JERUSALEM — The Israeli police briefly detained a leader of a Jewish women’s rights group on Tuesday for bringing a Torah scroll to the Western Wall, signaling a resumption of the battle over rituals at the holy site here.
Lesley Sachs, the executive director of Women of the Wall, was detained as she exited the Western Wall plaza Tuesday after prayers to mark the start of a new month in the Hebrew calendar. Women of the Wall is a feminist group of Jews that has fought for 27 years for equal prayer rights with the male-dominated religious establishment that has enforced strictly Orthodox and traditional practice at the site.
A police spokeswoman said that Ms. Sachs was taken in for questioning after a complaint was lodged against her, and that she was released within a few hours.
The rancor over the wall has caused deep discord between the Israeli authorities and Jewish leaders abroad, and tensions are rising again as a government plan approved earlier this year to resolve the issue has stalled.
The overwhelming majority of affiliated North American Jews belong to the more liberal, non-Orthodox Reform and Conservative streams and many have said they felt increasingly alienated from Israel. The small Torah scroll that went with Ms. Sachs to the police station was lent to the group by Congregation B’nai Israel, in Sacramento.
Women have been detained in the past for wearing prayer shawls traditionally used by men and for singing out loud at the wall, but a Jerusalem court ruled in 2013 that the activists were not disturbing public order and there had been no arrests in recent years.
After her detention, Ms. Sachs said: “I’m very tired. It was a long interrogation.” She said she spent about five hours at the police station in the Old City of Jerusalem, where her fingerprints were taken. “I am nearly 58 and I never considered myself a criminal,” she said, adding, “This is not the way it should be in Israel 2016.”
The Women of the Wall said in a statement that Ms. Sachs was detained “despite a relatively quiet and uneventful prayer service with 80 Women of the Wall. The reason given for the police action was smuggling a Torah scroll into the women’s section.”
The Orthodox rabbinical authorities at the Western Wall have continued to bar the women from bringing a Torah scroll in, or from using one of the many scrolls kept in the men’s section, and the women have sometimes resorted to subterfuge.
But there was nothing too furtive about Tuesday’s action. In an email inviting people to join the prayer the group, the activists announced that they would welcome the new month “with a Torah scroll.”
David Barhoum, a lawyer representing Women of the Wall, said that the detention “borders on illegality.”
The battle over the wall was supposed to have been resolved in January when the Israeli government approved the creation of an upgraded egalitarian prayer space at another section of the wall, after years of negotiations. American Jewish leaders hailed the decision at the time as “historic” and the Women of the Wall saw it as a victory.
But the government has so far failed to advance the plan under pressure from the ultra-Orthodox parties in the ruling coalition, who oppose it.
Acknowledging difficulties in moving ahead, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had asked for extra time to try to reach a new agreement. When the grace period ended on June 1, American Reform and Conservative leaders and representatives of Women of the Wall met with Mr. Netanyahu and his staff, who asked for a few more weeks to try to resolve the impasse.
Rabbi Steven Wernick, the C.E.O. of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, who attended the meeting, said by telephone afterward that Mr. Netanyahu had “reiterated his commitment” to the plan and was seeking a formula to move forward. Mr. Wernick added that American Jewish leaders understood the challenges posed by Israel’s coalition politics, but he also expressed what he called their “frustration and disappointment” over the delay.
Rabbi Rick Jacobs, president of the Union for Reform Judaism, has warned that a collapse of the agreement could “signal a major rift” between diaspora Jews and Israel.
(via NY Times)