Hundreds gather at peaceful Women of the Wall anniversary

In a display of the changes the group has experienced this year, Women of the Wall held a peaceful prayer service under police protection at the Western Wall to mark the group’s 25th anniversary.

Absent from the service Nov. 4, which the group said drew at least 800 worshippers, were large crowds of Orthodox girls who at the behest of their rabbis and activists had blocked the Wall’s women’s section in previous months.

For the first time in recent memory, Women of the Wall occupied the majority of the section, with a crowd of male supporters stretching back into the plaza.

The group has met for a women’s prayer service at the Wall at the beginning of each Jewish month for the past quarter-century, but has seen rapid change in its status during the past six months.

Until April, women in the group who donned prayer shawls or sang too loudly often would be detained by police. But that month, a Jerusalem district court judge ruled that the group’s practices did not violate any of the Wall’s regulations, and since then the police are protecting the women rather than arresting them.

The court ruling sparked a backlash from the haredi Orthodox community. A new group formed to oppose Women of the Wall, called Women for the Wall, persuaded leading haredi rabbis to send the community’s girls to the Wall en masse to pray silently during Women of the Wall’s services.

In May, a haredi crowd including thousands of men packed the plaza in a protest that turned violent. Since then, however, the haredi demonstrations have waned. — jta