More than 100 women gathered for a Women of the Wall service at the Western Wall, praying in the women’s section with no physical barriers enclosing them, little police protection and minimal disruption from protesters.
Women of the Wall gather at the Western Wall for a women’s prayer service at the beginning of each Jewish month. Friday’s service was the group’s calmest in at least six months.
The group scored a legal victory in court this year that allowed its members to pray without fear of arrest. In addition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has convened a committee to forge a compromise between Women of the Wall and the haredi leaders who would like to retain exclusive control of the holy site. These changes in the status quo sparked a backlash in Israel’s haredi Orthodox community, which turned out protesters en masse for several services in a row.
During those services, from May through August, Women of the Wall were barricaded under a tight police cordon in various parts of the Western Wall plaza. Groups of haredi men yelled epithets and threw eggs, coffee and water at the women, while thousands of Orthodox girls, spurred by rabbis and activists, would pack the women’s section of the plaza and pray silently – often blocking Women of the Wall from accessing the women’s section.
Leading up to Friday’s service, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz asked that the Orthodox girls not come to pray – a request that went unheeded. Thousands packed the plaza to participate in a joint service with a group in the men’s section, praying for the health of Sephardi sage Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, who has been hospitalized.
But in contrast to recent months, Women of the Wall prayed in the plaza with nothing separating them from the Orthodox girls. A few police officers stood in the crowd but had no unrest to quell. The only protest that Women of the Wall faced were intermittent screams from some girls. A few girls tried to shush Women of the Wall, to little avail.
The service for Yosef’s health used loudspeakers in the men’s section, and that prayer, Women of the Wall’s singing and the girls’ screams combined at times to create a cacophony. But after an hour or so, the services ended and each group went its separate way, as if there were no conflict at all.