A group of teenage schoolgirls praying nearby burst into fits of giggles. One wailed tunelessly, mimicking the women's enthusiastic songs. Another shook her head at the group of women praying like men. "You're crazy!" she shouted across a line policewomen, half amused, half outraged. "This is against the Torah!"

Sunday's service celebrating the first day of the Jewish month of Tamuz marked an historic moment in modern Jewish history. Since Israel reclaimed the Western Wall in 1967, one of the most sacred sites in Judaism has been run in strict accordance to ultra-Orthodox protocol. Women and men have been segregated. Only men have been allowed to sing from the Torah, don white prayer shawls and apply the black leather t'filin straps.

Sunday marked a victory for Women of the Wall, a feminist group which has been campaigning for the right to pray on equal terms to men at the site since 1988. The activists argue that Jewish law does not prohibit women from praying as men do. International support for their cause rocketed earlier this year, when 10 members – including the sister of the US comedian Sarah Silverman – were arrested for illegally wearing prayer shawls. In April, Israel's supreme court finally conceded their case and ruled that the Women of the Wall should be allowed to pray freely at the site. The decision has outraged Israel's largely conservative religious community.