Most Israeli Jews Encourage U.S. Jewry's Guidance in Religious Policy, Poll Shows

A new survey shows that 60% of Israeli Jews support the work of American Jewish coalitions aiming to advance civil marriage in Israel.

A photo showing members of the left-wing Meretz party as they stage an alternative wedding ceremony in front of the Chief Rabbinate in Tel Aviv
Moti Milrod

Sixty percent of Israeli Jews support the work of American 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 U.S. Jewish involvement in the marriage debate, while 28 percent moderately support such involvement. Israel allows only Orthodox marriage for Jews in Israel, though solid majorities of Israeli Jews have for years favored 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 percent of Israeli Jews support that position, with 47 percent 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 percent of religious Zionist Israelis oppose consideration of Diaspora views, as do 73 percent 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 percent of respondents view the marriage debate as the most important religious issue, while 33 percent 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 American Jewish organizations, ranks last in Israeli Jews’ list of religious priorities, according to the poll. Only three percent of respondents see it as the most important issue, while eight percent 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.