Photo Credit: Saimi Gluck via the PikiWiki
Israeli Jews at the Kotel, 1981

How many Jews visit the Western Wall on Tisha B’Av? The Jewish People Policy Institute (JPPI), headed by Senior Fellow Shmuel Rosner, and Professor Camil Fuchs (Tel Aviv University), found that the number of Israeli Jews who say they visit the Western Wall on Tisha B’av is more than two hundred thousand (Tisha B’Av – How do Israelis Grieve?).

“We can assume that some respondents were less than forthcoming and that not all of them show up every year,” note the survey authors, adding, “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.”

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Who are these two hundred thousand people? Four percent of Israeli Jews (almost two hundred and fifty thousand) say they visit the Western Wall on Tisha B’Av. The research shows that these Jews don’t come from all sectors of Israeli society – they are either Religious or Haredi. According to the survey, a little more than thirty percent of Israelis define themselves as Liberal-Religious, Religious, National Haredi, or Haredi. About 9 percent of Religious and Haredi Jews and three percent of traditionalists 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 who visit the Western Wall on Tisha B’Av is a bit lower than the number of those who visit the Kotel for the Priestly Blessing on the intermediary days of Sukkot and Passover. The survey’s authors speculate this might have 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 sectoral fast, unlike Yon Kippur, when many traditional and secular Jews partake in the fasting. For example, 91 percent of traditionalist Israelis fast the entire Yom Kippur, while only 27 percent of them do the same on Tisha B’Av. This difference is virtually 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 it turns out that the shorter fasts (dawn to dusk) 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 (Holocaust Memorial Day) or Yom Hazikaron (Memorial Day for the Fallen in Israel’s Wars), only about 9 percent, mostly Haredim, claim they are just regular days.

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