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70% of Israelis don’t recognize patrilineal Jews, report shows

A survey by the Israel Democracy Institute examining public views on religion and state also shows that attitudes toward non-Orthodox conversions are mixed

This article originally appeared on Haaretz, and was reprinted here with permission. Sign up here to get Haaretz’s free Daily Brief newsletter delivered to your inbox.

The vast majority of Jewish Israelis do not consider the child of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother Jewish – a more rigid stance compared with a decade ago – while 44 percent do not recognize non-Orthodox conversions.

These are the key findings of a survey published Tuesday by the Jerusalem-based Israel Democracy Institute, included in a first-of-its kind report on religion and state in Israel.

The survey, conducted last month, found that 70 percent of Jewish Israelis do not accept patrilineal descent, while 26 percent do (the rest had no opinion). The Reform movement, the largest denomination in the United States, has accepted Jews of patrilineal descent since 1983. Neither the Conservative nor the Orthodox denominations do.

Jews of patrilineal descent are eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return, but since they are not recognized as Jewish by the Orthodox-run Chief Rabbinate, they are not allowed to wed legally in the country.

This is the first time in more than a dozen years that the Israel Democracy Institute has questioned Israelis about their attitudes on patrilineal descent. The last time, in 2009, 40 percent of respondents said they would consider the child of a Jewish father and a non-Jewish mother Jewish.

In the latest survey, even among secular Israeli Jews, 50 percent were not prepared to accept patrilineal descent, though 44 percent were.

The results suggest a more ambivalent attitude toward non-Orthodox conversions. Among the respondents, 44 percent said they did not recognize non-Orthodox conversions, while 40 percent did. Another 16 percent did not know. In the 2009 survey, 48 percent recognized non-Orthodox conversions.

In the latest poll, among secular Jewish Israelis, 67 percent recognized non-Orthodox conversions. People converted through the non-Orthodox movements are eligible to immigrate to Israel under the Law of Return. Although non-Orthodox converts are registered as Jewish by the Population Registry, they are not recognized as such by the Chief Rabbinate.

Although nearly 80 percent of Israeli Jews are nonobservant, 65 percent prefer to have a religious burial, the survey found. Another 12 percent preferred a civil burial, and 5 percent cremation.

The report, which includes a special chapter on Shabbat observance, found that while national and municipal laws restrict many activities on the Jewish day of rest, most cultural institutions are open, even in Jerusalem, which has a large religious population.

The findings show that 98 percent of cinemas, 82 percent of museums, 52 percent of cultural centers and theaters, and 26 percent of shopping malls are open on Shabbat.

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