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Women of the Wall Leader Is Detained for Taking Torah Scroll Into Women’s Section of the Kotel

The battle for an egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall continues, as Lesley Sachs was arrested in Jerusalem Tuesday

Jesse Bernstein
June 07, 2016
Lesley Sachs in Jerusalem, June 6, 2016. Facebook
Lesley Sachs in Jerusalem, June 6, 2016. Facebook

Lesley Sachs, the director of the Women of the Wall, was detained for questioning on Tuesday after she was caught with a Torah scroll inside the prayer plaza at the Western Wall, “in defiance of regulations imposed by the custodian of the Jewish holy site,” reported Haaretz.

According to Women of the Wall—an organization whose mission is “to attain social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah, collectively and aloud, at the Western Wall”—Sachs was among a group of 80 women performing a morning prayer service at the Kotel, where she was arrested for “disturbing the public order.”

Sachs told The New York Times, “I’m very tired. It was a long interrogation.” She was later released.

State-imposed regulations at the Western Wall restrict women from carrying or reading from the Torah, in accordance with Orthodox law. Rabbi Shmuel Rabinovitch, chief rabbi of the Western Wall, said he intends “to fast to atone for the disgrace caused to the Torah” as a result of the incident, because he’s “responsible for the holiness of the Western Wall.”

In January, the battle for an egalitarian prayer space took a step forward—for some. Reported The Times of Israel:

The Western Wall compromise, passed in a January 31 cabinet decision that reflected the work of years of negotiations, called for a permanent prayer platform to be built along the southern end of the Western Wall in an area of the Davidson Archaeological park, otherwise known as Robinson’s Arch. There is currently a temporary prayer platform set up there in two distinct areas of the park.

This compromise was not without criticism, however. As Phylis Chesler, an original member of the Original Women of the Wall wrote in February, she didn’t know “whether to laugh or cry”:

This is a travesty, a trick, a joke, an Orwellian use of language employed to persuade perfectly good Jews that a defeat is really a victory; that being banished is a form of acknowledgement; that capitulation to fundamentalism is actually a triumph over it; that allowing misogynists to turn the Kotel into a Haredi shul is a progressive accomplishment; that being allowed to fund this travesty with Diaspora money—the Haredim are on record as refusing to pay for it themselves—represents acceptance; in short, that selling one’s birthright for a mess of pottage is tantamount to obtaining that birthright.

Jesse Bernstein is a former Intern at Tablet.