Almost half of Israeli Jews back Women of the Wall

Support for pluralistic prayer group highest among Western-born Jews, says poll released amid rising tensions at the Kotel

Stuart Winer is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Women celebrate the new month with prayer at the Western Wall, Friday, May 10, 2013(photo credit: Michal Shmulovich/Times of Israel)
Women celebrate the new month with prayer at the Western Wall, Friday, May 10, 2013(photo credit: Michal Shmulovich/Times of Israel)

Forty-eight percent of Israel’s Jewish population, including 64% of its secular citizens, support the Women of the Wall organization in its bid to enable alternatives to traditional prayer services at the Western Wall, according to a poll released Sunday.

Pollsters for the Israeli Democracy Institute (IDI) and Tel Aviv University posed the question, “Recently there have been several clashes between police and the Woman of the Wall, who insist on the equal right to pray out loud next to the Western Wall with tallit (prayer shawl) and tefillin (phylacteries) . Do you support or oppose the idea that the Women of the Wall should be allowed to pray in the manner that they choose?”

Thirty-eight percent of all respondents said they were opposed to the idea, while 51.8% of men and 46% of women supported the notion.

The survey, part of the IDI’s monthly Peace Index report for April 2013, also looked at support based on respondents’ religious affiliation. Along with a clear majority — 64% — among those who defined themselves as secular, 53% of those who described themselves as traditional but not religious also backed Women of the Wall.

Only 26% of those who described themselves as traditionally religious supported the movement, and a similar percentage — 27.5% – of those who described themselves simply as religious” backed the plan. None of the ultra-Orthodox respondents supported the movement.

The poll also asked how respondents felt about supporting Women of the Wall in light of a recent court decision that found their activities legal and said that there was no justification to preventing their prayer services. That question boosted overall support for the movement to 56%.

The survey also found differences in opinion depending on cultural backgrounds. The highest support ratio came from Israelis born in the United States or Europe, 77% of whom said they back Women of the Wall. That number decreased to 61% among Israeli-born respondents whose parents hailed from Western countries. By contrast, only 43% of Israelis whose parents were born in Asia or Africa and 38% of Jews from the former Soviet Union supported the group.

The Women of the Wall were catapulted to the headlines over the weekend amid violent, vociferous protests from Haredi worshipers against their monthly prayer meeting at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Growing support from liberal Jews, whose prayer services involve women taking on roles that the mainstream of Orthodox Judaism reserves only for men, has been met with increased objection from the ultra-Orthodox camp.

On Friday, the group’s prayer service was bolstered by hundreds of supporters but confronted by thousands of ultra-Orthodox and traditional Jews who attempted to prevent the women from praying by sheer weight of numbers. The standoff became a violent shoving match and some ultra-Orthodox youths threw rocks and garbage at the women and their buses. Police intervened to protect the women and three men were arrested. In the past, Women of the Wall members have been arrested at the Western Wall for holding their controversial prayer services, but later released without charge.

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