American Jews More Likely to Shun Passover Seder Than Israelis

93 percent of Israeli Jews attend a Passover seder, much higher than in the United States, where only 70 percent participate in the ceremony.

An Israeli family posing for a photo before their Passover seder.
Wikimedia Commons

Israelis are much more likely than their American cousins to attend a Passover seder and probably much more likely to observe this Jewish ritual than any other, according to a recent survey of religious attitudes and practices among Israelis conducted by the U.S.-based Pew Research Center.

According to the Pew findings, 93 percent of Israeli Jews attend a Passover seder, much higher than in the United States, where only 70 percent participate in the ceremony. For comparison’s sake, only 60 percent of Israeli Jews, as reported in the Pew survey, fast all day on Yom Kippur

The Pew Israel report, published this March, was based on interviews with 3,789 Israeli Jews conducted between October 2014 and May 2015. Its report on religious attitudes and practices among American Jews was published in October 2013.

Even among non-Orthodox Israeli Jews, 91 percent of those questioned in the recent Pew survey said they had attended a Passover seder, as compared with only 66 percent of non-Orthodox American Jews. Among those who identify as secular in Israel (there was no equivalent category in the U.S. survey), 87 percent said they had attended a Passover seder – more than the total for all American Jews.

Although attendance rates in Israel were similar among old and young, they varied among ethnicities. Thus, for example, Jews of Middle Eastern or North African descent (97 percent) were more likely to attend a seder than those of European descent (88 percent). Russian-speakers (70 percent) were less likely to attend a seder than Hebrew-speakers (95 percent). Russian-speakers in Israel tend, on the whole, to be less observant, as many of those who were born and raised in the former Soviet Union were banned from practicing Judaism under the Communist regime.

In the Pew Survey conducted in Israel, respondents were also asked whether they attended a traditional seder. More than two-thirds of all respondents (67 percent) said that they did. Among secular Israeli Jews, only 41 percent said they attended a traditional seder, among Israeli Jews of European origins only 51 percent did, and among Russian-speaking Jews, only 23 percent did. The survey did not provide a specific definition of a “traditional” seder.

Neither the survey of Israeli or American Jews questioned respondents about whether they observed the ban on eating bread and other leavened foods on Passover. But according to a survey published by the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics in 2011, nearly half of all Israeli Jews (48 percent) said they abstained from such foods during the week-long holiday.