A recent survey by the Israel Democracy Institute’s Guttman Center revealed that only 20% of the country’s Jewish population considers itself secular, i.e. not having any religious observance or affiliation. This percentile is reported to be much lower than it was 30 years ago when 41% of the Jewish population claimed to be in the same category. While this doesn’t mean that the other 80% is now religious, however, as those in this category range anywhere from “traditional” and mildly observant to ultra orthodox, including those folk who live in neighborhoods like Jerusalem’s Mea Shaarim, and Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv.
“Traditional” can also have a wide ranging spectrum as it can include families who light Shabbat candles on Fridays, but engage in all normal weekend activities, including cooking, driving, watching T.V., etc. It can even include those who occasionally go to religious services on either Friday evening or Saturday, and drive their car there and back home. Those who conducted the survey concluded that there has been an increase in religious observance in recent years, despite such Shabbat distractions as shopping malls, the Internet, and 24 hour cable T.V. The survey also found that more younger people, i.e. in the 20 to 30 age group, are becoming more religious. Sephardic Jews (56%) are now more observant then they were 30 years ago as compared to only 17% more for Ashkenazi or European origin Jews.
A side note to these findings is that the right winged elements of the population are found more from religious and observant households that from secular ones. This is something most of us have probably already concluded on our own, however.
The distinction as to what constitutes a completely secular person, as compared to a traditional or observant person is a bit confusing, as to be classified as a purely secular person, one would virtually have to be either atheist, or pretty close to it. Many people occasionally light candles on Shabbat of before religious holidays, yet do not go to synagogue or say any prayers at home. Many people have festive meals on holidays such as Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and virtually all families sit down to some kind of Passover Seder â€“ whether that includes eating only kosher for Passover food or not. And in recent year, shopping strips and malls are crammed with Saturday shoppers, who also pop in to their local Tiv Taam or other supermarket open on Saturdays and holidays to purchase a few things they may have run out of or decide they want. This doesn’t mean they purchase non kosher meat or seafood in these stores, however. But religious and observant people would never set foot in places like Tiv Taam, even during the week.
The phenomenon of people drifting towards religion is a worldwide one, according to the Institutes findings, and can be attributed to a number of reasons. This also accounts, according to the Institute, for the changing political affiliations of many people. Despite these findings, many of those people who classify themselves as “traditional” and even mildly observant will still go out on Friday nights (especially the young people) and will crowd the malls on Saturday or head to their favorite picnic spot, or to the beach. The only conclusion that can be drawn from all this is that religious identification is purely a matter of personal choice and practice.