Most Israelis Want Term Limits for Local Rabbis
Most of the public support limiting local authority rabbis' term of service to five years and giving them the option to be re-appointed at the end of each term
A special analysis of Jewish public opinion regarding local rabbinates was conducted as part of a comprehensive research study on local rabbinates published recently by Ariel Finkelstein, a researcher at the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI). The analysis is based on a survey carried out by IDI’s Viterbi Family Center for Public Opinion and Policy Research, comprising interviews of 630 members of Jewish society in Israel, together constituting a representative national sample of the adult Jewish population aged 18 and above. The maximum sampling error is ± 3.98% at the 95% confidence level.
The main findings of Finkelstein’s analysis are as follows:
Should rabbis be appointed to local authorities?
More than half the Jewish public in Israel (51%) support the appointment of local authority rabbis, while almost one-quarter (23%) are opposed. A sizable share of the public (27%) are indifferent to the issue, not caring whether such rabbis are appointed or not.
There is a clear association between religiosity and support for the appointment of local authority rabbis. In the Haredi, national religious, and traditional religious populations, a clear majority are in favor of appointing rabbis to local authorities. In the traditional non-religious and secular publics, the level of indifference is high (33% and 39%, respectively), but while a majority of traditional non-religious respondents support appointing rabbis (52% in favor, versus 15% opposed), among secular respondents 37% are against it versus 24% in favor).
Figure 1. Do you support or oppose the appointment of a rabbi for your local authority? (total sample, by religiosity, %)
Limiting the term of office of local rabbis
The majority of the Jewish public are in favor of changing the current legislation and limiting local rabbis’ term of office: 61% expressed support for various options for limited terms, 17% were against the idea, and 22% responded “don’t know.” Of those who did express an opinion, 78% were in favor and 22% were opposed.
Among those who support imposing limited terms of office, a majority are in favor of a five-year term (45%, versus 15% against; of those who expressed an opinion, 57% are in favor and 21% against). Regarding the possibility of rabbis being re-appointed, opinion is fairly evenly split: 31% support the possibility of re-appointment and 29% oppose it, while respondents who expressed an opinion one way or another were 41% in favor and 38% against.
Differences by religiosity: Among Haredi respondents, a small majority (53%) oppose limiting terms of office, while 39% support it and 8% have no opinion; by contrast, a majority of 60% of national religious respondents are in favor, while 25% oppose the idea and 15% have no opinion. Opinions in the traditional religious group are similar to those in the national religious population, while among traditional non-religious and secular respondents there is only a small minority (11% and 6%, respectively) who oppose limiting the term of office of local rabbis.
Significant differences were also found according to voting pattern: Strong support for limiting terms of office is evident among voters for non-religious political parties, but there is also support among voters for religious parties, with the exception of United Torah Judaism voters. It was noticeable that a large majority of Yamina voters are in favor of the idea (74%, with just 14% against), but there is also support from Religious Zionism voters (52% in favor, versus 28% opposed) and even from Shas voters (50% in favor, versus 40% opposed). Of the respondents who agree with limiting terms of office, a clear majority of voters for Haredi parties and the Religious Zionism party support giving rabbis the opportunity to be re-appointed, while Yamina voters are split: 38% are against the possibility of re-appointment, while 36% are in favor.
Figure 2. Support or oppose fixed terms of service for local rabbis (total sample, by voting pattern at last election, %)
Familiarity with the identity of the local authority rabbi
To check the respondents’ familiarity with the serving rabbi in their local authority, interviewees were asked if they know whether their local authority has an official rabbi, and if so, if they know his name.
More than one-quarter (27%) of the public do not know whether their local authority has an official rabbi, and around one-third (32%) think that it does have a rabbi but do not know his name. One-fifth (20%) said that their local authority does not have a rabbi, and the remainder (21%) responded that they do have a local rabbi and they know his name.
Figure 3. Some local authorities in Israel have an official rabbi. To the best of your knowledge, does your local authority have an official rabbi? (total sample, by religiosity, %)
Cross-referencing with objective data: To assess the extent to which the public is actually familiar with the institution of the local rabbinate, the responses provided by each interviewee were cross-referenced with objective data as to whether their local authority has an official rabbi. This revealed that the responses of 37% of interviewees do not reflect the true state of affairs, and that overall, some 55% of the public do not know whether their local authority has an official rabbi or not, with half of these declaring that they don’t know, and half mistakenly thinking that they do know.
The findings demonstrate large differences between different population groups: In the secular Jewish public, only 6% said that their local authority has an official rabbi and that they know his name, while 36% have no idea whether their local authority has a rabbi, 35% think it does have a rabbi but do not know his name, and 24% think that it does not have an official rabbi. Only 14% of traditional non-religious respondents said that their local authority has an official rabbi and that they know his name.
Figure 4. Share of respondents who thought they know whether their local authority has an official rabbi, but were mistaken (total sample, by religiosity, %)
Some 48% of secular respondents and 41% of traditional non-religious respondents who stated that their local authority either does or does not have an official rabbi were mistaken. These data indicate almost complete disconnection between local rabbis and the secular public. It was especially striking that 80% of traditional non-religious respondents and 68% of secular respondents who thought that their local authority does not have an official rabbi were wrong. Consequently, while 64% of secular respondents and 66% of traditional non-religious respondents thought that they know whether their local authority has an official rabbi, in practice, only 33% of secular respondents and 39% of traditional non-religious respondents were correct in this belief.
The Haredi public is the group most familiar with local rabbis, with a large majority aware of the identity of their local authority’s official rabbi, while around one-half of the national religious and traditional religious respondents said either that they know who the serving rabbi is or that they know that their local authority does not have a rabbi. Interestingly, there was also a sizable share in these groups who were mistaken: 30% of national religious respondents and 35% of traditional religious respondents erroneously claimed to know whether or not their local authority has a rabbi.
Link to the full Hebrew report.