Why do most Israeli Jews fast on Yom Kippur ? A survey conducted by the BINA organization for Jewish pluralism and social action reveals that 73% of the public fast on the holy day – but only about half do so for reasons related to the Jewish religion and tradition.
The Geocartography research institute interviewed 500 people (a representative sample of the adult Jewish population in Israel) who were asked, "Do you usually fast on Yom Kippur? If you do, please tell me which of the following sentences characterizes you the most."
Only 27% said they do not abstain from eating on the holy day. Among those who answered on the affirmative, 51.5% said they do so "for religious reasons," 22.5% "out of respect to tradition" and 14% "in solidarity with the Jewish people," while 3% do so "for health reasons or as a challenge." The remaining 9% answered "for all reasons equally" or "for none of these reasons."
A breakdown according to religious definitions reveals that 99% of the religious-haredi public and 95.5% of traditional Jews fast, while among seculars the number of those who abstain from eating on the Day of Atonement reaches 46.5%.
Forty-one percent of the seculars who fast explained that they do so out of respect to the Jewish tradition, 24.5% in solidarity with the Jewish people who fast, and only 19% said they do so to observe the religious mitzvah.
Educated people less likely to fast
A further analysis of the results reveals that the number of those who fast among younger Israelis (ages 18-24) is significantly higher than among older Israelis (35-54, and 55 and up) – 84%, 66% and 67.5%, respectively.
The survey also found that educated people are less likely to fast – 78% of people with a high school or lower education, 76% of people with a post-high school education and 66% of academics.
As for financial income, the survey found that 78% of those with a lower than average income fast, as well as about 70% of those with an average and high income.
Among residents of northern Israel, only 61% fast on Yom Kippur. Sixty-five percent fast in the Sharon region, 76% in central Israel, 79% in southern Israel and 84% in the Jerusalem area.
BINA CEO Eran Baruch, head of the Secular Yeshiva in Tel Aviv-Jaffa, said in response to the survey's findings: "Yom Kippur is one of the most significant dates in the Jewish calendar. The Israeli street is paralyzed on this day and hardly any Israelis remain indifferent to this date. It was important for us to check why most Israelis fast and what their motives are.
"It's clear to us that part of the secular public does it from the classic religious place, but as revealed in the survey, the vast majority choose to fast for reasons which are not religious, but rather related to culture, to tradition and to solidarity with the Jewish people.
"Fasting on Yom Kippur is voluntary. No one forces us to fast," Baruch added. "And precisely in such a place where each person can do as he pleases, many do take part in it. This shows that when there is less religious coercion bigger parts of the public choose to identify and participate.
"It is important for us at BINA to strengthen the cultural-traditional aspect of Judaism in a bid to reach larger parts in the public who do not identify necessarily with the holiday's religious dimension."