Within Judaism, family life is central. Starting a family is strongly encouraged socially, but is also supported by state services. It was strengthened by Jews who had survived the Shoah, for whom starting a family meant breaking away from the horrible past. The birth rate in Israel today varies from group to group, with Muslims and Orthodox Jews with the highest birth rates. The general birth rate is 22 births per 1000 inhabitants. The total fertility rate was 3 in 2010 (Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, 2010).
Within most Jewish homes the nuclear family is the basic structure. Strong relations are often maintained with the extended families. On Shabbat (Friday evening/night) many families come together for a festive meal. However, new groups of immigrants have brought new forms of family life with them. The Russian immigration, for example, brought many single mothers, while the husband stayed behind in Russia. Furthermore, within these families the grandmother, who often lives in the same house, plays a significant role. The average family size is 3.7 (Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, 2010).
Ethiopian immigrants came from a rural background with large extended families and a dominant male heading them. However, the transition to Israel has changed this significantly, and within the community 30 percent of the families consist of single mothers today.
Palestinian families in Israel often live with extended families within the same building; parents build an extra apartment on top of their own for their children and their spouses and children. The birth rate amongst Israel’s Muslim citizens is higher than among the secular Jewish majority, which is seen as an issue of concern by many Israeli Jews, as it could endanger the Jewish character of the state.
Jewish women in Israel are firstly seen as carers and nurturers. Their fertility is very important, while the men are expected to defend them (and the nation as a whole). Within secular Jewish society, women are part of public life, often have a career and are independent. However, their participation is not equal to men’s (See Position of women).
For the orthodox community things are different. Orthodox women have less freedom in public, they dress modestly and do not interact with men other than their husbands or kin. They do, however, often work outside the home to provide for their large families, especially when the men spend their days in the Yeshiva (religious school). In Muslim (and Christian) families, which are more patriarchal, women often have a subordinate position. Their honour is the honour of the family, and hence girls and women are often protected from the outside world. Compared to Muslims in neighbouring countries, however, Palestinians in Israel often enjoy a more modern lifestyle.