Gabriel Abensour


Pluralism toward all

Pluralism toward the secular and toward Haredim

In Israel, the secular and the Masorti are the sectors that most strongly oppose religious coercion. However, the secular view is not pluralistic, as it supports freedom from religion but is less enthusiastic about supporting freedom of religion for more conservative groups, such as the Haredim. In contrast to the secular, the Masortim repeatedly express support for the right of more conservative groups to live in accordance with their beliefs. Regarding commerce on Shabbat, for instance, the secular overwhelmingly want businesses to be open, in all cities and subject to no conditions, while the Dati/Haredi public opposes the opening of businesses that had been closed on Shabbat, even in places with a strongly secular character. On this issue, the Masorti public does not identify with either side and favors the use of discretion (27%) or holding a referendum (37% of the Masorti-not-so-religious and 33% of the Masorti-religious) for each specific neighborhood. Only a small minority agree with the religious or the secular view.57 That is, the Masortim prefer compromise that takes into consideration each group’s way of life, while the religious and secular hold more rigid views by which they want the rest of the population to abide.

also willing to support freedom of conscience for groups whose religious practice differs widely from their own – including both the Haredim and the Reform. For example, when asked “May men and women be separated in certain places and at certain times so that Dati and Haredi people can participate?” an overwhelming majority of secular Jews (78%) expressed opposition, versus an overwhelming majority of Datiim (76%) and Haredim (91%) who expressed support. In both cases, there was a clear correlation between personal practice and ideological outlook. By contrast, although the Masortim do not practice gender separation, 60% of them support the option of separation in certain places so that Dati and Haredi people can participate. This share remains high even among the Masorti-not-so-religious (50%).58

Pluralism and Reform Jews

The Masortim display inclusiveness not only toward the secular and the religious, but also toward the pluralistic streams in Israel, although they do not identify with those streams. Thus, in a 2017 Dialogue Institute survey, just 8% of Masortim identified with the Reform movement, but only 34% disagreed with the assertion that Israel discriminates against the Reform movement.59 In a March 2020 survey conducted by the Guttman center, only 15% of Masortim said they have an interest in recognizing Reform Judaism. Despite this lack of identification, 55% of them responded that the Reform movement should be allowed to conduct religious ceremonies such as weddings and divorces, and the share rises to 64% for bar mitzvah ceremonies and the like.60 This was an 8% increase for the same question three years earlier (when 47% of Masortim supported granting full equality to the non-Orthodox streams).61 This contrasts with a 2015 study in which 70% of Masortim rejected the idea that wedding ceremonies could be conducted by non-Orthodox rabbis (87% of Datiim also rejected the idea).62 Regarding the controversy surrounding Women of the Wall, most of the Masorti public (52%) agreed that these women should be allowed to pray freely at the Kotel (Western Wall), versus 35% who opposed and 13% who did not know. Support rates for freedom of religion at the Kotel are lower among Datiim (24% and Haredim (5%).63

Additional data from that survey show that the Masorti public identifies less with the idea that the Kotel controversy is part of the struggle against women’s exclusion (9% strongly agree and 28% agree), while only a minority say they are interested in praying in an egalitarian plaza, should one be created (27%). However, 67% of Masortim agreed that the struggle to pray at the Kotel is important, that the Kotel belongs to the entire Jewish people, not only to the Haredim (versus 33% of Datiim and 16% of Haredim). Again, this does not constitute personal identification with Reform positions, but rather a principled statement about the right of every Jewish man and woman to pray at the Kotel according to their custom.

An analysis of the data obtained over the past decade shows that attitudes toward the non-Orthodox streams have remained more or less the same among the secular and the Haredim, have become more negative among Datiim, and have altogether reversed among the Masortim. This change could be explained by the Israeli public’s increased exposure to non-Orthodox weddings. The opposition had been largely theoretical but gave way to support or equanimity once the practice expanded and reached the immediate circles of acquaintance of Masortim. Thus, in 2020 45% of Masortim reported that they had already participated in Reform ceremonies of some kind (prayer, weddings, bar mitzvah celebrations, etc.).64

Additionally, a Dialogue Institute survey conducted in 2017 for the Reform movement showed a more sympathetic approach to the movement among Masortim who had attended religious ceremonies led by male or female Reform rabbis. Only 17% of Masortim who had attended Reform ceremonies answered that they have an unfavorable view of the movement, in contrast to 27% who had never attended such ceremonies.65

Support for shared spaces for all Jews and tolerance toward the other

Little data has been gathered over the years regarding the creation of shared spaces for all sectors of Israeli-Jewish society. In 2009, an Avi Chai survey assessed the degree to which Jews of different sectors would want their children to study in mixed religious-secular frameworks. The wording of the question presupposes a sectoral binary, asking more about coexistence than about partnership. Even so, compared with the current system that completely separates the streams and does not recognize the Masorti option, a mixed “secular-religious” framework could facilitate appropriate expression of the Masorti outlook. Nearly 90% of Masortim agreed that their children could study in shared frameworks, and 50% strongly agreed. This level of support is higher than that of any other Jewish sector.66

JPPI’s 2022 Pluralism Index looked at different Jewish subsectors’ levels of support for shared spaces for religious and secular Jews. The data again indicate that the average Masorti view almost precisely reflects that of the average Israeli. However, a closer look at the data yields a number of important findings. First, an overwhelming majority of the Israeli Jewish public believes that public services should not be segregated, whether in hospitals (89%), health fund facilities (96%), or public transportation (89%). But the most illuminating data relate to spheres where there is Dati/Haredi demand for separation, such as beaches and swimming pools. The secular public opposes separation in these places (62% and 54%), while Dati and Haredi support for full or partial separation exceeds 70%. Up to this point, we may say that the data reflect the respondents’ ways of life. In the Masorti sector, however, a third believe that in some cases there should be separation, a third oppose separation on principle, and a third support separation on principle. Thus, two-thirds of the Masorti public understand the needs of the Dati/Haredi public and do not oppose them. As with the data presented above on gender separation for religious reasons, in this sphere as well the Masortim embrace a pluralistic approach even toward outlooks more conservative than their own.67

Masortim are also notably tolerant with regard to having neighbors of different backgrounds from theirs. In a 2009 Gesher survey, participants were asked “Which of the following would you not like to have as a neighbor – a Haredi person, a National-Religious person, or a Reform/Conservative person?” The Masortim were the most tolerant group: 58% said they wouldn’t object to any of the proposed neighbors. This is in contrast to 51% of secular respondents who objected to having Haredi Jews as neighbors, and 73% of Haredi respondents who objected to having Reform neighbors.68 In a similar survey conducted by the IDI, an overwhelming majority of Masortim did not object to living alongside Ethiopian immigrants (83%), a homosexual couple (74%), Haredi Jews (84%), or people who do not observe Shabbat or holidays (93%).69 This is the only Israeli population group that consistently does not object to living alongside anyone else from the Jewish sector, and in high percentages.

Jewish peoplehood and attitudes toward the Diaspora

Data appearing in the Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ 2022 Israel-Diaspora Index underscore the dominance of the Israeli element in Masorti Jewish identity.Although the overall picture is that most Israeli Jews, including Masortim, have a sense of shared fate with Diaspora Jewry, this feeling is stronger among the Haredim (98%) and the Datiim (88%) than among the Masortim (66%) and the secular (64%).70 Likewise, only 63% of Masortim think that Israel bears responsibility for the security of Diaspora Jews, in contrast to 71% of Datiim and 78% of Haredim.71

However, the Masortim are also the Israeli sector that most strongly believes in the Diaspora Jewish communities’ importance to Israel, and in Israel’s importance

to the Jewish communities abroad. When asked: “Is it important that large Jewishcommunities remain abroad so that they can have a positive influence on Israel’s behalf worldwide?” 76% of Masortim answered in the affirmative, versus 57% of Datiim and 50% of Haredim. Additionally, 89% of Masortim believe that Jews  worldwide should support Israel, as Israel could be a place of refuge for them in times of trouble.72

Finally, a correlation should be noted between the belief that Israel has an obligation toward Diaspora Jewry, and disregard for Diaspora Jewry’s opinions on matters of principle pertaining to Israeli domestic and foreign policy. In other words: the Haredi and Dati approach emphasizes the shared fate of Israeli and Diaspora Jews, but this is based on the assumption that Israeli Jews should unilaterally set policy. By contrast, Masortim tend to attach greater importance to the views of Diaspora Jewry on issues of religion and state within Israel, and certainly on matters of Israeli foreign policy.73

Thus, 57% of Masortim think that the interests of Diaspora Jewry should be taken into consideration on issues of religion and state in Israel, versus only 41% of Datiim and 29% of Haredim. Furthermore, 70% of Masortim think Israel should take Diaspora Jewish communities into account when formulating foreign and defense policy, compared with 62% of Datiim and 55% of Haredim.74

In Masorti eyes, Israel bears little responsibility for Jews who have deliberately chosen to live outside the state. However, those Jews still belong to the Jewish collective and this belonging manifests in the Masorti expectation that they will actively support Israel; in return, Israel should take their views into consideration
on domestic and foreign-policy issues that directly affect them.