Monday, July 12, 2010

Anat Hoffman arrested for holding Torah at the Wall

from Ynetnews: Women of Wall leader arrested

Anat Hoffman, leader of the Women of the Wall prayer group, was arrested at the Western Wall on Monday for holding a Torah scroll. She is suspected of violating a High Court ruling which prohibits women to read the Torah at the holy site.

Hoffman was taken to a nearby police station, while her fellow group members protested outside the building.

She was later released to her home under restricting conditions, but has been banned from visiting the holy site for a 30-day period.

Dozens of Women of the Wall members arrived at the Western Wall on Monday morning for a festive prayer in honor of the first day of the month of Av, as they have been doing every month for the past 20 years.

As they began reading the Torah, an act they have been ordered to do at the nearby Robinson's Arch compound, Hoffman was caught holding a Torah scroll and was detained.

Hoffman is one of the prominent activists of the Movement for Progressive Judaism in Israel and serves as head of the Religious Action Center – the public and legal advocacy arm of the Reform Movement in Israel.

During the Morning Prayer, the Torah scroll was in a bag, but the women pulled it out earlier than they were permitted to do so, and began dancing with it at the end of the prayer as they were leaving the Western Wall plaza. Hoffman was arrested immediately afterwards.

An eyewitness opposing Women of the Wall said the group leader was arrested for hiding the scroll under her clothes, but the women rejected the claim. "How can a book as big as an eight-year-old child be hidden within someone's clothes?"

The irrationality and childishness of that accusation -- that Hoffman broke a law against hiding a Torah in one's clothing -- shows just how indefensible the government's position is. Even the excuse for the arrest is a charge that is no crime.

Although I do not know for certain, I suspect that the arrest stems from the civil authorities' desire to keep the peace among Orthodox worshipers who have a pattern of violent reactions against those who refuse to conform to their views of religious law. In that sense, this arrest represents mob rule in the guise of law. By this deception, both the religious and civil authorities deny a very obvious truth: that an angry mob should not be allowed to determine who worships and how they do so.

Israel's justice system must find a way to protect the religious freedoms of non-Orthodox Jews. As the American founding fathers understood, both the failure to protect the rights of minority religions, and the imposition of religious law into the realm of civil law, lead to a corrosion of the legitimacy of both the state and religion. The mob must be made to tolerate minorities by whatever combination of force, persuasion or creative looking the other way works to best keep the peace and preserve the rights of all involved.

Women of the Wall and other progressive Jews have just as much right to worship at the Wall as do the Orthodox. By enforcing an unjust law, Israeli authorities merely draw that injustice into sharper focus.


Religion and State in Israel said...


You might be interested in following these issues at Religion and State in Israel and
@religion_state on Twitter.

Joel Katz

FirstComment said...

Do you feel the same way about Jews praying on the Temple Mount?

Adam Holland said...


I would like this to be such a world. I'm not holding my breath for it to happen anytime soon.

I suppose that this is the time of year to think about the mysteries surrounding the destruction of the Temple (or destructions of the Temples). (NOTE: This is the month of Av, when both Solomon's and Herod's Temples are said to have been destroyed.) Jews have been burdened for almost 2,000 with the memory of that loss. The fact that, since 1967, Jews can worship again at the last remnants of the Temple has not changed the essential fact of that loss. It is precisely that loss and exile that the religious attempt to repair via spiritual means.

This question brings home the reason to remember the difference between religion and state -- the theme of this post. Religious Jews pray for the reestablishment of the Temple under the guidance of the Messiah. But like the rest of us, even they must try to cope with the reality of people living in the world as it is.

One question: my memory is that, in the past, Jewish religious authorities had banned prayer on the Temple Mount to avoid defiling the site of the Holy of Holies. Has that changed?

Adam Holland said...

Religion and State in Israel:

Thanks, Joel. I'll check out your website and follow you on twitter.

FirstComment said...

"Jewish religious authorities had banned prayer on the Temple Mount to avoid defiling the site of the Holy of Holies." Probably the same Jewish authorities that decided that women should not be able to read the Torah at the kotel. My own personal feeling is that Anat Hoffman is an activist looking for a cause and not really somebody trying to address an urgent issue. Rosa Parks she ain't.

Adam Holland said...

You may not agree with her, but it's a free country. She should be allowed to worship at the wall with a Torah.

Will48 said...

So should the Jews who want to warship at the Temple Mount, be allowed to do so?

Adam Holland said...


In an ideal world, yes. But this is not an ideal world, so Jewish worship on the Temple Mount may not be feasible. If Muslims wished to worship at the Kotel, that would not be feasible either. (I am more concerned that the Jewish artifacts there not be destroyed by the waqf. That is a much more troubling issue to me than the manufactured issue of Jewish worship there.)

In personal terms, I look at the restoration of Jewish worship in Jerusalem's old city with a special sense of happiness, knowing that my ancestors worshiped in the Sephardic synagogues there for hundreds of years. Those who denounce Israeli "occupation" of East Jerusalem and the West Bank say nothing of the Jordanian occupation which preceded it. That occupation ethnically cleansed the ancient Jewish community of Jerusalem of which my family was a part. It also sanctioned the destruction of synagogues, Jewish graves and Jewish homes. (The Jordanian mistreatment of the Palestinians during 1948-1967 also gets virtually no attention.) That hypocrisy makes clear the bias of many critics of Israel.

Returning to the issue at hand: do you support the right of Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist and other Jews including women to worship freely at the Wall?


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