the Israel Ministry of Education for assistance, and Professor J.C. Catford of the University of Michigan, a specialist in Caucasian and general linguistics, agreed to come and help them learn the Cyrillic orthography now used for their language in the U.S.S.R. He completed a six-week course in Kafr Kama in August 1973. Owing to the absence of teachers and materials, however, it was found impossible to implement this arrangement and, in 1978, following recommendations by a committee appointed by the Ministry of Education, it was decided that all subjects in the school in Kafr Kama would be taught in Hebrew, a measure which was to be extended to al-Riḥaniyya, too. A specialist appointed by the Ministry was to prepare a curriculum and texts in Circassian history and culture. The Circassians are conscripted for service in the Israel Defense Forces and serve in the Israel police.

There are some 600 members of the Aḥmadiyya sect in Kabābīr near Haifa; they conduct missionary activities. Acre is the center of the Shādhiliyya movement of Sufis, the founders of which are buried in the sect's zāwiyā in the town.

Religious life follows its traditional path, Fridays and the festivals of Islam being recognized as official holidays for Muslims. The government of Israel declared its readiness to facilitate pilgrimages to Mecca, but the Arab states refused to cooperate. The Arabic station of the Israel Broadcasting Authority broadcasts daily readings from the Koran, as well as prayers and sermons on Fridays and Muslim festivals. Religion is taught in primary and post-primary schools; the teachers are specially trained and religious textbooks compiled. The popular traditional festivities, such as the pilgrimages to the tombs of Sayyidunā Ali near Herzilyyah and Nabī Ṣāliḥ at Ramleh, have been revived. For the first time in the history of the Muslims in the Holy Land, a regular government publication is issued (by the Muslim Department of the Ministry of Religious Affairs) containing the decisions of the courts and views on major Muslim religious problems.

After the Six-Day War

The reunification of Jerusalem after the 1967 war enabled all Muslims in Israel, for the first time since 1948, to pray at the Al-Aqṣā Mosque, since previously, as Israelis, they could not cross the armistice lines. However, the qadis of the Shariʿa courts in East Jerusalem, who continued to receive their salaries from the Jordanian government and obeyed its political directives, remained unwilling to come to an arrangement with the Israeli authorities on the regulation of matters of Muslim personal status. Other Muslim religious officials were paid by the waqf. The qadi of Jaffa, who had authority over Jerusalem, appointed three marriage registrars for the Muslims of the Holy City, who celebrated about 700 weddings for couples from Jerusalem up to 1970. The Shariʿa court in Jaffa also dealt with about 200 cases submitted by Jerusalem Muslims.

The situation in the Israel-administered areas of Samaria and Judea, where the waqf administration looked after mosque repairs and paid the religious functionaries, was somewhat similar, while in the Gaza Strip the latter, as well as the qadis, received their stipends from the government of Israel. In all the areas the Shariʿa courts continued to function in the same way as under Jordanian or Egyptian rule. The Israeli authorities provided facilities for Muslims from the administered areas to go on pilgrimage to Mecca, but the Arab governments concerned still refused to extend the privilege to Muslim citizens of Israel.

Despite the continued lack of religious leaders of stature, Islam serves as a general unifying factor in the Arab Muslim community. However, the practice of religion among them, as among other communities, is on the decline, particularly among the intellectuals and the city workers. This is due to the advance in education, the rise in the standard of living, the change in the status of women, the modernization of the towns and the countryside, and contact with new ways of life and thought, which have weakened the bonds of tradition and patriarchal discipline.

[Jacob Yehoshua]

Religious Life in the 1970s

Considerable improvement was made in everything pertaining to the religious life of the Arabs in Israel during the 1970s. The following areas are of note:

(1) The Haj – Although as early as 1959 the Government of Israel granted permission for Israeli Arabs to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, on the sole condition that Saudi Arabia guarantee their safety, it was not until 1978 that the necessary permission was granted by Jordan (for transit) and by Saudi Arabia. The minister of religion sent his greetings to the 2,700 pilgrims who took advantage of this permission and expressed the hope that they would pray in Mecca for peace in the Middle East.

(2) The Shari'a (Muslim Courts of Law) – These courts were established in Acre, Haifa, Jaffa, Nazareth, Taibeh and Beersheva, but the last was subject to the jurisdiction of the Kadi of Taibeh, and that of Haifa to Acre. The Arabs of East Jerusalem were subject to the jurisdiction of Jaffa, and they had three officials authorized by the Court of Jaffa to deal with registration of marriages. For the first time the Supreme Shari'a of Appeals was established in Jerusalem which had two permanent Kadis.

The Shari'a Courts have a wider jurisdiction than the Rabbinical Courts.

(3) Mosques – Considerable work has been done with regard to the repair and extension of existing mosques, and the erection of new ones, both in the cities and in Arab villages. Subventions were granted both by the Wakf and the Ministry of Religions, but considerable contributions were made by the local inhabitants, and the erection of the mosques in the villages of Iksal and Makre cost 4 million lira.

The Bedouin, who are gradually turning to permanent settlement, established mosques in their settlements; one was established in Bir el Maksur in the Galilee, and another in Shaval in the Negev. Extensive work was also done in the repair and establishment of cemeteries.

(4) Religious Officials – Imams, conductors of religious services and marriage officers, unlike the kadis, were recognized as permanent government employees under Turkish rule and during the period of the British Mandate, but since the establishment of the State they have been in receipt of increasing stipends by the government. Their request, however, for recognition as government employees had not yet been acceded to as of 1980.

(5) Freedom of Religion – The contacts established after the Six-Day War between the Muslims of Israel and those of the West Bank and Gaza, who were much more meticulous in their religious observance and more under the influence of their religious leaders, brought about a change in the religious atmosphere of the Muslims in Israel. Through the leaders of the local councils they have stated that they will continue to be loyal to their nationality and, at the same time, they will make every effort to revive their traditional culture and language, as loyal citizens of Israel, and will cooperate with its institutions and citizens. Although a request by the Muslim authorities to the government, after the establishment of the State, to be permitted to continue their previous practice of punishing Muslims who flouted the religious restrictions applying to the month of Ramadan, was refused, a similar request from the Shari'a courts in the West Bank was being increasingly acceded to. The communications media devoted considerable time to Muslim religious programs, particularly during the month of Ramadan.

There was a noticeable tendency on the part of Muslims in Israel to demonstrate to their coreligionists in the West Bank that their religious loyalties are no less than theirs, and this constitutes the stimulus behind their demands for a better religious education, the training of religious ministrants, and the erection of mosques. The Muslim religious quarterly which was distributed among religious leaders and Orientalists in the various universities, and which reflected all the development in the religious life of the Muslims and the decisions of the Shari'a courts, ceased publication after 15 years with the retirement of its editor, the director of the Muslim Department of the Ministry of Religious Affairs.

The Muslims, who constitute 80% of the Arabs of Israel, suffer from a severe lack of religious officials. The Ahamadiah School, attached to the al-Jazzar mosque in Acre, which trained the secondary officials referred to above, was closed in 1948 for lack of students, and the closing of the gates of the religious universities in Egypt to Israeli Muslims brought about a diminution in the supply of higher ranking officials. A religious college established in Hebron after the Six-Day War, supported by the Ministry of Religions, attracted a considerable number of students. Similar institutions exist in East Jerusalem and Gaza, but the lack of religious officials is still sorely felt, and at a conference of local heads of councils of the Triangle held in February 1979, a demand was put forward for the establishment of an institution for their training. The Arab department of the Ministry of Education took steps in recent years to deepen religious education among Muslims, and a special department for this purpose exists in the Teachers' Training College in Haifa.

A number of laws were passed by the Knesset regulating the personal status of Moslems.

A law, promulgated in 1972, granting subsidies from the National Insurance to divorced or deserted Muslim wives, after a decision of the Shari'a courts, was enthusiastically received, and the Kadi of Nazareth stated that it was unique in the Muslim world.

Two other laws, however, were received with reservations. The one gave an option to couples to divide assets acquired after their marriage either equally, in the case of divorce, according to civil law should the couple so desire, or according to Muslim law which does not recognize such a right; and the second law accorded the same choice with regard to inheritance.

Dr. Subhi Abu Gosh, the director of the Shari'a courts, declared that all the laws promulgated by the State since its establishment, such as that of equal rights for women, of the prohibition of bigamy, minimum age of marriage, divorce by mutual consent, etc., had paved the way for these new laws.

The Muslim religious authorities have one grievance, however. The rabbinical courts have the right to permit a married man to take a second wife in exceptional cases, provided the decision to that effect by the Beth Din receives the approval of the two Chief Rabbis, whereas in the case of the Shari'a courts this permission is specifically confined to cases of mental illness on the part of the first wife, or absence of the wife for a continuous period of at least seven years. The Muslim authorities demand the same exemptions as those granted by the rabbinic courts. In point of fact, however, in practice, under no circumstances do the Chief Rabbis grant permission for a Jew to take a second wife where there is any possibility of him living with two wives, and confine it to mental cases or desertion by the wife, as is the case with the Shari'a courts.

The 1980s and After

Since the establishment of the State of Israel, the Muslim religious institutions have changed considerably. Due to the growing number of the Muslim population (over 19% of the total population in 2005, constituting 82% of Israel's Arab population), many needs and problems have emerged. Some of these problems have been solved, while others still await solutions.

The Muslim courts, called Shari'a courts after the name of the Muslim law, are located in areas which are heavily inhabited by Muslims. There are seven regional courts covering all the areas in Israel which are inhabited by Muslims: Acre, Haifa, Nazareth, Jaffa, Taibeh, Jerusalem, and Beersheba.

There is also the Shari'a Court of Appeal, which according to the law is located in Jerusalem. According to the law, every kadi is automatically considered a member of the Court of Appeal; however, it is possible to hold the sessions of the Court of Appeal with only two members present.

Shari'a courts implement the Shari'a law, the dominant law in those courts, and have the sole authority to deal with matters of personal status, according to articles 51 and 52 of the Palestine Order in Council of 1922.

These matters include marriage, divorce, custody, maintenance, and other personal issues. Israeli law has narrowed the courts' authorities in specific issues such as inheritance, where the law gives parallel authority to the Civil District Court. The Shari'a Court is not allowed to deal with cases of inheritance unless all beneficiaries sign an agreement for that matter.

The Israeli law prohibits Muslim men to divorce their wives without their consent. Moreover, it prohibits bigamy and the marriage of under-age girls (those under the age of 17 years). Should such violations take place, although they are permitted by the Shari'a law, it is the kadi's responsibility to notify the authorities. These laws, in addition to the Law of Equal Rights for Men and Women of 1951, have caused dramatic positive changes in the status of Muslim women.

The increase in the Muslim population and the growth of religious movements among Muslim youths has led to a noticeable increase in building houses of worship for religious services. New mosques have been constructed and old ones have been renovated or expanded. In the mid-1990s there were around 250 mosques in Israel, four times as many as in 1967. The budget needed for such enterprises comes, mainly, from contributions of local Muslim organizations and individuals, in addition to a sum of money donated by the Ministry of Religious Affairs. Another source of support is the revenues of the Muslim Waqf (religious trust).

In several towns (such as Jaffa, Ramleh, Lydda, Haifa and Acre) the government has appointed special committees, in order to administer the Waqf's properties in these places, to collect the rentals, and to spend them on religious projects, mainly maintenance of mosques. The most famous project, with which the Waqf committee of Jaffa was involved was the reconstruction of Hassan Bey Mosque. Hundreds of Muslim functionaries are working in the religious sphere of life in addition to the kadis and the clerks of the Shari'a courts. This group includes: Imams – conductors of religious services; Muezzins – those who call for prayers; and Ma'zuns – writers of marriage contracts. The first two groups (about 270 persons) were not considered as government officials and were deprived of all kinds of social benefits such as pensions, widows' allowances, clothing, recreation, etc. After a lengthy struggle in 1981, 214 functionaries achieved the status of state employees with all the mentioned benefits. The third group, composed of writers of marriage contracts, are appointed by the kadis each in his own region and have no rights whatsoever. The income of this group is gained by collecting fixed fees upon writing of the marriage contract from the partners concerned.

Until 1978, Muslims in Israel were denied the right to fulfill the fifth religious pillar of Islam – the Hajj, i.e., the pilgrimage to the holy places of Mecca and Medina in Saudi Arabia. In 1978 an unwritten agreement between Israel, Jordan, and Saudi Arabia made possible the carrying out of the Hajj for thousands of Muslims in Israel.

The mass media in both Israel and the neighboring Arab countries broadcast special programs on various religious occasions such as Ramadan – the month of fasting, 'id al-Fitr, the feast which marks the end of Ramadan; 'id ad-Adha the feast of sacrifice; the Prophet Muhammad's Birthday; the Hijra New Year and other occasions. The Friday prayers are usually broadcast live by these stations.

[Awni Habash]

Bahāʾī Faith

The Bahāʾī Faith is a world religion whose center is in Ereẓ Israel. Named after its founder, Bahāʾ Allāh ("The Splendor of God"), Bahaism developed out of the Bābī, a Ṣufi (Muslim mystical) movement, which was founded in 1844 in Persia. It upholds the unity of God, enjoins its followers to search after truth, and advocates promotion of unity and concord among peoples. It maintains equality of rights for men and women, prohibits monasticism, advocates an auxiliary international language, and has abolished priesthood. The faith inculcates the principle of the oneness and wholeness of the entire human race.

Sayyid Ali Muhammad, the founder of the Bābī movement, was born in Shiraz, Persia, between 1818 and 1821 and was brought up as a member of a Shīʿ-Ṣufi sect. Some Shīʿītes and the Ṣufis believe that in each age there is a man, called the Bāb ("Gate"), who initiates in the secrets of the faith. To the Bābīs he is the "Gate" to the knowledge of divine truth. In 1844 Ali Muhammad proclaimed himself the Bāb of his time and was accused of heresy. He was arrested and shot in Tabriz in 1850. His body was interred by his followers in a secret tomb in Teheran.

In 1852 an attempt on the life of the Persian shah, Nāṣir al-Dīn, was followed by severe persecution of the Bābīs, which led the Bāb's successor, Mirzā (Persian, "prince") Yaḥyā, and the latter's stepbrother, Mirzā Ḥusayn Ali (b. 1817), to flee to Baghdad. In 1863 the Turkish government, at Persia's request, exiled Mirzā Yaḥyā to Cyprus. Mirzā Ḥusayn Ali proclaimed himself the successor to the Bāb under the name Bahāʾ Allāh. The government exiled him to Adrianople (1864) and later to Acre, which he reached in 1868, accompanied by about 70 of his family and followers. It was he who turned the faith into a universalist ethical religion, of which he became the leader. In 1899 he had the body of Ali Muhammad, the Bāb, transferred from its tomb in Teheran to Acre. The Bahāʾ Allāh died in 1892, and his tomb in the village of Mazraʿa (near Acre) in a building at Bahjī (Persian, "garden") became a shrine that the Bahāʾīs regard as the holiest place in the world.

Bahāʾ Allāh's eldest son, ʿAbbās Effendi, became the leader of the faith under the name of ʿAbd al-Bahā' ("the Servant of Bahāʾ"). After transferring his residence to Haifa, he set out on travels to North Africa, Europe, and the U.S. ʿAbbās Effendi arranged for the interment of the Bāb's body in a shrine in Haifa on Mount Carmel. ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ (ʿAbbās Effendi) died in 1921 and was interred in the same shrine.

The great mausoleum (Maqām-i Aʿla), which is a landmark in Haifa, was only completed in 1953. ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ was succeeded by his eldest grandson, Shoghi Effendi Rabbānī (1897–1957), who, as guardian of the Bahāʾī faith, resided in Haifa.

The faith spread all over the world; Bahāʾīs reside in over 11,000 localities in over 200 countries, with around six million adherents in 2005. The spiritual and administrative center of the Bahāʾī World Faith is the Universal House of Justice (erected in 1963 in Haifa), comprising, in the Holy Land nine members, known as Hands of the Cause.

Bahaism was favorably disposed to Zionism, believing that the return of the Jews to their land was foretold in the writings of Bahāʾ Allāh and ʿAbd al-Bahāʾ. On June 30, 1948, Shoghi Effendi wrote to Prime Minister Ben-Gurion expressing "loyalty and best wishes for the prosperity of the newly proclaimed State of Israel" and recognizing the significance of the ingathering of the Jews in "the cradle of their faith."


The Druze (in Arabic Durūz, sing. Durzī, derived from al-Darazī, one of the founders of the sect) are a religio-political community inhabiting parts of Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. The Druze are set apart from other groups primarily by their adherence to a separate religion. Their language is Arabic and in overall cultural and social patterns they are not appreciably different from the villagers and mountaineers among whom they live. The factors keeping them apart include the effective prohibition against intermarriage with other communities, the non-admission of converts, a number of individual customs, a long history of armed conflict against intolerant rulers and rival groups, and a strong sense of communal separateness and group solidarity. Their population in the early 21st century has been estimated at around 1 million, living mainly in Syria (the great majority in the Jebel el-Druz Province), Lebanon (mostly in the provinces of Mt. Lebanon and al-Biqāʿ), Israel (in 18 villages, mostly in Upper Galilee, some also in Lower Galilee and Mt. Carmel), and Jordan. In June 1967 several Druze villages of the Golan (province of Quneitra), totaling about 6,000 inhabitants, came under Israel rule. By the early 21st century they had grown to over 15,000. In 2005 the total Druze population of Israel was around 113,000.


The Druze religion has its roots in Ismailism, a religio-political movement which, after years of underground activity, founded the Fatimid Caliphate in the tenth century. The Druze community originated in the reign of al-Ḥākim bi-Amr-Allah (996–1021), the sixth Caliph of the Ismaʿili Fatimid dynasty. Active proselytizing to the new creed was brief and had lasting results only in some of the remoter parts of the caliph's domains. Since about 1050 the community has been closed to outsiders. It has not moved far from the regions where the original conversions were made.

The first testimony on the Druze in non-Arab literature occurs in the book of travels by *Benjamin of Tudela, who toured Syria about 1167. Little is known of the history of the Druze until the Ottoman conquest of Syria (1516). On that occasion, the Emir Fakhr al-Dīn, of the house of Maʿan, helped the sultan Selim i, who confirmed him as Emir of the Druze. They lived in southern Lebanon and northern Palestine, in many of the villages where they are still found, and were a separate, "unbelieving," and warlike community. Their sheikhs and emirs had evidently succeeded in gaining a certain amount of local autonomy, especially on Mt. Lebanon, for, from the Ottoman conquest of Syria and Palestine, there gradually emerged a sort of semi-autonomous emirate that was based, in large measure, on Druze military power and feudal organization. This emirate was centered in Mt. Lebanon. Until the 18th century relations between Lebanese Druze and their neighbors, especially the Maronite Christians, were tolerably good, but they later deteriorated. Civil strife between Druze and Maronites lasted until 1860, when the bloody events of that year ended in an intervention by the great powers and, eventually, in the special autonomous administration of Mt. Lebanon within the Ottoman Empire. The net result of the complex political settlement was a defeat for the Druze, who have never since regained their ascendancy in the Lebanon region.

The main center of the community after 1869 passed to Mt. Hauran, where a Druze settlement had been established approximately one hundred years earlier by immigrants from Lebanon; Mt. Hauran then became known as Jebel el-Druze ("Mountain of the Druze"), a name that had formerly been synonymous with Mt. Lebanon. There the Druze were governed, largely by the emirs of the al-Aṭrash house, as a semi-autonomous community until the end of Ottoman rule in 1918. In 1921 the French tried to set up an autonomous Druze state under French mandate, but this failed and, in 1925, the Druze rose against the French, spearheading a general Syrian uprising.

In Galilee there probably were Druze settlements as early as the 11th or 12th century, and the presence of such settlements is clearly documented from the 13th century on. The Galilean Druze seem always to have kept close contact with the other branches of the community, especially those of Mt. Hermon and southern Lebanon, but do not seem to have participated as a group in the events which called the attention of the world to their brethren. During the British Mandate over Palestine they refrained, by and large, from taking part in the Arab-Israel conflict, and, during the 1948 War of Independence, turned this watchful neutrality into active participation in fighting on the Jewish side. Druze have since then served in the Israel Defence Forces, at first as volunteers and later within the framework of the regular draft system. Many Druze also serve in the Israel Border Police. They thus opted squarely against the mainstream of Arab nationalism and for integration in Israel.

Since 1957 the Druze have been given official recognition in Israel as a separate religious community. In 1962 the Knesset set up official Druze communal courts, which had previously functioned without official sanction. The spiritual leadership of the community is in the hands of its sheikhs from the various centers of Druze population.


The Druze religion, which Druze call Dīn al-Tawḥīd ("unitarianism" or "monotheism"), is based on principles derived essentially from Ismailism (Ismāʿīliyya), some of which originate in Neoplatonism and are common to a number of gnostic sects. It includes belief in a deity that operates in the world through a system of five cosmic principles, or "emanations"; belief in periodic human manifestations of the deity and the emanations; and esoteric interpretations of the "revealed" religions whose recognized prophets (e.g., Moses, Jesus, Muhammad) were the bearers of esoteric truths only. The inner meaning of these prophets' mission, in each case, is secretly propagated to a select group by an incarnation of the first cosmic principle, or "Universal Mind." During the time of Moses, that incarnation was Shuʿayb, or *Jethro, Moses' father-in-law; Druze pay homage to his putative grave near Hittim in Galilee. The Druze have few ceremonials or rituals and initiate only a very few members of the community into the precepts of the religion, which are not published or discussed in the outside world at all. Though their religion has its roots in a form of Islam, they are not Muslims.

Further Information on the Druze Religion

Until 1973 the basic principles of the Druze faith were kept a closely guarded secret, but in July of that year the Israel Ministry of Religious Affairs published a pamphlet, written by Nissim Dana, director of the Druze Division of the ministry, which for the first time outlined the three principles of the Druze faith. They are: guarding one's tongue; protecting one's brother; and belief in one God. Publication of the pamphlet was originally approved by the Druze religious leaders, but they later withdrew their sanction.

The first principle obliges a member of the faith to be courteous, honor his promises, and keep secrets; the second principle calls on the Druze to help each other when in trouble; and the third states that they must strive to do God's will, lead a modest life, refrain from pleasure-seeking, and accept both the good and the bad in life with good grace.

The basic element in the Druze faith, according to the author, is the belief in seven prophets – Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses, Jesus, Muhammad, and Muhammad ibn Ismail. Individual prayer, as practiced by the three other monotheistic religions, is unknown among the Druze. Their prayer-rooms are bare of decorations and furniture, except for cupboards, low stools, and carpets, on which the devout sit when they study their holy scriptures. Women are not excluded from religious duties, and some are known to have risen high in the religious hierarchy. Smoking, alcohol, and the eating of pork are banned, as is a certain plant named melouhiya, which is a staple vegetable in Egypt.

According to the pamphlet, the Druze believe in reincarnation – the soul of a dying man reentering the body of a child born at the same moment. They also believe they are descended from the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh, who lived east of the Jordan. On ordination, a graduate of the Druze community's Religious College in Lebanon is given a white garment which strikingly resembles the *tallit (Jewish prayer shawl).


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Land of Israel: Religious Life and Communities

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