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.

Thursday, July 07, 2005

CANADIAN JEWISH NEWS

בס"ד


I caught this here today. It's a pretty good article, I think, but there are some errors which I have noted at the end of this post which I have brought to the attention of the journalist & will include in a letter to the editor - please read those.


Female scribe writes Torah for Seattle synagogue

By PETER CAULFIELD
Pacific Correspondent

VANCOUVER — Aviel Barclay, a Vancouver-based artist, calligrapher and the world’s first known certified soferet – or female Torah scribe – is writing a sefer Torah for a synagogue in nearby Seattle, Wash.

Barclay, who trained with a Jerusalem-based sofer, is completing the Torah for Kadima, an 80-family progressive congregation formed in 1978 that currently lacks a scroll of its own.

You could say that Barclay, 36, became a soferet by accident. Originally a gemologist, she was riding her bicycle to work in her native Victoria one day in 1991 when the door of a parked car opened unexpectedly, sending her bouncing and sliding down a long hill. The accident crushed her right hand.

“The hand healed well, but there’s permanent nerve damage and the hand gets cold and tired easily,” Barclay says

She was unable to work as a gemologist and she started selling jewelry. She also had to learn to write all over again.

One day, while doing her handwriting exercises, she remembered her love as a child for the Hebrew aleph-bet.

“I began to think about writing Torahs,” she says. “I wasn’t sure if it was something that women could do, so I started to do some research. I couldn’t find a reference to a woman having done it, but neither could I find anything specifically forbidding the practice.”

(Commentators are divided on the issue, with Orthodox ones generally holding that the Talmud doesn’t allow women to write a Torah for ritual use.)

After deciding to go ahead, Barclay began to look for an experienced sofer who would be willing to teach her.

“I called sofrim all over the world, but I couldn’t find anyone who would take me as a student,” she says. “Just the fact that I was female was enough for all of them to reject me.”

Barclay continued to sell jewelry and practise Hebrew calligraphy. In 1996, she got an e-mail out of the blue from a sofer in Jerusalem asking if she wanted a teacher. She jumped at the rabbi’s offer and immediately began a correspondence course with him in calligraphy.

The rabbi (who wishes to remain anonymous) said it “might be possible” for him to teach her Torah writing if they met and if they hit it off. He also insisted that she live an observant life and keep their arrangement confidential.

Right away Barclay asked herself, “How do I get to Israel?”

In 1997, she got there via the now-defunct Project Oren, which combined a stay on a kibbutz with ulpan and a drawing and painting course.

She learned to write megillot from her teacher, but in 1998, she ran out of money and had to return to Victoria.

“I spent the next five years in purgatory, trying to earn enough money to get back to Israel and continue learning with my teacher,” she says. ‘“But I just wasn’t able to do it.”

Her luck changed in January 2003 when she received a call from Kadima.

“They wanted their own Torah and they wanted a woman to write it for them,” Barclay says.

She agreed to do it, but first she wanted to return to Israel to finish her training. Kadima agreed to pay Barclay’s tuition and living expenses.

She returned to Canada, moved to Vancouver and began to write the Torah.

“The work is going slowly and I don’t know when I’m going to finish,” she says. “It puts a lot of strain on my hand. But I’ve finished Genesis and I’m part way through Exodus.’

Wendy Graff, of Kadima’s Woman’s Torah Project, said the shul “could have gotten a Torah for less money. But once we realized that a woman had never scribed a Torah, I knew I could never look at one the same way again.”

So far, according to the Woman’s Torah Project website, $33,881 (US) has been raised from 300 donors in 30 states to meet the $60,000 cost of the project.

Barclay says she knows of no other woman who has written a sefer Torah.

“But I’m not doing this for the attention,” she says. “I’ve been careful to make sure I’m doing it for the right reasons, not for ego gratification.”

In addition to writing Kadima’s Torah, Barclay repairs other Torahs in Vancouver and Victoria and checks them for flaws. She is also preparing to visit small communities in eastern Washington to do repair work on their Torahs. And this summer, she’s going on a eastern U.S. teaching tour.

A member of Vancouver’s Congregation Shaarey Tefillah, which is affiliated with the Union for Traditional Judaism, Barclay is married to composer and musician Joel Rothschild.

With files from JTA



My corrections for Mr Caulfield:

"She jumped at the rabbi’s offer and immediately began a correspondence course with him in calligraphy."
My sofer is not a rabbi.  My second trip to Israel when I finished my training, there was a rabbi-sofer who taught me some, but my main Teacher who certified me is not.

"The rabbi (who wishes to remain anonymous) said it “might be possible” for him to teach her Torah writing if they met and if they hit it off. He also insisted that she live an observant life and keep their arrangement confidential."
I'm concerned that the "hit it off" stipulation might sound a bit like a casting couch.  I'm sure you did not mean to imply that anything inappropriate happened between me & my teacher, but it sounds a bit like this to me.  Also, I was already a committed mitzvah-observant Jew before he & I ever had contact, & I did not become one in order to learn sofrut.

"She returned to Canada, moved to Vancouver and began to write the Torah." 
I was already living in Vancouver before Kadima ever approached me.

"But I’ve finished Genesis and I’m part way through Exodus."
I have only written the last few chapters of Genesis, the very beginning of Exodus, & some of Deuteronomy.

"Barclay says she knows of no other woman who has written a sefer Torah." 
But I did mention to you that there is one woman who may have & that I am currently researching her.

"Barclay repairs other Torahs in Vancouver and Victoria and checks them for flaws. She is also preparing to visit small communities in eastern Washington to do repair work on their Torahs. And this summer, she’s going on a eastern U.S. teaching tour." 
I've repaired Sifrei Torah all over BC & Washington - the Washington State tour happened in May.  Also, the tour I'm preparing to go on is across the US & Canada.


Thank G@d for Blogs, eh?

5 Comments:

Anonymous shanna said...

Accuracy in reporting, eh? I certianly hope they print your letter and make the appropriate corrections in a public-enough manner.

8:13 a.m.  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
Oy, me too. Some of the errors aren't a big deal, but incorrectly reporting that I have written more than I've told Kadima I have could get me in trouble with them.
Also, the "hit it off" comment sounds (to me) like my sofer would teach any woman he liked enough, which is absolutely untrue. He is a moral person. I'm confident that the journalist never meant for this to sound that way, but if anyone got the wrong impression, that our relationship went beyond that of teacher-student, or that his wife & kids didn't have 100% access to our learning sessions, well, that would be a disaster.
Thanks for your wish, Shanna. I appreciate it very much. From your mouth to G@d's ears.

8:36 a.m.  
Anonymous Jen said...

More misrepresentation? I'm sorry - poor you. We have to remember that people worth knowing won't judge us without checking us out first.

10:23 a.m.  
Anonymous shanna said...

If I were you, I would send a copy of my letter to the editor to someone at Kadima, and make a phone call there today as well. Make sure they understand what was misreported, particularly the part about how much you've written.

10:45 a.m.  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
Thanks very much to you both. That's sound advice you've each given me. This is so yucky & I already have so much to do & now I have to do damage control on top of everything else. Blah. I need a publicist...

10:56 a.m.  

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