Are Jewish Studies the Answer to Polarization in Israeli Society?


Press Release

Are Jewish Studies the Answer to Polarization in Israeli Society?

In a survey conducted among graduates of the Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies: 

93% responded that their studies helped them formulate an inclusive approach to Judaism; 55% were motivated by Jewish values, culture and identity to choose this course of study

The Schechter Institute of Jewish Studies (SIJS) in Jerusalem, offering Israel’s largest M.A. program in Jewish Studies, conducted a comprehensive study this past summer among its graduates. The results showed that in addition to a desire for workplace advancement and improved salary conditions (45%), the main reasons that students choose to study at the Schechter Institute are to draw inspiration from the world of Jewish values and culture (34%) and because of a desire to develop and establish the Jewish component in their identity (21%). 

Dr. Liora Pascal, an expert in social and educational research, conducted the study, which substantiated the claim that learning and familiarization with the customs and traditions of others increases inclusivity and pluralism. The study included 325 SIJS graduates out of over 1,800 former students, and involved in-depth interviews and survey questions.

According to the findings, 93% of graduates reported that their studies at SIJS helped them formulate an inclusive Jewish outlook; 90% stated that their studies contributed to them acquiring knowledge about the world of Judaism and text study; 88% testified that their studies contributed to involvement in their own Jewish identity and 64% reported that their studies contributed to personal and professional development.

The results show that choosing a Jewish Studies program is not related to the students’ level of religiosity. The religious distribution of SIJS graduates is similar to that of the general Jewish population in Israel: 37% of graduates describe themselves as secular, 30% traditional and 30% religious. The majority of respondents stated that their religious identification remained similar to that with which they arrived. Nevertheless, some of the graduates experienced a shift in religious affiliation. Among those coming from a religious background – 33% reported that they are not religious today, 27% defined themselves as traditional and 66% as secular. Among respondents from a secular background – 17% stated that they are not secular today, 11% became traditional and 6% adopted a religious lifestyle. Among those from a traditional background – 18% became religious and 32% became secular.

The findings also show that social and community activity is a dominant characteristic among SIJS graduates: 47% report that they volunteer or work in social and communal services and 34% are involved in initiating or leading community projects. 45% state that after studying at SIJS they learn source texts on a regular and individual basis and 35% learn about Jewish culture and tradition in various settings such as Beit Midrash study centers and learning communities. Half (51%) of the respondents said that they are consumers of Jewish culture and 79% mention holidays and family celebrations as offering Jewish meaning. 51% of respondents stated that the Schechter Institute is a place that connects individuals to Judaism and Jewish culture in a way that suits them, 44% said that they view SIJS as having a central place in their lives and 80% said that they will recommend to their friends to study Jewish Studies in general and at SIJS in particular.

“Findings from the recently conducted study are important not just for the Schechter Institute, but for Israeli society as a whole. They prove that the Israeli public is thirsty for a knowledge and understanding of their Jewish history and culture, without changing their lifestyle,” says Professor Doron Bar, President of the Schechter Institute. “Students who learn at SIJS come for the program’s quality and depth, and they complete their coursework with a great sense of satisfaction. Last week we embarked upon a new academic year at the Schechter Institute and I trust and am certain that both new and veteran students will undergo an empowering process. They will not only complete an M.A. degree but will also acquire knowledge, tools and interpersonal connections that will accompany them throughout their lives, wherever they may go.”

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