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Political Behavior, Vol. 23, No. 4, December 2001 ( 2002)
Kenneth D. Wald and Michael D. Martinez
Does religious commitment have a common political impact across national frontiers?
To date, that question has been explored empirically only for Roman Catholics, who
might be expected to behave similarly because of centralizing resources in their tradition. This article explores the extent of transnational political attitudes among Jews in
the United States and Israel, two groups with less centralized authority structures and
radically different religious situations. Parallel surveys of Jews in the United States
and Israel, analyzed by OLS regression with the slope dummy approach, indicate that
Jewish religiosity has a common influence on most political issues but often has much
sharper effects in one society than the other. Given our expectation that Jews would
exhibit lower levels of transnational similarity than Roman Catholics, the findings reinforce scholars who perceive religion as a potent transnational political factor.
Key words: Jewish; Jews; religiosity; Israel; transnational; transnationalism; slope dummies; Orthodox; religious commitment.
How do religious doctrines, institutions, practices, and beliefs shape political institutions and behavior both within and across state boundaries? Thanks
to the development of a vibrant subfield in religion and politics, scholars have
made considerable progress exploring that fundamental question. They have
produced a substantial empirical literature on how religion shapes individuals’
political attitudes and behaviors within states. By comparison, the literature
on between-state effects has not been as empirically well developed. Despite
recognition of religion’s potential to influence political attitudes and behaviors
across national frontiers (Keohane, 2001; Rudolph and Piscatori, 1997) and a
Kenneth D. Wald, Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, University
of Florida, POB 117325, Gainesville, FL 32611-7325; ([email protected]). Michael D. Martinez, Associate Professor of Political Science, Department of Political Science, University of
Florida, POB 117325, Gainesville, FL 32611-7325 ([email protected]).
0190-9320/01/1200-0377/0  2002 Plenum Publishing Corporation
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plethora of attempts by various faiths to do so, the accumulated empirical
evidence on their success has been much more limited. In this article, we take
an incremental step in that direction by examining the transnational effects of
religiosity on political attitudes among American and Israeli Jews. Building on
Mattei Dogan’s䉳 famous comment about French Communist deputies, we ask,
in effect, whether two Orthodox Jews, one who is American, have more in
common than two American Jews, one who is Orthodox.1
Most comparative research on religion and politics has been conducted
within nations (see, e.g., Haynes, 1998; Moen and Gustafson, 1991; Moyser,
1991; Sahliyeh, 1990). Whether focusing on Catholics (Whyte, 1981), Protestants (Wallis and Bruce, 1985), or Jews (Liebman and Cohen, 1990), the relatively few extant crossnational studies have been essentially descriptive,
lacking strong theoretical development and systematic multivariate analysis.2
Because of those deficiencies, scholars have been unable to develop much of
a purchase䉳 on the growing efforts to link religion and politics across national
frontiers.3 In the contemporary period, these include campaigns to create a
multinational political identity among Middle Eastern Muslims (Halliday,
1996; Piscatori, 1986; Roy, 1994), evangelical Protestants in North and South
America (Brouwer, Gifford, and Rose, 1996), Scandinavian Lutherans (Karvonen, 1994) and members of the Orthodox Church in Eastern Europe (Karatnycky, 1998). These campaigns recall earlier Roman Catholic attempts to
build continental political movements in Europe and Latin America (Kalyvas,
1996; Williams, 1967).
These efforts presume that religious identities have the potential to carry a
common political ethic, one that is manifested in the same way in different
geographical settings. Is this assumption plausible? To date, we have located
only one set of studies that empirically addresses the empirically by assessing
the transnational political attitudes of a single religious group. The exception,
a series of studies by Jelen and Wilcox (1997), utilizes global and continental
samples to explore crossnational differences among Roman Catholics on abortion and gender attitudes (Jelen, O’Donnell, and Wilcox, 1993; Jelen and Wilcox, 1997; Wilcox and Jelen, 1993䉳). Despite major historical and cultural
differences from one country to the next, the authors found strong relationships between Catholic commitment and support for traditionalist policies on
women and reproduction.
While the findings of this singular work suggest consistent religious-political
linkages across national borders, there are reasons to believe that Roman Catholicism may be better positioned than other religious traditions to forge such
ties. Roman Catholicism has a centralized international hierarchy with the
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legitimacy to issue authoritative interpretations of Church doctrine and national leaderships that reinforce the teaching authority of the Church. That
structure has consistently transmitted clear messages to Catholics on these
topics. Under these circumstances, we would expect religiously committed
Catholics in each society to internalize the Church’s position. In the language
of comparative research, then, Catholicism constitutes a relatively “easy case”
from which to test a transnational model of opinion formation.
A more complete test of the predictions associated with transnationalism
requires expanding the stock of cases to include religions without such strong
central authority. “Hard cases” would include religious traditions that are less
endowed than Catholicism with resources to promote strong crossnational uniformity. If we find the same patterns in those cases as in Catholicism, it would
strongly support the theoretical expectations that religious identities are potentially powerful transnational forces.
Judaism is a case that exemplifies factors that might mitigate transnational
effects. Specifically, the tradition is less endowed than Catholicism with resources to promote strong crossnational uniformity. The diversity within Judaism is a function of religious development as abetted by diaspora. The
religious tradition enshrined in Jewish sacred texts and commentary has periodically been disrupted by revivalist and reformist protests, leaving in their
wake a variety of denominations and tendencies. The Hasidic movement
emerged early in the 19th century as a revivalist protest against what it
claimed was the excessive legalism and formalism of mainstream Judaism. The
possibilities of development further increased following the emancipation of
European Jewry in the mid- to late-19th century. As Jews emerged from ghettos to participate more fully in European societies, Judaism itself was recast
and reformulated to meet the new situation (Birnbaum and Katznelson, 1995).
Challenged by the emergence of Reform and then Conservative variants of
Judaism, the embattled upholders of tradition adopted the mantle of Orthodoxy. Each stream has developed its own understanding of Jewish law and
reinterpreted the tradition according to its principles and needs. Although
various groups assert that theirs is normative Judaism, none enjoys much legitimacy to interpret the faith outside its own membership. Strikingly, there is
no single contemporary institution in Judaism with even putative global authority in the manner of the Vatican.
The diasporic nature of Judaism further disrupted cohesiveness. As Judaism
spread across the globe over the centuries, Jewish communities transplanted
from the core to a periphery engaged in creative reinterpretation of tradition
better to adapt to the host culture (Katz, 1996). As in other traditions, this
adaptation took the form of highlighting or “foregrounding” those aspects of
the tradition that resonated with the indigenous culture and deemphasizing
(“backgrounding”) discordant components that made adaptation more diffi-
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cult. The form of Judaism that emerged in Cochin India, for example, was
built on a foundation myth that paralleled Hindu legend, imposed what
amounted to a caste system, and embraced Jewish analogs to Hindu ritual acts
and symbols of purity. It was strikingly different from the Judaism that prevailed elsewhere. Though their adaptation was perhaps less drastic, Jews in
the United States also drew on elements of the Jewish tradition that facilitated
their successful incorporation into U.S. society. By the late twentieth century,
Fishman (2000) observed, “the contents of liberal American and Jewish cultures . . . appear to many American Jews as almost identical” (p. 179). If such
syncretism is common, then the spread of Judaism across the globe may not
have produced a transnational religion, but rather a set of “national” religions
sharing a family name but varying significantly from one another in matters
of style and practice.
Powerful though these decentralizing tendencies undoubtedly were, other
aspects of Judaism may have worked against them. Judaism has a core text
in the Hebrew Bible and a codified record of what is called the oral law in
form of the Talmud. Apart from a very few isolated Jewish outposts in India
and Ethiopia, the rabbinic interpretation of the Jewish tradition in the Talmud
gained authoritative status among Jewish communities worldwide. Although
far from monolithic in its characterization of Jewish law, the Talmud sets outer
limits on the permissible interpretation of Jewish scriptures and thus imposes
a considerable degree of cohesiveness on how the faith is understood. Moreover, the Jewish communities scattered around the globe partook of a common heritage. The shared historical legacy made Jews what is sometimes
called a community of fate. Jewish religious holidays, with their emphasis on
tribal traditions and their invocation of historical calamities, reinforced a sense
of shared experience regardless of locale. The greatest calamity of the twentieth century, the Holocaust, further linked Jews in a bond of suffering
that transcended national borders. Such a heritage may produce more uniformity than is commonly imagined in the face of such widespread physical dispersion.
Looking specifically at the Israeli and U.S. Jewish communities, the largest
in the world, one finds both convergence and divergence. Travel and communication have assuredly “shrunk the distance” between the communities, as
globalization theory recounts (Keohane, 2001, p. 1), opening up vigorous twoway exchanges of people, ideas, and organizations. In the most internationalist
wing of Judaism, the journalist David Landau (1993, pp. 38–40) writes that
business deals are closed, marriages arranged, and philanthropies funded
without much regard for national borders. Israelis are exposed to the political
values of American Jewry through immigrants, who helped found and promote
the Israeli peace, feminist, and environmental movements, and by the Israeli
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offices of communal organizations from North America.4 Conversely, major
Israeli political and social movements employ emissaries who try to win American Jewry to their side.5
These efforts may be offset to a degree by the dramatically different situation of Jews in Israel and the United States. As David Martin has suggested
(1978, ch. 2), a religious group’s political orientation depends most fundamentally on whether it constitutes a majority or minority. Where the group is
preponderant and enjoys state support, it is likely to exhibit considerable cohesion in political conflict against secular forces. Where the state is marked by
religious pluralism and embraces no religious identity, however, Martin anticipates a more fluid linkage between religious commitment and political orientation.
According to Liebman and Cohen (1990), the situation of Jews in Israel
and the United States approximates these contrasting ideal types. As a minority that has thrived in a multicultural state that disclaims a formal religious
identity, American Jewry has developed a distinctive liberal political culture.
Israeli Jews, the dominant yet embattled majority in a Jewish state, have
evolved a strikingly different political identity. Using similar surveys administered in both countries, Liebman and Cohen show that Israeli and American
Jews often hold strikingly dissimilar political and social attitudes. If not two
Judaisms, this social evolution has produced what Liebman and Cohen describe as two worlds of Judaism. However, the conclusions of this study rest
on simple comparisons of marginal frequencies. Given the enormous compositional differences between the Jewish communities in Israel and the United
States—particularly in terms of religious commitment—it is not at all clear
that the differences are due to location.
To reiterate, the lack of an authoritative hierarchy and the radically different religious situations of Israeli and American Jews make it likely that Jews
will exhibit lower degrees of the transnational political patterns than what is
observed in Roman Catholics. Our research goal is not to determine whether
Jews in Israel make common political cause with Jews in the United States,
nor do we compare (or contrast) the entire Jewish community to other religious traditions within either country. Rather, we seek to determine whether
the degree of religiosity affects Jews’ political attitudes in the same way in the
two countries. We have framed the discussion in terms of polarities—transnational similarity as suggested by globalism advocates versus the strong national
patterns anticipated by Martin and demonstrated at the aggregate level by
Liebman and Cohen. We can also envision a middle ground where religiosity exerts the same kind of effect in both societies but the impact is appreciably stronger in one society than the other. We offer a design that can detect
any of these patterns.
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The data for this article, obtained from the Roper Center, are from parallel
surveys of adult Jews in the United States (n = 848) and Israel (n = 1011)
conducted by the Los Angeles Times (1998) and Yedioth Ahronoth䉳 in March
1998.6 Both surveys utilized telephone interviewing, and the questionnaires
were similar, though not identical, in content. Whatever their shortcomings,
these studies constitute the only extant parallel surveys conducted with a probability-based sampling design and a bank of questions that allow scholars to
examine the religious-political linkages among Israeli and American Jews.
We know from prior research within each country that religious salience
structures the political attitudes of Jews in the United States and Israel (Arian
and Shamir, 1999a; Cohen, 1983; Kotler-Berkowitz, 1997; Peres, 1995) and is
a prime source of differences within each community over the questions that
constitute our dependent variables (Freedman, 2000, pp. 162–216). Hence
our principal question is whether religiosity’s effects on political attitudes are
similar in our samples of American and Israeli Jews. We approach this question by employing regression analyses with slope dummy variables on the
pooled U.S.-Israeli sample (Hanushek and Jackson, 1977, pp. 106–108). The
basic model can be represented as
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Y = a + b1 Israel + b2 Religiosity + b3 Israel * Religiosity
+ b4 . . . k control variables + e
This formulation, with a dummy variable for Israeli residence, comparable
measures of religiosity, and an interaction between them, allows us to address
several questions. First, an estimated non-zero b1 coefficient would tell us that
there are significant differences between the least religious Israeli Jews and
the least religious American Jews, notwithstanding differences in the control
variables. A zero b1 coefficient would indicate that any differences between
the least religious Israelis and American Jews on the dependent variable could
be explained by some combination of ethnicity, income, age, and other control
variables. The b2 coefficient describes the relationship between religiosity and
the dependent variable among American Jews. The b3 coefficient, which measures the effect of the interaction between the Israeli dummy and religiosity,
is crucial to our main question. Generally, a zero b3 coefficient indicates that
the effects of religiosity on the dependent variable are similar in the two countries, providing support for the thesis of transnational effects of religious commitment. A non-zero b3 coefficient indicates that, ceteris paribus, the effects
of religious commitment are different among the Jewish populations in Israel
and the United States, or as Liebman and Cohen (1990) suggest, Judaism’s
effects on political attitudes depends on the national context.
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The key independent variable, religious commitment, was derived from
comparable questions about religious self-identification in the two surveys (see
appendix䉳 for details). Social scientists have measured religious affiliation by
focusing on belief, behavior, or belonging. Belief measures have been especially useful for pietistic faiths that utilize doctrine as a lodestone of affiliation,
but do not work nearly so well for nonpietistic faiths, such as Judaism, that
value deed over creed. Scholars have utilized behavioral measures—specifically, observance of key rituals—in several studies of Judaism, but such an
approach is less appropriate in a comparative study such as this one. First,
Jewish Israelis live in a world that facilitates observance of religious tradition.
The daily and yearly calendar is organized around the Hebrew tradition, kosher food is easily accessible in public facilities, and many religious holidays
are occasions for family celebration. The striking contrast with the American
reality makes a simple comparison of ritual acts highly suspect as an indicator
of genuine religious commitment across the two societies. Even if we had
confidence in the behavioral measures, the two surveys are not compatible on
this dimension. In the Israeli sample, questions about ritual behavior were not
asked of those respondents who picked the “Orthodox” or “Haredi” label,
while the American survey asked the questions of the entire sample. Thus,
the surveys do not provide comparable measures for a crossnational behavioral
The third way of assessing religious commitment, measuring sense of belonging through self-identification, has become increasingly common in the
literature. This approach offers a compelling theoretical rationale. As research
on social categorization strongly indicates, “mere” identification with a label
has a powerful influence on the development of group-based attitudes (Hogg
and Abrams, 1988; Tajfel, 1981, 1982). As Turner noted, (1982) “individuals
who share a common identification of themselves . . . often . . . share no more
than a collective perception of their own social unity, and yet this seems to be
sufficient for them to act as a group” (p. 16). Working from that assumption, political scientists have developed a “social heuristics” model that incorporates self-identification to predict vote choice and attitude formation
(Brady and Sniderman, 1985; Sniderman, Brody, and Tetlock, 1991). The selfidentification approach seems appropriate to Judaism, a religious tradition
with different forms distinguished by unique views of religious authority, ways
of celebrating rituals, and contrasting approaches to religious identity. Accordingly, we employed self-identification with specific labels as our primary
method of assessing group affiliation and validated it where possible with behavioral indicators.
For both the American and Israeli samples, respondents were arrayed on a
Religiosity continuum from the least to the most Orthodox style of Judaism.7
In ascending order of religiosity, American respondents were classified as non-
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religious (26%), Reform (34%), Conservative/Reconstructionist (30%), and
Orthodox/Hasidic (11%). The nonreligious category includes those who volunteered that they had no religious affiliation and those who selected the “just
Jewish” label. Consistent with other studies of this subgroup (Lazerwitz, Winter, Dashefsky, and Tabory, 1998), the respondents in the “just Jewish” category had minimal Jewish involvement and interaction. Overall, there was a
strong, monotonic relationship between religious identification and a composite measure of observance in the American sample (tau-c = 0.535). The proportion of those who reported high levels of observance rose from 8% to 20%
to 45% to 89% across the four categories. Because of this relationship, we are
comfortable assuming that self-identification adequately taps religious behavior and what most scholars mean by the term religiosity.
The corresponding divisions among Israeli Jews were antireligious (21%),
secular (35%), traditional (27%) and Orthodox/Haredi (17%).8 In the survey,
a large proportion of respondents (56% in all) initially indicated they were
secular. Based on prior studies of the Israeli public (Levy, Levinsohn, and
Katz, 1993), this large category appears to conflate both the truly secular—
those who are totally nonobservant—and Israelis who mean only to indicate
that they do not practice the Orthodoxy that constitutes normative Judaism in
Israel. To distinguish between the two groups among the nominally secular,
we used the term “secular” for respondents who performed two or more of
the ritual acts that are common markers of Jewish religious observance—attending worship services on the High Holy days, regularly lighting candles on
the Sabbath, fasting on the Day of Atonement, or maintaining a kosher home.
Those who fell below this minimal threshold were labeled as “antireligious.”
Apart from their ritual behavior, auxiliary analysis confirmed that the two
groups of secular Israeli Jews did indeed differ in their distance from traditional Judaism.
By arraying respondents in this manner, we do not mean to suggest an exact
equivalence such that Reform Jews in the United States are identical to the
Israeli seculars or that Conservative Jews in America practice the same type
of Judaism as Israelis who select the “traditional” label. Rather, we are suggesting a parallelism of degree on a continuum where the endpoints are absence of Jewish religious behavior and closeness to Orthodoxy.
From comparable or identical questions in the two surveys, we constructed
four dependent variables—ideology, affect for Palestinians, support for Oslo,
and support for Orthodoxy in the Israeli state. As noted above, these variables
were selected in part because previous research within the two societies indicated they were influenced by respondents’ religious identity. If we are
searching for transnational religious effects, these are variables that should
show such patterns. But these dependent variables satisfied two additional
criteria. First, in a broad sense, each measure has some salience to Jewish
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communities in both Israel and the United States. While we should anticipate
differences between Americans and Israelis in their knowledge and attentiveness to the issues represented by the four items, the stimuli are common
referents for Jews in both nations. The second attractive quality of the dependent variables, an implicit ordering from broad to narrow or, in the context of
our general discussion, from global to local, introduces some variability among
Of the four dependent variables, ideology is clearly the broadest concept
and taps into a global discourse that might well be understood the same way in
the two societies. The ideology questions in the parallel surveys were similar,
although the Israeli survey used “left” and “right” rather than “liberal” and
“conservative” and presented three rather than two gradations for each wing.
We collapsed both scales into right, center, and left.
The support for Orthodoxy measure is at the other end of the continuum.
American Jews may well have opinions on this question as evidenced by the
ferocious reaction of the community to past proposals to redefine Jewish identity in Israel by exclusively Orthodox religious standards. Nonetheless, the
status of Orthodoxy is much more consequential for Israelis because they live
in a state that allocates coercive power to government-appointed religious authorities.9 The religious policy composite asked respondents if they approved
of allowing non-Orthodox rabbis to perform marriages and conversions in Israel and if women should be allowed to be rabbis. Both phenomena are common in the dominant Reform and Conservative denominations of American
Jewry but forbidden under the Orthodox establishment in Israel. In addition,
respondents were asked to select between civil law, religious law, or some
combination of both for the state of Israel. Coded to indicate support for
Orthodox authority, these items scaled at 0.59 in the American sample, 0.67
among Israeli Jews.
We believe the two other scales, attitudes to Palestinians and views of the
peace process, stand midway between ideology and Orthodoxy on this dimension. As the ubiquitous “We Are One” theme attests, American Jews have a
strong interest in Israel’s security—whether they live there or not. Indeed,
support for Israel rivals Holocaust consciousness as a pillar of contemporary
Jewish identity in the United States (Woocher, 1986). Yet, the question still
resonates among Israelis in a way it does not for American Jews simply because they most directly bear the burden of Israel’s precarious existence. The
peace process variable was based on three questions about attitudes to the
Oslo Accords, the return of West Bank territory to the Palestinians, and establishment of a Palestinian state. These items formed a composite Pro-Peace
scale with a Cronbach’s alpha of 0.64 in the United States and 0.74 in Israel.
A related scale, designated Palestinian Affect, tapped attitudes to the Palestinians through questions about Yasser Arafat’s approval rating, the sincerity of
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his commitment to peace, and respondents’ level of sympathy for the Palestinian people. The three items had a respectable Cronbach’s alpha of 0.68 in
Israel but just 0.51 in the U.S. sample.10 Judging from the reliability statistics
calculated for the scales, these items do not cohere as tightly in the minds of
Americans as they do for Israelis.
In addition to religiosity, the regression models include a set of predictors
that have frequently been linked to political attitudes in both countries. These
include Age, Gender, Ethnicity, Income, Education, and loss of a family member during the Holocaust. While age, gender, ethnicity, and Holocaust experience were created from identical questions, it required considerable recoding
to render the income and education variables comparable. We will use ideology to predict the three attitudinal scales. Consistent with the literature on
Israeli political behavior (Peretz and Doron,䉳 1996, p. 535), we will assume
that ideology precedes partisanship and use party identification only as a predictor of the attitudinal scales.11
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The results of the analysis for the four dependent variables, arrayed in Table
1, include the basic set of predictors described in the previous section plus
the slope dummies for the entire set of control variables and the dummy
variable coded 0 for Americans and 1 for Israelis. In these rich and complex
equations, we focus primary attention on the coefficient representing the interaction between religiosity and Israeli residence, listed in the third row. A
significant, non-zero coefficient for this slope dummy provides evidence for a
situational pattern, while a slope dummy that fails to reach the threshold of
statistical significance reinforces the transnational hypothesis. Although we
summarize the impact of other predictors in the equation, they do not bear
directly on our central research question about the transnational or situational
impact of religiosity.
The first column of coefficients in Table 1 portrays the factors that influence ideological self-identification with the left/liberal end of the political
spectrum. Religious Orthodoxy strongly diminishes the probability of identification with the left wing of the political spectrum in both countries, but the
effect is significantly sharper in Israel. The equation for ideology also tells us
that age, higher levels of education, and gender (women) promote ideological
identification with the left to the same degree in the two countries.
We computed predicted values for typical respondents in the regression
equation to clarify and illustrate the sharper effect of religiosity on ideology
in Israel. Our average respondent is a 44-year-old female Ashkenazi with an
average income and education and who did not lose a family member in the
Holocaust. U.S. and Israeli Jews with those typical characteristics and who are
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TABLE 1. Impact of Religiosity Among American and Israeli Jews
Israel Dummy Variable
Israel * Religiosity
Israel * Ideology
Israel * Party
Holocaust loss
Israel * Age
Israel * Education
Israel * Female
Israel * Income
Israel * Ashkenazi
Israel * Holocaust Loss
Adjusted R2
Number of Cases
Note: Entries are unstandardized regression coefficients.
*p < .05; **p < .01; ***p < .001.
farthest removed from Orthodoxy are, on average, left of center ideologically.
American nonreligious Jews lean a little further to the extreme (2.58 on our
3-point scale) than Israel’s antireligious Jews (2.41), but on the whole, they
are very close ideologically. The more Orthodox in both societies are more
conservative ideologically, but the magnitude of the difference is much more
dramatic in Israel. Orthodox Jews in the United States are, on average, near
the center of the ideological spectrum (1.98), while Israel’s Orthodox are well
to the right (1.27). Again, the effects of religious affiliation on ideology are
similar in kind, but their magnitude is much greater in the Jewish state. There
is evidence of a transnational religious-political linkage in the positive and
significant coefficient for religiosity but signs of a䉳 situational pattern in the
greater linkage among Israelis.
The next two columns report attitudes to the peace process and affect toward Palestinians, and the transnational pattern is dominant. Religiosity has
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the same (negative) impact on support for the peace process in the two countries. The typical least religious of Israelis have slightly higher scores on the
peace process scale than the typical least religious American Jews do (0.46 to
0.01). But, as both Israeli and American Jews move toward Orthodoxy, they
move away from Oslo (−0.44 for Israelis, and −1.51 for Americans). It is useful
to note that ideology also works in the same way across national borders.
Greater tendency to identify with the left promotes support for Oslo, but the
effect is somewhat stronger in Israel. In contrast, other variables’ effects in
the two populations differ. Attitudes to the peace process among American
Jews are unrelated to partisanship, a variable that powerfully structures Israeli
assessments. On the other hand, gender and income affect American Jewry
but do not produce any significant impact on the support for the peace process
in Israel. While attitudes are structured differently in the two countries, religiosity’s effect is similar.
A similar pattern emerges for affect toward Palestinians, the dependent
variable in column 4. The slopes for religious affiliation are comparable in
the two countries. Greater religious commitment diminishes pro-Palestinian
sentiment among both American and Israeli Jews. Typical American Orthodox
Jews have even less favorable opinions about the Palestinian people and their
leader (−0.71) than do the average Israeli Orthodox (−0.53), although American nonreligious are more inclined than Israeli antireligious toward more sympathetic views of the Palestinians (0.26 compared to −0.23). While religiosity’s
effect is transnational, other variables in the equation show that the configuration of attitudes toward Palestinians is nonetheless quite distinct according to
nationality. Neither ideology nor partisanship conditions the attitudes toward
Palestinians among American Jews. By contrast, both variables strongly influence how Israelis think about their Arab neighbors. Even after the full set of
controls and slope dummies are included, the Israel dummy remains extremely powerful and shows the Israelis notably cooler to the Palestinians than
are Americans. This seems to indicate purely national patterns that cannot be
attributed to compositional differences between the two societies.
On the assumption that questions of religious authority are precisely what
divide Jews into camps, we expected the religious policy measure to exhibit a
uniform relationship to religiosity. Somewhat unexpectedly, the data in the
final column of Table 1 more closely resemble the mixed transnational/situational pattern of the ideology variable. Religion has by far the greatest impact
on attitudes toward the public role of religion in Israel. As Jews in the United
States move closer to the Orthodox endpoint of the religious continuum, they
become more supportive of maintaining Orthodox privilege, the male rabbinate, and religious law. The pattern is accentuated among Israelis. Similarity
between the two nationalities is greatest among the Orthodox, although even
here, American Jews are more traditionalist (1.93, compared to 1.66). Sharper
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differences exist between the nonreligious in the United States (−0.76) and
the antireligious in Israel (−1.83). Both groups tend to oppose traditional
stances on the supremacy of religious law, the exclusive authority of Orthodox
rabbis in Israel to perform marriages and conversions, and the ban on women
in the rabbinate, but opposition among the Israeli antireligious is notably
stronger than among nonreligious Jews in the United States. Overall, this dependent variable generated the mixed pattern that we recognized as a possibility earlier in this article. The finding that Orthodoxy inclines Jews in both
countries toward deference to religious authority in Israel provides support
for the transnational model, while the greater intensity of that relationship in
Israel supports the situational model.
Among the other variables in the equation, only ideology influences attitudes toward religious authority among both Israelis and Americans. In both
countries, identification with the left undermines support for Orthodoxy. For
American Jews, age and income reduce support for Orthodoxy, but these factors do not structure the attitudes of Israelis. The power of national factors is
even more apparent in the Israeli dummy. The strong negative coefficient for
this variable, coupled with the steeper gradient for religiosity among Israelis,
attests that nonreligious Israelis were significantly less supportive than their
American Jewish counterparts of state support for Orthodoxy. This pattern is
consistent both with the marginal frequencies for this dependent variable and
with prior research on the basis of interreligious conflict in Israel (Wald and
Shye, 1994).
Using parallel surveys of Jewish adults in the United States and Israel, we
asked whether religiosity has a common political effect in the two societies or
if the relationship between religious commitment and political attitudes varies
by nationality. These two possibilities are compatible, respectively, with a
transnational and a situational interpretation of Jewish politics.
Looked at broadly, our findings are mixed with different patterns for various
dependent variables. None of our measures demonstrated a pure “national”
pattern consistent with the situational approach. At the other extreme, two
measures conformed cleanly to the transnational hypothesis. For attitudes to
the peace process and pro-Palestinian affect, religiosity pushed respondents
in the same (negative) direction and to the same degree in both Israel and
the United States. That left two measures that partook to some degree of both
transnational and situational forces. In terms of ideology and state support for
Orthodoxy, religiosity worked the same way in the two societies. As religiosity
increased, respondents in Israel and the United States more closely identified
with the right and favored a privileged position for Orthodoxy. Yet these cases
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deviated from the transnational hypothesis because religiosity had a much
sharper impact in Israel than the United States.
The two measures that exhibited only a transnational effect, the peace process and Palestinian affect, would appear to constitute the same symbolic domain for Jews in Israel and the United States. As Arian and Shamir (1999a, p.
266) recently noted, questions about the peace process and Palestinians
“touch upon basic collective identity dilemmas of territorial and social communal boundaries” for Israelis. While these might appear to be Israeli “national”
issues that do not have the same immediate impact for Jews in the United
States, they resonate as well with Diaspora Jews. For many American Jews, it
has been argued, Israel has become the major pillar of Jewish identity and
represents a focus of loyalty for the worldwide Jewish community. In both
countries, debates over the peace process have been polarized by religious
commitment such that two Orthodox Jews, one American, often have more in
common on the issue than two American Jews, one who is Orthodox (Freedman, 2000, pp. 162–216).
What do these findings say about the value of the transnational and situational perspectives on political behavior? As noted, only two dependent variables exhibited a pure transnational effect and the tables䉳 do suggest striking
differences in the binational sources of opinion in the two countries apart
from religiosity. These patterns warn against a wholehearted verdict on behalf
of the transnational hypothesis. Nonetheless, the transnational hypothesis does
appear stronger than its situational competitor. Consider the striking differences between the effects of religiosity and income. With religiosity, we found
clear transnationalism in the peace process and Palestinian affect, and situationalism in ideology and Orthodox authority only to the extent that those
relationships were stronger in Israel (i.e., they move in the same direction as
for American Jews). On the other hand, with income there is clearer evidence
of situationalism. It is influential in the United States on Oslo and Orthodox
authority, but not in Israel on either. Gender has a similar profile, affecting
Americans but not Israelis on ideology and moving Jews in opposite directions
on party and the Oslo peace process. Against these patterns, religiosity
emerges in these four equations as the variable that most consistently exemplifies either a pure transnational effect or a situational effect that is a magnification (stronger relationship in the same direction). Some factors, religiosity
being the exemplar, appear more transnational than others.
Despite the qualifications introduced above, the findings of this study tend
to reinforce those scholars who anticipate political uniformity among coreligionists in different societies. We had expected strong situational patterns,
first, because Judaism lacks a global hierarchy that enjoys legitimate moral
authority to apply religious teachings to social and political issues. Moreover,
the different situations of Judaism in Israel and the United States was thought
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Au: OK?
likely to encourage the development of strong contextual patterns. Despite its
status as a less centralized and more individualistic religious tradition than
Catholicism, Judaism still appears to possess the resources that encourage
global political behavior. We have thus added a measure of empirical ammunition to the arsenal of scholars who posit the emergence of transnational religion in an era of fading states (Rudolph and Piscatori, 1997).
Acknowledgments. In the course of conceptualizing and writing this article, we have
received valuable input from several of our colleagues in the Department of Political
Science. We thank them for their input. Ken Wald is particularly grateful to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences for providing the necessary research funds as part of
the William G. Carleton Term Professorship.
The sampling frame for the American survey stratified area codes and telephone
exchanges between the Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSA) containing an estimated
73% of the Jewish population of the United States and the remainder of the country.
Respondents were contacted by telephone through random digit dialing. The overall
response rate was 64%, and the sample was weighted to adjust for the greater cooperation rates among respondents living outside an MSA.
In the American survey, respondents were screened so the sample contained only
adults with at least one Jewish parent or who were raised as Jews or who considered
themselves Jewish. The three questions used in the screen were similar to the supplemental questions used to identify Jewish respondents for the 1990 National Jewish
Population Survey (NJPS; Goldstein, 1992, p. 84). As it did for the NJPS, this series
of screens produced a substantial number of respondents with Jewish ties who nonetheless indicated they were practicing another religion. The rate of 15.7% for the
Times survey corresponded closely to the 19% reported for the NJPS (Goldstein, 1992,
p. 90). There is no hard and fast rule about whether such respondents should be
considered Jewish for purposes of analysis. Our decision to drop the 133 respondents
who identified with another religious tradition besides Judaism was motivated by a
desire to obtain a sample that corresponded to the Israeli sample, which was limited
to Jews.
The Israeli survey, conducted by the respected Dahaf Institute, drew telephone
numbers randomly from a list of all telephone exchanges and stratified respondents as
kibbutz residents, settlers in the West Bank/Gaza, immigrants from the former Soviet
Union, or Jews who did not fall into any of those categories. These were further stratified by type of settlement and geographic area. Owing to the high refusal rates of the
ultra-Orthodox population, an oversample was drawn from areas with high concentrations of haredim. The response rate for all respondents was 78%.
Comparison of the Israeli sample to official data indicated no need to weight the
Israeli respondents. The male/female ratio was 49/51 in the population versus 47/53 in
the sample. The reported vote for prime minister in 1996 among the sample of Jewish
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Israelis was 55% for Netanyahu and 45% for Peres, virtually identical to the official
figures reported in Jewish settlements by the Central Bureau of Elections (Arian and
Shamir, 1999b, p. 6). We report on the religious composition of the sample in the text
and note 6.
Question Wording for Variables. Where wording differed, Israeli item is on the left.
Politically, where do you see yourself?
How would you describe your views on most
matters having to do with politics? Do you
generally think of yourself as very liberal, or
somewhat liberal, or middle-of-the-road, or
somewhat conservative, or very conservative?
Whom did you vote for in last election for Prime Minister?
Regardless of your party registration or how
you have voted in the past, do you usually
think of yourself as a Democrat, or a Republican, or an Independent, or as something
OR REPUBLICAN) Do you consider yourself a strong (Democrat/Republican) or not
a very strong (Democrat/Republican)? (IF
INDEPENDENT) Do you feel closer to
the Democratic Party, or the Republican
Party, or to neither party?
As you may know, in this peace agreement Israel agreed to return part of the West
Bank and Gaza Strip to the Palestinians in exchange for peace and official recognition
of Israel by the Palestinians. Having heard more, in general, do you approve or disapprove of the peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians, known as the Oslo
Accords? (IF APPROVE/DISAPPROVE) Do you strongly (approve/disapprove) or
somewhat (approve/disapprove).
In your opinion, how much land should Israel be willing to give up on the West Bank
in order to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians: Should we [“they” in the
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US question] be willing to give up all of it, most of it, some of it, only what we [they]
have already returned, or none of it?
Do you approve or disapprove of there being an independent Palestinian state in the
Middle East? (IF APPROVE/DISAPPROVE) Do you strongly (approve/disapprove)
or somewhat (approve/disapprove).
Palestinian Affect
What is your impression of Palestinian Authority President Yasser (YAH-sir) Arafat
(AHR-AH-FAT)? As of today, is it very favorable, or somewhat favorable, or somewhat
unfavorable or very unfavorable—or haven’t you heard enough about him yet to say?
What is your general impression of the Palestinian people? As of today, is it very
favorable, or somewhat favorable, or somewhat unfavorable, or very unfavorable—or
haven’t you heard enough about them yet to say?
From what you know, do you believe that Yasser (YAH-sir) Arafat (AHR-ah-fat) is
sincere when he says he wants to continue the peace process, or do you not believe
he is sincere when he says this?
Support for Orthodoxy
Do you think Israel should be a state governed by civil laws, religious laws, or a combination of both?
As you may know, currently only Orthodox Rabbis are permitted to conduct marriages
and conversions in Israel. Do you favor or oppose allowing Reform and Conservative
Rabbis to also perform marriages and conversions in Israel? (IF FAVOR OR OPPOSE) Do you strongly (favor/oppose) this or only somewhat (favor/oppose) this?
Do you believe that women should be allowed to be Rabbis?
Religiosity (see text for additional details)
Are you:
Is your personal religious affiliation Orthodox, or Hasidic (ha-SEE-dick), or Conservative, or Reform, or Reconstructionist, or “just
Jewish”—or is your religious affiliation nonJewish?
Are you an Ashkenazi (OSH-ken-ah-zee), meaning that your family was originally from
Eastern Europe or of Sephardic (suh-FAR-dick) descent, meaning your family was
originally from the Middle East, Africa, or Spain? If you do not know you can tell me
that too
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To the best of your knowledge, did anyone in your family die in the Holocaust?
The average monthly expenses of a 4person family was on last February,
6,300 New Israeli Shekel. Taking this
into consideration, your household
size and expenses, are your household
expenses are:
If you added together the yearly incomes of
all the members of your family living at
home last year, would the total of all their
incomes be less than $20,000 . . . or more
than $40,000 . . . or somewhere in between?
(IF LESS THAN $20,000) Would the total
of all their incomes be less than $10,000? (IF
IN BETWEEN) Would the total of all their
incomes be less than $30,000 or more than
$30,000? (IF MORE THAN $40,000) Would
the total of all their incomes be
between $40,000 and $50,000 . . .
or between $50,000 and $60,000 . . .
or between $60,000 and $70,000 . . .
or between $70,000 and $80,000 . . .
or between $80,000 and $90,000 . . .
or between $90,000 and 100,000 . . .
or more than that?
How many years of formal school did
you complete?
What is the highest grade of regular school
or college that you finished and got credit
After graduating from high school, did you
complete some technical training like secretarial school, or art school, or trade school,
or something like that?
1. In Judaism, “Orthodoxy” refers not to pietism in general but rather to a specific denomination
or tradition.
2. For a theoretically based comparison of evangelical Protestants in the United States and
Canada, see Hoover, Martinez, Riemer, and Wald (forthcoming). In that study, the two
groups took similar positions on political issues that had long been the subject of preaching
within evangelicalism but diverged markedly on policy issues that were not covered by the
groups’ religious tradition. Unlike the current inquiry, the study of Protestant evangelicals
focused primarily on affiliation with a tradition rather than variations in religious commitment.
3. As a reviewer helpfully pointed out, transnational religiously based politics could take several
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forms. A scholar interested in central tendencies would ask if the religious group behaves the
same way in different countries. That has been the main question asked in the comparative
studies we cite. But transnationalism would also be evident if religious groups in different
countries worked together to secure common political goals—such as debt relief or abortion
restriction. In this article, we pose a third possibility—that variations in religious commitment
are systematically related to political attitudes across national boundaries.
As evidenced by the cases of Meier Kahane and Baruch Goldstein, the founder of Israel’s
rejectionist “Kach” movement and the perpetrator of a massacre of Muslim worshippers respectively, American expatriates have also populated the far right of the Israeli political spectrum. Much of the funding for the expansion of Jewish settlements in Arab parts of Jerusalem
has come from North American Jewry.
In the ultimate demonstration of transnationalism in politics, Israeli-born activists in North
America have raised considerable funding for Israeli parties and have subsidized cheap election flights to Israel for expatriates who wish to cast ballots (Nagourney, 1999).
For detailed information on the conduct of the two polls, see the appendices. Details about
sampling appear on pp. 11–12 of the Statistics Sheet for surveys # 407/408 prepared by the
Los Angeles Times. The document is available for download at:
Orthodoxy, sometimes labeled “traditional Judaism” or “Torah Judaism” by its adherents, is
customarily defined by its continuing commitment to the binding nature of Jewish law as
spelled out by the Talmud. For a useful if controversial account of Orthodoxy, see Sacks
In the most comprehensive recent survey of Jewish religious practices in Israel (Levy et al.,
1993), respondents were divided into four categories based on self-reported level of observance—strictly observant (14%), observant to a great extent (23.5%), somewhat observant
(41%), and totally nonobservant (21%). The distributions for the Times survey corresponded
relatively well to the Guttman data, once we differentiated among the large proportion of
Times’ respondents (56% in all) who initially indicated they were secular. This large category
in the Times survey appears to conflate both the truly secular—those who are totally nonobservant—and Israelis who mean only to indicate that they do not practice the Orthodoxy that
constitutes normative Judaism in Israel.䉳 Among this subsample of the nominally secular, we
used the term “secular” for respondents who performed two or more of the ritual acts that
are common markers of Jewish religious observance—attending worship services on the High
Holy days, regularly lighting candles on the Sabbath, fasting on the Day of Atonement, or
maintaining a kosher home. Those who fell below this minimal threshold were labeled as
“antireligious.” Auxiliary analysis confirmed that the two groups of “nonreligious” Israeli Jews
did indeed differ in their distance from traditional Judaism. The term “Haredi” is used in
Israel to refer to the Ultraorthodox, regardless of nationality or rabbinic sect.
In Israel, the state-supported Orthodox rabbinate has sole legal authority over questions of
personal status for Jews. Hence, Israeli Jews live under Orthodox standards on issues related
to marriage, divorce, adoption, burial, and other personal status matters (Abramov, 1976).
In computing all three scales, each individual item was standard-scored before calculation of
the composite value. Thus each scale has a mean near zero.
While the American interview schedule contained the standard Michigan questions for partisan identification, the Israeli survey followed the international custom of asking respondents
for whom they had voted in the most recent national election (the 1996 election for prime
minister). The items were coded in a parallel fashion, such that Netanyahu voters and selfidentified Republicans were coded as right-wingers, while Peres supporters and Democrats
were similarly classified on the left. Israelis who either did not vote or cast a blank ballot and
Americans who adopted the Independent label occupied the intermediate category.
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Au: Doesn’t
most of this
note appear
in text?
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