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WATCH: ‘Israel will separate state and religion’

Historian Aviad Kleinberg says most secular Israelis aren't detached from Judaism: Even most atheists still circumcise their sons
Shmuel Rosner with Prof. Aviad Kleinberg

“I don’t think Israeli secularism is under threat,” says Prof. Aviad Kleinberg, head of the Zvi Yavetz School of Historical Studies at Tel Aviv University. My assumption is – Kleinberg says – that Israel is gradually moving toward a separation of religion and state.

About half of all Israeli Jews self-identify as secular according to findings of surveys conducted by the Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI). But this, according to Prof. Kleinberg, does not necessitate a detachment from Judaism. Even most atheists among them still circumcise their sons, even when this could seem an “irrational” thing to do, as Kleinberg describes it.

So, what is Jewish Israeli secularism? JPPI studies show that there are two main secular groups in Israel, the “totally secular” and the “somewhat traditional secular.” They also show that almost all secular Israelis practice Judaism in some way.

The dialogue with Kleinberg, which I am proud to present here, is the third in a series of conversations conducted with Israeli intellectuals to discuss the findings and analysis presented in a new book: #IsraeliJudaism, Portrait of a Cultural Revolution. This book is based on the work of JPPI, and was coauthored by Shmuel Rosner, a senior fellow at JPPI and Prof. Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University. The English version was published recently and provides us with an opportunity to both present the unique nature of Israeli Judaism to the broader world, and to discuss its future and the implications for world Jewry.

The discussion with Kleinberg focuses on secular Israelis and their unique way of practice. In the coming weeks JPPI will present more conversations about Israeli traditionalism, nationality, pluralism, ethnicity and more. The first one, presented a few weeks ago, featured Prof. Ruth Gavison discussing Israeliness and Jewishness. The second, on Israel’s ultra-Orthodox community, featured activist and philanthropist Daniel Goldman.

We invite TOI readers to try a short questionnaire prepared by Prof. Camil Fuchs. Once you have answered all the questions, you will be able to see where you are on the map of Israeli Judaism and compare yourself to Israeli Jews by political affiliation, religious affiliation, age and ethnicity (for the survey, click here). 

#IsraeliJudaism is a research project of The Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), an independent professional policy planning think tank incorporated as a private non-profit company in Israel (founded by JAFI). The mission of the Institute is to contribute to ensuring the thriving of the Jewish People and the Jewish civilization by engaging in professional strategic thinking and planning on issues of primary concern to world Jewry. Located in Jerusalem, JPPI takes a global approach to the Jewish People and provides decision makers in Israel and the Diaspora with action-oriented policy recommendations.


About the Author
Avinoam Bar-Yosef is the President and the Founding Director of the Jewish People Policy Planning Institute.
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