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 Soferet.com; 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.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

FIRST?

BS"D


I have been meaning to write for some time about my possibly being the first woman to write a Sefer Torah. I may in fact, not be that woman & that's cool.

I've strongly encouraged Kadima, journalists, radio hosts, TV folks & film makers who I have encountered more & more frequently to *not* make this claim on my behalf. Why? Well, because despite all the research done by me & a team of rabbis, sofrim & academics (including historians, anthropologists & museum curators), we have found very little evidence that there has ever been a female Torah scibe, *but just because we haven't found her, doesn't mean she never existed*. So since we will probably not be able to proove she never existed, that means I can never confidently claim to be the first.

But as I said, I'm ok with that.

I did not pursue this dream so that I could become famous, or so that people would be jealous of me, or so that I would become rich, or *any other* reason aside from this: I have believed since I was a child that I was meant to do this work.
So G@d put me in a female body - what that means is that I have had to spend years learning Torah for it's own sake & along the way pray that I found Halakhic permission for women to write. It means that many people placed multiple barriers in my path. It means that I couldn't just sign up for a class in B'nei B'raq the way men like my Sofer did & learn sofrut quickly & cheaply. It also means that I had to soul-search to make sure that I would do this work *as a mitzvah*, as it deserves, because I would get all sorts of attention & opportunites that a male sofer would not & I didn't want those things to pull me off centre. It also means that I would need support from many people to help me achieve my dream, my goal, my MITZVAH MEYUCHEDET. & I did, thank G@d :) bless 'em...

The only reason why "first" is important is because it allows the previously closed door to be cracked open a little, should others wish to follow. It facilitates the next one & the next one & the next one. It is not - or at least should not be treated as - a position of fame, but one of service. The next woman who wants to become a soferet will have fewer outside obstacles than I did & that is a brakhah. & yes, I do wish to take on students in the future, but not until I finish this Sefer Torah :) it's a serious thing to mentor a person to become a sofer, & until I feel worthy to pass this on to another, I will keep working on my Self. Students deserve the *best* a teacher can give tham. Always.

All this being said, I hope I don't come off sounding bitter - I'm just very, very tired :)
& grateful to the Holy One for making everything possible, in the right time, ameyn.

My next plan is to blog about some women I have researched who I *suspect* may have written or repaired Sifrei in the past. I really do want to share this information with the world because a) it's real & b) it shouldn't be a secret & c) I would prefer to establish that there was in fact a tradition of female scribes *rather* than establish that I am the first one. I'm not so invested in being first. People who stand to make money off of associating with me *are* invested in making this claim, so just for the record, I'M JUST HAPPY TO BE WRITING A TORAH & I DO NOT FEEL THREATENED THAT A WOMAN MAY HAVE DONE THIS BEFORE.

Should that have been all in caps? I don't want a "methinks the lady doth protest too much" situation here...

But anyway, if I (or anyone) discovers that a woman has written a Sefer Torah before me, then what we need to do is *honour* that woman! Because either she had to do it in secret or in drag or her name was hidden from generations of Jews who came after her. She deserves that recognition.

At least I had the privilege of doing this publicly, in a dress & my name will not be erased from Israel, B"H.

So as much as I was threatened & blocked, & harassed, etc, the bottom line is that I'm still writing, thank G@d, & someday soon, other women will be too!

In the meantime, pray for the peace of Jerusalem, that our various Jewish factions don't draw their lines *quite* so deeply in the sand.

4 Comments:

Blogger shanna said...

Whether or not you are actually "the first," I thank you. Thank you for opening up the path for so many women--for us and our sisters and daughters who now will have one more "Why can't I?" turn into a "Well, why not?"

I've read your whole blog now. It's beautiful, and I can't wait to read about your wedding (which I probably would have sniffed out and crashed had I known about you then). Should you ever return to Massachusetts, I would be honored to meet you in person. You are a beautiful person and an inspiration.

10:19 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

BS"D
Aw, shucks, Shanna, thank you. I hadn't blushed yet today, so I appreciate your humbling me :)
I'll blog about our chupah soon (bli neder), but we want to watch our wedding videos first (one from my mum, one from Rosalie & Efraim, & one from Joel's cousin Jay) & they haven't all come in the mail yet. I can tell you that we were an hour late for our own wedding, it was SIX hours long, & that out of 25 friends & family we had 2 Chabad rabbis, 2 Conservative rabbis, 2 "Post-denominational" Modern Orthodox rabbis, an Orthodox sofer (not including me), a Renewal maggid & 2 Mothers in attendance :)
I don't have an immediate plans to return to the Boston area, however my very first rabbi, Victor Reinstein, invited me to come be scholar-in-residence for a Shabaton at his shtiebl in Jamaica Plain next calendar year sometime. I'll let you know how that shapes up.
I'm also hoping to teach again at the ALEPH Kallah next summer, which is in Pennsylvania, & later at Elat Chayyim so while I'm there I'd be very interested in meeting you :)
Shavu'ah tov!

11:18 PM  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

Heh. Isn't that always the way of the world? To think the worst of someone? To ascribe selfish motives? Whether you're a woman putting on tallit and tefillin or whether you're scribing. Women in the vanguard always have it tough, and ya don't have to be a feminist to have a hungry soul. I imagine that G-d created those women with an extra measure of will and determination as well as intelligence, spirit and fortitude. And sometimes, I think He creates souls especially connected to His plan, so that they know and are compelled to fulfill it. It's almost as if beyond a point it is no longer a question of choice.

I don't think that makes anyone more special than another; it's just that G-d creates the kind of souls He needs at any given time. Well, that's my story and I'm sticking to it! :)

What a wonderful post. Yes, you are being of tremendous service. And on the upside, there will always be people who don't doubt it for a second. And thanks for showing the hardships of such service. I don't know exactly why, but your work and your arduous labour thrill me to the core. Perhaps it's because I know that you possess the soul and integrity necessary to do it. Your entire being is a letter to G-d.

6:49 AM  
Blogger Soferet said...

BS"D
Thank you so much, Barefoot, for *all* your beautiful words. I agree with you that we have sometimes the unfortunate experience of double-standard. It does not always occur to some that a woman may don a talit &/or tefilin because she considers herself obligated in that mitzvah & *not* because she is "arrogant". Or that a woman may write or repair a Sefer Torah because she is compelled to perform this commandment, rather than because she wishes to show off (when I was at Neve Yerushalayim the rabbi who chose to be my greatest opponent told me that if I wrote a Sefer Torah that I would draw attention to myself, therefore it was immodest behaviour & not Orthodox).
There is Halakhc precedent for a woman to obligate herself in all three of the above mitzvot, however we must be careful to choose our communities when doing so.

"... and ya don't have to be a feminist to have a hungry soul." I *love* this quote of yours :)

I, like you, believe that G@d places all the neshamot on the planet & gives them various strengths & weaknesses. & that those whose strengths are readily apparent are no better than those whose are less so; to be honest, I think that raising a child to be an ethical adult with love for others & awe of G@d is more important Work than writing a Sefer Torah (& G@d willing I'll be given the chance to do the mitzvah of p'ru ur'vu also, even though it is only incumbent on my husband).

You are a very bright light, Barefoot. Thanks for your comments.
Shavu'ah tov!

2:00 AM  

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