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.

Friday, February 25, 2005



This appeared in the Bay area Jewish newspaper this morning. My corrections appear in bold throughout the article.

First female Torah scribe forging ahead with breakthrough project

by dan pine
staff writer

In the history of the Jewish people, there is no record of any woman ever having written a Torah scroll.
[Actually, it's possible that a woman has written a Torah scroll before, so I have never made the claim that I may be the first - that has been Kadima's doing]

But history is about to change.

Aviel Barclay, a Vancouver, B.C.-based artist, has become the first known certified soferet, or female Torah scribe. Not only that: She’s landed her first commission and is now completing a Torah for Kadima, a Seattle-based Jewish community.
[I'm not near completing it at this time, & do not know when that will be as they have stopped paying me.]

The project has generated excitement across the country. Several women artists have asked to contribute, with San Francisco artist Aimee Golant pegged to create two silver Torah crowns and Berkeley poet Marcia Falk signed up to write a blessing for the yad (pointer).

“I fell off my chair I was so excited,” says Golant from her studio. “That these woman had the chutzpah to make this happen is so special. It adds another dimension.”

Other female artists will be creating a mantle, a breastplate and the etz chaim (the wooden spools). And when it’s finally unveiled sometime in the fall, Kadima will likely throw a Simchat Torah party for the ages.

“This was done through force of will,” says Wendy Graff, chair of the Woman’s Torah Project. “It wasn’t an easy sell. But so far we’ve received donations from 300 donors in 30 states.”
[Many Canadian donors have also supported this project.]

Graff, who grew up in San Mateo and attended Peninsula Temple Beth El, says the project evolved out of real need.

“We don’t have our own Torah,” she says of her 80-family congregation. “We borrowed Torahs from other synagogues, like neighbors asking for a cup of sugar. We even had one that had all these yellow Post-it notes inside.”

Kadima launched a Torah fund that grew slowly. Finally Rabbi D’rorah O’Donnell Sete of Kadima asked Graff, “Why don’t you commission a Torah scribed by a woman?”

The answer: because no one ever had.
[Please see my comment above - there is, in fact, what may be a woman-written Torah in an Israeli museum.]

Jewish law does not forbid women to become scribes, but it is a role that traditionally has been filled by men.
[That is not true - there are both opinions within Halakhah, including those who prohibit women from acting as scribes for Sifrei Torah]

That is, until Aviel Barclay came along.

She remembers being drawn to Hebrew letters as a child. She taught herself the alef-bet at 10, and starting taking Hebrew seriously at the same time.
[I did not formally begin learning Hebrew until my early 20's]

She went on to attend art school and became a gemologist. But a cycling accident changed everything.

“I was off work for six months,” she recalls. “Doing calligraphy was much easier on my hands. I remembered my Hebrew calligraphy and put two and two together. Then I asked, ‘Do women do this?’”

She didn’t wait around for an answer, and instead began contacting soferim around the world. “One told me it would be better if I got married and had children, “ she remembers. “He said that was a better way to serve the Jewish people. But I didn’t give up.”

She finally found a teacher in Israel willing to take her on. She moved to Jerusalem and attended yeshiva. The process took years and involved a good deal of scorn and abuse, but Barclay persevered.
[I lived in Israel for a year, but did not move there. While there, I attended 4 different yeshivot. The scorn & abuse part is true, though.]

Once back home, Barclay heard from Kadima about writing a Torah. Now the project is a mission.
[I had been back from Israel & continuing to learn sofrut long distance with my sofer for over 5 years.]

“We could have gotten a Torah for less money,” says Graff of the $60,000 project, “but once we realized that a woman had never scribed a Torah, I knew I could never look at one the same way again.”
[For a brand-new Sefer Torah, the cost can range from $30,000 USD to $75,000 USD. Kadima paid approximately $4,000 USD for the materials & will only pay me $24,000 USD; I don't know where the rest of the $32,000 will go.]

Graff is openly appealing for donations to speed completion of the project. Most of the costs relate to Barclay’s fee, but all the women artists involved will be paid.
[As I mentioned above, I will only be paid $24,000 USD, so, "Most of the costs relate to Barclay’s fee" is incorrect.]

Meanwhile, Barclay toils on, up to six hours a day, one letter at a time. “I’m pleased with the work I’m doing,” she says. “I feel in awe.” But she’s more excited about creating a Torah than being some sort of feminist pioneer.

Says Barclay: “I don’t have to be Yentl.”


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