Members of the religious kibbutz movement have expressed surprise over a study indicating that residents of religious kibbutzim live longer than their secular counterparts.
Danny Tamari, general secretary of the Religious Kibbutz Movement, believed that the study’s results reflected the kind of spirituality found on religious kibbutzim.
“I’m familiar with research that has shown longer lifespans for kibbutzniks when compared to the general population, and I can understand the results,” he said. “Being a kibbutz member provides built-in security and gives people, even older members, a sense of purpose and a reason to live.”
But, Tamari added, “I’m still surprised by the study’s findings on religious kibbutzim. It can’t be said secular kibbutzim are devoid of spirituality. It’s just that it’s a different kind of spirituality.”
A spokeswoman for the United Kibbutz Movement, the vast majority of whose members belong to secular kibbutzim, declined to comment until the group’s leadership had time to digest the researchers’ results.
The findings of the study, which was conducted during a 16-year period, appeared recently in the American Journal of Public Health.
The Hebrew University researchers studied death rates in 11 religious and 11 secular kibbutzim across Israel to determine whether religion might be a factor in health and mortality.
After compiling their data, the researchers reported “a distinctly lower mortality rate in religious kibbutzim than in secular kibbutzim that was evident in both sexes, evident in all ages, and consistent throughout the 16- year period of observation.”
This lower mortality rate “persisted, with remarkable overall consistency, across major categories of underlying cause of death.”
Despite the fact that statistically, women tend to live longer than men, the study concluded that secular women did not outlive men.
Working on the assumption, proved in earlier studies, that kibbutzniks as a whole tend to enjoy better health and a lower mortality rate than other Jewish Israelis, Dr. Jeremy Kark and the other researchers tracked 3,900 secular and religious people in 41,347 hours of observation.
To compile comparative data, the kibbutzim were matched according to several sociodemographic factors, including the age of the kibbutz, its location, the number of members older than 35 and the hospital where members received treatment.
While the study noted that traditional risk factors associated with mortality – diet, smoking, obesity, alcohol intake, exercise and exposure to accident – might play a role in the higher mortality rate of secular kibbutzniks, statistically, the groups were quite similar where these factors were concerned.
For this reason, the researchers suggested that other explanations for the protective effect associated with living on a religious kibbutz should be sought.
According to the researchers, components of Jewish religious observance may reduce stress and account for the low mortality figures among religious kibbutzniks. These include: * A sense of belonging, over and above that peculiar to kibbutz life in general, which could promote emotional well-being. * A relaxation response induced by frequent communal prayer. * Belief in the Almighty and in theistic heteronomy – that one’s fate is in God’s hands. * Repetitive ritualistic behaviors based on religious laws governing a carefully regulated life, resulting in less ambivalence and exposure to stress. * Highly stable marriage bonding in religious kibbutzim, where the divorce rate was found to be 11 times than in secular kibbutzim.