Following the arrest today of Anat Hoffman — chair of Women of the Wall, and former Jerusalem municipal council member — for being a woman holding a Torah at the Western Wall plaza, Hoffman offered me her first-hand account of this morning’s events. She said:
We did nothing wrong. We were fully within the guidelines of the Supreme Court ruling which allows us to hold the Torah. We were not reading from the Torah. We were just singing and praying, and on our way to Robinson’s Arch to complete the service, as per the terms of the Supreme Court. There was absolutely no reason for me to be arrested.
The Supreme Court ruled in 2002 that women are allowed to read from the Torah and wear a tallit as an outer garment at the Kotel. But four days after that ruling, ultra-Orthodox Knesset members submitted a bill to make these acts illegal — and punishable by up to seven years in prison. As a result, the Supreme Court reversed itself and ruled it illegal for women to read Torah or wear an outer tallit at the Kotel plaza. But Hoffman says she was doing neither — that she was merely holding the Torah, as she walked from the plaza to towards Robinson’s Arch — a portion of the wall designated spot for these activities. Nevertheless, according to witness accounts, the police tried pulling the Torah away from her and then arrested her.
“The Torah took quite a beating this morning,” said Hoffman, who was fined 5,000 NIS ($1,300), and placed under a restraining order that bars her from the Western Wall plaza for 30 days.
In response to a query from The Sisterhood, Micky Rosenfeld, the national police spokesman said:
Anat Hoffman was arrested by police after she did not keep the agreement of the high court because she prayed with a Sefer Torah. She was taken to the Jerusalem district police station in the Old City where she was questioned.
When asked about Hoffman’s account that she was merely carrying the Torah — not praying with it — Rosenfeld replied, “The police maintain that she was in violation of the agreement.”
But Hoffman told The Sisterhood:
The police took it upon themselves to reinterpret the Supreme Court ruling — and that is a very dangerous development. It’s a slippery slope. Today they say women cannot hold the Torah. Tomorrow it will be, women cannot look at the Torah. Then it will be women cannot be at the Kotel at all. Before you know it, all of Jerusalem will be segregated. That is where we are headed.
She said she is hoping for a large turnout at next month’s meeting of Women of the Wall, to be held on August 11. But she won’t be there because it is scheduled for a day before her restraining order is up. Back in November, another member of Women of the Wall, Nofrat Frenkel, was arrested for wearing a tallit at the Western Wall.
Dr. Elana Maryles Sztokman is an award-winning author and feminist researcher, educator and activist. She is currently studying to become a rabbi at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem, and is blogging about her journey at www.jewfem.com
Woman Arrested for Carrying Torah Speaks With The Sisterhood