Women of Wall chairwoman questioned over prayer service
Months after unprecedented arrest of woman worshipper at Western Wall, Ynet learns Anat Hoffman, chairwoman of feminist Jewish worship group, interrogated by police on suspicions of violating status quo at site. Hoffman: Group has been meeting for 20 years, should be seen as part of site's tradition
The campaign against Women of the Wall steps up. Yet learned that chairman of the feminist Jewish worship group, Anat Hoffman, was investigated Wednesday by the police on suspicions of violating a legal directive and of rebellion following a minyan - or prayer quorum - she and her colleagues held three weeks ago – the start of the Hebrew month of Tevet – in the Western Wall pavilion.
The police reported that Hoffman was investigated at the Merhav David Station after the events at the Western Wall on the grounds that she disrupted the status quo at the site. Hoffman was questioned about her role in organizing the prayer service and the clashes that ensued. She was reportedly asked to give her finger prints. At the end of the investigation, she was released to go home.
Investigation of the event is ongoing.
Hoffman, who was surprised by the police involvement in the issue, told Ynet, "An officer sat there who asked me if I initiated the minyan, how many women came, whether they wore tallitot (prayer shawls customarily worn by men during Jewish prayers) and donned kippot, and whether we held the Torah scrolls and held a procession to Robinson's Arch. This is, after all, what have been doing every first of the (Hebrew) month for 21 years already."
Regarding another question raised in the investigation – whether she said on the radio that this is a silent protest against the situation at the Western Wall – she claimed: "This is not the business of the police, what a person says in the framework of freedom of speech."
'Prayer according to halacha'
"He took me into the next room, dipped my hand in ink, and took my fingerprints. Not a happy day," said Hoffman. "When he asked me if I have anything to add, I said: 'I am sorry for you, for me, and for Israel, where this issue is investigated.'"
According to her, "Now they need to decide whether to recommend that an indictment be issued against me for offenses ascribed to me. Their punishment is a few months in prison or a fine of NIS 10,000 (about $2,670). But because I don't intend to pay such a sum, somebody may have to put up with me in Neve Tirza (Prison)."
The Women of the Wall chairwoman claimed that most of the group's members are Orthodox and that the prayer services they hold are conducted according to halacha. She also said that their consistent attendance for more than 20 years makes their monthly minyan a Western Wall custom, such that it must not be viewed as a one-off provocation.
"I have never heard of summoning a man for investigation for the same offenses of wrapping himself in a tallit or reading the Torah," said Hoffman. "It is unbelievable that this is happening to us here in the State of Israel."
Two months ago, for the first time since the group started meeting at the Western Wall more than 20 years ago, a woman was arrested in the midst of prayer. The woman, Nofrat Frenkel, was holding a Torah scroll in her arms, an act that inspectors from the Western Wall Heritage Foundation claimed she intended to read from it, which is against a High Court ruling. The inspectors called a police officer from the nearby station who subsequently arrested the worshipper.
Efrat Weiss contributed to this report