Israel’s Haredi vs. Conservative/Reform populations, part II

February 26, 2012

Last week I discovered that according to unpublished numbers from the Guttman Center study on Israeli religiosity, the percentage of Israelis identifying themselves as “Reform” or “Conservative” is higher than the percentage of those identifying themselves as “Haredi” (ultra-Orthodox) – you can read my post here. As I was expecting, this revelation attracted a lot of attention and many questions and comments. I will respond to some of them in the following paragraphs.


The most common observations were by people who tended not to believe the numbers. “Dave”, commenting on my post, wrote that, “We are dealing with small percentages and methodological problems, in which Haredim are less likely to respond at all to these kinds of surveys, and live in more concentrated areas which also tends to make their numbers look smaller”. Yoel Bogoch, writing on my Facebook page, had similar doubts: “[L]ike many polls regarding Haredim – the problem is that in general the Haredim do not participate and thus the results are sometimes skewed.”

I did three things following these comments:

1. First I called Prof. Tamar Hermann yet again to ask if there’s a possibility of so-called “non-response bias” related to this question. She says no, all questions were properly weighed to compensate for biases.

2. I compared the question on which I am writing to the one that appeared in the Guttman report – “How would you define yourself religiously? (Haredi, Orthodox, traditional, secular not anti-religious, secular anti-religious)” – and didn’t see much difference. In both questions the percentage of Israelis defining themselves as “Haredi” is 7%.

3. I checked the numbers at Israel’s very reliable Central Bureau of Statistics (see page 23 in the study to which I have linked). In the 2009 survey, the percentage of respondents identifying themselves as “Haredi” is very similar to the one reported by the Guttman study: 8.2% (there’s no option for “Zionist-Haredi” in the CBS survey, so this number probably mirrors the 7% Haredi and 2% Zionist-Haredi in the Guttman survey).

I must say, though, that I still have my own doubts, mainly because these numbers seem so detached from everything we’ve been hearing and writing about in recent years. More research is essential to understanding the proper context of the Guttman findings.


Some readers have emailed me to say that there’s no comparison between Haredi Israelis who live their Haredi way of life all day and every day, to the uncommitted Conservative and Reform respondents. I agree. What I’ve said in the post quite clearly is that the percentage of Conservative and Reform doesn’t reflect commitment and real strength – but it might reflect bigger potential than previously assumed. And this potential seems to be greater than we previously thought, but for it to materialize a lot of work needs to be done. Even then, I don’t think the level of Haredi commitment can be matched, nor do I think anyone is going to try to match it.


As I mentioned in my initial post, the question referring to Conservative and Reform wasn’t asked in the exact same manner in the 1999 survey. Apparently, it was also different in the 1991 survey. Comparing the three surveys is still interesting, but it is important to remember that one must be careful with the results, and refrain from jumping to conclusions. Here’s what the data tells as about Conservative and Reform self-identification between 1991 and 2009, with the framing of the question for each of those years:

Year of survey Self-identified as Conservative, Reform Question
1991 2% Conservative, 2% Reform. Total: 4% Exact wording of the question does not appear but the options are: not-Zionist Haredi, Zionist-Haredi, Zionist-religious, traditional, Conservative, Reform, does not belong to any stream.
1999 2% Conservative, 3% Reform. Total: 5% Do you see yourself as belonging to any stream of Judaism – which one? (non-Zionist Haredi, Zionist-Haredi, Zionist-religious, Conservative, Reform, no stream).
2009 4% Conservative, 4% Reform. Total: 8% How would you define yourself religiously? (Haredi, Zionist-Haredi, Zionist-religious, Conservative, Reform, Other, Do not belong to any stream).

If this doesn’t look impressive, try this presentation:

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