Zionist thinkers, from their early days, believed that the role of a national homeland was to rescue the Jews and Judaism from their cosmopolitan condition. The historian Ben-Zion Dinur expressed that view without mincing words: “There’s one problem with Judaism, and it is called exile.” Thus, political Zionism stressed the need to offer the Jews a physical refuge from anti-Semitism. Its adherents had woken up from the dream of integrating among other nations and believed that only a defined and secure geographic territory could sustain the Jews. Spiritual Zionism emphasized the need to offer the Jews a cultural refuge from assimilation. Its adherents realized that the prospect of preserving Judaism when among other nations wasn’t viable. They believed that only a defined geographic territory could supply Judaism with the spiritual energy for its continued existence.
All Zionist streams strived to create a new Jew. But they argued bitterly about what this new Jew should be like. Some wanted to abandon Jewish traditions, others wanted to revive them, still others wanted to create new traditions. Still, the idea of the “new Jew,” like the principle of Diaspora negation, explained Prof. Yitzhak Conforti of Bar Ilan University, “provided a middle ground for all forms of Zionism.” All Zionists rejected the Diaspora, “and all saw a need to create and educate a new Jew. However, each of the various forms created a type of new Jew that reflected its particular ideology.”
So, Zionists expected a new Jew to emerge. They were correct in their assessment – a new Jew was born. It has the following main characteristics:
- High level of confidence in Jewishness;
- Attribution of importance to Jewishness;
- Nationalist interpretation of Jewishness;
- High level of Jewish practice.
Here are examples of all four characteristics:
The first shows: Jews in Israel, on average, practice a lot more Jewish tradition than other Jews. This is one benefit of living in a society in which Jewish practice and Hebrew language are given. In 65 percent of Israel’s Jewish homes, candles are lit on Friday night. In 68 percent of these homes, Israelis make a Kiddush. More than 80 percent of Jewish Israelis have a family meal on Friday night – that’s tradition. Jewish Israelis keep many of the Jewish traditions, but without the need to be religious or follow the script dictated by ancient religious texts.
The second shows how Israeli Jews have the habit of mixing Jewishness and Israeliness. Thus, Independence Day becomes a Jewish holiday – not just an Israeli holiday. Most people who celebrate it are Jews. The flag they raise is Jewishly themed. The ceremony on Mount Herzl includes 12 torches lit by 12 Israelis who represent the 12 tribes. Why 12? Read the Torah and find out. Why torches? Go to the Mishna and find out. The themes of the day make it Jewish, as do the views of those celebrating it. We asked the Jews of Israel many questions about their beliefs and values, and from their answers it is easy to extract a simple reality: many of them no longer see a difference between being a good, patriotic Israeli that makes a contribution to Israeli society to being a good Jew. Among others, Israelis were ask about living in Israel, serving in the IDF, and supporting settlements in Greater Israel (Eretz Israel Hashlema). For instance, there are non-Jews serving in Israel’s military, such as Druze and Bedouins; nevertheless, more than 70 percent of Jewish Israelis believe that to be a “good Jew” one must serve in the Israeli army.
Israeli Jews say it is important to them that they are Jewish and that their children be Jewish:
What about Jewish continuity? When we asked Israeli Jews about their level of confidence that their children and grandchildren will be Jewish, the outcome was remarkable. Almost all of them are confident that their children will be Jewish (86 percent). A similar number are confident that their grandchildren will be Jewish (79 percent).
JPPI’s Israeli-Judaism project draws from a 2018 survey conducted of 3000 Israeli Jews in two rounds, one of 2000 Israeli Jews and another of an additional 1000 respondents, a representative sample of the Jewish public in Israel. The statistical margin of error for the sample of 3000 survey respondents is 1.8 percent.