“Poll: 80% of Israeli Jews Believe in God”
“Extensive Judaism study conducted by Guttman Institute and AVI Chai Foundation points to increase in number of religious and Haredi Jews, decrease in number of traditional and secular Jews.” (Ynet 28/1/12)
“Survey finds record number of Israeli Jews believe in God”
“First comprehensive study in a decade: More Israelis finding religion” (Ha’aretz 27/1/12)
Dramatic headlines – and frightening if true. But, as always, there are substantial differences between the message of the headline and the material in the body of the story. The articles refer to a survey carried out every 10 years or so, and purport to show a real change in the demographic structure of Israel with reference to religious belief.
However a closer examination of the details show a different picture. For example, in neither of the news reports is there any reference to statistical error. Given that the purpose of the survey was to show changes over a period of around 20 years, the claimed differences fall well within a sampling error range of 3% to 4 %, which is a regularly accepted deviation.
In answer to the question : “Do you believe in God?” the figures for believers are: 76% in 1991 and 80% in 2009. It is also interesting that this includes the answers of those who “believe wholeheartedly”and “believe, but sometimes doubt”. How one is supposed to extrapolate a definite figure with such questions escapes me.
In answer to the question: “are Jews the Chosen People” the answers are statistically meaningless: 69% in 1991 and 70% in 2009.
The other side of the picture is that in 2009, 46% defined themselves as Secular, “down” from 52% in 1991. Given the substantial increase in the numbers of Ultra-Orthodox Jews in the past 20 years, it is extraordinary that the change is so small.
The headlines could easily have read:
“Almost half of Israeli Jews are not religious”
The sub-heading could have quoted that the survey also showed that:
“between 58% – 68% of respondents stated that shopping centres, public transportation, sporting events, cafes, restaurants and cinemas should be allowed to operate on Shabbat. More than half ( 51%) were in favour of civil marriage.
There are various other contradictory elements mentioned, which, taken together, show that it is possible to place any interpretation one wants on the figures. I assume that, for reasons of sensationalism, and in the interests of selling more newspapers, or creating more media attention, the headlines quoted above were chosen.
I am not questioning the motives or techniques used by those who carried out the survey; I’m sure they were well intentioned and professional in their approach. But the road to Hell is often paved with good intentions. Unfortunately, no one can control how the media will manipulate the information.
Statistical surveys are all about interpretation. I can only hope that my understanding is closer to the truth, and that Israel is not descending into religious fundamentalism, in spite of the recent disturbing events involving some Haredi extremists.
Perhaps they were acting out of desperation, feeling that in reality, and despite their best efforts and political clout, they are not winning the battle for the hearts and minds of Israeli Jews.
I fervently hope so, otherwise we can kiss goodbye to Herzl’s dream of “a free people in their own land.”
Andyboy – Telling it as it is