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.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

XEROX NATION

BS"D


Note: May 4th Update below

As a certified Soferet, I am often asked about these silk-screened "Sifrei Torah" that have been leaking into the ST"M (Sifrei Torah, Mezuzot & Tefilin) market, & what my professional & Halakhic opinion is of this practice.

So belt up, y'all. I'm goin' on a rant...

These so-called Sifrei are produced by a silk screening process where each amudah (column) of text is printed onto qlaf (parchment) by pouring ink into a wooden-framed silk screen & squeegeed through the cut-out shapes of Hebrew letters. This presents a number of Halakhic problems, including:

1) the ink used for printing is not d'yo (sofrut ink), the only ink kosher for st"m
2) each word is not individually read & pronounced from a Tiqun L'Sofrim (sofer's layout book)
3) none of G@d's names can be verbally sanctified before they are pronounced & written
4) printing lacks any intention of qedushah (holiness)

A colleague of mine in the UK, Marc Michaels, aka Mordechai Pinchas (psst! Ladies, he'll teach you...), tells me of his friend "A", a sofer st"m in London who can deliver as Sefer Torah in 6 months, but, [note: the definitions in brackets are mine]:

"...As you know I'm particularly concerned at the need to sacrifice quality of writing and kavannah (appropriate concious intention) for the harsh economic truths of meeting deadlines and the fact that most sofrim get paid quite badly in comparison to other trades - Yerachmiel Asmotsky has a great section at the start of his newish book where he says that people are prepared to pay for electricians, plumbers, solictors at exorbitant rates but not for a sofer! - and draws inferences as to what society values.
 
Fundamentally if you are going to be mehudar (meticulous observer/strictly orthodox/finest of the fine) - you can only write slowly forming the letters carefully and with taggin (crowns) as you go as opposed to affixing them later... "

Another esteemed sofer, who shall remain nameless for the purposes of this article, shared his professional opinion of these pasul Torahs:
"...between me and you, i think these guys are a bunch of bozos who have no idea what the f*@! they're doing.
(actually i think they do know what the'yre doing- making money)"

Let's face it, we're living in a ravenous culture.

& if the above two sofrim don't work for you, the Chairman of the Vaad Mishmeres Stam of the U.S. and Canada, Rabbi Dovid L. Greenfield, asked HaRav Ben Tzion Yaakov Halevi Wosner, head of the Shevet Halevi Beis Din and Beis Horo'oh in Monsey (and the son of HaRav Shmuel Wosner of Bnei Brak) for his opinion. The Shevet Halevi's teshuvoh was explicit and unequivocal:

"It is clearly prohibited and constitutes uprooting a Torah commandment. It is not considered to be writing a Sefer Torah at all . . . It is absolutely prohibited and is a complete sin, and it is forbidden to produce them and thereby cause others to sin. In truth, it is even difficult to believe that it would occur to anyone who has smelt the fragrance of Torah to place such a stumbling block in front of the public, and it (is) a mitzva to prevent this and stand in the breach."

I learned RAMAK (Rabbi Moshe Cordovero) with Rabbi Dov Lehman in Yerushalayim & from the Sefer Pardes HaRimonim (The Book of the Pomegranate Grove) we understand that each letter has its own personality, its own presence in Creation. This is why we must name each letter as we write Sifrei from our Tiqun.

The rabbonim who commented in & authored this piece think this unnamed Posek is playing fast & loose with the Halakhah of sofrut. To exploit a marketplace that only requires a hekasher on a product - not kavanah. All the market cares about is the dollar value of an item, so the yirat shamayim (awe of Heaven) is lost from the tradition, which is an essential component of the qedusha (unique sanctity) of each article.

DO most Jews know that a Torah must be manufactured by human hands, their voices declaring their holy intention, from start to finish? Will Jews continue to pay a premium to employ these skilled religious artisans?

There is a negiyah between this rav & his practice, as he poskins on his own mode of business. It seems he is simply advancing his own personal agenda.

Although to the untrained eye these scrolls closely resemble authentic Sifrei Torah, they are in fact no more kosher for public use than a chumash. What is a Sefer Torah without its Qedushat HaShem? A chumash. A very expensive chumash.

They should label these scrolls as chumashim so those who purchase them do not end up saying blessings on them & thereby taking G@d's name in vain (that would be Commandment #3), just as I label my Sifrei Torah so there is no question who wrote them. This allows Jews to make an informed choice based on their own conscience what sort of Sefer Torah to purchase.

If you want words of Torah in your home, buy a chumash. The Rosh - Rabbi Asher ben Yechiel - teaches us that purchasing a printed chumash is equivalent to fulfilling the mitzvah to write a Sefer Torah. So go to town.

Only a human with high intention can infuse an act or an object with holiness. That is our function on Earth. We need to keep sofrut from becoming a Henry Ford type assembly line mass produced industry, & keep it as a holy craft given the attention & love it so richly deserves.


For more in-depth Halakhic references, take a gander at this.


May 4th Update: the names of the sofrim below have been obscured to protect their privacy


Dear Aviel - this was the chain of communications from the group (shame you can't join up but I do't know what the others would make of you as they are rather traditional...)
 
You have to kind of read it in reverse from the bottom up.
 
All the best,  M
 
 
 
This is an old story. The consensus of the poskim (across the board--
from Rav Wosner to Rav Hershel Shechter) is that it should not be done
(with piskei halacha ranging from "asur gamur" to "not a good idea").
The only people who seem to be in favor of silkscreening are the people
who are involved in it.
 
It does not pay to debate the issue w/ them.
 

-E

Dear B,
 
This is an already old issue and the leading Poskim in Jerusalem have come out against the process. Please contact the Poskim for details.
 
Sincerely,
 
Y
Sofer and Magiah

  ----- Original Message -----
 Dear B - the whole thing of printing is covered in the 613th Commandment book.  Basically this is a rather worrying development as this is not writing, nor can you have the kavanah - nor can the letters of Hashem's names be written in sequence - instead they are written simultaneously.  You could potentially leave aps and fill them in later.  I will have a quick refresh of the arguments in the book. Printing sifrey torah has happened before, but it was wholly rejected.  K'sidran for mezuzot and tefillin obviously goes out of the window.
 
I looked at the letter forms from the megillah they have prepared - quite horrible computer generated text - they could have at least taken a hand written scroll by a master sofer and turned that into the image and the silk screen.  Still hopefully people will be able to identify these when they try to flood the market with cheap scrolls and those congregations who value the work of a sofer will not buy.
 
Not quite sure what they mean when they say 'all writing will be done by a prominent Rabbi and Sofer' - what writing?
 
M

Subject: Silk screening/printing sifrey torah
 

I've checked the discussion in J Simcha Cohen's 613th Commandment, chapter 6. 
 
Fundamentally the basic problem is k'dushat hashem and that the letters need to be written sequentially.  There is also an argument that simultaneous 'writing' may be a violation of sequential patterns of letters and any form of printing formalises the Torah into words thuis losing an element of the potency of the process as it no longer permits a variety of combinations and associations to be made during the process of writing.  Thus this jeopardises k'dushat sefer torah too.  And thus printed ones do not have the same status.
 
He also brings the example of previous printing which was similar to the silk screen proces (ie not like modern printing) and the Mas'at Binyamin (responsum 99) which he did accord the same kedusha as writing, but the Aruch Hashulchan disagreed - but largely because the printing process had changed.  My guess is that these Rabbis are looking back to the Mas'at Binyamin as their authority.
 
I would have thought that the main proof text would have come in the u'ktav'tam - and you will write them as this is the defining principle.  Would be interested in what others have to say about this.
 
M
 
 
 From: B
  To: @
  Sent: Monday, March 28, 2005 9:57 AM
  Subject: [soferstam] Al d'mi lachem
 

  I recently came across the very surprising website of Rabbis Abadi and Tessler. They are apparently preparing a process whereby they will produce torahs, megillot, mezuzot, etc., by silkscreen...

  ...What about kedushat HaShem and kesidran with regards to mezuzot, if this is an instantaneous process producing four amudim at a time?

13 Comments:

Anonymous Jen said...

I forget who the rabbi behind the silk-screening is (W - comment please? I know you're reading this too), but he also has some very weird ideas about kashrut. They make sense, but just because something makes sense doesn't mean it's nice. So even if his p'sak is legitimate (he does have a justification. You can disprove it, but that's halacha for you), it's still a horrid thing to do to a sefer Torah.

6:27 PM  
Blogger The Rabbi's Kid said...

Soferet,

Couple of quick q's. How does one tell the difference between the new ones and the kosher ones? Also, how do you label yours and are there people who will not use yours?

TRK

1:55 AM  
Blogger Soferet said...

BS"D
jen, I know the Rav who sanctioned this silk-screening process. Not an original idea , as Jews with "Industrialist" attitudes have been trying to find a way to make higher profits from sofrut since the printing press was invented.

His process does makes sense, true (I'm just not presenting it here because I disagree with it, but anybody could Google it & find out for themselves), just as the Halakhic reasoning behind his kashrut makes sense. However, Halakhah is often used as a tool to make what one already believes to be right into a rule (ie, women writing Sifrei Torah, as a random example ;+>).

This is why I'm really interested in Halakhic discourse, & in the process, but am cautious about theories of obligation, etc.
I think it's really important that as a people we maintain all of our broad, varied, often chaotic & contradictory Halakhot. It keeps the blood running & our options open :)

& you're right - we can prove or disprove almost anything in Halakhah - which is why is can at once be a powerful machine AND totally devoid of agency...
...but you would know this better than I, being a scholar & all.

& I agree, what a horrid thing to do to a Sefer Torah! Hence my remark on Humankind's responsibility to imbue our actions & creations with holiness.

As for this Rav, he can rule as he sees fit - he is after all a Rav, where I am not - but as I said in an earlier comment on one of my Pesach posts, "Rav So-&-So fills me with rage."

7:11 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

BS"D
TRK! I have never see a silk screened Sefer myself, so that being said, I understand that they either look too good to be true & resemble the Guttman Stam font in MSWord, or alternatively have sloppy taggin & the "roofs" of the letters (the upper horizontal strokes) don't match up with the sirtut (scoring).

Second question is answered like this: because one can make an argument that women are obligated/permitted to write Sifrei Torah for themselves & they would be kosher for talmud Torah or women's tefilah, & the only argument (as far as I know so far) is whether a female-written Sefer can be used by men, then it is really only polite, considerate & in line with my own belief that we should all get to choose our own Halakhic practice to indicate on a Sefer I write who the scribe was so that people can refuse to use it.

That was a really long sentence.

So the idea is that when I am finished my current Sefer Torah, I will write on the back of it in Hebrew that I wrote it (Aviel Tshuvah bat Avraham lemishpachat Ben-Shadar) so there is no question the scribe was a woman. That way I can support the people who disagree with my work in a spirit of good sportsmanship. Now, *how* I will do that in a Halakhically permissable way is still being decided upon by a couple of rabbis in Yerushalayim.

I'll keep you posted.

7:25 PM  
Anonymous je said...

Do you label your megillot too? I've written "megillah zo kotevet al yadei yona ha'soferet," but of course the rules are different for megillot. Which options are the Yerushalmi'im considering?

7:33 PM  
Anonymous Jen said...

oops, over-enthusiastic enter key...that was me, Jen :)

7:34 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

BS"D
You know what, I never have labelled any of my Megilot, but that's a really good idea. It never occurred to me (or R' Ross Singer, who did the research with me on women writing Megilot), to do so, but actually, I think it's a good idea.

If properly taken care of, these scrolls can last hundreds of years (heck, stick 'em in a jar & bury 'em in a cave at Qumran & they'll last a couple thousand), so even though the rules are different for Megilot, it's prudent to label them for the same reasons I mentioned in the comment above.

Good on ya!

Luckily, I will be travelling across the continent this summer, so I'll be able to drop in on my various clients & label my previous Megilot.

Here's to disclosure (clink)

They Yerushalmi'im are in a huddle right now, but last I heard, they're considering a plaque on the eitzei chayim; pencil, pen or d'yo on the back of the first & last yeri'ot & (oy vey) each of the above mentioned writing subtances on EVERY SINGLE YERI'AH.

Pray for me :+}

7:57 PM  
Blogger The Rabbi's Kid said...

SOF,

Thanks for answering. (I've got further questions - that's just the way I was raised!)

1) Do you have a post and/or links as to the Halachic remifications of women writing megillot/sefer torahs and whether they can be used? If so maybe you can leave it permanently on your sidebar? It's not something I've ever come across, and would be interested in reading the stuff, especially if there are different denominational sources (as there usually are).

2)How widespread is it, specifically in Orthodox circles?

Sorry for all the questions - serves you right for being so interesting and daring!

TRK

5:17 AM  
Blogger Soferet said...

BS"D
TRK, in answer to your questions:

1) I have some sources scattered lightly throughout my blog alongside historical evidence of women who have practiced different facets of sofrut. I don't have a full, comprehensive argument posted because it's *fantastically* long & involved a subject. Also, I get paid speaking gigs to come teach the Halakhot (not poskin, of course ;+>) & other fun stuff to congregations, so I am a bit loathe to publish all the goodies just now.
I'm also so busy with my sofrut work that I haven't found the time to put together a comprehensive article & follow up many additional leads to help me "prove" that women make perfectly kosher sofrot for Sifrei Torah.
On the other hand, since my former Rabbi, R' Ross Singer, published his paper on women being permitted to write Megilot Esther (he spoke on it at the 2003 JOFA conference & it's available through EDAH's online back issues here), other women have started writing Megilot!

YAY! More Jews doing more mitzvahs!

So, for now I will direct you to the Halakhic discussion page here. It has not been updated in some time & therefore is incomplete, so I apologise (I don't have control over the content of that web site), sorry.
Truth be told, I think it's about time that a full, intelligent, comprehensive paper is published. What do you think, Jen?

2) As far as I know, I am the only woman writing a Sefer Torah, but I suspect women in the past may have done so. I need more time to prove or disprove that, if it's possible. In the past year or two, a couple of other women have learned or are learning the laws of Megilot & have written or are writing Megilot Esther (see above comments). Denominationally, I'm Orthodox (although I detest the label/box/word), another is a Reconstructionist rabbi & the third (or second/ ;+>) reads & comments on this blog, as you may have noticed, so I'll let her speak about herself if she so chooses :)

I'm actually wanting to bring to light that there has been a small female presence in the art of sofrut within Judaism for generations, as this will benefit all Jewish women, not just the ones with chutzpah. I'm currently looking for a women's historian to work with me on a regular basis as I don't have the time or the resources to do this all on my own. I have a few irons in the fire, but if anyone out there in BlogLand has any suggestions, I'd be delighted!

8:51 AM  
Anonymous jen said...

You know, I think it's about time a full, intelligent, comprehensive paper was published. Fortunately, wouldn't you know it, mine is really and truly getting there now, one of my rebbeim is reading it this weekend.

Well, it's not full. That'll take a bit longer.

2:11 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

BS"D
I'm so so so glad you're doing this, Jen! I'm very excited to read & discuss it, whenever it's out of the oven :)

7:58 PM  
Blogger The Rabbi's Kid said...

Am waiting avidly

12:15 AM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
:+D

4:33 PM  

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