Article Library / 2016

2016 Annual Assessment

Hilonim vs. Everybody Else

The Zionist revolutionary reordering of Jewish identity that characterizes the Hilonim, but not the other groups, is in sharp relief in the Pew survey results. Thus, in regard to the question of the nature of Jewish identity, the Hilonim stand out in their understanding that Jewish identity is mainly a matter of national belonging and culture. Only 17 percent think that it has to do with religion at all. This is in stark contrast to all the other identity groups. Among the Haredim, 70 percent think it is solely a matter of religion and another 27 percent think it involves religion and national and cultural identity. Among the Datiim, 85 percent think it is either a matter of religion or a combination of religion and national identity; and even among Masoratim a clear majority (58 percent) think it is a matter of religion or a combination of religion and national belonging. The Hilonim also stand out dramatically in regard to how Israelis see the relationship between “Israeliness” and “Jewishness” as components of their collective identity. Again, it is only among the Hilonim that a clear majority (59 percent) see themselves as Israeli first and Jewish second. All the other groups – Haredim, Datiim and Masoratim – see themselves as Jewish first, by a large or clear majority. For Hilonim, being Israeli is the primary aspect of their collective identity, one might even say that being Israeli is their Jewish identity. It is important to stress that for most Hilonim being Israeli means being Jewish-Israeli. They do not include in their concept of Israeliness the Arab citizens of Israel. For Hilonim, being “Jewish” in contrast refers to the traditional-Galuti-Diaspora mode of Jewish being, with which they don’t identify and even reject. Hence it is secondary to their primary Jewish-Israeli identification.

However, it must be stressed that Hilonim, like all other Israeli Jews, feel Jewish pride and connection. Eighty-eight percent say they are proud to be Jewish, and 81 percent feel a strong sense of belonging to the Jewish people. (Among the other groups, both Jewish pride and Jewish belonging exceed 90 percent.) Yet this sense of connection seems to be related, at least in part, to the potential of every Jew to become an Israeli. Like the other groups, 98 percent of Hilonim agree that all Jews have the right to citizenship in Israel. At the same time, they seem to be less interested and connected to these Jews in their current state. In contrast to the other identity groups, only 43 percent of Hilonim feel a special responsibility to take care of Jews in need (at least 60 percent of Masoratim and Datiim; and 753 percent Haredim do).

As Pew points out, few Israelis say that they have no religion (p.66). This includes Hilonim. But the Jewish religion to which they adhere does not define their Jewishness. Hence, it is not very important. Only 2 percent of Hilonim see religion as very important. In contrast, a vast majority of Haredim and Datiim claim that religion is very important (96 and 85 percent respectively); and among Masoratim, 83 percent think it’s very or somewhat important (among Hilonim, only 19 percent think religion is somewhat important).

Not only do Hilonim think religion is not very important, only 28 percent of them think being Jewish is very important. Again, this is very different than among the other groups. Among Haredim and Datiim, over 90 percent think being Jewish is very important; 68 percent of Masoratim do. We suggest that this is the result of the fact that for Hilonim being Jewish aside from being Israeli does not carry much meaningful content, and of the “framework” nature of Jewish identity as national identity among Hilonim. Unlike in the Diaspora where Jewish identification has to be achieved (by going to synagogue, lighting Hanukkah candles, participating in a Salute to Israel Parade, etc.), being Jewish in Israel is a given by virtue of the political and linguistic framework in which one is immersed. If one were to change the framework (say by moving to New Zealand) one would change (over time) his national identity. Being Jewish for Hilonim is less a state that one strives for (and hence is “important”), and more of a given that is equivalent to other national identities that are also conferred through participation in political and linguistic frameworks. (That is, if they were in France they would be French. They happen to be in Israel so they are Jewish.)

To the extent that “being Jewish” is understood as an obligation one satisfies (and not a neutral given social fact), the one practice Hilonim do think is essential, and, hence, important to Jewishness is “remembering the Holocaust.” Again, because they don’t think of Jewish identification primarily as something that must be achieved, most Hilonim don’t even think of living in Israel as essential to achieving Jewishness. Unlike the Datiim, of whom 54 percent answered that it is essential to being Jewish, and the Masoratim, of whom 42 percent thought so; only 23 percent of Hilonim thought that living in Israel is essential.

As we have argued, Haredim, Datiim and Masoratim did not experience the Zionist revolution at all, or did not undergo it in full, thoroughgoing manner. Hence the “syntax” they employ regarding Jewish identity is closer to the religious-traditional syntax and especially to the modern variant of the religious-traditional syntax employed in many of today’s Diaspora communities (especially in the U.S.).4 Hence, for all of these groups religion is a much more important component of Jewish identity than it is for Hilonim. Secondly, Israeliness is a realization of Jewishness, not a replacement or a translation of it. As a result, all these groups are Jewish first and then Israeli. Thirdly, for these groups Jewishness is an ideal and an aspiration not a neutral social fact. Hence, in order to be Jewish one has to do something – lead an ethical life, observe Jewish law, live in Israel, remember the Holocaust, etc. – and being Jewish is something very important. Because Hilonim largely do not think of being Jewish as an ideal or aspiration, but rather as a given within the political framework, they do not think of any of these sets of practices as essential to being Jewish (with the pianissimo exception of remembering the Holocaust.)

Again, the Haredim, Datiim and Masoratim did not fully undergo the Zionist revolution in Jewish collective identity. However, it is the Haredim who have explicitly rejected this reordering, and, in fact, have waged ideological war against it.  This, we think, explains Haredi “Anti-Zionism.” While this is a well-known characteristic of the Haredim, we do not think that it is generally understood correctly. On one hand most Haredim are nationalistic in the sense of support for Jewish empowerment and settlement in, and control of, the Land of Israel. They have willingly participated in right-wing, nationalistic governing coalitions for the last 40 years. Nevertheless, they have historically rejected (and continue to do so) the label and the concept of “Zionism” and they reject, to one degree or another, the symbols of the state and do not participate in the rituals of its civic culture. This was evident in the Pew survey. Only a third of Haredim say that the term “Zionist” very accurately or somewhat accurately describes them (only 9 percent very accurately). In every other group at least two thirds say that the term accurately describes them.

It would seem that what the Haredim mean by the fact that they are not “Zionists” is that they emphatically reject the Zionist revolution in regard to collective identity and its ramifications. That is, they totally reject the idea that one can be Jewish simply by belonging to a Jewish political collectivity or by speaking Hebrew. (It is well to recall here the remark of R. Mordecai Alter, the Gerer Rebbe in the first half of the 20th century, concerning the halutzim of Kibbutz Ein Harod: “Hebrew speaking goyim.”)5 Thus, over 90 percent of the Haredim answered that being Jewish is mainly a matter of religion. The Religious Zionists (Datiim) and the Masoratim do not reject the Zionist label because to them “Zionism” is also a means of realizing or fulfilling the religious dimensions of Judaism. The Haredim do not countenance such tepid latitudinarianism. Like Cardinal Newman, who claimed that there only two paths – that of the Catholic Church (“Rome”) or atheism, the Haredim also basically feel that there are only two paths – that of “Torah-true Judaism” or “Zionism.” Thus when Hilonim and Haredim change their group affiliation or “cross-over,” they most often go from one extreme to the other. If Hilonim become religious, they most often become Haredim – not religious Zionists – and if Haredim leave their framework, for the most part, they become Hilonim.

Political and social collectivities are in part defined by how authority is distributed in them and to whom. If you define the Jewish collectivity as being political-national in nature, then political needs and goals carry the most weight and political leadership carries the most authority. However, if you continue to define the Jewish people as a religious-traditional collectivity, then religious goals become most important and the religious leadership is the most authoritative. This issue seems to be evident in one of the questions Pew highlighted: “If there is a contradiction between democratic principles and Jewish religious law, what should take precedence?” Here again, the Haredim and the Hilonim are mirror images of each other. Eighty-nine percent of Hilonim say that democratic principles should take precedence; the same number, 89 percent, of Haredim say that religious law should take precedence. The Hiloni position seems to reflect not only adherence to democratic principles, but also the privileging of the national-political framework over the religious one. The Haredim, in contrast, insist that the overarching framework of the Jewish people remains a religious-traditional one, hence the Halacha takes precedence.

The mutually exclusive polar opposite natures of the Haredim and Hilonim is also expressed in their social relations. The vast majority of both Haredim and Hilonim opposes intermarriage between their two communities. Ninety-five percent of Haredim say that they would be “not too,” or “not at all” comfortable if their child married a Hiloni, and 93 percent of Hilonim say the same with respect to the Haredim. Hilonim are more uncomfortable with the prospect of their children marrying Haredim than with the prospect of their children marrying Christians.

Israeli Hilonim are not really opposed to religion, they just don’t want it to define what being Jewish is, and they don’t want it or its representatives to be the decisive authority in Jewish life. Thus many Hilonim observe some religious practices and to one degree or another hold religious beliefs, and they do so to an extent that is higher than that of non-Orthodox Jews in America. Thus, a third (33 percent) of Hilonim keep kosher (22 percent of all American Jews keep kosher, 7 percent of Reform Jews. Eighty-seven percent of Hilonim attend a Passover Seder of some sort, which is much higher than for the American Jewish population (70 percent); 67 percent do not eat pork; 80 percent light Hanukkah candles; 30 percent fast on Yom Kippur; and 60 percent, to one degree or another, believe in God.

At the same time, they are emphatically opposed to religion being an authoritative structure and hence they are also distanced from, or opposed to, the institutional aspect of religion. Eighty-eight percent say that religion should be kept separate from government policies (80 percent or more of Datiim and Haredim believe that government policies should promote religious values and beliefs), and 60 percent never attend synagogue. Again, for Hilonim being Jewish is something that emerges from the immanent political and linguistic frameworks; hence 44 percent think that Jewish education, that is, education that teaches specific Jewish content, is not important.

While Hilonim in some fashion keep some traditional religious practices and beliefs, their attitudes are clearly differentiated from that of self-identified Israeli traditionalist Jews (Masoratim). Israeli traditionalist Jews (who are not strictly observant), in regard to many questions, hold attitudes that are midway between those of religious Orthodox Jews (Haredim and Datiim) and Hilonim, and tend more to endorse traditional authority and gender roles. Thus, 44 percent of Masoratim support shutting down public transportation on Shabbat, while only 6 percent of Hilonim do (among Datiim and Haredim, at least 85 percent do). And 70 percent of Masoratim oppose allowing Reform and Conservative rabbis to perform marriages, whereas only 28 percent of Hilonim oppose this. Furthermore, 58 percent of Masoratim believe that government policies should promote religious values and beliefs, a position that only 8 percent of Hilonim endorse. In other words, Hilonim and Masoratim are two very different groups whose behavior may overlap here and there, but represent two different underlying worldviews regarding the nature of the Jewish people and its framework of authority. The Hilonim have undergone the Zionist revolution, while the Masoratim may be considered the “left wing” of those who have not, and even objected to it.

The Hilonim also have distinctive political views. In regard to many political and constitutional issues they stand opposed to the other three groups and they are the only group that contains a subgroup that defines itself as being “left.” It is also the only group that contains subgroups that support “leftist” or more universalist political positions. Thus, in regard to the question that made headlines – “Do you agree or disagree with the statement ‘Arabs should be expelled or transferred from Israel,’” 58 percent of Hilonim disagreed. Among all the other groups a majority agreed. Again, a slim majority of Hilonim (56 percent) agreed that a peaceful two- state solution to the Israel-Palestinian conflict is possible. Among all the other groups, a majority disagreed. Furthermore, Hilonim are the only group with a substantial number of members willing to self-identify as “Left” – 14 percent. Among the other groups the number was negligible (1-3 percent). We get a sort of mirror image when we look at people who identify as “right”: Among Haredim, Datiim, and Masoratim, about half the population identified as right; the other half, center. Among Hilonim only 24 percent identified as right and 62 percent identified as center. We have seen above that 89 percent of Hilonim agree that democratic principles should be given preference if there is a contradiction between them and the Jewish religious law.

Interpreting this, it would seem that Hilonim have a greater tendency to adopt universalist (as opposed to particularist) orientations. Following the implications of the Zionist Revolution in regard to collective identity, they tend not to believe that there is a deep (ontological or other) difference between Jews and non-Jews. What makes people Jewish is their participation in a Jewish political and linguistic framework. Such frameworks are not, in principle, different from similar frameworks among non-Jews. This orientation may be partially responsible for the high rates of assimilation and intermarriage among Israeli Jews when they go abroad. Nevertheless, there are limits to universalism among Hilonim. Sixty-nine percent think that Jews should be given preferential treatment in the State of Israel. It would seem that some of this is due to their understanding of Israel as a Jewish state, which should promote Jewish interests.