Poll: Majority support pluralistic prayer at Kotel

But survey of Jewish-Israelis shows near split on acceptance of women reading from the Torah

Anat Hoffman and another woman at the Entrance to Kotel; from Women of the Wall (photo credit: MICHAL PATELLE - WOMEN OF THE WALL / CC BY-SA 3.0 VIA WIKIMEDIA COMMONS)
Anat Hoffman and another woman at the Entrance to Kotel; from Women of the Wall
A majority of Jewish Israelis – 58% – believe that communal Reform and Conservative prayer should be allowed at the Western Wall, a new poll has found.
In comparison, 33% said that such “progressive” prayer should not be allowed at the Kotel, and 9% said they did not know.
Jewish Israelis also overwhelmingly believe that the connection of the Jewish state with the Diaspora is a vital asset for the country.
Conducted by the Dialogue Institute for the Reform Movement in Israel, the survey addressed a range of issues relating to attitudes toward progressive Judaism, the dispute over the Kotel and relations with the Diaspora.
The poll was conducted between October 18 and 19 via the Internet on a sample of 700 Jewish Israeli adults with a margin of error of 3.7%.
Less than half (46%) of all respondents, however, when shown a picture of women in prayer shawls reading from a Torah scroll, said they supported that, compared to 44% who said they were opposed.
That openness decreased even more among traditional Israelis, with only 37% saying they supported such practices, compared to 50% who were opposed, and 13% who said they did not know.
Of those polled, 65% said Israel-Diaspora relations were very important, 25% said they are relatively important and only 5% said they were relatively or very unimportant.
In addition, a majority of Israelis indicated that they would go to a synagogue where there is no gender-separation barrier.
Asked about the type of synagogue they might attend, 35% said they would prefer a synagogue without a mehitza and 19% said they would not be bothered if there was no gender- separation barrier. Forty-six percent said they preferred a synagogue with a mehitza.
One notable result of this question showed that of those defining themselves as religiously traditional – respectful and mindful of Jewish tradition but not strictly observant – 49% said that they either prefer a synagogue without a mehitza or are not bothered either way.
So-called traditional Israelis are often considered to be religiously conservative even if they are not strictly observant, so the widespread openness among this group to a synagogue without a traditional mehitza is significant.
Speaking to The Jerusalem Post, director of the Reform Movement in Israel Rabbi Gilad Kariv said the results demonstrated that the wellknown axiom that “the synagogue Israelis do not attend is an Orthodox one” no longer reflects reality.
Kariv commented that he has never understood how this notion reflects poorly on non-Orthodox Judaism and not on the Orthodox establishment.
“You’ve got the monopoly, you’re funded with NIS 4 billion a year and still the vast majority of Israelis don’t go to synagogue?” he quipped. “I say, give me 10% of that budget and in 10 years many more Israelis will go to shul because they will find a synagogue that fits their values.”
Combined with the importance Jewish Israelis see in the relationship with the Diaspora, Kariv argued that most Israelis want “an end to the failing Orthodox monopoly and the advancement of religious pluralism.”
Kariv said he does not pretend that those in the poll saying they did not object to a synagogue without a mehitza now go to Reform and Masorti (Conservative) synagogues, but that attitudes in the secular community and parts of the traditional community have shifted.
Given this new reality, he argued that Diaspora Jews could have a major impact on further improving such attitudes, and on improving Israel’s relationship with them by investing in projects to grow Reform and Masorti communities in Israel.
The ongoing crisis between Israel and North American Jewry, in particular over the Western Wall and controversial conversion legislation, has demonstrated a glaring inability of the progressive Jewish movements to advance their agenda and achieve their goals.
Redressing that reality requires “establishing facts on the ground,” said Kariv and that it is therefore his goal to ensure that there is a progressive Jewish community, be it Reform or Conservative, in every town and municipality across the country.
“The most strategic investment of world Jewry today is creating a pluralistic Israeli environment that will enable the younger generation of Diaspora and Israeli Jews to have a common language,” he said. “The effort to create a pluralistic reality should be a top priority for all Jewish organizations and philanthropic bodies.”