07/13/2010 01:38 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Woman Arrested For Carrying Torah Near Western Wall

Michele Chabin
Religion News Service

JERUSALEM (RNS) An Israeli feminist was arrested Monday (July 12) when she carried a Torah scroll at the Western Wall, the holiest site in Judaism.

Jerusalem police detained Anat Hoffman, co-founder of the Women of the Wall, for five hours, fined her $1,300 and ordered her to stay away from the Western Wall for 30 days, according to the statement released by Hoffman's group.

Hoffman was arrested during a procession from the Wall to Robinson's Arch--a secluded section of the Western Wall where the Israeli Supreme Court permits women to read the Torah. The court ruled that women are prohibited from reading from the Torah at the Wall itself because doing so goes against traditional norms of Jewish prayer and could incite ultra-Orthodox Jews to violence.

Eyewitnesses said Hoffman held a Torah scroll while leading 150 women in song but did not read from it.

Carrying a Torah does not violate the law, the Women of the Wall insisted, and urged advocates of religious pluralism to support Hoffman.

The incident occurred on the same day the Israeli parliament took steps to approve a contentious law that would codify the Orthodox establishment's control over all matters related to conversions to Judaism.

Until now, Orthodox jurisdiction over conversions has not been legislated, and Reform and Conservative Jews have successfully petitioned the High Court on behalf of some converts.

Non-Orthodox Jews in the U.S. have lobbied Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky to stop the bill from passing.

"We cannot divide the Jewish people with legislation which many in the Jewish world view as defining them as second-class Jews," Sharansky said in a statement Monday.

"I hope the prime minister will send a clear message that this proposed legislation will not move forward without proper discussion and consultation with all those who feel they may be harmed by it," Sharansky said.