Israeli culture reflects the diverse background of its people. The country's most successful writers draw their inspiration from Jewish tradition. Such writers have included the novelist Shmuel Yosef Agnon, co-winner of the 1966 Nobel Prize in literature, and the philosopher Martin Buber. The foremost orchestra of the nation, the Israel Philharmonic, attracts a number of world-famous conductors and soloists each year. A vigorous tradition of folk song, in which the influence of Oriental Jewish music is strongly felt, thrives in Israel, as does folk dance. The Israel National Theater, in Tel Aviv, is notable. Israel has more than 130 museums, two of the most prominent being the Tel Aviv Museum of Art and the Israel Museum, in Jerusalem, which houses a large collection of Jewish folk art, a collection of modern sculpture, and biblical and archaeological artifacts. The Shrine of the Book, a part of the Israel Museum, houses a notable collection of Dead Sea Scrolls. Of the more than 500 public libraries in the country, the most important is the Jewish National and University Library on the campus of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, which contains approximately 4 million volumes.1 Religion
The affairs of the three major religions, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, are overseen by the ministry of religious affairs through councils established by the various religions. Jewish holy days and the weekly Sabbath are, by law, observed throughout the country, and only kosher food is served in the army, hospitals, and other official institutions. About 82 percent of Israel's Arabs are Muslim, and most of the rest are Christian. Languages
Hebrew and Arabic are the country's official languages. The most widely spoken language is Hebrew, but Arabic is used frequently in schools, legal affairs, and the legislature. Many Israeli residents speak English, Yiddish, Russian, or any of a number of other European languages. Education
Israel's educational tradition reaches back to biblical times, although the country did not become a modern independent state until 1948. During the ancient period, schools of all levels were in existence, and through the centuries elementary and secondary education and, to a large extent, higher learning continued under various ruling factions. The Compulsory Education Law of 1949, as amended, provides for free and compulsory elementary education for all children between 5 and 16 years of age. Reform continued with the State Education Law of 1953, which established a national system of public secondary schools. Higher education is governed by a law enacted in 1958, which set up a council to control universities and other higher educational institutions, such as the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1918); the Technion^×Israel Institute of Technology (1912), in Haifa; Bar-Ilan University (1953), in Ramat Gan; Tel Aviv University (1953); the University of Haifa (1963); Ben Gurion University of the Negev (1965), in Beersheba; and the Weizmann Institute of Science (1949), in Rehovot. Students in secondary schools receive aid from state and local authorities in amounts up to 100 percent of costs, depending on parents' incomes.
In addition to the secular system of elementary, secondary, and higher education, a parallel system of Jewish religious schools exists, culminating in postgraduate schools of independent study and research. Mission schools conducted by various Christian groups are also widely attended. An educational problem peculiar to Israel is that of assisting immigrants of various backgrounds to adjust to Israeli society. In the early 1990s about 960,200 Israeli children attended kindergarten or elementary schools, about 163,600 attended intermediate schools, and about 273,900 students were enrolled in general secondary schools. In addition, about 121,600 students attended vocational schools, and 96,700 persons were enrolled in institutions of higher education, including about 18,100 attending teacher-training colleges.2