Woman Holding Torah Arrested at Kotel
Leaders of prayer group violates High Court ruling.
Anat Hoffman, leader of the female prayer group Women of the Wall (WOW), was arrested for holding a Torah Scroll at the Western Wall on Monday. The group had gathered at the Kotel to mark the beginning of the month of Av, also known as “Rosh Chodesh Av.” Hoffman was caught holding the Torah at Robinson’s Arch, where the group has been ordered to stay when conducting their services. WOW has been celebrating each new month at the Western Wall for the last 20 years.
Witnesses say that the Torah scroll had been removed from a bag earlier than permitted, and the women began dancing with it. Another witness accused Hoffman of hiding the scroll under her clothing, so it would not be seen. Hoffman’s fellow group members ridiculed this possibility, claiming that “a book as big as an eight-year-old child” cannot be hidden under one’s clothing. Following the arrest, WOW members protested outside the police station, where Hoffman was taken. She was later released back to her home, but is banned from visiting the Kotel for 30 days.
This is not the first time WOW members have faced controversy. In November 2009, a woman associated with the group was arrested at the Wall for wearing a tallit. According to the Supreme Court of Israel, women are prohibited from wearing shawls at the wall (including tefillin), and from reading the Torah there. The Wall is currently under the control of the Chief Rabbinate of Israel.
Rabbi Erin Polonsky of Temple Sinai in Toronto spoke to Shalom Life about the incident. “Why should the Orthodox have the monopoly on how to define religious practice? If they don't like [other’s practices] they can turn away. It's all of our spot. It doesn't belong to the Orthodox. It belongs to Jews. It should be an apolitical place. It should be a place where Jews can come and worship. If you look back, you can find pictures of the Western Wall where women and men are praying side by side. There didn't used to be a mechitza (“divider”) and there didn't used to be an Orthodox shul… If I was at an Orthodox shul and I crossed the mechitza, they'd ask me to leave but I'm not going to end up in jail.”
The Masorti Movement’s response to the arrest echoed Rabbi Polonsky’s thoughts, as reported by Ynet. “The arrest of the Women of the Wall chairwoman is a foolish act. We never called and will never call for violation of the law, but such selective enforcement against a non-violent act is puzzling. The Western Wall plaza belongs to all of the people of Israel and the Haredim have confiscated the Wall from the people."
Hoffman is a very prominent activist for the Movement for Progressive Judaism in Israel. This organization called the arrest “a harsh reminder of the price the Israeli society may pay for its religious intolerance and fanaticism.” It also vowed to “use legal and public means to build a third plaza at the Western Wall which will be open to the entire public without sex segregation.”
“To make it against the law of the country to be able to express your Jewish voice in your own way is oppressive,” said Polonsky.
Anat Hoffman will be speaking at 10 a.m. at Temple Sinai this Saturday, as part of the Shabbat services.