#IsraeliJudaism: Find Your Place

Tisha B'Av – How do Israelis Grieve?
Many Jews visit the Kotel (Western Wall) on Tisha B'Av, a day of mourning and remembrance for the destruction of both the First and Second Temples and other tragedies in Jewish History. How many Jews? Newspapers report that thousands, even tens of thousands stand before the Kotel on Tisha B’Av. The Jewish People Policy Institute`s (JPPI) Israeli-Judaism research project found that the number of Israeli Jews who say they visit the Western Wall on Tisha B`av is more than two hundred thousand. We can assume that some respondents were less than forthcoming and that not all of them show up every year. Still, the fact that they state their willingness to show up has meaning – even if it is not every year – they still feel it is necessary to visit the Kotel on Tisha B`Av .

Who are these two hundred thousand people? Four percent of Israeli Jews say that they visit the Western Wall on Tisha B`Av, almost two hundred and fifty thousand Jews. The research shows that these Jews don`t come from all sectors of Israeli society – they are Religious or Haredi. According to the survey, which was conducted by Professor Camil Fuchs, a little more than thirty percent of Israelis (31 percent) define themselves as Liberal – Religious, Religious, National Haredi, or Haredi. About 9 percent of Religious and Haredi and Jews and three percent of traditionists say they visit the Western Wall on Tisha B'Av. The percentage of secular Jews who visit the Western Wall on Tisha B`Av approaches zero. The number of Jews that visit the Western Wall in Tisha B`Av is a bit lower than the number who visit the Kotel for the Priestly Blessing on Sukkot and Passover. Perhaps it has something to do with Tisha B'Av being a fast day.

About a third of Jewish Israelis fast on Tisha B’av. Like any other fast, some jews (36 percent) fast for the entire day, some (6 percent) fast only part of the day, and some (2 percent) avoid food but drink fluids. Fewer Israeli Jews fast on Tisha B’Av than on Yom Kippur. The study shows that Tisha B'Av is a more sectorial fast, unlike Yon Kippur when many traditional and secular Jews partake. For example, 91 percent of traditionist Israelis fully fast on Yom Kippur while only 27 percent of them do the same on Tisha B'Av. This difference is nonexistent in the Haredi sector, where 97 percent fast on Tisha B`Av and 99 percent fast on Yom Kippur.

The JPPI survey asked about a number of fasts on the Jewish Calendar, and as seen in the graph below, the shorter fasts (those that last for the duration of daylight) are observed by fewer Jews – all either Haredi or Religious. A larger number of Jews observe the longer 25-hour fasts, Yom Kippur and Tisha B`Av. Thirty-one percent of Jews observe the religious tradition of not wearing leather on Tisha B`av and most of those who observe the fast also wear canvas shoes.

Those who think of Tisha B`Av as a national day of mourning may change their minds when they compare the data about Tisha B`av with those of other national days of mourning. Fifty-five percent of Israeli Jews claim that as far as they are concerned, Tisha B'av is just a regular day. For other national days of mourning like Yom HaShoah or Yom Hazikaron, only a small percentage of Jews (9 and 5 percent respectively, most of them Haredi) claim they are just regular days.

The Jewish People Policy Institute's Israeli Judaism project is headed by Shmuel Rosner, a senior fellow of the institute, and Prof. Camil Fuchs of Tel Aviv University, who is responsible for the survey and statistical analysis. Noah Speklov, a JPPI fellow, helped analyze the data, which was based on two rounds of questionnaires: the first round surveyed 2000 Israeli Jews and the second round included an additional 1000 respondents. This representative sample represents of Israel’s Jewish population the sampling error (based on all 3000 respondents) was 1.8%; for questions with fewer respondents, it grew accordingly.