Israelis consider family to be a very important aspect of their life. However, since Israeli society contains a blend of both and cultures, there are many different family structures.1 For example, while it is common to find small families that focus on the parent-children relationship, there are also many Israeli families that maintain strong ties with their extended families. In turn, an individual’s sense of loyalty, duty and responsibility differs depending on whether their family comes from a culture that leans more towards or .
The most common family unit is the . Some households may have more relatives (such as grandparents) living in the same home. In other cases, the unit may live near their extended family. In these arrangements, grandparents, aunts and uncles often help in raising the children. Grandparents are greatly respected. In Sephardi families, grandparents often look forward to the honour of their grandchild being named after them.
The number of children in a family unit varies largely depending on the couple’s religious and background. (Hiloni) Jewish couples tend to have one to three children, traditional (Masorti) and religious (Dati) Jewish families usually have three to six, and ultra- (Haredi) families often have seven or more.2
The bar mitzvah (for boys) or bat mitzvah (for girls) is an important ceremony for many Jewish children that marks their transition into adulthood, taking place when the boy turns thirteen and when the girl turns twelve. In most cases, children live at home until they reach the age of compulsory military conscription. The child-parent bond tends to remain strong well after children move out of their parents’ home. Some children return to their family home after their military service to live while they complete their university studies.
Among (Hiloni) Jews, women and men are generally considered equal and have access to the same opportunities. Women are able to work in all sectors of society, and are treated equal before the law. Women make up a significant portion of Israel’s workforce. Though women’s compulsory active-duty time in the IDF is less than that of men, women are able to serve in any role.
Within conservative religious communities, women and men tend to have defined gender they are expected to uphold. Women are expected to manage household affairs and care for the children. In religious (Dati) and ultra- (Haredi) families, it is often considered a holy act for a woman to bear many children. Meanwhile, men are expected to study Jewish laws and traditions in Talmudic schools. Thus, it is the father’s responsibility to pass on Jewish values and rituals to their children.
Traditionally, the father is the head of the family and the breadwinner. Among younger families, both women and men may financially support the household, tend to housekeeping tasks and participate in decision-making. In ultra- families, the wife tends to be responsible for financially supporting the family since the husband usually earns a modest stipend while undertaking his Jewish studies. However, the rising cost of living has pushed ultra- men into the workforce, which has altered family dynamics.
Dating and Marriage
Marriage is highly valued in Israeli society, and most Israelis hope and expect to marry. For most of the Israeli population, dating is quite common and usually begins in mid to late teenage years. People tend to meet prospective partners at school and parties, through family members, during their military service, or via online dating platforms. It is socially acceptable for either the male or female to initiate the dating process. Popular first dates include meeting at a cafe or restaurant, and other social activities, such as the cinema. Israelis who are or more liberal may choose to marry later in life after completing their military service, finishing their university education and establishing their careers.
Those from religiously conservative families, such as ultra- Jews, usually meet prospective partners through informal or professional matchmaking or at Shabbat dinners. Matchmakers may be relatives, family friends or a professional service. Official meetings will be set up by the family, and dates may be supervised or under certain restrictions. During the matchmaking process, the families of the couple will learn about one another to ensure the families are compatible. This process may begin as early as seventeen for those from ultra- communities. Marriage may occur soon after. Indeed, it is common for couples from more families to marry in their early- to mid-twenties.
Due to Israel’s legal system, personal matters such as marriage, divorce, adoptions and inheritance fall under a religious community’s jurisdiction. This means that only religious marriage ceremonies are legally held in Israel. Wedding ceremonies are very diverse in Israel and vary depending on the couple’s religious and cultural background. Jewish weddings are officiated by a rabbi, Muslim weddings are officiated by a qadi, and Christian weddings are officiated by a member of the clergy. Israelis also have the option to be in a de facto relationship (also known as ‘common law marriage’). Divorce is similarly subject to religious laws of the community the couple belong to. If a Jewish couple wishes to divorce, Jewish law applies (regardless if they themselves identify as Jews). In general, though, divorce is becoming more commonplace.
Those who seek an interreligious marriage or same-sex marriage often travel abroad for their wedding (usually to Cyprus). The Israeli government recognises marriages performed outside of the country. A common law spouse status is available for couples who cannot or do not wish to travel abroad to wed, though this status entails fewer legal rights than marriage. Though interreligious marriages occur, they are not always socially accepted. For instance, it is somewhat rare for a very religiously observant Jew to marry a Jew.
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