Israel religion, complicated that it is, has played a big part in shaping the nation’s history. Multiple conflicts have stemmed from the religious diversity of Israel. These conflicts have mainly occurred among three Abrahamic faiths, all of which consider Jerusalem their sacred land.
Because Israel is home to three religions with different core beliefs, division has riddled the country.
But how did this come about?
To further explain the intricate workings of the religious society in Israel, we must go back to its discovery.
The Beginning of Religion in Israel
Israel’s ancient history has been written down in the Bible and is said to begin with Abraham. Abraham, the father of both Judaism and Islam through his sons Isaac and Ishmael, settled in the land of Canaan, now known as Israel, for decades.
The land’s history of colonization and religious conversion are as follows:
- In the 13th century, the Israelites migrated to Egypt due to famine.
- In Egypt, the Israelites were enslaved.
- After a few decades, the Pharaoh, at that time, ordered all firstborn Israelite males to be killed in fear of them rising to power and rebelling against him
- Amram, an Israelite woman, placed her son in a basket and floated him to the Nile river
- The Pharaoh’s daughter, Blithia, stumbled upon the basket and adopted the baby, naming him Moses.
- Moses, an Israelite raised as an Egyptian, could not stomach the cruelty the Israelites faced.
- Between the 13th and 12th century, the great Exodus occurred, where Moses shepherded the Israelites to Israel for 40 years.
- Moses, a firm believer of God, wrote the Torah.
- Seven weeks after the Exodus, the followers of Moses accepted the Torah, which heralded the start of Judaism.
- In 1,000 BCE, king Saul established the Israelite monarchy that continued to his son David and then to his grandchild Solomon.
- Around 930 BC, after King Solomon’s death, the kingdom was split into Judah with Jerusalem and Israel with Samaria.
- In 722 BC, the Assyrians took over Israel, which prompted its citizens to flee to the kingdom of Judah and its capital city Jerusalem.
- In 612 BC, the Babylonians overthrew the Assyrians and later overthrew Judah.
- In 586 BC, Babylonians destroyed the temple of Solomon and exiled the Jews to Babylon.
- The Babylon empire then fell and was conquered by the Persians who freed all subjugated nations, allowing Jews to return to Judah.
- The Jews rebuilt the city and organized the foundations of the Jewish culture under their newfound freedom.
- Two centuries later, Alexander the Great of Macedon took over the land.
- During Alexander’s death, the empire was divided into the Jews and Hellenized Jews.
- King Antiochus IV took over the land and put up a pagan altar to Zeus, converting the land to Paganism.
- In 165 BC, the Hasmonean dynasty, an independent Jewish rule, took over, reconverting the land to Judaism.
- After another century, the roman conquered the region, converting the land to Christianity.
Israel Under the Roman Empire
In 63 BCE, the roman empire started to expand and, in its expansion, took over Jerusalem. Despite the prosperous nature of the kingdom under Herod’s reign, the conquest of Jerusalem led to two significant revolts:
- The Great Revolt – occurred in between 66 to 73 BCE which destroyed the second temple of Solomon and caused the downfall of Jerusalem walls, only leaving the West wall standing
- The Revolt of 132 to 135 led to the massive Jewish depopulation and devastated the Jewish people. The remaining Jews migrated to Galilee, where they were prosperous.
After the conflict, the Romans barred the Jews from entering Judea and named the land Palestine, hoping to break the Jewish connection in the land of Israel. This attempt to break the link led to the start of Christianity. Christianity, originally a Jewish sect, ultimately became an independent religion and was the dominant practice by the end of the Roman Empire.
A timeline of conquests and religious conversions are as follows:
- Around the 4th century, the Jews were subjected to prosecution and forced conversion to Christianity.
- In 614 BCE, the golden age of Christianity was destroyed by the Persians, who massacred the inhabitants of Jerusalem and destroyed the churches.
- In 636 BCE, Arabs took over some parts of Israel and Introduced Islam.
- In 1099, a group of religious crusaders took over the land and, once again, converted the land to Christianity.
Why Is Jerusalem the Holy Land of the Three Religions?
Reading about the History of Israel, you can surmise that the reason for the grounds sacrosanctity in all three religions dates back to their respective history. The land is sacred to the Abrahamic religions for various reasons.
These reasons can be attributed to the religious events that happened in the past, respectively:
- For Christians – According to the Bible, the city of Jerusalem is where Jesus laid on the cross. It was on this cross that he was crucified by Pontius Pilate. He was then placed in a tomb to rest, where he was resurrected several days later. The burial grounds are now the location of The Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
- For Jews – Jerusalem is sacred to the Jews because it is believed to be where the faith began. The Jews believe that Jerusalem is the core of their faith and even their world. They center prayer around the land, praying in the direction of Jerusalem; for those in Jerusalem, they direct prayers to the Temple Mount, the land that held Biblical Jewish temples in ancient times.
- For Muslims – Jerusalem is home to “The Dome of The Rock,” a sacred Shrine built on the Temple Mount of the city. It is believed to be where the great prophet Mohammad ascended into heaven and given the second pillar of Islam, Salah or prayer, by Allah.
What Is the Main Religion in Israel?
According to the Pew Research Center, Israel holds the three major Abrahamic religions in the nation. With Judaism as Israel major religion, the population of Jews reaches up to 81 percent. All three groups are majorly isolated from one another, having little to no interactions between them.
What Is Judaism?
Judaism, the world’s oldest religion, is the belief in one God, who revealed himself to the people through the use of prophets. Its history heavily influenced its laws, ideas, and even culture. The Jews abide by a book called Torah or the Hebrew Bible.
The Torah contains the same contents as that of the Christian Bible’s old testament but differently.
Aside from the Torah, Jews also follow other compilations of Jewish law, which are:
- Mishnah – A compilation of Jewish codes that were previously orally communicated.
- Talmud – Contains both the Mishnah and Gemara. The Gemara, an examination of the Mishnah, contains different interpretations by thousands of Rabbis. They mainly outline more than 600 commandments Jews are to follow.
Jews revere themselves as the covenants that God established and thus must spread his word around the globe. But with the increase of followers, Judaism started to form its branches.
Branches of Judaism in Israel
- Haredi – Haredims constitute nine percent of Jews in Israel and are said to be the most devout believers of the land. Haredi, which translates to “fearing God,” usually seclude themselves from other believers and stick to themselves, going as far as to seclude themselves from society.
Haredim men may attend yeshivas or religious educational institutes that exempt them from the mandatory military draft imposed upon Israelites. This practice was redacted in 2014 and caused a protest within the state.
- Dati – Datiims are described as modern orthodox Jews who are as devout to Judaism as the Haredim. Their difference? Integration to Society. Details, unlike Haredims, are more integrated into society. They value career, travel, and politics, describing themselves as politically correct.
- Masorti – The Masortims are a sort of mixed group. The group is diverse in the sense that they neither define themselves as seculars nor strictly religious. They fall in between these criteria, making them a middle man against the religious and non-religious.
- Hiloni – Hilonims, also known as the secular Jews, is the largest Judaism sect in Israel. They are confident of their religion but hold a more unconsecrated view of their religion. They believe in the separation of religion from public life but believe a Jewish state is essential for Jewish continuity. The Hilonims are proud of their Jewish background but feel that their Israeli identity comes before their Jewish one.
The only common denominator these Jewish sects have is that they all agree that Jews around the world should be immediately permitted citizenship in Israel, the land they hail from. This, of course, does not change the societal separation in the country.
Separation Within the Jewish Society
Because the country is home to the three Abrahamic religions, differences between religious groups cannot be prevented. But Israel’s society is a riddle one cannot help but be intrigued by.
Society heavily depends on one’s religion and religious sects. With this diverse profile, you would think that the mixing of different believers would help them understand one another, but this, in fact, is false. In Israel, religious groups strictly stick to their people.
This means that if you’re a Haredim Jew, you approach, go to school with, marry and interact with Haredi Jews only. This stems from the belief that if one doesn’t stick to specific rules, basic rules, kids would no longer become Jewish.
Religious Breakdown of Israel
In light of the country’s various changes in power, religious belief was undoubtedly passed down from generation to generation. Israel, in particular, has been conquered numerous times in the past. From the Assyrians to the Babylonians and even the Romans.
While the Roman Empire imparted Christianity, Judaism was imparted way before the Assyrians took over, and Islam came about when the Arabs arrived. Presently, Israel holds all three religions in its land.
Christianity in Israel
Christianity, a once secular division of Judaism, independently became its religion in the Roman empire. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, Christians populate almost two percent of the Israelites and live their daily lives regularly. As stated above, the Christians occupying the land highly stick to themselves but live harmoniously with the Jews and the Muslims.
Islam in Israel
Islam is the second-largest religion in Israel, brought to the land in the time of Mohammad, and has long remained in the country since. Most practicing Muslims are Arabs from Palestine and have conflicted with Israel since its division.
The fight for territory and independence has affected modern-day Muslims and Jews regarding their views towards each other; namely, Jews believe in making Israel a Jewish state and expelling all Arabs from the land. The Muslims refute this belief, for they share a sacred land, Jerusalem.
The Muslim-Jewish Conflict
The conflict between the Palestinians or Arabic Muslims, and Israelites or Jews, dates back to World War I, but let’s start at the beginning:
- The country in ancient times was conquered by numerous civilizations and empires.
- This led to Jews dispersing all around the globe, looking for refuge.
- The Jewish refugees worldwide faced oppression and prosecution in their lands and decided to migrate into Palestine in 1880.
- In 1914, over 75,00 Jews occupied the country.
- After WWI, Great Britain took over Israel, Palestine, and Jordan.
- In 1923, the British promised a home for Jews in Palestine.
- In 1939, WW2 began, and so did the holocaust, causing millions of Jews to be murdered or displaced.
- In 1947, the British partitioned Palestine into two: Palestine for the Arabs and the state of Israel for the Jews.
- Many Arabs felt that the partition favored the Jews, and violence broke out.
- In 1948, the state of Israel was established.
- After which the Arab League rejected the proposed partition and attacked.
- The armed conflict continued for nine months and ended with Israel occupying some of Palestine’s designated land.
- Arabs were expelled from their homes and sought refuge in the Gaza strip.
- The fight between the Arabs and the Israelites continued for 60 years.
- In 1964, the Palestine Liberation Operation was formed.
- In 1967, a six-day war occurred, ending with Israel’s victory, and gained control of the Gaza Strip, Sinai Peninsula (from Egypt), Golan Heights (from Syria), and West Bank (from Jordan).
- In 1987, the first intifada, or the first uprising, occurred.
- From 1993 up to 1995, the Israelites and Palestinians drew up the Oslo Accords, which was said to be a timetable of peace.
- In 2000, arguments over topics like the status of Jerusalem, rights of refugees, and increased Jewish settlements could not be settled. Thus peace talks were unsuccessful.
- The second intifada occurred right after Israel’s prime minister visited the Temple Mount. The Muslims found his actions to be incredibly disrespectful, and a series of suicide bombings and violence that lasted for five years broke out.
- This ended the peace drawn up by the Oslo accords.
- The second intifada ended when Israel withdrew from the Gaza strip in 2005.
- A year later, Hamas, a militant Sunni group, rose to power in Palestine, calling for the destruction of Israel.
- Hamas and Israel continued their armed conflict.
- Presently, Palestine continues to seek statehood, and Israel remains unmoving.
Now that we’ve discussed Israel’s history, religion, and religious conflicts, let’s go over the main points of this article:
- Israel is home to the three Abrahamic religions.
- Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, is a sacred land for all three religious groups.
- Israel national religion is Judaism, occupying 81 percent of the population’s beliefs.
- Judaism, the oldest monotheistic religion, believes in one God, who, through prophets, revealed himself.
- The branches of Judaism can be divided into four: Haredi, Dati, Masorti, and Heloni.
- Jews follow a series of doctrines that contain commandments they must live by; these are the Torah and the Talmud.
- The various Empires that took over the land of Israel imparted their religion and its beliefs, paving the way to the country’s various religions.
- Christianity was originally a religious sect of Judaism but gained its independence in the Roman Empire.
- Islam arrived in Israel in the time of Mohammad and has stayed in the land ever since.
- Because Israel was conquered a number of times, Jews were forced to flee their land, causing a diaspora.
- The displaced Jews faced oppression and prosecution in foreign lands, prompting them to migrate to Palestine in 1880.
- Due to conflict of religious beliefs, Palestine and Israel were deemed two different states, with the Arab Muslims in Palestine and the Jews in Israel.
- The Arabs felt the division unfair because the land of Israel held Jerusalem, which was sacred to both religions.
- The major religions caused a series of fights to break out, and to this day, it has yet to be resolved.
And there we have it; we learned about the dominant religion in Israel and other religious institutions, all their history, and their conflicts in the holy land.