Israelis ignore Reform movement, despite influence

Pew survey shows Reform Movement has failed to gain a following in Israel, despite its powerful political influence.

David Rosenberg,

Reform Jews (illustration)
Reform Jews (illustration)
Miriam Alster/Flash 90

After a wave of legal and political victories for the Reform Movement in Israel, a new study released this week reveals the group has made little headway among Israelis.

The Pew Research Center, which released a massive new study on religion in Israel on Tuesday, reports that only 3% of Israeli Jews identify as Reform, compared to 35% of American Jews.

The Reform Movement has cultivated deep ties with the Israeli Labor and Meretz parties, and recently won a series of major victories it claims are part of a religious "revolution" in Israel.

In February, a delegation of hundreds of Reform clergymen from North America visited Israel, where they were received as official guests of the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption, and Diaspora Committee.

The delegation visited a planned Reform prayer section at the Kotel in Jerusalem, which the Israeli government pledged in one of the latest concessions to the Reform Movement. The Reform Movement in Israel also celebrated a recent Supreme Court decision allowing the movement to use public religious facilities for non-Orthodox conversions.

Gilad Kariv, director of the Israeli Reform Movement, hailed the developments as “historic”, calling them part of a “quiet revolution” to reshape religion in Israel.

Yet few Israelis, regardless of religiosity, identify as Reform. A total of 3% of Israeli Jews identified as Reform according to Pew, with only 2% of traditional Jews and 5% of secular Jews viewing themselves as Reform.

Israelis tend to distinguish themselves by levels of religiosity (Secular, Traditional, Religious, Haredi), rather than by stream of Judaism (Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, etc). Even among non-observant Jews, most view Orthodoxy as the true expression of Jewish tradition.

In comparison with the Reform Movement's limited numbers in Israel, half of all Israeli Jews identified with Orthodox Judaism, with even large numbers of non-observant Jews identifying with Orthodoxy, including 23% of secular Jews.