Netivat Sofrut: diary of a Soferet

Adventures of a female sofer learning to heal the world by doing Holy Work...writing a Sefer Torah

נחזיר את השכינה למקומה בצייון ובתבל כלה

"Let us restore the Divine In-Dwelling to Her Place in Zion & infuse Her spirit throughout the whole inhabited world."

So wherever we are, let us bring the Peace of G@d's Presence.

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Location: Vancouver/London, British Columbia/UK, Canada

SCRIBAL EVANGELIST As the only living certified Soferet (סופרת - female Jewish ritual scribe) & the first woman to practice sofrut (creation of sacred Hebrew texts) in over 200 years, I feel an obligation to blog about my experiences of The Work. I am also currently researching the foundation of a lost tradtion of women practicing this holy craft. For more on the services I provide, please see; Sofrut Nation. I am now available to engage with students, male or female, wishing to enter into the preliminary stage of learning sofrut. You are welcome to join me on this path. "Tzedeq, tzedeq tir'dof - Justice, justice you shall pursue." Devarim/Deuteronomy 16:20.

Sunday, November 14, 2004



Still later, Friday August 20th
Shabbes potluck in Riverside Park with Qol Zimrah - dancing, singing, privately damning other Jews, my brothers & sisters, for their expectations of me. I don't understand what's so difficult to get: the only difference between me & a male sofer is just that - he's male. I am no more liberal than the next Modern Orthodox woman or sofer, so why is it that because I am a woman *and* a sofer that so many people think I have no boundaries, no ideals, no sense of what's appropriate. Just because I've gate crashed the sofer boys' club doesn't mean that I'm any less strict about my practice than other sofrim.

The night was beautiful & still & black in the park under the trees lit only by the skyline of the Jersey shore. Many of us wore white to greet the Shabat & there were Jewish angels everywhere. Pink & ruby dove wings. Messengers. Shoshanah, Benny, Shir-Yaakov, Limor...
We gathered on the lawn, took off our shoes & davened Qabalat Shabat in the deep grass, facing up the hill to the city. There was tremendous passion & sincerity in our prayer. All these 20-somethings asking G@d to help us bring peace, balance, justice, love, healing to the Earth.

We served ourselves up dinner, all our smiling faces shining. So many seekers. So many open people. Including myself. Strangers making friends. Shir-Yaakov lead zmirot & invited everyone to dance for the Chatan & Kallah, so the shiny smiles made circles & we hora'ed so fast I lost my breath & almost my balance. It's so wonderful that strangers can be so happy for each other, just because we all hail from the same tribe.

The evening was all a joyful blur until I encountered someone who suggested I come teach his group of followers in Israel. I was enthusiastic until he made it clear that they wanted to learn sofrut specifically, & that they intended to write a Sefer Torah. "& you know who in our group is the most excited about writing a Sefer Torah? Our Non-Jew."
My eyes glazed over. All I could say was, ""
But inside I was shouting.

According to Jewish Law, if a person wishes to learn sofrut, that person (male or female) *must* be a shomer/et mitzvot Jew. There is no compromising on this. This is part of living an integral, G@d-centred life. It's inappropriate for a Jew who eats treyf (unkosher) or breaks Shabat or doesn't keep the laws of family purity to write a Sefer Torah, as these laws are all contained within the Torah (as are numerous others) & one must have approriate kavanah, intention, to do this work. This mitzvah must be done for the sake of Heaven, so a Jew who does not make life choices based on awe for G@d cannot properly fulfill this task. In fact, if such a Jew were to write a Sefer Torah, we are instructed to burn it.

The same goes for a non-Jew. This Work is not the job of a non-Jew to perform. Non-Jews have other Work to do for G@d that is not for Jews to perform.

I am so tired of people approaching *me* to give them what they want. This man who propositioned me knew that he could never get an Orthodox male sofer to teach his group of followers anything at all about sofrut in, like, a bajillion years. So he asked me. Why? Does he not assume that I will guard the Laws as carefully as a man?

It's like when I have gay & lesbian couples ask me to write them a ketubah (Jewish wedding contract). I am sympathetic to their wanting an official union & a ritual to celebrate that. & I'm happy I live in a country where GLBTQQ folks can legally partner, with all the same rights as straight people. But there is no room in Jewish Law, to my knowledge, for a Halakhically recognizable marriage between anyone but a Jewish man & a Jewish woman. So what can I do? I don't feel I can provide the service they seek, because I recognise that I am bound by these Laws. & yet, I don't want to upset anyone - G@d knows it's already hard enough to be a Jew, practicing or not, even in North America. But to be a queer Jew is *so* challenging (as my queer Jewish acquaintances tell me). One of my sofrim who mentored me, Dov (a Chasidic rabbi), told me that when it comes to making a living, there's nothing wrong with making art for someone even if they intend to use it in this way. So don't call it a ketubah, he said. Don't word it exactly the same way as a traditional text. There's nothing wrong with that.

& yet, that sounds so patronising to me somehow. I mean no disrespect to our queer brothers & sisters, but I also don't see where I can fit in to their vision & still remain loyal to Jewish Law, as I understand it. I walked home frustrated & angry. How does one say "no" gently & respectfully?

I threw myself on the bed & cried myself to sleep...

...Shabat shalom


Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

Hi, I've been reading much of your blog.

I surely can relate when you talk about being a pushover. I have felt that I have been treated in that manner, as a female. I also think it's a personality thing- when one is female and receptive and giving, it is easy to take advantage and disrespect. Gentleness and receptivity have little cachet in the world at large, not even in the Jewish world, tho it does, in the Torah. I am learning to draw lines in the sand.

From the sound of it, people tend to look upon you as an "easy" Jew, and I think it is because you are female. That somehow being a Jewess who colours outside the lines is a twinned licence to assume that you are not only different, but also, less than.

It is hard for those of us Jewesses who pursue an unpopular derech in answer to the call of our souls and G-d. In a sense, because you are in the vanguard, you are actually a witness and a teacher. It is up to you, not to prove, but to show the ways of what you believe Torah to be. In other words, as long as something is in keeping with your integrity as a Jew, then that is the belief that you should espouse and express. As long as you do not, you are not standing for something. A person without conviction lives a life of quiet desperation.

Once, an older woman at minyan asked me why I was wearing tefillin when it was for the men. I told her sincerely it helped me focus my prayers, helped me to connect with G-d. I was so amazed because this seemed to satisfy her. Ya never know. I wasn't feeling defensive either, perhaps because wearing tefilling brings me so much joy.

I haven't set out to prove anything. I can only express how things are for me, with full awareness of Torah and halacha. I think that expressing what you think and believe is the way to keep people in their place and to know your own. And then, it all falls into place.

4:09 p.m.  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sorry for the anonymity. No account.

About ketubot. One of my rabbis told me that as the artist, you're just a glorified photocopier, so there's nothing wrong with writing a non-kosher ketubah. I'd asked him if it was all right to write a ketubah with an invalid text, and that was his response. Of course, it'd be wrong to write an invalid one and kid people that it was valid, but if someone's rabbi has told them that this text is okay, it's not up to the artist-cum-photocopier to say different. Writing a text you don't think is kosher might not be all that different from writing a kosher text for a non-kosher wedding.

6:06 p.m.  
Blogger Soferet said...

Thanks, Barefoot. Of course I expect to be treated differently than a man (because I *am* different than a man), but it never occurred to me that the difference would be "less than".
Kol Tuv

8:56 a.m.  
Blogger Soferet said...

Hi, Blackherring. Thanks for your wisdom. I was once threatened by a Modern Orthodox rabbi whose shul I worked at to not write any non-Orthodox ketubot, but I don't feel it's my job to try to force non-Orthodox Jews to make decisions against their own best judgement. As I said in my post, according to my second sofer, R' Dov, (& in much of Torah we learn) parnasa is parnasa.

9:11 a.m.  

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