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.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

ACCEPTING THE YOKE OF OBLIGATION

בס"ד


A woman may voluntarily take upon herself the performance of a time-bound positive commandment, and according to the Rama (Rabbi Moshe Isserles) even to make a blessing "that He commanded" on its performance.

So why not a positive non-time-bound commandment, such as writing a Sefer Torah?

The fact that such a thing as a soferet may or may not have existed before is no Halakhic impediment. In a different context, R. Joseph Karo (Beit Yosef to Tur Yoreh De'ah Chapter 1) notes an important principle: "Lo ra'inu eyno re'ayah" - "the fact that we have not seen such things in the past is no proof [that they should be forbidden now]."

24 Comments:

Anonymous Jen said...

Because it's mefurash in the gemara that if she did it'd be pasul, but - more importantly - virtually no-one contradicts that. I wish it were that easy. I suppose you might make something of the idea that a woman can't write a mezuzah, in which she is obligated, but if she wants to accept a mitzvah voluntarily, it doesn't really matter if it's pasul, like it doesn't really matter if she wears pasul tefillin - but that sounds so lame. If you were Sephardic it might work a bit better.

I'm not making much progress on this at the moment, cos I'm helping my parents get divorced and it's taking up a lot of time. Oh well, that's a mitzvah too. Nice ktav, by the way.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
Could you please give me the where & the who on that Gemara? I'd like to put it on my list of Things To Learn With My Rabbi.

I'm not claiming that any Sefer Torah I write would be definitively kosher for all to use. I've never claimed this - although I believe it should be - rather I have focused on the permission women have to write one. What a female-written Sefer is used for after it has completed is a different Halakhic question.

10:50 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
ps - so much more to say about the rest of your post. I'll write you a private e-mail about that. Hang in there...

10:53 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
pps - I'm part Sefardic, on my Dad's side...as is Hubby...
[thinking]

10:55 PM  
Anonymous Jen said...

That gemara is on Gittin 45b. There's not *very* much there; you should learn the Tosafot - well, look at the sources at the end of my summary of the problem, most of the relevant ones are there.

I haven't discussed the question of what happens when you voluntarily assume an obligation; it's not a time-bound/non-time-bound thing. The discussion in the gemara mostly centres around Rav Yosef and Rav Sheshet, who were both blind and hence patur from a bunch of things, but nonetheless did them on behalf of the community. For a good summary of the issues, you should read Joel Roth's teshuva on women in the rabbinate. He discusses the status of one who voluntarily assumes an obligation. It's probably as good a starting-point as any, and has the advantage of being in English!

2:17 AM  
Anonymous jen said...

And the problem is, if you were Sephardic it'd be just as valid as anything else you did - but you wouldn't be able to make brachot on it, so intellectually it'd work, but emotionally it'd be a load of rubbish.

2:18 AM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
Ok, thanks - I'm going to look at that Gemara toady, bli neder :)
I am familiar with R' Joel Roth's writings on women self-obligating & therefore being obligated, however I understand there is a further problem with women still being stuck in the category of "Ishah" & therefore our voluntarily performing mitzvot on behalf of men (who are obligated due to the mitzvah draft) doesn't quite cut it for them, only us.

& the Sefardic thing - I see your point, but since one does not say a brakhah over the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah, but a statement of performing this mitzvah for the sake of Heaven, then blessing the act &/or using shem HaShem does not enter into this.

9:52 AM  
Anonymous shanna said...

I don't want to put words into Jen's mouth, but it seems that what she means is not saying brachot over the Sefer Torah as you write it, but rather you would make brachot on the completed Torah itself at some later point (for learning, for example).

I could be wrong.

I'm following this conversation with some interest and would love to see it all posted online here, rather than over email (or else to be included on the emails, but i'm just nosy like that).

1:03 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
Ah, so is that what you mean, Jen? Sorry if I misunderstood - I do that sometimes :}

As my sofer taught me, when a scribe commences to write a Sefer Torah, s/he must perform Qedushat Sefer Torah, saying in Hebrew, "I am writing for the sake of the holiness of a Sefer Torah", not recite a blessing, per se.
(This is from Shulkhan Aruch Yoreh De'ah 274:1 & is included in Qeset HaSofer as well).

So if you were referring to, say, the birkhat haTorah & I misunderstood, Jen, mechilah...

1:17 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
& referring to your first comment, one may be able to make something of a woman being obligated in something & therefore being permitted to perfom tasks related to it.

For example, women are equally obligated in kashrut as men are & there have been female shochets in the past whose meat products have been eaten by men. Women are equally obligated in qidush, are permitted to be vintners as well & can yotzei men by reciting qidush in their presence for them. We can even write & read Megilot Esther & yotzei men in the mitzvah of hearing the Megilah on Purim.

So what can we do with this vein?

1:24 PM  
Anonymous jen said...

Yes, I meant birkat ha-Torah. Have you ever thought about *why* we don't say a bracha on the mitzvah of writing a sefer Torah? It's an interesting question, and the answer is super-interesting, and yet another thing I'm trying to do something clever with.

The possibility that we might be obligated to write a sefer Torah doesn't help, even though normally when we're obligated we can do all the production processes involved. You're completely right that it's really, really weird that we can't write our own mezuzot and sifrei Torah, and the rishonim pick up on that - they also think it's weird. It looks like you're mostly learning the halachic codes, and you're not going to find much of the discussion there - you need to go back a bit into the rishonim on Shas. The Rashba is particularly intrigued, as I recall, but I don't have the reference handy. Look him up re Gittin 45b, Megillah - oh, nuts - 8 and 19, I think, but I can't remember exactly, and some bits of Menachot in the chapter where they talk about STA"M. And Tosafot, obviously. Sorry, I'll get around to putting a really long source sheet together at some point.

5:24 AM  
Anonymous jen said...

Oh, and Joel Roth's big hiddush is that if one self-obligates, they may be counted as equal to those who were born obligated. It's generally agreed that one who self-obligates can do it on behalf of the non-obligated and the self-obligated, but not for the born-obligated; Roth, in a brilliant halachic move, suggests that they may ALSO do it on behalf of the obligated. You have to read the footnotes pretty carefully, the real meat is down there.

Alternatively, there's Yoel bin Nun, whose shtick is that today's women just aren't the same thing as Talmudic women and therefore need a whole new set of halachot. I haven't read him, though, only heard about him second-hand.

5:28 AM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
I understand both sides of the issue, including what R' Roth has to say about it: the self-obligation-counts-as-equal-to-born-obligated argument & the self-obligation-counts-as-less-than-born-obligated-but-more-than-not-obligated argument. I see the points on both sides & feel divided about it.
My Rabbi, Ross Singer (read his article on September 5, 03 in this blog), is in favour of somehow abolishing the category of "Ishah", however, many women I've spoken to, ones who have obligated themselves in talit & tefilin, say they wouldn't want that, because it would be like men are taking away their foremothers & therefore the new category has no foundation.
I wonder what Rav Steinsaltz & his Sanhedrin would have to say about all of this...?

11:09 AM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
Oh, & in regards to you second-to-last comment, yes, I understand the reason why we don't say a brakhah at the commencement of performing the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah to be the following:

Unlike other mitzvot where the act is completed shortly after the brakhah is pronounced, the mitzvah of writing a Sefer Torah is not performed until all the writing & sewing is completed. The mitzvah is not the process, the completion is. So somebody who writes part of a Sefer Torah does not get the mitzvah, therefore should not say a blessing. Writing is a condition of producing the object of a mitzvah, not the mitzvah itself. So one must state one's intention before any writing is done, but not a blessing.

11:33 AM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
ps - I am in a constant state of learning & re-learning all these gemaras & other sources related to women & sofrut. What I mean by that is I have already learned them in chevruta with one rabbi or another, but we are always combing through commentaries & looping through various halakhot & minhagim which bring us back.

The beautiful thing about Torah is how deep you can go if you are just present with it :)

11:42 AM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
It's been brought to my attention privately by a reader that I have given the impression in these comments that I was not aware of the Gemara in Gittin 45b.

I don't pretend to be a scholar, but I am aware of this Gemara & its Tosafot & have been for years. I apologise if anything I wrote misled anyone. I just wanted to know which Gemara was being referred to & that's all I meant to convey.

I do best when given very (very) detailed information, that's all :)

7:10 PM  
Blogger Jordan Stratford+ said...

It seems to me that a blog is a very narrow channel of communication, and a comments box narrower still. It is extremely easy for someone to be misunderstood, particularly when quoting a reference, or "reference x which I know off the top of my head but you have to look it up" - one can easily get the idea that the comment comes from a desire to impress, rather than to share.

And certainly one can say "I don't recall reading that story in the New York Times this morning" without it being pointedly misunderstood as "I've never heard of the New York Times". Implying that the two statements are synonymous is perhaps less than civil at best, and a pretty tacky straw-man at worst.

I was enjoying this very illuminating thread until such aspersions seemed to be being cast, however subtly. I can hardly see how such a tactic furthers the reader's interest or helps in their (my) education on the subject.

Of course, I'm the first to admit it's *entirely* possible that I've misunderstood - narrow channel and all that.

Sorry to rant on like this.

J+

9:02 PM  
Anonymous jen said...

I understand both sides of the issue

You know I never meant to imply for a second that you didn't, right? Having these discussions on blog is weird - you don't want to exclude people who might be reading along but not necessarily have the background, but you risk offending people who do. Sigh.

Anyway, yeah, abolishing the category of "isha" - it'd be a huge project, wouldn't it? Would you start from the premise that she was basically like a woman with a few differences, or assume she was basically like a man and perhaps make some concessions for things like pregnancy.

Ooh (crazy point coming, beware), isn't there a mishnah somewhere which discusses what happens if a cow gives birth to something resembling a human? somewhere in Bchorot I think - anyway, as I recall, the answer there was that it didn't count as a human (could be wrong, don't have mishnah handy to check). If that was so, and if our New Isha wasn't a woman per se, would her child even be considered halachically human?

I love the way you explain why we have to state intention for writing but not a bracha. Apart from being cool and interesting, it's so much more articulate than the way I'd go about that.

I'd heard that the reason we don't make a bracha over even completion of a sefer Torah has to do with our not being totally sure these days that we've got the right version, and since there's a safek, we play it safe and don't make the bracha. Which is interesting given that it bolsters Shaagat Aryeh, isn't it? And okay, Shaagat Aryeh ends up paskening against, but you can use the same kind of halachic structure to pasken for, and then it's fun! I was going to try and post the source complete when I'd dug it up from my notes and typed it in, but I'm feeling a bit apprehensive of so doing now.

12:03 AM  
Blogger Halfnutcase said...

don't people have a custom of "buying a letter" in a safer torah? and if a woman is not halachicaly obligated to write one, then should a woman "buy" one of the letters, and the scribe writes it on her behalf, it is considered as if she wrote it, and because with out that single letter, it is possul, then should not the entire torah be possul because just one letter was written on behalf of a woman? (and yes most of the torahs today have at least one such letter)

7:36 AM  
Anonymous shanna said...

halfnutcase, I've wondered the very same thing.

7:00 AM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
My understanding of that situation is that a person, regardless of sex, who purchases one letter in a Sefer Torah does not exclusively own that part of the Sefer. As they are granted no ownership rights or control over the conclusion of the Sefer Torah, they are also not granted the mitzvah.
(R' Kluger)
Even so, according to Rashi's Beit Yosef Yoreh De'ah 270, The purchaser of a full Sefer Torah is on a lower level than one who writes one.
There's an awful lot of debate around this question, which I would love to go into with whoever is interested, but it's Canada Day :)
So I'm taking it easy...

10:07 AM  
Blogger Halfnutcase said...

doesn't sound like what i had heard. i'd heard that someone who enables the sofer to write even a single letter was accounted as having wrote the whole thing. the sofer (or soferet) doesn't have control over it does he (or she!)?

2:09 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
Well, there must be more than one opinion on this, Halfnutcase, like almost everything in Judaism :)

I also have heard that same thing, but I have never found any sources for it, but then I have also not been devoting a lot of time to sussing out that particular idea. Barukh HaShem, the world of Torah is more deep & more wide than any mortal can plumb.

I'm just giving you the little bit I know that would perhaps allay your concerns over your very important question.

As I am not a rabbi & have no authority to give p'sak Halakhah to others, all I can do is share what I have learned & know that there is always more...

If you want to further explore sources on this question, I'm happy to take the opportunity to learn more, however I must warn you that my plate is very full rigt now, so it will take me a bit of time to respond properly.

1:56 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
I'm posting this comment from Jen, which was here & then disappeared. I've been trying to magically will it to re-appear, but there must be a Blagger glitch. Anyway, here it is, cut & pasted from my e-mail in-box:

From: Jen (anonymous-comment@blogger.com)
Date: Sun, Jul 3 2005 15:17:01 -0700 (PDT)
To: aviel@soferet.com
Subject: [Netivat Sofrut: diary of a Soferet 7/03/2005 03:15:40 PM


Happy Canada Day, Canadians...Be warned - I can't cite sources for the following off the top of my head.Buying letters - I suppose it all centres around shlichut, whether you think a shaliach is a free agent or not. I think we do consider a shaliach to be something of a free agent, so a sofer writing a letter for a woman would not be the same thing as the woman herself writing it, since we recognise the separate identity of the sofer as her agent. Al regel echad, and I'm not the hottest on shlichut.Being considered as if you wrote the whole Torah by enabling a letter - I haven't seen anyone who takes that literally. My sense is that it's like the thing that says g'lilah is the highest possible honour. It's not really, but we say it is so as to make people feel better. We don't want members of the community feeling inferior because they can't write a whole Torah themselves.

--
Posted by Jen to Netivat Sofrut: diary of a Soferet at 7/03/2005 03:15:40 PM

11:02 AM  

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