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People and Society, Religion

largest Christian denominations, efat, holy cities of Judaism, haredim, Druze

For centuries the region of Palestine has been a focus for three world religions: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Jerusalem, Hebron, ?efat, and Tiberias are the four holy cities of Judaism. Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and Nazareth are sacred to Christians, and Jerusalem, as the location of the ascent of the prophet Muhammad to heaven, is also sacred to Islam. Haifa is the world center of the Bahaíi religion, although there are few adherents in Israel today. The level of strict religious observance among all religions has declined in recent years, but religious affiliation remains very important socially and politically. Israeli law guarantees religious freedom.

Varying degrees of religious faith and practice exist among Israeli Jews. Ultra-Orthodox Jews (haredim) who wish to impose strict religious law on all aspects of life lie at one end of the spectrum. At the other end lie those who observe no religious practices. The majority lie somewhere in between, observing some religious principles some of the time according to personal preferences and ethnic traditions. Orthodox and non-Orthodox groups remain at odds, resulting in occasional violent incidents over observance of the Sabbath, a holy day of rest, and the right of women to pray at Jerusalemís Western Wall, the holiest site of Judaism. In recent years non-Orthodox Jewish groups have struggled against the exclusive rights of the Orthodoxy to perform conversions and other religious rites. Religion plays a significant role in politics, and religious parties hold many seats in the legislature.

About three-quarters of Israelís non-Jewish population follows Sunni Islam. Most of the remainder are Christians or Druze, a distinct religious minority. The largest Christian denominations are Greek Catholic and Greek Orthodox; many other Christian denominations are also represented in Israel.

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