A funny thing happened at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem last week. According to Our Quiet Prayer at the Kotel on the Women of the Wall (WoW) website, just shy of a dozen women prayed out loud at the Kotel, wearing tallitot (prayer shawls), and nothing bad happened.
Such a thing would be quite unremarkable in any other place where Jews live freely. But to anyone who has followed events surrounding the Women of the Wall and the Kotel, this was something extraordinary.
For decades, the Women of the Wall have gathered at the Kotel on Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of each Hebrew month, and have been met with everything from flying chairs and diapers to detainment and arrest. Just recently, the women were told they couldn’t even bring their tallitot and other ritual objects into the Western Wall area, even though there is no law prohibiting it. Indeed, the law says a woman may wear a tallit at the Kotel, as long as she does not wear it like a man.
So how is it possible that, after decades of struggle, suddenly a group of women were able to pray as they wish at the Kotel with no fuss or bother?
First, it wasn’t Rosh Chodesh, so nobody was expecting them. Second, they made sure they didn’t all arrive as one group, making them less noticeable. But, once they gathered, put on their tallitot and began to pray, people must have noticed, right?
Indeed, they were noticed. But instead of attacking them or complaining to the authorities, some of the onlookers joined them in song. Nobody seemed to mind.
So, what does this mean?
Detractors of the Women of the Wall might say this proves that the Rosh Chodesh prayer ceremonies are deliberately provocative, while this one was not. They might say that WoW invites the media and others each month to create a big show, and they aren’t there for a meaningful prayer experience at all.
Supporters of WoW might say the only reason their monthly services become a disturbance is because the authorities make it into one by detaining and arresting the women, and by making up new rules as they go along. They may say that if only the police protected them against attack as they would protect praying men under attack, the fuss would have died down long ago.
But no matter which side you support, the fact remains: This is a turning point. Those eleven women proved last week that women can pray out loud, wearing tallitot, at the Kotel without creating a disturbance. They proved that there are others ready and willing to join them, if only they are allowed to do so in peace.
To arrest or detain even one more woman at the Kotel for “disturbing the peace” for doing no more than what these eleven women did so publicly and so peacefully last week would be the height of hypocrisy. The claim of disturbance no longer holds any water.
It will be interesting to see what happens next.