Israel - Religions
The land that is now Israel (which the Romans called Judea and then Palestine) is the cradle of two of the world's great religions, Judaism and Christianity. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Jewish history begins with Abraham's journey from Mesopotamia to Canaan, to which the descendants of Abraham would later return after their deliverance by Moses from bondage in Egypt. Jerusalem is the historical site of the First Temple, built by Solomon in the 10th century BC and destroyed by the Babylonians in 586 BC , and the Second Temple, built about 70 years later and sacked by the Romans in AD 70. Belief in the life, teachings, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (who, according to the Christian Scriptures, actually preached in the Second Temple) is the basis of the Christian religion. Spread by the immediate followers of Jesus and others, Christianity developed within three centuries from a messianic Jewish sect to the established religion of the Roman Empire. Jerusalem is also holy to Islam: the Dome of the Rock marks the site where, in Muslim tradition, Mohammed rose into heaven.
Present-day Israel is the only country where Judaism is the majority religion, professed by 80% of the population; over one-fourth of all the world's Jews live there. Most in the Jewish population describe themselves as secular or traditional Jews. About 5% are Haredi (ultra-Orthodox) and about 13% are Orthodox. There are also a number of adherents who claim affiliation with Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist branches of Judaism, but these are not officially recognized.
Most Arabs are Sunni Muslims (14.6%). Christians (2.1%) are largely Greek Catholic or Greek Orthodox, but there are also Roman Catholics, Armenians, and Protestants. Other religions are claimed by the remaining 3.2% of the population. The Druzes, who split away from Islam in the 11th century, have the status of a separate religious community. The Baha'i world faith is centered in Haifa.
Freedom of religion is guaranteed. The Ministry of Religious Affairs assists institutions of every affiliation and contributes to the preservation and repair of their holy shrines, which are protected by the government and made accessible to pilgrims. Supreme religious authority in the Jewish community is vested in the chief rabbinate, with Ashkenazim and Sephardim each having a chief rabbi.