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.
First of month prayer at Wall (Photo: Dudi Vaaknin)
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 Movement for Progressive Judaism said in response that "the arrest of women on the first day of the month of Av is a harsh reminder of the price the Israeli society may pay for its religious intolerance and fanaticism.
"The Progressive Judaism will 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. There is a direct line between the women's arrest and the Knesset's attempt to prevent the recognition of non-Orthodox conversions. Those who believe tolerance and democracy must stand up against such ugly phenomena."
The Masorti Movement said in response, "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."
Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovich, on the other hand, expressed his shock and deep regret over the incident.
"Thousands of worshippers arrived at the Western Wall this morning, and instead of isolating themselves with the holiness of the site, they were forced to witness a fanatic, political battle of an extremist group," he told Ynet.
"The Western Wall is a place of unity for the people of Israel, not a place of polarization and differences. I greatly regret the fact that interest groups have chosen to turn the Western Wall plaza into a disputed area, violating an explicit Supreme Court ruling, and particularly on the nine days before Tisha B'Av, the day our Temple was destroyed due to unfounded hatred."
Shmulik Grossman contributed to this report