The Masortim are commonly thought to be strongly ambivalent about Halacha. On the one hand, they are thought not to feel bound by Halacha, but rather to observe customs and mitzvot as they see fit. On the other hand, the Masortim have often been described as conservative, as rejecting all halachic change, and as not questioning rabbinical authority.45 Yaacov Yadgar, in a qualitative analysis based on dozens of interviews that he conducted with Masorti men and women, was the first to cast doubt on that assumption. In his study, Yadgar showed that Masortim have a complex relationship with rabbis and with Halacha. While honoring tradition, they nevertheless express criticism of the religious leadership and even support change in halachic policy. Despite their criticism of the Orthodox establishment, however, they are wary of the liberal movements and of what they perceive as insufficiently rooted in the Jewish religious and legal tradition.46 In this section we will see that the quantitative data from recent surveys paint a complex picture similar to that delineated by Yadgar. The Masortim are not uniform in their attitudes toward Halacha and rabbinical authority, and they do not hesitate to criticize them.
Criticism of Israeli institutionalized religion
In the 2017 Israeli Democracy Index, 76% of Masortim said they have no trust in the Chief Rabbinate, a much higher percentage than among the National Religious (50%) and the Haredim (32%).47 The same question was asked again in 2021 and slightly more positive figures were obtained: 51% of the Masorti-religious and 73% of the Masorti-not-religious said they have no or little trust in the Chief Rabbinate. 48 Another study, conducted in 2017 by the Dialogue Institute, assessed agreement with the statement that the Chief Rabbinate contributes to Israel’s Jewish identity and engages the Israeli public religiously; only 30% of Masortim were found to express any level of agreement, compared with 65% of the Datiim and 84% of the Haredim.49
Not only are the Masortim critical of the rabbinate as an institution, a sizeable share of them also support opening up religious positions to groups that are currently unable to enter the rabbinate. According to a 2020 survey by IDI’s Viterbi Family Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research, 33% of Masortim (41% of non-religious Masortim, 16% of religious Masortim) believe that the rabbinate should be opened up to women.50 Levels of support for opening up religious positions were even higher when the Masortim were asked about their willingness to allow men from the LGBTQ community to serve as rabbis or be called to the Torah: 50% of non-religious Masortim and 27% of religious Masortim supported the idea.51
The authority to perform conversions
The criticism of the Chief Rabbinate also finds expression in the conversion field. According to a May 2019 IDI survey, most Masortim regard the Chief Rabbinate’s conversion policy as insufficiently lenient.52 The Masortim are divided on the question of “Who should have the authority to perform conversions,” but most agree that that authority should not be vested solely in the Chief Rabbinate. Forty-one percent of religious Masortim and 36% of non-religious Masortim would like to see, instead, a new state conversion system anchored in law. A quarter of the Masorti-not-religious would like the authority to perform conversions to be given to religious courts of all streams of Judaism, in Israel or abroad. To these findings we may add those of a survey conducted by Rosner, Fuchs and Slepkov in 2021 for theMadad.com: 66% of the Masorti-not-so-religious and 43% of the Masorti-religious said that they consider an Israeli born to a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother who underwent conversion with a Reform rabbi to be a Jew.53
Attitude toward Halacha
A 2020 IDI survey also looked at the Jewish public’s views on Halacha.54 Interviewees were asked: “What do you think about the approach that says Halacha should be updated to suit modern life (e.g., permitting travel and electricity use on Shabbat, allowing a kohen and a divorced woman to marry, and the like)?” Forty-three percent of Masortim answered that they were in favor or very much in favor of updating Halacha, with the percentage rising to 53% among the Masorti-not-religious. This is in contrast to Haredim (96%) and the National-Religious (89%), who expressed strong opposition.
Freedom of religion and freedom from religion
As we have seen, the Masortim are the only non-secular Israeli sector that believes, in significant numbers, that there is an adequate balance between “Jewish” and “democratic,” but that when the two clash, the democratic should outweigh the Jewish. The Masorti public also understands that Israel is a Jewish state in the national sense of the term, not in the religious sense. If the state’s Jewishness is primarily on the national and cultural levels, then on the religious level Israel should maintain a certain neutrality and ensure freedom of religion and freedom from religion for different Jewish subgroups. This indeed appears, at present, to be the stance of most of the Masorti public, which supports freedom of religion not out of opposition to any given sector, but out of a democratic ethos that opposes coercion and recognizes the right of all citizens to live according to their conscience.
In a comprehensive survey published by Camil Fuchs and Shmuel Rosner in 2021 for Israel Hofsheet, 73% of all Masortim agreed with the statement: “In a city where there are religious, secular, and Masorti people, public transportation can be operated on Shabbat in neighborhoods where the number of religious people who would be bothered by it is relatively small.”55 A larger share of the not-so-religious Masortim supported the idea (79%), but a clear majority of the Masorti-religious also expressed support (62%). Regarding civil marriage, 83% of Masortim supported civil registration for those of no religion, while 58% thought that anyone wishing to marry in a civil ceremony should be allowed to do so (68% of the Masorti-not-so-religious and 41% of the Masorti-religious). Furthermore, 59% of Masortim supported the establishment of non-religious cemeteries for those who want them. These data accord with the findings of other surveys conducted in recent years on such topics.56