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What Do They Think of Us?

Binyamin Rose

In their heart of hearts, what do average secular Israelis really think about chareidim? At the same time, how does that same, average secular Israeli define his or her own Judaism? Those are some of the questions Mishpacha set out to answer when it embarked on a national, first-of-a-kind survey of the secular Israeli public. The results are eye-opening, in some cases startling, and the range of opinion is richly diverse.

In the past 30 years, the religious-secular divide in the State of Israel has seemingly grown wider and the conflict between the two sides has appeared more intractable. That trend has been exacerbated by the development of exclusively chareidi, national-religious, and secular communities, where each sector seeks to insulate itself from exposure to any group that does not share a similar background or outlook. That each sector has separate educational systems, army units, its own political parties, and even segregated workplaces, means that, for most Israelis, their only view into others’ lives comes from the media. But even there, each faction has its own banner, trumpeting its own tune and preaching to its own choir. These disparate messages hit a peak following the recent “million-man march,” when chareidim took to the streets of Jerusalem in early March to protest a measure that could potentially slap criminal sanctions on chareidi youth who refuse to enlist in the IDF. The coverage of that rally in the mainstream media only tended to enhance fears among the secular population that a “black storm” was brewing in Israel that threatened to engulf their way of life. In no way was it viewed as the right of a distinct population group to express its democratic right of dissent to a proposed law that it viewed as an attack on a way of life it has built and carefully cultivated for decades. In light of this total dichotomy of views, Mishpacha publisher Eli Paley, who also serves as chairman of the fledgling Center for Research on Haredi Society (CRHS), turned to pollster Mina Tzemach to conduct a comprehensive survey on how secular Jews views chareidim and chareidi society. She also examined how nonreligious Jews in Israel define their Jewish identity. In explaining the purpose of the CRHS — the first chareidi think tank of its kind — Paley explained: “Our mission is to position the positive values of Torah Judaism and the value of the chareidi community as champions of Jewish continuity at the center of the public discourse, within both the chareidi community and the Israeli public at large. At the same time, we want to assess the opportunities and means for integrating the chareidi community socially, economically, and politically, into mainstream Israeli society.”

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