In both the United States and Israel, Orthodox Jews generally hold more conservative political views than the non-Orthodox Jewish population. In the United States, political participation by Orthodox Jews is relatively low, mainly because they comprise a tiny fraction of the population. In Israel, it’s a different story. The Orthodox there are a powerful political force.
Orthodox Jews and U.S. Voting
Most U.S. Jewish voters vote Democratic -- 65 percent according to the Pew Research Center. By comparison, Orthodox Jews lean Republican. Jewish voters overall went 69 percent for President Barack Obama in the 2012 election, but only 59 percent of Orthodox Jews did, according to a poll conducted by the pro-Israel organization J Street. A survey by the Republican Jewish Coalition found 48 percent in Obama’s camp. But Orthodox Jews are hardly a significant voter bloc. Two percent of the U.S. population identifies as Jewish and only 10 percent of Jews are Orthodox, according to the National Jewish Population Survey.
Orthodox Jews in the U.S. Government
There haven’t been many Orthodox Jews in American politics. In 2013, President Obama nominated Jacob “Jack” Lew as secretary of the treasury. Upon his confirmation, he held the highest government position of any Orthodox Jew in U.S. history. Connecticut Senator Joseph Lieberman, also Orthodox, received the 2000 Democratic nomination for vice-president, the first Jew of any denomination to run on a major party presidential ticket. Lieberman, however, supported the Republican ticket in the 2008 election and subsequently resigned from the Democratic Party.
Israeli Politics and the Orthodox
In Israel, “Ultra” Orthodox Jews, known as haredim, make up 10 percent of the country’s population and have their own political parties. Their main issues are keeping haredim exempt from mandatory military service and promoting government subsidies for religious education. Large numbers of haredim don’t work in the labor force, studying their religion full-time instead, so the subsidy issue is especially important. This has caused a great deal of resentment from other Israelis who are required to serve in the military and pay taxes that support the unemployed haredim. But the system continues because in Israel’s multi-party system, it’s nearly impossible for one party to win a majority. Therefore small, haredim parties form coalitions with the ruling parties, giving the Ultra-Orthodox influence that outweighs their numbers.
Support for Israel as a Political Issue
Jews traditionally rally around Israel, opposing any politician whose support seems anything less than resolute. But some Ultra Orthodox sects -- for example, the Neturei Karta and the Satmar Hasidim -- believe that Jewish law forbids Jews from establishing their own country. They actually oppose the existence of the Jewish state, even though many live there. Those sects are a minority, however. In the United States, Orthodox Jews are more likely to put Israel as a major voting issue. In Israel, Orthodox Jews are among the most ardent nationalists, supporting the expansion of Israeli territory by building settlements in the occupied West Bank.
- Republican Jewish Coalition: An Inside Look at RJC Exit Polls
- Pew Research Center: Portrait and Demographics of United States Religious Affiliation
- Foundation for Middle East Peace: Political Parties Represented in Israel's 19th Knesset
- Jewish Standard: Parsing the Jewish Vote
- The Jewish Journal: The story of the 0.04% Orthodox vote
- The Jewish Federations of North America: National Jewish Population Survey 2000-2001
- The Daily Beast: Israel's Ultra-Orthodox Problem
- Tablet Magazine: Treasury’s First Orthodox Chief
- Pew Research Center: How the Faithful Voted: 2012 Preliminary Analysis
- J Street: Election Night Crosstabs
- Ilia Yefimovich/Getty Images News/Getty Images