Jerusalem: The head of a group of women activists pushing for equal prayer rights at Jerusalem`s Western Wall was detained Tuesday after taking a Torah scroll there in defiance of the holy site`s rules, the group said.
The incident comes as activists, Israel`s government and the ultra-Orthodox Jewish establishment debate a controversial plan to create a mixed prayer space at the ancient wall, the holiest site where Jews are allowed to pray.
Lesley Sachs, executive director of the Women of the Wall activist group, was detained as she was leaving with the scroll after attending a prayer service at the wall, the group said.
Israeli police confirmed she had been detained for questioning and had yet to be released, but did not provide other details.
"Sachs was detained for `disturbing the public order` despite a relatively quiet and uneventful prayer service with 80 Women of the Wall (members)," a statement from the group said.
"The reason given for the police action was: smuggling a Torah scroll into the women`s section."
Under strict Orthodox tradition, women and men are required to pray in separate sections at the wall. Women also do not lead prayers or handle Torah scrolls.
The ultra-Orthodox establishment that oversees the Western Wall considers such acts by Women of the Wall as provocations.
The group holds regular prayer services at the women`s section of the wall. Their activities in previous years have led to confrontations and harassment from ultra-Orthodox Jews.
Activists have also been detained in the past.
The activists have for years fought for equal prayer rights at the Western Wall, considered among the last remnants of the Second Jewish Temple, destroyed by the Romans around 70 AD.
The government in January approved an agreement to create a third space at the wall open to both women and men, but ultra-Orthodox political parties have come out strongly against it and more discussions are being held.
The ultra-Orthodox Jewish establishment wields legal power over a range of issues in Israel and has often played a kingmaker role in its politics.