In the aftermath of a clash between the Israel-based women’s rights group Women of the Wall and ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem at the Western Wall on Friday, May 10, some Israeli Jews are showing support for the Women of the Wall and their ongoing efforts to worship in ways that had traditionally been reserved for Jewish men.
The Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) and Tel Aviv University recently conducted a survey to determine how people from Israel feel about the Women of the Wall. According to an IDI press release published on Saturday, May 11, they were asked to give their opinions about “Women of the Wall’s quest to pray out loud and wear tallit (prayer shawls) and tefillin (phylacteries) at the Western Wall.”
Based on their survey results, 48 percent of Israeli Jews support the Women of the Wall. Out of those who participated, 38 percent do not support the organization. More participants were willing to support the group after they learned that it is no longer illegal for them to worship in ways that differ from Orthodox Jewish practices..
According to IDI, “When later told that the Israeli district court had ruled that the Women of the Wall were not violating the ‘local custom’ and were not breaking the law, support for Women of the Wall grew to 56 percent, while 34 percent maintained their opposition. Support for Women of the Wall increased among all sub-groups except for those with less than a high school education.”
The survey indicates that support for Women of the Wall is strongest among people born in the U.S. and Europe and that people with academic degrees are more likely to be in favor of the group. Israeli men are more likely than Israeli women to support the group (52 percent of men compared with 46 percent of women).
Rabbi Eliyahu Fink of the Pacific Jewish Center weighed in on the controversy on Sunday, May 12. In his opinion, most Jewish people are not offended by the way that the Women of the Wall practice their beliefs.
According to Fink, “… Imagine the Kotel authority just looked the other way when a small group of women prayed in a different way than the other women. The Women of the Wall were not proselytizing, they were not trying to win converts, they were not trying to make a revolution at the Kotel [Western Wall]. They just wanted to pray they way they like to pray.
“Is it the way orthodox Jewish women pray? Not usually. Is it acceptable [according to Jewish law]? Barely. But there is definitely room to allow it. The Women of the Wall would be a small blip on the Kotel radar as they have been for several years now.
“Especially now that the court sided in their favor, this Rosh Chodesh [a Jewish ritual observed on the first day of each month in the Hebrew calendar] would have passed with little fanfare. The Women of the Wall would have done their thing without threat of arrest and no one would have been in the news or in jail.
“Instead a massive counter protest was manufactured. Not too many people seemed bothered by the small group of Women of the Wall. No one really felt so outraged that they needed to do something about it. People noticed, or didn’t notice, and that was it. No big deal. Until last week. Until people were told to care, they didn’t. As was appropriate.”