THE GLOBE AND MAIL
Fighting for the right to write
Vancouver's Aviel Barclay is the first woman ever to become a Torah scribe. But some authorities say she is violating Jewish law by doing it.
By Cori Howard
There are 4,000 rules to writing a Torah, the holiest book of the Jews. There are rules about spacing and size and at least a dozen on how to write the name of God. And 35-year-old Aviel Barclay is becoming intimately familiar with every single one.
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"I'm carrying the torch because someone stuffed it in my backback," she says, unpacking in her modest Vancouver apartment after a recent trip to Israel. "If I was male, I would have gotten loans and there would have been no question about it. I could've done it 10 years ago. But for me, all I can hope is doing this will educate people about an obscure area of Jewish law and open the way for other women who want to do this."
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"It was all very Zen," she says. "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear." The rest of her journey was not so peaceful. In Israel, she was also studying at a yeshiva, a Jewish school. After they found out what she was doing, they harassed her, demanded the sofer's name and threatened to kick her out. She left.
At a second yeshiva, she heard people talking about the woman who wanted to write a Torah. They said they were lucky not to have such a heretic. She left before they found out she was there. A third yeshiva told her to deal with her feminist issues or leave. She left.
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"I have not found within our traditional legal sources sufficient grounds to validate women writing Torah," says Rabbi Ross Singer of Vancouver's Shaarey Tefilah synagogue. He has spent more than a year studying this matter and consulting renowned Torah scholars. But he does support women writing a Torah for educational purposes, learning or as a reference.
While that may sound like conditional support, to Ms. Barclay, it's amazing that in the last major area where Jewish women haven't gained equality, she's getting any support at all from an Orthodox rabbi. "I respect difference of opinion," she says.
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For now, Ms. Barclay is preparing herself for that state of higher consciousness. She prays every day. She meditates. She writes in her journal. She gets really excited thinking about going into the world of the letter nun and tackling the challenge of the letter aleph.
"I guess I'm a bit of a nerd that way. But really, I've wanted this honour my whole life, as grave as it is. And it's happening now and I'm ready to do it."