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Secularism in Israel shows how matters of religion and how matters of state are related within Israel. Secularism is defined as an indifference to, rejection, or exclusion of religion and religious consideration.[1] In Israel, this applies to the entirely secular community that identifies with no religion and the secular community within the Jewish community. When Israel was established as a new state in 1948, a new and different Jewish identity formed for the newly created Israeli population. This population was defined by the Israeli culture and Hebrew language, their experience with the Holocaust, and the need to band together against conflict with hostile neighbors in the Middle East.[2]


Since 1922, many official documents originating in the land of Israel gave rise to religious freedom. In 1922, the Palestinian Mandate prohibited discrimination based on religious affiliation. In 1948, at the establishment of the state of Israel, the Declaration of Independence protected freedom of religion.[3] The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel was approved by members of the Jewish community of Palestine and the Zionist movement. The document's first section sheds light on the relationship between the Jewish people and the Land of Israel.[citation needed] It reads: "The Land of Israel was the birthplace of the Jewish people. Here, their spiritual, religious, and political identity was shaped." The history of the Jews establishing the State of Israel is long. The right of the Jewish people to settle in the land was recognized in the Balfour Declaration. The United Nations General Assembly passed the resolution that called for a Jewish state to be established in Eretz Israel on November 29, 1947.[4]

Separation of religion and state

When he first proposed his ideas of political Zionism, Theodor Herzl was expecting the future Jewish state to be a secular state, in the style of central European countries of the time, such as Germany and Austria. However, Zionist and eventually Israeli politics were firmly coalition-based. When David Ben-Gurion became the first prime minister of Israel, although he was the head of the large Socialist party, he formed a government that included the religious Jewish parties, and took a moderate line in forming the relationship between the state and the religious institutions, at the same time continuing their status as state organs. Some secular Israelis feel constrained by the strict religious sanctions imposed on them. Many businesses close on Shabbat, including El Al, Israel's leading airline, along with many forms of public transportation, and restaurants.[2]

Policies controlled by religious leaders

In order to be formally married in Israel, a Jewish couple has to be married by an Orthodox rabbi. This also applies when and if a couple would like to divorce - they must seek out rabbinical council. Since some secular Israelis do not like this rule, they sometimes go abroad to be married, usually in Cyprus.[2] Marriages officiated abroad are recognized as official marriages in Israel.[5] Also, all food at army bases and in cafeterias of government/state buildings has to be kosher.

Religious influences in politics

Many religious symbols have found their way into Israeli national symbols. For example, the flag of the country is similar to a tallit, or prayer shawl, with its blue stripes. The national coat of arms displays the menorah.[2] The Israeli national anthem includes references of religion. "As long as the Jewish spirit is yearning" and "the two-thousand-year-old hope" are both lines in the anthem, "HaTikvah" ("The Hope").[6] (HaTikvah was sung at Jewish prayer services for many years prior to the 1948 UN partition that allowed for the reestablishment of Israel as a nation state.)

Due to the massive role of religion in government and politics, Israel cannot be considered a secular state in the common sense of the word.[7]


In Israel, the secularism of population centers varies. Tel Aviv, for example, is considered more secular; it is very cosmopolitan, with modern hotels, boutiques, coffee shops, and events with loud music. Non-Jews and secular Jews alike feel comfortable in this city because of the lack of religious bearing. Tel Aviv is a modern city similar to a coastal city in the United States like Miami,[8] and is considered one of the top party cities in the world. It is typical to find bars and night clubs open until dawn, even on Shabbat.[9] Conversely, Jerusalem is a very religious, conservative city, with a large Orthodox Jewish (Religious Zionists, as well as Ultra-Orthodox) population.

Discrimination issues

Anaba Park in Modi'in


As of November 2012, secular and Orthodox Jews are competing in a bidding war for apartments in Harish after a court ruled that the Israel Land Administration could not discriminate between them.[10][11] Elsewhere, officials in Jerusalem City Hall have alleged that the Ministry of Housing worked with ILA to favor housing for Chareidim in the Ramot area of Jerusalem.[12]

Public access

The Association for Civil Rights in Israel has called upon the mayor of Modi'in to revoke a residents-only restriction to Anaba Park during the High Holidays and summer vacation, deeming it a discrimination against Haredim in the neighboring town of Modi'in Illit. The Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that this municipality of about 80,000 is predominately secular.[13] The regulation was seen as a response to threats from Hareidim to bar secular visitors from a heritage site in Modi'in Illit.[14]


  1. ^ "Secularism Definition". Retrieved 17 October 2011.
  2. ^ a b c d "Religion and Secularism in Israel". Retrieved 18 October 2011.
  3. ^ Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (26 October 2009). Israel and the occupied territories (Report). 2009 International Religious Freedom Report. US Department of State. Archived from the original on 29 October 2009. Retrieved 29 October 2009.
  4. ^ "The Declaration of the Establishment of the State of Israel". Retrieved 24 October 2011.
  5. ^ ""Non-Jewish" Jews endure challenges living in Israel". Retrieved 19 October 2011.
  6. ^ "HaTikvah". Retrieved 18 October 2011.
  7. ^ "Israel is consequently an ethno-national state that is not a secular state". Guy Ben-Porat, Bryan S. Turner. The Contradictions of Israeli Citizenship: Land, Religion, and State. Routledge, 2011. p. 12; "Israel cannot be considered a secular state." Sebastián Cote Pabón, Secularism and Democracy in Israel: Military Service as Case Study. Middle East Policy, Vol. XXVI, N°3. 2019. p. 1.
  8. ^ "Tel Aviv: Secular City". The Atlantic. Retrieved 1 November 2011.
  9. ^ "World's Top 10 Party Towns". The Sydney Morning Herald. 19 November 2009. Retrieved 2 November 2011.
  10. ^ Hadas Haimov (2012-11-02). "Secular and orthodox fight over city of Harish". Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 2012-11-28.
  11. ^ Raz Smolsky (2012-10-12). "Secular Israelis Snapping Up Homes in Town Planned for ultra-Orthodox". Haaretz. Retrieved 2012-11-28.
  12. ^ "Jerusalem City Hall Alleges Discrimination Regarding Ramot Housing". Yeshiva World News. 2012-11-12. Retrieved 2012-11-28.
  13. ^ "Israeli civil rights group protests 'anti-haredi' policy in Modi'in". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. 2012-11-02. Retrieved 2012-11-28. The municipality of Modi'in -- a predominantly secular municipality of about 80,000 residents, many of whom are immigrants from English-speaking countries -- has cited the legal opinion of Ariel Bendor, a law professor at Bar-Ilan University, who said the measure was legal.
  14. ^ Maayana Miskin (2012-10-30). "Lawsuit over 'Anti-Hareidi' Park Rule". Arutz Sheva. Retrieved 2012-11-28.