Israeli Culture Essay

“A nation’s culture resides in the hearts and in the soul of its people. ” -Mahatma Gandhi To try and come up with only one inclusive definition of culture can prove to be a tiring task as many scholars have created an assortment of definitions over the past century. (Matsumoto ; Juang, 2008) Human culture as defined by Matsumoto and Juang (2008) is, “…a unique meaning and information system, shared by a group and transmitted across generations, that allows the group to meet basic needs of survival, pursue happiness and well-being, and derive meaning from life. ” (p. 5) Religion is perhaps the most influential piece of the culture in Israel: it plays a part in almost all areas.

This is a look at the culture of the people of Israel including the areas of religion, politics, gender, marriage and family, as well as art and cuisine. Religion Religion plays an enormous role in the land of Israel and it’s rich culture. The three most popular religions of the entire world are Judaism, Christianity and Islam and they’re also the three most common religions found in Israel. (Torstrick, 2004) As of 2004, approximately 4. 7 Jews, 901,000 Muslims and 113,000 Arab Christians lived in Israel. Torstrick, 2004) As a result of these varying religions and their presence, the city of Jerusalem has been titled a “city of contrasts”, filled with both ancient neighborhoods as well as new, and houses of prayer for all the many communities and religions. (Lowenstein, 2012) Not all Jews share the same beliefs and there are many different Jewish denominations in Israel including Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist. (Blech, 1999)

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The strictest followers of Judaism are the ultra-orthodox but they only account for about eight percent of the population. Geri, 2007) Some people don’t consider themselves to be any of these specific types but rather just Jewish, and this is how they choose to identify themselves whether or not it is agreed upon between the sects. “The choice of personal identification is probably the most powerful determinant for someone being a Jew. ” (Blech, 1999, p. 11) The founder of Islam was a man named Mohammed who, according to author Rabbi Benjamin Blech (1999), “obtained all of his knowledge of religion from the Torah. ”(p. 38) The main branch of Islam is called Sunni and these are the type of Muslims that live in Israel. Other sects of Muslim like the Shiites, have separated from the Sunni as a result of disagreements within the religion. (Torstrick, 2004) Despite current issues between the Jews and Muslims in Israel, their original relationship was a peaceful one and had lasted that way for hundreds of years. (Blech, 1999) As far as Christianity goes, the two main sects are the Greek Catholic and the Greek Orthodox and they are located primarily in the city of Jerusalem.

The Greek Orthodox Church was granted its authority by the Council of Chalcedon in 451 making it the oldest Christian denomination in Israel. (Torstrick, 2004) There was much cruelty directed towards the Jewish people from the time that Christianity was named the religion of the state for the Byzantine Empire during the fourth century. The cruelty rendered this prayer that was written by Pope John XXIII right before he died in 1963: “We realize that our brows are branded with the mark of Cain. Centuries long has Abel lain in blood and tears because we have forgotten Thy love.

Forgive us the curse which we unjustly laid on the name of the Jews. Forgive us, that with our curse, we crucified Thee a second time. “ (Blech, 1999, p. 147) Politics Israel is a democratic republic based on a universal right to vote. (Geri, 2007) The main components of the Israeli government consist of the presidency, a unicameral government otherwise known as the Knesset, the judiciary and the State Comptroller. (Geri, 2007) The Knesset is a 120-member elected parliament, the office of the president and the offices of the prime minister with a cabinet. Torstrick, 2004) It’s no secret that Israel consists of much debate between its people and as a result it has been described as a political system based on cooperation, negotiation and compromise. (Barak-Erez, 2007) The state of Israel has seen an enormous amount of uprisings and peace makings and to this day people pray for peace in Israel. “Israel is one of the great outposts of democracy in the world, and a marvelous example of what can be done, how desert land can be transformed into an oasis of brotherhood and democracy. ” –Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. (Lowenstein, 2012, p. 19)

Gender, Marriage, and Family According to the Rebecca L. Torstick(2004), author of the book entitled Culture and Customs of Israel, Israel is frequently portrayed as a society in which equality exists between men and women. However, the differences in the experiences of Israeli men and women prove the gender inequality within their society. (Torstrick, 2004) Just the fact that women are the ones able to bare children is foundation alone for inequality. Jewish and Palestinian women share the same role and that is by being female they are supposed to be a mother and in the home, this is their job.

To be without child or infertile in either society is a grave misfortunate and can result in divorce and/or a decline to their social status. It’s a very important thing for a woman to have children in order to keep the traditions and beliefs of her people alive. Jewish and Palestinian women are even considered to be the “Mothers of the Nation. ” (Torstrick, 2004, p. 124) The Israeli government even goes as far as to subsidize prenatal care as well as helping with assisted conception technologies and “rather generously”. (Ivry, 2010, p. 1) The male image that is upheld and encouraged is that of the sabra, “…a native born Israeli Jew, prickly on the outside, sweet on the inside…tanned, strong, healthy looking and with European features. ” (Torstrick, 2004, p. 124) According to Jeffrey Geri, author of Culture Smart! Israel (2007), the men in an Israeli home are ideally the breadwinners and although there are more women today in the workforce than ever, there is still fewer woman than men actually striving to pursue this independence. (p. 760) Men and women do share military service.

At the age of 18 men in Israel are required to serve in the armed forces for a minimum of 3 years and women are required to serve 20 months. (Torstrick, 2004, p. 148) Marriage is something that is greatly valued and expected in Israel for all societies: it is a cultural norm. (Torstrick, 2004) Because of the concentrated religion and the value placed upon it, there is a great deal of pressure on a person to marry someone within the same religious sect. In Israel, by law, if a religious leader marries a person outside of their faith, they can be put in jail for up to six months. Torstrick, 2004) For the ultra-Orthodox and traditional Palestinians, matchmakers are used to join two people together to for an initial meeting. If the two are compatible, then they commence further meetings and arrangements for marriage are made between the families. (Geri, 2007) Compared to other countries, the divorce rate in Israel is very low.

Over 885,000 marriages took place in Israel between 1964 and 1999 and just over 19 percent were divorced by 1999. (Central Buraeu of Statistics, 1999) Family is one of the most important parts of life in Israel and this is true for both Palestinian and Jewish families. Torstrick, 2004) According to Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics (1999) less than 10 percent of people between the ages of 20 and 30 live alone. Young adults normally stay at home with their parents until they are married and able to afford a home of their own and even then it is possible they might still live at home with their parents, grandparents, etc. (Torstrick, 2004) Art ; Cuisine There are more than 80 art museums and galleries throughout the land of Israel with different art ranging from paintings, sculptures and photography as well as craft and design. Geri, 2007) According to the book, Culture and Customs of Israel, the beginning of Jewish Israeli art can be dated back to 1906 when Boris Schatz came to Jerusalem, created an art academy and began reviving Jewish art. (Torstrick, 2004) Art, just like everything else in Israel has been greatly affected by the various events that helped to shape this country’s culture including World War 1 and 11, the Holocaust as well as the declaration of Israel as a state in 1948.

Because of the strong religious beliefs of Israeli’s, what people eat depends upon the dietary demands of their religion whether it be Jewish or Muslim. Kashrut in the Jewish religion is the prohibition of all pork, shellfish, and any fish without scales. In addition to that dairy and meat must be separated at all times, for example, no cheese on a cheeseburger and dairy cannot be served after meat. (Geri, 2007) For Muslims, there are two types of food, halaal meaning lawful and permissible and haram meaning unlawful and impermissible. Torstrick, 2004) “Foods that are considered haram include all forms of alcohol or liquor (including foods containing alcohol), packaged foods containing animal gelatin, fats, or rennet (thus many cheeses or margarines are not permitted since they contain animal rennet, an enzyme), and all pork products. ” (Torstrick, 2004, p. 107) Ultimately, the land of Israel is greatly touched in all areas by religion whether it be the Jewish people or Muslims. Even if a person isn’t Jewish or Muslim, if they live in Israel, they cannot be unaffected by it.

Religion affects every area covered in this essay and even every area that hasn’t been covered. Religion affects the politics, gender, family, marriage and even the art and cuisine! It is all intertwined into the lifestyle of an Israeli. Maybe it’s a difficult feat to define the word culture as it pertains to the world but as far as Israel goes, culture is defined by the religions in which they believe. References Barak-Erez, D. (2007). Outlawed Pigs: Law, Religion and Culture in Israel. Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press. Blech, R. B. (1999). The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Jewish History and Culture.

New York: Aplha Books. Central Buraeu of Statistics. (1999). Vital Statistics: Marriages and Divorces. Retrieved from http://www. cbs. gov. il/publications/vital99/vi1198-e. pdf Geri, J. (2007). Culture Smart! Israel. Hutton Grove: Kuperard. Ivry, T. (2010). Emobodying Culture: pregnancy in Japan and Israel. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press. Lowenstein, R. S. (2012). For the Love of Israel. Chicago: Triumph Books LLC. Matsumoto, D. , & Juang, L. (2008). Culture and Psychology. Belmont: Wadsworth. Torstrick, R. L. (2004). Culture and Customs of Israel. Westport: Greenwood Press.