Police arrested Lesley Sachs, Executive Director of Women of the Wall, as she was exiting the Western Wall plaza with a Torah scroll Tuesday morning. Sachs was detained for “disturbing the public order,” although, according to the WOW’s own report, the prayer service of about 80 women at the Kotel was “relatively quiet and uneventful” on Rosh Chodesh Sivan. Apparently, Police accused Sachs of smuggling a Torah scroll into the women’s section.
According to the WOW email, the incriminating Torah scroll was lent to WOW executive board chair Anat Hoffman by Peter and Lawrence Michaels from Congregation B’nai Israel in Sacramento, California, in memory of their parents, Ann and Rudy Michaels. Hoffman, who flew from Sacramento to Israel with the Torah scroll in her arms, related that on her journey she ran into her flight’s all-female team of pilots, Captain Wendi Shaffner and First Officer Katrina Mittelstadt, who were moved by the small Torah. The email did not specify what or where they were moved to.
“Though we believe that the Torah was handed down to women and men equally at Mt. Sinai, and though women and men both sacrificed their lives and loved ones for the reunification of Jerusalem, in 2016 Women of the Wall struggle for access to Torah scrolls at the Kotel,” the WOW statement lamented. Of course, these dear women could access as many Torah scrolls as they wished anywhere else, including at the Reform section of the Kotel a few yards away, but over at the Women’s section of the Kotel it was No Torah for you, ladies, which, apparently, defied the equality promised to women at Mt. Sinai. Not the one on Fifth Ave., the one in Sinai.
The email also accused Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, the state-appointed administrator of the Kotel, of creating a “Catch 22” for women: “he prohibits entrance with private Torah scrolls and refuses women access to the 100 scrolls he holds at the Kotel for public use in the men’s section.” But that’s not a catch 22, which was described by Joseph Heller in his 1961 novel by the same title via the character Doc Daneeka, an army psychiatrist who invokes “Catch 22” to explain why any pilot requesting mental evaluation for insanity—hoping to be found not sane enough to fly and thereby escape dangerous missions—demonstrates his own sanity in making the request and thus cannot be declared insane.
Rabbi Rabinowitz simply doesn’t want women to read out loud from the Torah at the Kotel because he interprets this as a desecration of halakha. As the WOW email confirms, he has the right to interpret it this way because he is the state appointed official in charge of interpreting Kotel-related issues.
The real question, not asked by WOW, is how come Sachs was picked up at the end of the Rosh Chodesh prayer session in which she openly defied the law, and not while she smuggled it in, or while the women were reading from it?
In a final episode of Heller’s book, the Catch-22 rule is described to Yossarian, the main protagonist, by an old woman recounting an act of violence by soldiers: “Catch-22 says they have a right to do anything we can’t stop them from doing.”