Jewish Ethnic Groups
The division of Jewish Israelis into ethnic groups is primarily
a legacy of the cultural diversity and far-flung nature of the
Jewish Diaspora: it is said that Jews have come to modern Israel
from 103 countries and speak more than 70 different languages.
As in the United States, the immigrants of yesterday became the
ethnic groups of today. But Jewish ethnicity troubles many Israelis,
and since the late 1950s it has sometimes been viewed as Israel's
major social problem.
There are two principal sources of concern. First, in a rather
utopian way, Zionism was supposed to bring about the dissolution
of the Diaspora and the reconstitution of world Jewry into a single,
unified Jewish people. The persistence of cultural diversity--
Jewish ethnicity in a Jewish state--was simply inconceivable.
Second, the socialist Labor Zionists assumed that the Jewish society
of Israel would be egalitarian, free of the class divisions that
plagued Europe. Instead, along with the growing, industrializing
economy came the usual divisions of class, stratification, and
socioeconomic inequality. These class divisions seemed to coincide
with ethnic divisions: certain kinds of ethnic groups were overrepresented
in the lowest classes. For utopian thinkers, the persistence of
Jewish ethnic groups was troubling enough; their stratification
into a class structure was unthinkable.
Data as of December 1988