The tables were well and truly turned at the Western Wall this morning, as the Israeli Police, which until this spring detained women holding communal prayers, executed a mass operation to protect them and facilitate their worship.
Until April 25, the police treated the monthly gatherings by the feminist alliance Women of the Wall as illegal, and as a result detained its members. However, on that date a Jerusalem district court ruled that this interpretation of the law wasn’t correct.
As a result, at their service a month ago, they were allowed to hold their communal prayers. However, the scene was chaotic, with large numbers of Haredi protestors doing much to disturb the prayers, and some of them throwing projectiles at the women.
At today’s service, however, the scene was very different. Haredi leaders, keen to for their community to avoid the bad press it received a month ago, and instructed youngsters to keep away, in a bid to keep hotheads at bay. But the biggest difference was the punctilious organization by police, who took their obligation to protect the women exceedingly seriously.
While just a couple of months ago it was the objectors to Women of the Wall who had the upper hand at the Wall, today, they were kept away from much of the women’s section as WOW gathered. Police escorted women in to the prayer area from their buses. If you hadn’t arrived on a bus, officers asked where you were going, and only if you were participating with WOW were you allowed near their gathering. The officers covered a special walkway with tarpaulin, so that WOW participants couldn’t be seen by Haredi demonstrators — and in a worst-case scenario of object being throw wouldn’t be harmed.
More than 300 women prayed with WOW, and the service included an emotional rendition of Hallel, the celebratory prayer said on the first day of every Hebrew month. During the prayers, one got to see the ultimate irony of the Western Wall conflict.
The female demonstrators who gathered to object to WOW — to say that their insistence on holding communal prayers at the Wall is inappropriate, and that it’s an infringement on the rights of Orthodox men who believe that hearing female voices in prayer is against Jewish law — tried to outshout WOW with their own recital of Psalms. So much for these women’s claim that they object to WOW because they don’t follow their own demure, modest standards at the Wall, and their supposed opposition to women’s voices being heard at the Wall.
But this is worse than ironic. In case it has escaped anybody’s attention, Hallel is simply a compilation of Psalms, and the Haredi women were, in their ostentatiously loud manner, reciting… Psalms. Two groups of Jewish women reciting Psalms, but needing hundreds of police to keep them apart. It’s enough to make King David, the psalmist, spin in his grave. What a tragedy.