Israel is a Jewish state, was reestablished in 1948 as the historic and modern home of the Jewish people, and is the world’s only Jewish state. Yet Israel is also the only country in the Middle East which has full freedom of religion for all. Each religious community is free, by law and in practice, to exercise its faith, to observe its holidays and weekly day of rest and to administer its internal affairs. Each has its own religious council and courts, recognized by law and with jurisdiction over all religious affairs and matters of personal status such as marriage and divorce. Each has its own unique places of worship, with traditional rituals and special architectural features developed over the centuries. Judaism is the religion of the majority of citizens and according to the country's Central Bureau of Statistics, in 2005 the population was 76.1% Jewish, 16.2% Muslim, 2.1% Christian, and 1.6% Druze, with the remaining 3.9% not classified by religion. Among all Israeli Jews, 65% believe in God and 85% participate in a Passover seder. However, other sources indicate that between 15% and 37% of Israelis identify themselves as either agnostics or atheists. Israelis tend not to align themselves with a movement of Judaism (such as Reform Judaism or Conservative Judaism) but instead tend to define their religious affiliation by degree of their religious practice.
Judaism in Israel
Israel is the birthplace of Judaism, the most ancient of the world’s three predominant monotheistic faiths. Israel is the place of all of Judaism’s myriad holy and historic sites, including Jerusalem, the Temple Mount (the site of Judaism’s First and Second Temples as documented in the Bible), and Hebron. In particular, Jerusalem is historically the heart of Jewish life, having been the religious center and capitol city of the Jewish people singularly, extending from the present all the way back to the times of King David. As such, Israel and Judaism are eternally and inexorably bound and inseparable.
Today, Jewish society in Israel is made up of observant and non-observant Jews, ranging from the ultra-Orthodox to those who regard themselves as secular. However, the differences between them are not necessarily clear-cut. If Orthodoxy is determined by the degree of adherence to Jewish religious laws and practices, then 20% of Israeli Jews fulfill all religious principles, while 60% follow some combination of the laws according to personal choices and ethnic traditions, and 20% are essentially non-observant. Israel was conceived as a Jewish state, and therefore the Sabbath (Saturday) and all Jewish festivals and holy days have been instituted as national holidays and are adhered to by all. For example, the Sabbath (the weekly day of rest) on Saturday is marked in Israel with most people spending the day with family and friends. Public transport is suspended, businesses are closed, essential services are at skeleton-staff strength, and leave is granted to as many soldiers as possible.
Islam in Israel
Unique in the Middle East, Israel is a democracy which welcomes people of all faiths to be citizens and to participate fully in Israeli life. Beyond Muslims observing Islam freely according to their beliefs and practices, they partake of Israel’s many opportunities for a good, modern, and successful life. Muslims are students at Israeli universities, practice law and medicine, are part of Israel’s vibrant workforce, and are even members of Israel’s Parliament and hold judgeships in its court system. Muslims have been given administrative and religious jurisdiction over their mosques throughout Israel including those on the Temple Mount (the Dome of the Rock and the adjacent Al-Aqsa Mosque) which Muslims revere as the place from which they believe that Muhammad ascended to Heaven. Islam did not arrive in the Holy Land until the Islamic conquests beginning in the seventh century CE, when Islam was founded. Today, most Muslims in Israel are Sunni Arabs.
Christianity in Israel
There are various sites in Israel that are holy to Christianity inasmuch as these places are where Jesus was born, lived, taught, preached, and died, Among the holy sites which are of significance to Christianity are the Via Dolorosa, the Room of the Last Supper and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem; the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth; and the Mount of Beatitudes, Tabgha and Capernaum near Lake Kinneret (the Sea of Galilee). Many Christians living in Israel are local Arabs, while others have come from other countries to live in the Holy Land, many working in churches or monasteries with long histories in the land. The Christian communities in Israel are comprised of four basic groups: Chalcedonian-Orthodox, Non-Chalcedonian Orthodox (Monophysite), Roman Catholic (Latin and Uniate) and Protestant. These communities consist of some 20 ancient and indigenous churches, and another 30, primarily Protestant, denominational groups. Except for national churches, such as the Armenian, the indigenous communities are predominantly Arabic-speaking; most of them, very likely, descendants of the early Christian communities of the Byzantine period.