The Women of the Wall, a group of pluralistic Jewish women, who have been meeting the first day of every Jewish month at Jerusalem's Western Wall since 1988, finally reached their goal this week when Ultra Orthodox men embraced the group with open arms. The women, who have gone through many different phases, from being ignored to being arrested and from having stones and chairs thrown at them by Ultra Orthodox Jews to being protected by the police, were for the first time welcomed into the men's prayer section at the holiest Jewish site for a pluralistic prayer session.
The Women of the Wall's prayer session the previous month followed the radical and progressive court ruling that allows women the freedom to wear the same prayer garments as men. The group's clearly provocative requests to be afforded the liberty to wear shawl-like garments while praying clearly and rightfully angered Ultra Orthodox Jewish men, who believe in women's modesty at all costs. In response to the ruling of the Supreme Court, the Ultra Orthodox religious leaders and Rabbis called upon their followers to riot and protest at the Holy Site. The Ultra Orthodox men followed these orders and protected the sanctity and sacredness of the Holy Site by throwing chairs and stones at the Women of the Wall while they were praying.
However, this month, the Women of the Wall were greeted with a different tune. The Women of the Wall had prepared to face another angry mob during their prayer session. The organizers of Women of the Wall were in constant contact with the police prior to the prayer session in order to ensure the safety of all of the prayer service participants. But, to their surprise, this was not necessary.
Over the past month, the leaders and Rabbis of the Ultra Orthodox groups had been meeting behind closed doors deciding how to deal with this group of out-spoken and radical females. During the debates it suddenly occurred to them that they were all praying to the same God and that maybe if they prayed together, their prayers might be more effective.
"Our main fear about women and men praying together is that the men instead of focusing solely on God, will be enticed by the women, much like the men in the epic of The Odyssey were misguided by the sirens," stated Rabbi Israel Eichler, an Ultra Orthodox member of Parliament. "However, we realized that we are no longer 12, 13, and 14 year old boys, and therefore we are able to control our bodies and our minds without having to ask women to cover up for our sake."
When the Women of the Wall arrived, escorted by the police, the Ultra Orthodox men were quietly and calmly waiting for them with extra prayer books. Without a word being said, the two groups looked at each other and one single man opened his arms and pointed the hundred or so women towards the men's section of the Western Wall. With both hesitancy and eagerness, the women agreed. The men and women flooded into the men's section and when everyone was inside it looked like a sea colors with black specs throughout. The height of the prayer session was when Anat Hoffman, the leader of the Women of the Wall, got the straps of her teffilin tangled and Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the head of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation - which controls the site, helped her untangle them.
"It was a very touching moment to see our respected Rabbi Rabinowitz helping a woman during prayer. It reminded me that being Jewish is less about being strictly observant and more about being a good person," stated Aharon Ben Levi, an Ultra Orthodox Jew who just last week was throwing chairs at the same group of women.
The prayers took a little bit over two hours and included a few harmonies of melodies and ended with the two groups embracing and dancing hava nagilla.
The Women of the Wall were not available for comment regarding the surprising turn of events, most likely do to shock. However, one woman who was ecstatic to have the same rights as men said, "It was a wonderful experience. We have been fighting for such a long time to have equal recognition, I never knew that it could feel so good," stated Channah Shapira. When asked to provide additional reaction regarding the conclusion of the prayers, she said, "It was wonderful being able to come together as one and pray to our God together. Although, when one of the men put his arm around me, he kind of smelled like sweat and dirty laundry."
The Women of the Well left the Western Wall plaza without incident. The chairs that had been previously thrown by the group of the Ultra Orthodox men, were now being sat on by the police officers and guards.
"We have extended an open invitation to the Women of the Wall to pray with us and along side us," stated Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz. "In fact, we have asked that they not only come on the Rosh Hodesh, the beginning of each Hebrew month, but every Sabbath."