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Christianity in Israel

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Christianity in Israel

View of churches on the Mount of Olives
Yardenit, Jordan River baptismal site
Arab Christian cemetery in Haifa

Christianity in Israel is one of the recognized religions in Israel and is practised by more than 161,000 Israeli citizens (about 2.1% of population). They include 127,000 Arab Christians (mostly Arab Orthodox as well as Melkite and Latin Catholics, with some Galilean Maronites, Copts and Protestants), about 25,000 Slavic Christians from the former Soviet Union (Eastern Orthodox) and smaller minorities of Arameans, Assyrians and Armenians. A certain number of Israelis also practice Messianic Judaism—usually considered a form of Christianity, with estimates of several thousands, but exact numbers of such are not available. There are approximately 300 Christians who have converted from Islam according to one 2014 estimate, and most of these belong to various Protestant and evangelical churches.[1]

About 80% of Christian residents of Israel are Arab Christians, who are historically bound with neighbouring Lebanese, Syrian and Palestinian Christians. A community of 1,000 Coptic Christians also exists in Israel, being registered as "Arab Christians", though their Arab identity is disputed. Christian Arabs are one of the most educated groups in Israel. Maariv has described the Christian Arabs sector as "the most successful in the education system",[2] since Christian Arabs fared the best in terms of education in comparison to any other group receiving an education in Israel.[3] Some 25,000 (the majority of the remaining) are immigrants from the former Soviet Union, who immigrated with Jewish relatives due to mixed marriages; there are also smaller ethnoreligious affiliations of about 7,000 Maronites (some of whom are recorded in Israel as "Arab Christians" and others as "Aramean Christians") and 1,000 Assyrians.

Ten churches are officially recognized under Israel's confessional system, for the self-regulation of status issues, such as marriage and divorce. These are the Greek Orthodox, Melkite (Greek Catholic), Roman Catholic (Latin rite), Armenian Orthodox, Armenian Catholic, Maronite, Syrian Catholic, Syriac Orthodox churches and Episcopal.[4] The practice of religion is however free, and there is no limitation for other forms of Christianity as well as other faiths.


  • History 1
  • Affiliations 2
    • Eastern Orthodox 2.1
    • Catholic Church 2.2
    • Protestants 2.3
    • Messianic Jews 2.4
  • Relations with other religions 3
    • Christian-Jewish Relations 3.1
      • History 3.1.1
      • Tensions 3.1.2
      • Prosperity of Christian community 3.1.3
      • Sons of the New Testament Party 3.1.4
    • Christian-Muslim relations 3.2
  • Demographics 4
    • Education 4.1
    • Socio-economic 4.2
    • Birth rate 4.3
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7


The Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, regarded as the holiest site of the Christian religion where it is believed Jesus Christ was crucified and buried.

According to historical and traditional sources, Jesus lived in Roman Judea, and died and was buried on the site of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, making the area a Holy Land for Christianity. However, few Christians now live in the region, compared to Muslims and Jews. This is mainly because Islam displaced Christianity throughout the Middle East, and the rise of modern Zionism and the establishment of the State of Israel has seen millions of Jews emigrate to Israel. The Christian population in Israel has increased significantly with the immigration of many mixed families from the former Soviet Union (1989-late 1990s) and by the influx of some 10,000 Christian Maronites from Lebanon in 2000. Recently a further increase in Christianity came with arrival of many foreign workers and asylum seekers, some of Christian background (for instance from the Philippines and South Sudan). As a result, numerous churches have opened in Tel Aviv.[5]


A 2015 study estimates some 300 Christians from a Muslim background in Israel.[6]

Eastern Orthodox

Most Christians in Israel belong primarily to branches of the Eastern Orthodox Churches oversee a variety of churches, monasteries, seminaries, and religious institutions all over the land, particularly in Jerusalem. In the 19th century the Russian Empire constituted itself the guardian of the interests of Christians living in the Holy Land, and even today large amounts of Jerusalem real estate (including the site of the Knesset building) are owned by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem.

Catholic Church

Main article: Catholic Church in Israel

Many Christian citizens of Israel belong to the Catholic Churches and affiliated Eastern churches. The most practiced are Roman Catholic Church proper (Latin Church), Greek Catholic Church (Melkite) and Maronite Church affiliations. About 500 Israeli Christians also belong to the Syrian Catholic Church.


There has been a small Protestant community in Israel since its inception in 1948, based on either Christian Arabs who had changed their religious affiliation to Protestant teachings or European residents moving to the area. The community of Jews who hold to the tenets of the Christian faith - called Hebrew Christians or Jewish Christians are not to be confused with those adhering to the Messianic Judaism movement. Jewish Christians are not considered bona-fide Jews under Israel's Law of Return,[7] there are an estimated 10,000 adherents in the State of Israel, both Jews and other non-Arab Israelis, many of whom are expatriates or immigrants from the former Soviet Union.[8] In Israel Jewish Christians or Hebrew Christians prefer the name Meshikhiyyim (from Messiah, as found in the Franz Delitzsch Hebrew New Testament) rather than the traditional Talmudic name for Christians Notzrim, (from Nazarene).[9]

Some of the earliest Protestant church buildings are Christ Church (Anglican) inside the Jaffa Gate of the contested Old City of Jerusalem, and Christ Church (Anglican) in Nazareth. Both were built during the Ottoman period.[10]

Messianic Jews

Several thousand Israelis practice Messianic Jewish denominations, which are often considered as Christian sects. The Messianic Jews usually combine Jewish and Christian practices, but do recognize Jesus as a son of God. There are no exact numbers on those communities, but it is believed that several hundred to several thousand ethnic Jews belong to this tradition as well as several thousand Israelis of mixed ancestry (mostly mixed Jewish and Slavic).

In Jerusalem, there are twelve Messianic congregations[11]. On 23 February 2007, Israel Channel 2 News released a news documentary about the growing number of Messianic Jews in Israel.[12]

Relations with other religions

Christian-Jewish Relations

Hebrew-speakers call Christians as Notzri (also spelt Notsri), which means Nazarene (originated from Nazareth).[13]


According to Israeli MFA, Israel’s Declaration of Independence, issued in 1948, describes the country as a Jewish state but clearly extends religious freedoms to all of its inhabitants by stating that the State of Israel will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion, race or sex; it will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience, language, education and culture; it will safeguard the Holy Places of all religions.[4]

During the 1948 Arab–Israeli War, the fate of the Christian Palestinians was similar to that of the Muslims, in term of military administration and land confiscations.[14] However, Christian churches generally avoided destruction or defilement during the 1948/1949 Arab-Israeli War. Aware of the international attention to the conflict, David Ben-Gurion is said to have expressly forbidden to loot or defile Holy Places.[15] For the same reason, Israeli authorities have a more lenient attitude to the right of return of the Christian refugees.[15]

According Israeli MFA, since reunification of Jerusalem, the Christian and well as Jewish and Islamic holy sites were opened for multi-national pilgrims by the Israeli authorities,[4] for the first time since 1948, when the Kingdom of Jordan took over the Eastern half of the city.


Some ultra-Orthodox Jews were blamed to have a decades-old practice of cursing and spitting on Christian clergymen in Jerusalem,[16] and there have been cases where churches and cemeteries were defaced by Jewish nationalists.[17][18][19][20] When the doors of the Latrun Trappist monastery were set aflame and the phrase "Jesus was a monkey" was painted on its walls, the Vatican reacted with a rare official complaint against the Israeli government's inaction.[21] In June 2015, the Church of the Multiplication was significantly damaged by an arson attack and defaced by Hebrew graffiti, with the words “the false gods will be eliminated” (quoted from the Aleinu prayer).[22][23] This attack was labelled as "terrorism" by Israeli officials.[24]

Prosperity of Christian community

Gabriel Naddaf argues that Israel is the only country in which Christian communities have been able to thrive in the Middle East.[25] However, there has also been criticism by Palestinian Christians to the claim that Israel is the only country that Christian communities have been able to thrive in the Middle East, with such statements being called a "manipulation" of the facts.[26] Members of the Palestinian Christian community claim that such statements attempt to hide the discrimination that Arab Christians face within Israel due to discriminatory laws as well as the effect of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza on the Christian population in these areas.[27]

Sons of the New Testament Party

Recently, there has been a steady undercurrent of Christian Arabs who seek deeper integration into Israeli society. Under the leadership of Priest Gabriel Naddaf, the "Sons of the New Testament" is a political party that advocates Christian enlistment in the IDF and a more distinct societal separation of Christians from Muslims.[28] This separation is partly based on the purported fact that Christians in Israel are not technically Arabs, seeing as they were present in the holy land long before the Arab conquest, hallmarked by the Siege of Jerusalem. This distinction is in the process of being formalized into law, as the Likud government is currently drafting legislation to grant this request.[29]

This new attitude is founded largely by the perception by some that only in Israel the Christian population is growing due to natural increase and no state persecution, seeing the entire Middle East, except Lebanon, as where Christianity is and has been rapidly on the decline. In addition, increasing numbers of Christian leaders and community members are pointing to Muslim violence as a threat to their way of life in Arab majority cities and towns.[30] Sons of the New Testament as a party and a national movement has been met with wide admiration from the Jews of Israel, harshly negative scorn from the Muslim Arabs, and mixed reactions from the Christians themselves. Because of Israel's parliamentary system where each party must attain at least 2% of the popular vote, Sons of the New Testament must be supported by non-Christians to enter the Knesset.

Christian-Muslim relations

The Christian-Muslim relations are generally calm and rely on the common ethnicity of the Israeli Arab Muslims and Arab Christians, who form the majority of Israeli Christians. A recent survey indicated that Christians in Israel are prosperous and well-educated - but some fear that Muslim intimidation will cause a mass escape to the West.[31]

Recently there has been an increase of anti-Christian incidents in the Nazareth area, inspired by the rise of Jihadist forces in the Middle East. Many Christians have complained of being targeted by Muslims, whom they believe are trying to either drive them out of cities that have traditionally had large Christian populations, or to "persuade" them to convert.[31] In 1999, for example, radical Muslims in Nazareth rioted as they attempted to wrest land from a major Christian shrine to build a mosque.[31] In one incident during 2014, a flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant was installed in front of a church in Nazareth.[32]

There has also been increasing incitement and violence by the Muslims against Christians who voice their support for the Israel Defense Forces. In a recent case, the son of Father Gabriel Naddaf, a prominent Christian who is regarded as being pro-Israel, was severely beaten. Father Nadaf himself has been suffering from vasts amount of Muslim incitement in recent years.[33][34]



Christian Arabs are one of the most educated groups in Israel. Maariv has described the Christian Arabs sectors as "the most successful in education system",[2] since Christian Arabs fared the best in terms of education in comparison to any other group receiving an education in Israel.[3] Christian Arabs have one of the highest rates of success in the matriculation examinations, (64%)[3] both in comparison to the Muslims and the Druze and in comparison to all students in the Jewish education system as a group,[3] although lower than the secular Jewish education (64.5%) and the national religious Jewish education (65.9%).[35] Arab Christians were also the vanguard in terms of eligibility for higher education.[3] and they have attained a bachelor's degree and academic degree more than the median Israeli population.[3]

The rate of students studying in the field of medicine was also higher among the Christian Arab students, compared with all the students from other sectors. the percentage of Arab Christian women who are higher education students is higher than other sectors.[2] despite that Arab Christian account 2.1% of the total Israeli population, In 2014 the percentage of Arab Christian of the total Israeli Universities students was 17.0%, and 14.4% of the total Israeli College students,[36]

According to study Are Christian Arabs the New Israeli Jews? Reflections on the Educational Level of Arab Christians in Israel by Hanna David from the University of Tel Aviv, one of the factors is why Arab Christians are the most educated sub-population in Israel is their high level Christian educational institutions. Christian schools in Israel are among the best schools in the country, While those schools represent only 4% of the Arab schooling secto, about 34% of Arab University students come from Christian schools,[37] and about 87% of the Israeli Arabs in the High tech sector, have been educated in the christian schools.[38][39]


In terms of their socio-economic situation, Arab Christians are more similar to the Jewish population than to the Muslim Arab population. They have the the lowest incidence of poverty and the lowest percentage of unemployment which is 4.9% compared to 6.5% among Jewish men and women.[40] They have also the highest median household income among Arab citizens of Israel and second highest median household income among the Israeli ethno-religious groups.[41] Also Arab Christians have a high presentation in science and in the white collar professions.[42] In Israel Arab Christians are portrayed as a hard working and upper middle class educated ethno-religious minority.

Birth rate

years number of children aged 0–4 in thousands
2008-2011 10.7
2004-2007 11.2
2000-2003 12.3
1996-1999 12.7

The median age in 2012 was: Female: 32.1 Male: 31.2

Total fertility rate for Arab Christians: 2012: 2.07, 2013: 2.03

CBR per 1000 people: VII/2013-VI/2014, for Arab Christians 15.2, for all Christians 16.5.

Age structure 2013: 0-19: 29.6% 19-65: 60.1% 65+: 10.3%

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ a b c המגזר הערבי נוצרי הכי מצליח במערכת החינוך)
  3. ^ a b c d e f Christians in Israel: Strong in education
  4. ^ a b c [1]
  5. ^ Adriana Kemp & Rebeca Raijman, "Christian Zionists in the Holy Land: Evangelical Churches, Labor Migrants, and the Jewish State", Identities: Global Studies in Power and Culture, 10:3, 295-318
  6. ^
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Avner Falk Franks and Saracens: Reality and Fantasy in the Crusades p4 2010 - 225 "Nonetheless, the Talmudic Hebrew name (as well as the modern Hebrew name) for Christians is not meshikhiyim (messianic) but notsrim (people from Nazareth), referring to the fact that Jesus came from Nazareth."
  10. ^
  11. ^
  12. ^ (9 minute video, Hebrew audio, English subtitles)
  13. ^ Bromiley, Geoffrey W., "Nazarene," The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: K-P, pp. 499–500.
  14. ^ Una McGahern, Palestinian Christians in the Israeli state: State Attitudes towards non-Muslims in a Jewish State, 2011 :"Unlike the Christian churches, Christian individual Arabs have been treated by Israeli authorities similarly to Muslim Arabs in matters such as confiscation of lands and the military administration" [2]
  15. ^ a b Una McGahern, Palestinian Christians in the Israeli state: State Attitudes towards non-Muslims in a Jewish State, 2011 [3]
  16. ^ ADL, "ADL Urges Israeli Chief Rabbinate to Denounce Ultra-Orthodox Practice of Spitting at Christians", [4]
  17. ^ Haaretz [5]
  18. ^ The Jerusalem Post [6]
  19. ^ The Guardian [7]
  20. ^ Times of Israel[8]
  21. ^ International Business Times [9]
  22. ^
  23. ^
  24. ^ Sea of Galilee church where 'Jesus fed 5,000,' torched in suspected hate attack | The Times of Israel. 2015. Sea of Galilee church where 'Jesus fed 5,000,' torched in suspected hate attack | The Times of Israel. [ONLINE] Available at:
  25. ^ Algemeiner Journal [10]
  26. ^ Haaretz [11]
  27. ^ Institute for Middle East Understanding [12]
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^ a b c [13]
  32. ^ [14]
  33. ^ [15]
  34. ^ /
  35. ^ משרד החינוך: קטן שיעור הזכאים לבגרות העומדים בדרישות הסף של האוניברסיטה - חינוך וחברה - הארץ
  36. ^ הלמ"ס: עלייה בשיעור הערבים הנרשמים למוסדות האקדמיים
  37. ^ Demonstration Of Christian Schools In Jerusalem
  38. ^ With schools starved of funds, Christians question their future in Israel
  39. ^ Why Angry Christians in Israel Are Crying Discrimination - Haaretz
  40. ^ Israeli Christians Flourishing in Education but Falling in Number
  41. ^ פערים חברתיים-כלכליים בין ערבים לבין יהודים
  42. ^ David, H. (2014). Are Christian Arabs the New Israeli Jews?

External links

  • M. Avrum Ehrlich, Past, Present and Future Developments of Arab Christianity in the Holy Land
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