Poll: Most Israeli Jews support involvement of Diaspora Jewry in religious policy

TEL AVIV (JTA) – Sixty per cent of Israeli Jews support the work of Diaspora-based Jewish coalitions whose goal is to advance civil marriage in Israel, according to a new poll.

The survey released Monday by Hiddush, an Israeli organization that aims to advance religious pluralism, found that nearly one-third of Israelis strongly support Diaspora Jewish involvement in the marriage debate, while 28 per cent moderately support such involvement. Israel allows only Orthodox marriage for Jews in Israel, though solid majorities of Israeli Jews have for years favoured instituting civil marriage.

In addition, the poll found a majority of Israeli Jews believe Israel should take Diaspora Jewry’s views into consideration when setting religious policy. Fifty-three per cent of Israeli Jews support that position, with 47 per cent opposed. Majorities of voters for all of Israel’s centrist and left-wing parties support considering Diaspora views.

Religious Israelis, however are opposed to taking Diaspora views into account. Sixty-one per cent of religious Zionist Israelis oppose consideration of Diaspora views, as do 73 per cent of haredi Orthodox Israelis.

The debate over freedom of marriage also tops the list of which religious policy issues Israeli Jews consider most important. Thirty-eight per cent of respondents view the marriage debate as the most important religious issue, while 33 per cent place it second. Israeli Jews consider the debate over whether to allow commerce and public transit on Shabbat to be second-most important, followed by the debate over Jewish conversion and the issue of excluding women from public spaces.

The debate over prayer arrangements at the Western Wall, a major focus of North American Jewish organizations, ranks last in Israeli Jews’ list of religious priorities, according to the poll. Only three per cent of respondents see it as the most important issue, while eight per cent rank it second.

The Western Wall debate has been in the public eye in Israel following a government decision in January to expand and upgrade the non-Orthodox prayer space there. Following backlash from haredi Orthodox political parties, however, the government is reexamining the decision, and its status is unclear.

“The battle over freedom of worship at the Western Wall is clearly a justified and important battle,” Rabbi Uri Regev, Hiddush’s founder, said in a statement issued Monday. “However, if the Jews of the Diaspora are interested in strengthening their partnership with Israeli Jews, it is critical to understand that Israelis attach far greater importance to the struggle against the Orthodox monopoly over marriage and divorce.”

Some 500 Israelis were contacted by Hiddush on March 29. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percentage points.

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