American Jewish Leader: Israel Is Trying to Delegitimize Liberal Judaism

Conservative leader Steve Wernick slams police for arresting Women of the Wall leader caught carrying Torah scroll against High Court ruling.

The Israel Police's decision to arrest a woman for carrying a Torah scroll at the Western Wall demonstrates the will of the government to "delegitimize liberal streams of Judaism", an American Jewish leader said Monday.

Vice President of the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism Steve Wernick was present at the Western Wall when police detained Anat Hoffman, the leader of the Women of the Wall group, after she was caught holding a Torah scroll in violation of a High Court ruling prohibiting women from reading the Torah at the Western Wall.

Women of the Wall

“My understanding of the law is that it doesn’t mention anything about carrying a sefer [scroll] Torah," said Wernick. "It mentions reading Torah in public… and it mentions wearing Talit, but not carrying sefer Torah."
"I am just in shock that in Rosh Hodesh Av, of all days, nine days before Tisha be-Av [a fast day mourning the destruction of the Second Temple], that any Jew would be arrested for carrying Sefer Torah anywhere in the Jewish state,” he added.

“I think that at the time that our enemies are working to delegitimize the Jewish state, the message of the Israeli establishment is the delegitimization of the liberal streams of Judaism.

Dozens of Women of the Wall members arrived at the holy site on Monday morning for the traditional festive prayer in honor of the first day of the month of Av.

"This is another example of the ultra-Orthodox establishment imposing its stances on the public," a spokeswoman for the group said.

Women of the Wall has previously clashed with ultra-Orthodox worshipers over the group's desire to pray at the Western Wall wrapped in prayer shawls or wearing phylacteries, which some rabbis have called provocations.

In November 2009, another of the group's women was arrested for wearing a prayer shawl (tallit). At the time, Western Wall Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz said the act was a provocation meant to turn the wall into a fighting ground.
"We must distance politics and disagreement from this sacred place," Rabinowitz had said.

The Masorti Movement said in response to Hoffman's arrest: "The arrest of the Women of the Wall chairwoman is a foolish act. The Western Wall plaza belongs to the entire nation and the Haredim have expropriated it."
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.