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Religion

As noted earlier some 80% of the Israeli population are Jewish. Orthodox or observant Jews follow strict traditions which include:- praying three times a day; wearing a yarmulke (skullcap) at all times in the case of males and a scarf or other head-covering in the case of married women; observing the Shabbat (Sabbath) from sunset on Friday to sunset on Saturday; and following Jewish dietary codes. In a 'kosher' diet only animals that chew the cud and have cloven hooves (eg cows and sheep but not pigs) and only fish with scales and fins (ie not shellfish) may be eaten; slaughtering and preparation must be done in a special way; and dairy products are not to be cooked or eaten with meat or poultry. At present Israel has a majority of secular Jews whose modern lifestyles involve various degrees of respect for and practice of religious precepts. However, the rate of population growth amongst the Orthadox community is currently outstripping that of other sectors of Jewish society.

A further 15% of Israel's population are Muslim (mostly Sunni Muslim). Devout Muslims pray five times daily while facing Mecca in Saudi Arabia; fast in daylight hours during the holy month of Ramadan; make at least one pilgrimage (Haj) to Mecca during their lifetime; give alms to the poor; and follow special dietary codes. The Muslim day of rest lasts from sunset on Thursday to sunset on Friday.

The other two principal religions found in Israel are Christian (3%) and Druze (2%). The former include Armenian Orthadox, Abyssinian, Anglican, Coptic, Greek Orthadox, Roman Catholic and Syrian Orthadox Christians. Haifa is also the world centre of the Baha'i faith, which emphasises the unity of religion and the oneness of humankind.

The 'Holy Land' of Jerusalem and its environs has played a crucial role in the development of the world's three major monotheistic religions - Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The city of Jerusalem contains sites that are sacred to each of these religions - notably the Western Wall (Judaism), the Al-Aqsa Mosque (Islam) and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre (Christianity) - and has thus long been a source of conflict between them.