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, August 11, 2005

WHAT SORT OF ANIMAL...

בס"ד


6 Av

...is a Masorti sofer st"m?

75 Comments:

Blogger Maggid Sarah said...

I don't know, but the whole concept disturbs me greatly. Is it not too much to ask for orthodox practice among our scribes? (?) I'm wholly supportive of liberal expressions of judaism, but liberal sifrei torah? Again I say (?)

10:18 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
Well, uh...yeah! What you said!

6:31 PM  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

You're both kidding, right? If not, your slip is showing.

Making a lot of assumptions, IMO.

Geeeeeeeeeeez. I'm disappointed.

9:51 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
Sorry, Barefoot, but I'm not sure I understand what you're saying. Would you mind clarifying, please?

4:57 PM  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

soferet,

If you are agreeing with maggid sarah, then it makes me wonder.

Maggid sarah's comment was beyond condescending- into the realm of ignorance and offense.

I'm not going to spell it out for you if you can't see it.

I have been really supportive of you, because you came to my synagogue, a C synagogue, and talked about writing a sefer Torah. I felt you had a calling. Your whole life seems to show that.

What I did not know, was that even though you can speak of your desire to be taken seriously, and to be halachically legit, that your notion of halachic legitimacy is rather circumspect.

I don't know how you can go to shuls that are not O, how you square it with your conscience. How you can take on the job of being a Torah scribe for a non-O shul. Do they have any idea in what esteem you hold anything other than O? If, for example that Masorti scribe, was available to them? What if they heard your remark? The real one. The one that matters?

Because basically, the above comment shows utter contempt for a non-O perspective, and if you do not see it, I have got to wonder about how much you fool yourself, and hence others. And how much you fooled me.

Since when did affiliating O guarantee an observant Jew, as if O and observant are synonymous? Give me a break!

6:08 PM  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

Oh geez, this gets to me. I recall the scribe that lettered a new Torah for my C congregation.

Where is the purity in scribing a Torah when there is prejudice in your heart? You speak of ritual purity, of observance. I ask you about the purity of attitude. I don't much care how ritually pure you are, how correct in your observance, when you look down on fellow Jews, period.

9:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

בס"ד

this discussion is somehow off. soferet agrees with maggid sarah that scribes should be serious in their commitments to practice. cool. then barefoot jewess comes in and slams soferet for offering her services to a C shul when all soferet did was agree that a scribe should be ortho in practice.

bj, are you aware that the entire non O jewish world relies on O ritual leadership in a variety of forms? dare i say nearly the entire kashrut industry, the production of shofars, tzitzit, entire libaries of printed sifrei kodesh (think steinsaltz's talmud), and the list goes on and on into services as well such as mikveh stem from ortho practice and the folks who uphold these mitzvot. they seem to be the only ones who care to offer this to klal yisrael.

afterall, how many C hekshers are there? there are a few but the demand just isn't there... who has produced a talmud that is meant for the jewish illiterate, myself included when it comes to talmud. do you have a problem with that coming from an ortho leader?

the traditional, non O world relies on the O jewish community for these and other services. it doesn't mean that each one of these people, including soferet, are looking down on other expressions of judaism or other jews who are less observant. it doesn't mean that can't happen of course but it also doesn't mean that there are jews who are happy to offer others a way in, a way to fulfill mitzvot they hold dear.

i could wax further here but i won't. instead, i'll just ask, what happened to dan l'chav zchut/benefit of the doubt? love of our brother and sister jews? have you considered that this is possible without the blame you throw at soferet?

12:05 AM  
Anonymous jen said...

OK guys...this is long, be warned!

Why have we traditionally demanded that a sofer be scrupulous in his observance? It's because the smallest, least visible of errors can render a sefer pasul - scraping the tiniest piece of ink can mean a few hundred dollars' extra work - whom can we trust to be scrupulous about this? Only, tradition says, one who is scrupulous in all details of his observance. If one is lax on other aspects of his practice, how do we know he is not lax about his sofrut? This is why generally only the most piously observant are accepted (by society) as soferim.

If you want a text which is kosher to the smallest degree, you have to be able to trust the sofer, and the usual way of doing this is to assume that if he is scrupulous in his personal practice, he will be scrupulous in his profession.

Now, this is blatantly not true. There are scribes out there who appear as frum as can be, but produce pasul sta"m. And again, there is absolutely no reason why a liberal Jew cannot be scrupulous about sofrut. If he knows the halacha well, and cares deeply, his sefer can be produced absolutely correctly - and if you know him and trust him, you are doing exactly the same thing as when you procure a sefer from an orthoprax sofer - you are placing your trust in his level of halachic observance vis-a-vis sofrut.

Thus, while orthodox practice in a sofer helps as an indication of how reliable his sta"m is, it is by no means infallible, and contrapositively, non-orthodox practice in a sofer is not necessarily an indication of how non-kosher his sta"m is.

The only real halachic issue comes from our favourite baraita in Gittin 45b, which tells us that Jews who deny certain aspects of Judaism may not write sifrei Torah - including those who reject 'ol mitzvot. There is disagreement as to whether this means rejecting all mitzvot, or some (extensive discussion to Gittin 45b in the rishonim), but in any case this is the category most likely to include liberal Jews.

This is the baraita which also excludes women and other social undesirables from writing sta"m. The message is clear in context - those who are not full members of the community are not to be entrusted with writing sta"m.

However, if we are prepared to take a stretched reading of this baraita to include women among those who may write, we could also ask ourselves whether a stretched reading to include those who are not 100% halachically observant should perhaps be used also. Certainly the position exists halachically, that as long as one observes even a few mitzvot one may still write.

In the sofrut world, really one should always know one's sofer, since halachic observance alone is not a sufficient guarantee. Given this, if one knows a Liberal Jew to be scrupulous in his approach to sofrut, the only question is whether we count him sufficiently part of Am Yisrael to entrust him with writing sta"m. To say not is to deny validity to all non-Orthodox streams of Judaism.

6:55 AM  
Blogger Maggid Sarah said...

Wow! I'm going to add, that among other things, one of my greatest concerns for non-orthodox sifrei torah, is just that-- the division of the Torah into denominational camps.

We no longer live in an age where whole famlies grow up in one denomination. Not even the Orthodox communities can claim this. This is an age of tremendous fluidity of Jewish expression and observance. If we were talking about a time when Jews could expect to grow up and live in the same denominational communities, then that would be one thing. Con. or Reform scribes would live and work in their commnities, and the sifrei torah they scribed would stay in those comunities, as well. We don't live in an age like that. What purpose does a Con or reform or renewal scribe serve? Why is orthodox conformity too much to ask when the exchange is a universally excepted standard for Sifrei Torah? How terrible it would be if orthodox parents refused to use the community torah for their child's bar mitzvah because it was a conservative scroll? There are a lot of "mixed" congregations out there, as well as congregations with strong observant minorities. Mixed observance congregations (and ven families) is the future of North American Jewry, and I believe of Judaism in general.

In fact, we live in an age where more and more Jewish events are catered Kosher so that the orthodox community can be invited. This is happening more and more even though most of the people attending would rather eat "regularly" (non-kosher). This is not a sacrifice on the part of the liberal community, not a "caving in"-- but rather is done in a spirit of Klal Yisroel, of comming together.

We must approach Sofrut with the same attitude of Klal Yisroel. That doesn't mean that expanding the frontiers from time to time, as with the appearance of our first woman scribe. Is this the first time, Aviel, or just the first in a long time?

We Jews specialize in the art of transmission, and our scribal practices are the backbone of that art. Our holy books are renown all over the world for their accuracy, their consistency of content and form. And, from an esoteric perspective, the Torah Scrolls are more than just words on paper. There is real energy there. It's improper to create a system in which this G-dly energy becomes labeled "orthodox" "conservative" "renewal" etc... How sad that would be. Bad enough that we already have to worry about one kind of "pasul" before adding the "denominatinally pasul".
How can we even think of dividing Torah like this?

Anyway, there are other reasons that I advocate halachic practice for scribes, but that is what I have to say for now.
Blessings to you all for the new year, l'shanah tova!

11:05 AM  
Blogger Maggid Sarah said...

HA HA HA!! See, the joke's on me!! I made a spelling error, but ironically, it totally changes the meaning of what I'm trying to say-- a meditation all on it's own.

Nevertheless, what I am arguing for is a universally ACCEPTED Sefer Torah-- not a universally EXCEPTED Sefer Torah, which really would be a different sort of animal altogether.

11:44 AM  
Blogger Yoel Natan said...

To Barefoot:

It is because I value your integral place in the Jewish conversation that I beg you, please extend Soferet and Maggid Sarah the benefit of reconsideration. I happen to know them each personally and the impression their words have given you misrepresents their actual relationships to non-Orthodox community (and to much of the Orthodox world as well, for that matter). It is tragic for bitter divisions to persist among our people, and it would be all the more tragic for enmity to spring between the three of you who are truly allies in spirit and effort.

Here's my interpretation: Maggid Sarah comes from an Anarchistic perspective, in which it is problematic for a large institutional superstructure like the Masorti movement to unilaterally establish its own independent framework of halakhic norms. There is nothing wrong with the idea of a Masorti sofer, but the idea of Masorti sofrut is troubling. If the movement, whose historical focus has been on building synagogues of a particular style, seeks to establish its own brand of sofrut, the Anarchist rightfully asks: what is their cause? Is it to create a proprietary halakhic framework for "Masorti sofrut" -- one driven by institutional rather than halakhic interests (such as the Conservative movement's a priori declaration that a leniency exists to permit driving to shul, in service of an institutional need to maintain synagogue membership in a suburbanized culture; or the Reform movement's a priori establishment of patrilineal descent, to serve an analogous institutional need in the face of mounting intermarriage)? If so, then we're into dangerous territory; and if not, then what is the point of attaching Masorti's brand to the practice of sofrut?

It's significant that Maggid Sarah does not capitalize "orthodox" in her comment. I believe she is using the term in its denotative, not its conventional/political sense. (Soferet, also knowing Maggid Sarah personally, could be expected to take the word as she intended it; though, because it is so easily confused, I think it is best to avoid using small-'o' "orthodox" in general.) Jen describes the denotative usage well: orthodoxy (keva, if you like) is one of the rudiments by which the rabbis construct suitability to perform roles of community leadership. There are other rudiments as well, which tend to be trivialized by modern frumkeit, but orthodoxy in this sense of sharing in the halakhic communal norms is essential all the same.

The crux of this discussion is right there in the title of the original post: as a matter of definition, what is a movement-brand sofer? Does s/he represent non-orthodoxy, or non-Orthodoxy? I don't think anyone here has a problem with the latter, but the prospect of the former seems threatening to the halakhic integrity of sofrut.

Where it has gotten really sticky is when an institution, driven by self-interest, declares a halakhic ruling so out there that it can only be maintained by sheer force of institutional power. The permission to drive to shul, for instance, is so far-fetched that no one outside of that sphere of institutional self-interest can even recognize it as an halakhic variation. (It is some other "sort of animal.") It can attach to the brand of its supporting institution, but not to the dialectic of halakhah. A community who doesn't accept eyruv nevertheless recognizes the neighborhing community who does as being shomer Shabbat, just along a different halakhic variation; but neither community recognizes driving to shul (by its own members or others) as a variation of "shomer Shabbat." The Conservative movement doesn't sweat the matter, prefering to state their position and leave it at that, which effectively creates a second, independent definition of "shomer Shabbat," just as the Reform movement created a second, independent definition of "Jew," and Chabad is in grave danger of creating a second, independent definition of "Moshiach." All any of this does is reinforce sectarian isolation. Soferet and Maggid Sarah want sofrut to dodge that bullet, so that we won't have a future in which Conservative shuls exclusively buy Conservative Torahs by Conservative sofrim. The danger there, beyond heightened sectarianism, is that the movement could then unilaterally create a new, independent definition of what a Sefer Torah is -- for instance, in order to keep its sofrut program fully enrolled, it might open certification in sofrut to non-shomrey Shabbat. (Or, it could be argued, it would do so by default, because the movement has already redefined "shomer Shabbat" in a radically independent way.) You are almost certainly correct that there exist Orthodox sofrim are not scrupulous in their halakhic observance. Sadly, we have seen evidence of several such cases. But, over the vast variation of religious identities represented by the sofrut community, because all but the tiniest handful publicly buy in to the requirement of little-'o' orthodoxy, we can recognize them all as producing Sifrey Torah of the same halakhic definition. The only concern, then, in making a purchase is whether the sofer is good or bad -- and, as in all other fields, we must be actively careful to avoid bad, unscrupulous vendors anyway -- but there is no halakhic concern over what brand of sofrut the sofer represents. This is a unifying mechanism of contemporary Jewish life, and we desperately need more, not fewer, unifying mechanisms.

Soferet's story is proof that there is a real possibility for opening liberal directions in the transmission of sofrut -- and Jen's story is shaping up to be further proof. However, I doubt that any of the liberal movements today are in a position to realize this possibility effectively, because they are too institutionally monolithic and too much separated from the greater halakhic dialectic.

This has become way too long. I apologize. Suffice it to say that everyone here has the same interests in mind: a coherent, integral Judaism, and a unified, lovingkind Jewish people. And, however some of us may feel about certain things non-Orthodox institutions have done (for my part, I have equally strong feelings about certain things Orthodox institutions have done), still I'm certain this has absolutely nothing to do with our esteem for any individual Jews.

To Anonymous:

I appreciate your closing remark very much. I do take some issue with how you got there, though. :} Lack of dedication is not the reason why there are few "Conservative hekshers," not nearly so much as the fact that the economics of Orthodox consumerism heavily favors the most black-hat vendors. A stupid rumor that Winnipeg Kosher is a "Conservative heksher" is precisely what eroded their market share such that they've had to hire a new, outsider rav to try to remain viable. There aren't enough Conservative-affiliated Jews keeping kosher to sustain a large Conservative heksher enterprise; especially when those who do are happy to buy Orthodox hekshers. I am not Conservative-affiliated myself, but my own efforts to get into the business of kosher organic shechita have been declared financially impractical because I am not black hat and, therefore, I can always be beat out by a chareydi competitor who is guaranteed a wider market. :(

1:21 PM  
Blogger Yoel Natan said...

In the hour it took for cranky Blogger to finally accept my comment, it seems Maggid Sarah beat me to the prize. :) It also seems I was wrong about the big-'O'/little-'o' thing. I now don't see you (Sarah) making a distinction there. So now I have a question: Though your observations on the composition of contemporary Jewish family and community seem accurate, do you think it is acceptable that inclusion should mean always catering to the least-forgiving standard in the room? My concerns with this are that (1) it lends disproportionate validation to the most exclusive, black-and-white dimensions of halakhic perspective, which will ultimately distort halakhah toward a compulsive obsession with the fads of pilpul to which orthodoxy is inherently prone; and (2) it handicaps most would-be leaders who represent any religious interests other than orthodoxy (as I described at the bottom of my last comment), which further exacerbates (1). How do we avoid this kind of vicious cycle in our communities? It seems clear to me that institutionalizing counter-balances in the form of "movements" is not the answer, so, any ideas?

1:47 PM  
Anonymous jen said...

We're starting to run two different concepts here. One is A Liberal Sofer, the other is Liberal Sofrut.

Liberal Sofrut doesn't care about any of the authoritative halachic positions, and while it has halacha of its own, it's not particularly like unto the traditional version. Liberal Sofrut makes me deeply uncomfortable - this is a personal visceral thing; in my mind, you can break shabbat all you want and I won't bug you about it, but don't screw with sofrut (in a nutshell, because the tradition is long-held and is not hurting anybody the way it is, hence no reason to discard it).

A Liberal Sofer, on the other hand, could be a sofer who davens liberal and drives on shabbat, but (like our colleague Marc) is absolutely "no-compromise" in his approach to sofrut (his words). In my opinion, this kind of Liberal Sofer is equally as much to be trusted as any orthodox sofer. Marc is a Liberal Sofer with Orthodox Sofrut.

Maggid Sarah asks: "Why is orthodox conformity too much to ask when the exchange is a universally [ac]cepted standard for Sifrei Torah?"

If Maggid Sarah's question is "Why is orthodox conformity to hilchot sofrut too much to ask?" my answer is "It isn't." But if Maggid Sarah's question is "Why is an orthodox lifestyle too much to ask?" the answer is broadly the same as the answer to "Why should I consider a Reform Jew a Jew?"

Requiring soferim to change all aspects of their practice to conform is rather like asking Aviel (or me, for that matter) to go out and get a sex change. Our practice reflects our beliefs, and our beliefs, just like our gender, are part of who we are. Me, I wear trousers and I don't always cover my hair - are you going to say my sofrut is any less valid because of that? You shouldn't - you don't need a skirt to write sta"m any more than you need a penis. You might *think* I was less likely to be scrupulous in how I go about sofrut, but that is what certification is about (or getting to know me, in lieu). But if you ask me to conform to the standard and cover my hair, that is asking me to change my beliefs pretty fundamentally (we won't get into that whole debate now, if you don't mind), and that I will not do.

Regarding denominational split - halachically, a sefer Torah written by a woman is no better or worse than a sefer Torah written by a non-observant Jew. As I say, it comes down to whether we want to permit such activities in our communities - and if we're going to permit women, we might as well permit non-observant Jews, and justify them both in the same halachic fashion. Both the woman and the non-observant Jew would have to be writing in an otherwise correct fashion, obviously. But basically, if one is going to accept a certified woman, one has no reason for not accepting a certified N-OJ beyond denominational snobbery.

4:54 PM  
Blogger Maggid Sarah said...

Thanks, JNR, I think you've stated my position much better than I was able to, mostly that is. I have to think about this big "O", little "o" thing a bit and get back to you-- We are not talking about little questions, and they're the sort of thing that gets a person into trouble, you know! So I want to think on this some.

One thing I will say is that I am in no way implying that Liberal forms of Judaism are somehow invalid or inferior. I am both a product of, and also a great supporter of the Liberal Jewish perspective, even when it differs from my own. Having said that, I will add that there is a great antagonism in Liberal camps toward Orthodoxy and toward Halacha, in general. This of course goes both ways, but the Liberal side is loathe to admit it, which has culitivated an environment in which traditionally minded Liberal Jews are harassed for engaging in these conversations. Maybe this is the real reason behind the Liberal movement's need for it's own system of sofrut? Frightened of having a Masorti Sofer Stam who is traditionally halachically observant? Frightened that this somehow undermines the foundation of the movement? How is creating a seperate, movement/institution driven system going to validate their claim to legitimate Jewish practice? I say let us not seperate ourselves, force the option by staying part of the greater discussion. Don't abdicate your voice, Liberal Judaism, throw down your half sheckel and co-create the process.

And that's just what I'm getting at-- processes. Somehow, I see that it's possible to have a Masorti Scribe who has taken on Halacha-- not because the "O"rthodox stamp is required for approval, but because Halacha is, in this moment, part of the PROCESS OF SOFRUT. That this whole discussion should be less about denominational validity, and more about processes. I have a lot more to say about that, but since I'm new to this whole "talking to the whole world" thing, I'm going to pause, as I began by saying, and think for a while.

Thank you all for having this discussion, and especially for ending the "slam" session that almost began, that is so, so, important, the most important piece of all, I think.

L'shanah Tovah, Blessings!

11:42 PM  
Anonymous jen said...

Somehow, I see that it's possible to have a Masorti Scribe who has taken on Halacha

Masorti is, in essence, an halachic movement - ok, the laity aren't especially observant, byt neither are the Anglo-Orthodox laity, so that's not a denominational issue per se. Incidentally, I know an O rabbi who justifies driving to shul on shabbat by means of reference to a sugiya in Yoma about swimming to shul on Yom Kippur, so even driving isn't so radical as all that.

I wanted to respond to the idea of "movement sofrut" - apart from the question of who may be involved, I don't think Masorti/Cons would see any reason to depart from the current standards of sofrut. Even though their interpretations of other halachic practices (shabbat, kashrut etc) may be different, this does not automatically invalidate their sofrut.

But if your clients don't care about the halacha, it's a lot easier to get away with plain, simple ignorance. My personal experience of liberal soferim falls into two categories - Marc, who is most definitely Not Orthodox, is knowledgeable and conscientious and whose sofrut I trust absolutely, and not-Marc. The not-Marc ones do not know halacha - this is plain, simple ignorance - but more to the point, they do not care.

That is, if they're doing something which Keset ha'Sofer and everyone else says quite plainly is completely assur (scraping hey to form dalet comes to mind), and I say that's assur and show them the source, they don't care, and that typifies Liberal Sofrut for me. They're extremely makpid about writing Amalek and not writing with a metal nib and writing letters from left to right, which is all very well, but they couldn't give a tinker's toss about hok tokhot, which is a problem ("That only applies if you've got a blob of ink"). And their clients also have no clue, and don't even know to ask for certification. This is Liberal Sofrut - it's not defined by the movement's principles, it's a combination of ignorance and lack of concern. Well, okay, I suppose lack of concern is a movement principle, but not officially.

Then you end up with gefilte-fish Torahs - they look like Torahs, they feel like Torahs, but they aren't Torahs, they just make people feel ethnic, just as eating gefilte fish constitutes keeping kosher for some people. So the question remains - are gefilte-fish Torahs really so bad? After all, when we get down to it, the function of any shul Torah is to make the congregation feel comforted (remember why they instituted Torah reading in the first place? because the people were weary) - so is it so bad that people should be comforted by a non-kosher Torah? And I think yes it is, but I have no good reason why - it just feels so wrong - like plastic violins, it just doesn't seem right.

[Sorry. Can you tell I've been thinking about this a lot?]

6:04 AM  
Blogger Yoel Natan said...

halachically, a sefer Torah written by a woman is no better or worse than a sefer Torah written by a non-observant Jew.

How do you figure them in the same category? The question with a female scribe, per se, is not whether she is kosher to write but whether she is obligated to write. The question with a non-observant scribe is whether s/he is kosher to write. Furthermore, there is no dispute (is there?) that the non-observant scribe is not kosher to write; whereas there are opinions (if minor ones) arguing that a woman's obligation to write is equal to a man's. I don't see how an observant woman can, in this context, be categorized with a non-observant man or woman, halakhically speaking. Did I miss something?

12:36 PM  
Blogger Yoel Natan said...

You know, now that we officially have an open can of worms going here :), I think I need to restrain myself from chasing after every.. uh.. worm, in the interest of getting other things attended to. So, the main, overriding thing concerning me at this point is: have we lost Barefoot Jewess? I think it's really important, especially in the last week of Elul, that we don't have an ally left feeling burned and excluded. Are you still here, Barefoot? If so, are you still feeling like the language of this discussion categorically denigrates all non-Orthodox-affiliated Jews (G!d forbid)?

12:46 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
I've watched this conversation unfold with great interest. I basically agree with you all, but I do believe that one's activities which are not sofrut-related can potentially pasul one's sofrut product. Thank you for all your passionate, respectful & well thought out opinions. I am grateful for them. I hope this dialogue continues here & everywhere.

4:21 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
A facet of my position & practice on this issue is effectively expressed here.

5:47 PM  
Anonymous jen said...

JNR -

The question with a female scribe, per se, is not whether she is kosher to write but whether she is obligated to write.

No, sorry. I think this is where you're missing something.

The question with a female scribe is not whether she is obligated to write. She is pasul whether or not she is obligated. By contrast, the non-observant scribe is as obligated to write as an observant scribe, but his writing is decreed pasul because he cannot be trusted. There is no practical difference - both are pasul, no matter what their obligations.

The case is more obvious when you consider mezuzah, in which a woman is certainly obligated, but about which there is no dispute whatsoever - a woman is pasul to write it.

Both persons, the woman and the non-kosher scribe, are declared pasul by the same baraita, in the same breath. Halachically, they're identical, from that perspective. Tosafot et al note the problem of women's being pasul to write despite having obligations, and conclude that sofrut is an anomalous case, wherein even though a woman is obligated she is not kosher to write.

4:01 AM  
Blogger Maggid Sarah said...

I'm not familiar with the halachos involved here, but it seems to me, from a position of legal theory, that while the woman and the non-observant Jew may be "breathed" as pasul, unkosher to write, in the same baraita, that the reasons for that declaration are possibly different for women than for non-observance. They are lumped together because the "effect" of their being pasul was considered the same. Reconsidering one group, women, as kosher to write does not necessarily make the other group, non-observant, kosher to write. With the reinclusion of women in so many areas of Jewish life, there is an obvious need to examine why women were considered pasul, and if they might not now, in today's society, be kosher (to write). There also is a need to examine this relationship as it exists for the non-observant, but they are, in fact, two seperate groups. We need new commentary, clearly.

p.s. I agree, where is barefoot jewess? You belong here.

Blessings!

10:34 AM  
Blogger Yoel Natan said...

Oy. Remember what I said about worms? (I'm asking this of myself! :))

Both persons, the woman and the non-kosher scribe, are declared pasul by the same baraita, in the same breath. Halachically, they're identical, from that perspective. Tosafot et al note the problem of women's being pasul to write despite having obligations, and conclude that sofrut is an anomalous case, wherein even though a woman is obligated she is not kosher to write.

The beraita in Gittin 45b lists a motley crew of characters as pasul to write ST"M, on account of Deut. 6:8-9: "you will bind them ... and you will write them," which is taken to link binding (tefilin) to writing (mezuzot, and Sifrey Torah by implication). The question is, what do these disparate groups share in common with respect to binding tefilin? I presume this to be the starting question for commentaries on this beraita. My own analysis would go like this: Some of the characters listed (the non-observant, the snitch, and the heretic) are obligated to bind tefilin, so that can't be the ikar. Let's say that no one in the list can be relied upon to actually perform the binding of tefilin as a personal practice, regardless of obligation, which seems perfectly plausable for this cast of characters in the time of Chazal. If that's the ikar -- that a sofer ST"M must bind tefilin to be kosher -- then there is room to ask whether this beraita would pasul a female scribe who binds tefilin. By the same reasoning, we can also ask whether this beraita pasuls a non-Jew who binds tefilin! Perhaps this alarming possibility is what motivates RaMBaM to expound that the list of those pasul to write ST"M is unified by a lack of obligation to talmud Torah. (This is where obligation enters into the issue; I agree that the beraita seems not to address obligation at all.) This intrigues me, because I would figure the non-observant, the snitch, and the heretic to be obligated to talmud Torah as well. And, for all I know, this is what motivates Shaagat Aryeh to counter that it is, rather, obligation to teach Torah that makes one kosher to write ST"M. (Presumably, he doesn't want the non-observant, the snitch, or the heretic teaching his children; but he explicitly says that women can teach, and it appears he therefore strikes them from the list of those pasul to write.)

Now, it would seem that the relationship of women categorically to either of these mitzvot (learning and teaching Torah) is in flux in our time, and certainly is arguable -- but I don't think the same can be said of minors, apikorsim, non-Jews (except Madonna), etc. Therefore, in the case of women, it can be said that the question is no longer whether they are obligated to teach or to learn, but to what extent are they obligated? If, for instance, we take men to be obligated to learn all of Torah, but women only to learn those mitzvot that apply to them, then it would seem that women (who bind tefilin) could scribe perfectly kosher Torahs for ritual use by other women. This is different from a non-observant man (who lays tefilin, such as Leonard Cohen) who, as you say, is certainly obligated to the level of other men, but is not trusted on account either of his ignorance or of his defiance.

In other words, I agree with Maggid Sarah that each group today must be considered distinctly. %)

12:41 PM  
Blogger Yoel Natan said...

Ha! Another thought: If we go strictly by RaMBaM's logic, that it's about obligation to talmud Torah, then what does that say for the non-observant? (I should specify here that I am not referring to all Conservative Jews, many of whom I believe are observant.) Surely the non-observant is obligated to talmud Torah, maybe even moreso than one already devout! Perhaps the upright-hearted baal t'shuvah-in-progress (who binds tefilin) writes the best ST"M (though, obviously, he has to follow the hilchot sofrut), because he brings to it a more intense energy of discovery in Torah. A simplistic argument, but fun!

12:50 PM  
Anonymous Rachel said...

What a fantastic conversation.

The comment that most strongly resonated for me was this one, from Jen:

A Liberal Sofer, on the other hand, could be a sofer who davens liberal and drives on shabbat, but (like our colleague Marc) is absolutely "no-compromise" in his approach to sofrut (his words). In my opinion, this kind of Liberal Sofer is equally as much to be trusted as any orthodox sofer.

Of course, I do davven "liberal," and I do drive on Shabbat (I live in a very small town; my shul is three towns away!) so I may be predisposed to agree with what Jen is saying here. But I think her comment speaks to an important issue -- to wit, the question of whether one can be "liberal" in practice and affiliation and also be "as religious" as someone whose practice and affiliation are Orthodox.

For me the answer is, and has always been, yes. This was one of the first kernels of wisdom I learned from my childhood rabbi, who taught us always to remember that "more traditional" doesn't equal "more religious" -- that one can be deeply religious as a liberal Jew.

I acknowledge that many Jews disagree with me on this, and that's a source of sorrow for me...but this is a point on which I feel very strongly, and will not back down. My liberal Jewishness is valid, even though it differs from my cousin's traditional Jewishness.

I have no calling to sofrut, but I look forward to a day in which the Jewish community is sufficiently united that a liberal Jew could pursue a calling to become a scribe without her or his path being called into question.

Just my two cents' worth. Shanah tovah to all.

8:30 AM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
I think an important distinction should be made here, which is that "Orthodox" & "Liberal" are not antonyms. One can as easily choose to be "Liberal Orthodox" as one can be "Right Wing Athiest", & so on.

Also, I empathize with the pain & indignation suffered by those Jews who are informed that they are not "religious" because they are not "Orthodox". I was once allowed to stay at Ascent, the kiruv/outreach hostel in Tzfat, because I was deemed "not religious" due to my staunchly Conservative/Masorti affiliation years ago. Very insulting. I was later robbed of all my money when a man in Chasidic garb broke into the hostel & went through our room on Yom Kipur while we were in services at the Masorti shul there. So I think we have to be careful with the r-word in all streams of Judaism.

As for the practice of sofrut, one requirement is that the sofer/et believe what s/he is writing, otherwise the product is pasul/not kosher. So if one chooses to eat, say, pork, & then writes all or part of a Sefer Torah (which expressly forbids our consumption of pork), it's a problem.

Do you see the disconnect?

10:12 AM  
Blogger Maggid Sarah said...

Good Shabbos, Gut Yontif!!

Shalom, Shalom!!!

1:59 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
Shanah tovah u'metuqah al kol Yisra'el - a good & sweet year to all of Israel
G'mar chatimah tovah - may you all be sealed for the good

2:40 PM  
Anonymous jen said...

Responding again to JNR:

By the way, you realise I'm playing devil's advocate, right? I clearly have an interest in proving your conclusion, I just think it's important to be clear about all the issues. And I haven't had a decent discussion about this in a while.

There are three considerations in the list - those simply not obligated to bind tefillin, those who cannot be relied upon to bind tefillin, and those such as the snitch who have effectively placed themselves outside the community and therefore cannot be relied upon to act in its best interests. Certainly each group must be considered differently, but I think you're still missing some bits.

The concern with women is that they are not obligated to bind tefillin. The ikar is not that a sofer must bind tefillin to be kosher, the ikar is that a sofer must be obligated to bind tefillin. The case of a katan who is old enough to comprehend tefillin is discussed, and the answer is that even though he lays tefillin, he is not kosher to write because he is not obligated in tefillin mi'doraita - only d'rabbanan in the name of chinuch. If a woman commits to laying tefillin, the nature of her obligation is at best d'rabanan, like the katan, and that only if you hold like Joel Roth. Politically, no-one would admit that these days, even though there's a certain amount of flux, because a direct consequence is egalitarian davening.

women (who bind tefilin) could scribe perfectly kosher Torahs for ritual use by other women.

I don't get you. Sorry. First up, what ritual use is there which doesn't involve men but does involve a kosher sefer? (without getting into spiritual satisfaction answers - women's tefillah doesn't count) And if a woman binds tefillin, what kind of halachic animal does that make her? unless she's a d'oraita-obligated animal, it doesn't matter in the least - refer back, once again, to mezuzah.

Does Rambam link writing Torah to talmud Torah? I have never seen that Rambam. Please can I have a source? I can't respond to your comments about that until I've seen the source, since my impression of Rambam's shita is rather different to yours.

In any case, even if writing Torah is about talmud Torah - or about teaching Torah - even so, you might be able to show that women have an obligation in that, but even the Shaagat Aryeh explicitly says that women can't write Torah, despite it being logical that they should be able to. Tosafot went there already - it's logical that women should be able to write tefillin and mezuzot, they say, but like Sha.Ar. after them, they say it's just one of them ineffable things and women can't. So even if, in our time, women are fully obligated in both doing and causing talmud Torah, that doesn't help, because there's still that issur just sitting there. We can argue the illogicity of that issur in many different ways, but even Sha'agat Aryeh doesn't contest its authority. That fact that Tosafot admit that it's illogical just makes it harder to dislodge, because they accepted it even though it didn't make sense. One's obligation or otherwise in talmud Torah doesn't make a practical difference, so we don't have a reason here for differentiating women from any of the other pasul people.

In the other categories - those who are certainly obligated in tefillin - by contrast, those who cannot be relied upon to bind tefillin, or those outside the community, are in a rather better position in our days - the definition of what constitutes the boundaries of the community is far more fluid than it has ever been, and I suspect that improved communications make it a good deal easier to assess how far one may rely on a non-binder of tefillin's adherence to hilchot sofrut. Harder for a woman to prove that she isn't really a woman.

4:58 PM  
Anonymous jen said...

In response to Rachel -

But I think her comment speaks to an important issue -- to wit, the question of whether one can be "liberal" in practice and affiliation and also be "as religious" as someone whose practice and affiliation are Orthodox.

That isn't really what I meant - I meant whether one can be "liberal" in some areas of one's life and "orthodox" in others - in the sense of adherence to the halacha. I think your question applies well to Soferet's point that one should believe what one is writing.

5:04 PM  
Anonymous Tzipporah said...

THE SOFER AND THE SOFRUT

What a wonderfully fascinating discussion with which to start the new year! I've been thinking about this discussion all weekend (and holiday).

JNR said (emphasis added by me):
The only concern, then, in making a purchase is whether the sofer is good or bad -- and, as in all other fields, we must be actively careful to avoid bad, unscrupulous vendors anyway -- but there is no halakhic concern over what brand of sofrut the sofer represents. This is a unifying mechanism of contemporary Jewish life, and we desperately need more, not fewer, unifying mechanisms.

The problem with such broad terms as "Good" and "Bad" is that they are completely subjective. Measuring a sofer's standing as good or bad in terms of their practice (or keva) is less so - but ONLY if one agrees on what the standards for keva are. At the moment, the denominations do NOT agree, some for halakhic reasons, not only institutional ones, as jnr suggests. I don't see this variety of opinions as a bad thing - after all, how can one have a halakhic debate if everyone is always in agreement? Without Shammai, who is Hillel?

That said, the arguments Jen makes about choosing a sofer remind me strongly of the way liberals (like myself) have talked ourselves into a corner in the past on some moral issues by insisting that the only true way to judge someone's keva is in respect to his or her kavanah - are they a hypocrite, expounding one view but living another? Or is there some separate moral standard by which we can judge all people, whether or not they agree that it's valid and whether or not they wish to live by it? The latter view represents that of big "O" Orthodoxy - we are all Jews, but some of us are bad Jews. I lean more towards the latter view now, but my understanding of that standard and of the "we" who judge are certainly not exclusively Orthodox.

This discussion is important for klal Yisrael, outside of the issue of softrut - which is why this blog is so popular! But this discussion comes from the assumption that judging the sofer is just as important as judging the sofrut.

So far, it seems that the anxiety many are expressing about institutionally-decided, arbitrary (or non-halakhic) changes is centered on the legitimacy and communality of the ritual object, not the ritual practitioner. Perhaps we need a more in-depth examination of the relationship between these two, something beyond - "is this person going to do a good job" - to clarify the issues at stake.

Soferet's comment that, "As for the practice of sofrut, one requirement is that the sofer/et believe what s/he is writing, otherwise the product is pasul/not kosher. So if one chooses to eat, say, pork, & then writes all or part of a Sefer Torah (which expressly forbids our consumption of pork), it's a problem. ..." is getting to the meat of the matter. (pardon the awful, awful pun :)

So what is the relationship between a sofer/et and his/her sofrut? There is intent/belief, the fulfillment of that intent through "correct" practice, and the obligation to fulfill the mitzvah. All three of these areas are ripe for different interpretations. Since the sofrut are not simply objects, but are the end result of a ritual PROCESS, having a common understanding of the relationship between sofer and sofrut, and of the nature and details of the process, is vital for communal worship around this end product.

In regards to Jen's comments about "obligation" - as an editor, I am bothered by the passive voice. As a Recon Jew, I am REALLY bothered by the passive voice when related to mitzvot. Groups are "obligated" to do something BY SOMEONE - whether we see that obligation as coming from G-d or our community (or both), and whether we see those obligations as fixed or as something we can take upon ourselves, depends on our halakhic bent - which may or may not transcend our movement affiliation.

So what are the communal grounds upon which we (as Jews, not as representatives of politically-divisive movements) can begin to discuss kavanah, keva, and the obligation to fulfill mitzvot?

8:50 AM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
Further to the Jen/JNR thread:
If the main point of the commandment to write a Sefer Torah is to fulfill the mitzvah of Torah study, since women are exempt from the obligation to study the Torah we would be exempt as well from the commandment to write a Sefer Torah. This is the position expressed by the author of Sefer Hachinuch, 613: "It (the commandment that every one of Israel write a Sefer Torah for himself) applies everywhere and at all times to men, who are obligated to study the Torah...& not to women". However, if writing a Sefer Torah is a separate commandment, independent of the commandment to study the Torah, then women should also be obliged to fulfill it, since it is not one of those commandments which must be observed at a specified time from which women are generally exempt.

See: " Sha'agat Aryeh", par. 35; "Aruch Hashulchan" 72, 5-6; "Avnei Nezer" by Rabbi Abraham of Sokatschov, Yoreh De'ah par.
352; "Da'at Kohen" by Rabbi Abraham Isaac Hakohen Kook, Yoreh De'ah. Jerusalem, 1942, par. 68; Rabbi Yosef Kapach in Maimonides' "Sefer Hamitzvot", Jerusalem, 1971, p.67, note 85.

11:23 PM  
Anonymous jen said...

On the question of what is keva, and who is a good sofer...The thing is about hilchot sofrut is that there isn't any good reason for the denominations to disagree on its interpretation, with the single exception of who may participate. The law of hok tokhot, not scraping to form letters, is sometimes ignored by "liberal" practitioners, but why? Hok tokhot does not offend anyone's moral values. It is not less relevant today than it ever was. It does not make performance of the mitzvah unreasonably difficult. So no denomination has a good reason for disregarding it - unlike the usual denominational issues, which do tend to be connected to differing moral codes or reaction to excessive stringency. The only variation I've seen has been from ignorance and laziness rather than from a reasoned response to the existing halakha.

Which is to say, if someone has a decent thread of reasoning to justify their position, I'm prepared to talk, but if "I don't care about this at all" is the reason, we're not speaking the same language any more. It comes back to the halachic/non-halachic denominational divide - if someone can justify their position with reference to the halacha, we can talk, but if someone's decided to throw out the halacha entirely, while I don't think they're going to hell or anything, our worlds are going to have a much harder time overlapping.

Soferet - yes, of course you're right about are-women-obligated-to-write-a-torah and all that, but that still doesn't have any bearing on whether we can right them, and the sources you bring do rather emphasise that.

8:11 AM  
Blogger Maggid Sarah said...

So.... I've got some things to add to our discussion, but later! For now I want to say that I spoke about this comment string at shul last Friday night, and was totally surprised by the number of people who came up to me later, even days later, to say how much they'd been thinking about all of this. We have definitely struck a chord here. Blessings to you all.

11:16 AM  
Anonymous Tzipporah said...

re: denominational disagreement

Jen said: "The thing about hilchot sofrut is that there isn't any good reason for the denominations to disagree on its interpretation, with the single exception of who may participate."

But if scribing sofrut is important as a ritual process, and not just an end product, it *cannot be separated* from who can (or who must) participate. Respectfully, this stance denies the holiness of the process, as well as of the debate about the process.

3:29 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
Jen, I agree with your last comment 100% wholeheartedly, however the rabbis I've been learning with believe that the sources I quoted in my last comment are either themselves a good place to begin hewing out a place for observant women in the rock that is sofrut, or the commentaries made on them are.

Tzipporah, I'm very glad to be hearing your voice in this discussion - welcome to the group!

I don't believe that terms such as "good" or "bad" are necessarily completely subjective. Those terms can be used empirically as well.

As far as Halakhic debate, naturally this is a tried & true process for us Jews & has acted as a valuable tool for our tempered expression & growth. There are areas of Halakahah, such as sofrut, where there are no separate denominational standards. All Jews rely on sofrim following laws passed down to them from their mentors for hundreds or thousands of years (depends on the rule in question) in a strong, holistic tradition.

I think it is important to recognise that some things do not need to be changed. Change for change’s sake is a mistake & if it ain't broke, don't fix it.

5:00 PM  
Anonymous jen said...

Tzipporah said:

But if scribing sofrut is important as a ritual process, and not just an end product, it *cannot be separated* from who can (or who must) participate. Respectfully, this stance denies the holiness of the process, as well as of the debate about the process.

Clearly I don't think we should just throw the halakha relating to who may write out of the window and let any old person write our sefarim - as with any halakhic change reason ought to be employed, and issues including those you mention to be discussed - just discarding the issue of who may write would indeed make a mockery of sofrut.

The only reason I separate the issue of who may participate from all the other halakhot is because this is the only issue in which I see need for change. Thus I can talk about "if it isn't broke, don't fix it," (to borrow soferet's term) for all of hilkhot sofrut, except this one halakha, in which I think there is room for improvement.

8:59 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
Amyen, sistah!
:D

9:06 PM  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

maggid sarah 11.05,

It doesn't matter what you say, Fact is, that there are Conservative Jews who keep to the C halacha and it doesn't really matter what else you say. Fact is, you trashed all other movements and by default all other Jews who do not think or believe the way you do. Period.

A scroll can be kosher, even if not written by an O scribe. Your presumptions (and Soferet's by association) are so outside any notion of halacha. More in the realm of ignorance and a total lack of desire to build bridges. The one thing I have unfortunately learned from this blog is the elitist bent.

4:00 AM  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

bj, are you aware that the entire non O jewish world relies on O ritual leadership in a variety of forms?

Anonymous 12.05 am

Amazing. No one disagrees with you. You may actually want to sample the non_O world before you make such pronouncements. Non-O, in my experience, doesn't remotely rely on O. Actually, we rely on our rabbis.

4:05 AM  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

maggid sarah 1105am

What purpose does a Con or reform or renewal scribe serve? Why is orthodox conformity too much to ask when the exchange is a universally excepted standard for Sifrei Torah?

Actually having read your whole response, it's just opinion. Like your view that something or other is a "universally accepted standard". Really? And your proof is where?

4:13 AM  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

jnr,

Thanks for another viewpoint but the fact remains that maggid sarah remains triumphalistic, as does anonymous. Your dear wife, soferet, agreed with maggid sarah. So, it doesn't matter what you say.

4:17 AM  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

jen,

Liberal Sofrut doesn't care about any of the authoritative halachic positions, and while it has halacha of its own, it's not particularly like unto the traditional version. Liberal Sofrut makes me deeply uncomfortable

Jen,

You call the postions "authoritative". That is opinion but not truth or reality. I think that you would find a whole lot of Jews who did not fine it "authorativei'.

And "Liberal judaism" cares. Period. But your words suggest that it is dismissive, which is not true, and disingenuous on your part. moreover, it is clear you have no understanding or familiarity wth C halacha or you would not be lying as you are (is ignorance akin to lies?). Okay, you are misrepresenting.

Your discomfort with "Liberal" Judaism is not authoritative, and I wish you would make the distinction between you own discomfort and any other arguments. Particularly when people choose to trash non_ O Judaism liberally, ignorantly, and with impunity. And choose to call it "authoritative".

4:27 AM  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

I find it really interesting that out of all the comments that have been posted here (and I really appreciate them), Aviel has not directly responded to my comments, either in public or privately. You don't have to, I guess. I just find it interesting that you didn't.

4:34 AM  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

There are areas of Halakahah, such as sofrut, where there are no separate denominational standards. All Jews rely on sofrim following laws passed down to them from their mentors for hundreds or thousands of years (depends on the rule in question) in a strong, holistic tradition.

Aviel,

Okay, now I am totally confused. You trash a masorti sofer (via maggid sarah) and yet ascribe to this. So, what are you saying?

4:43 AM  
Anonymous jen said...

You call the postions "authoritative". That is opinion but not truth or reality. I think that you would find a whole lot of Jews who did not fine it "authorativei'.

Vis-a-vis sofrut I don't think you actually would. The question of what is truth or reality is an interesting one when you come to something as abstract as sofrut.

And "Liberal judaism" cares. Period. But your words suggest that it is dismissive, which is not true, and disingenuous on your part.

Okay, you're right. I should have said that the majority of liberal soferim of my acquaintance don't care, by which I meant soferim who don't ascribe to any halakhic form of Judaism, who say they care about hilkhot sofrut but by their actions demonstrate that they actually don't care, and don't care to learn. To give names would be lashon hara, but these people exist.

Non-halakhic streams of Judaism don't particularly care about halakha more or less by definition - and halakhic streams of Judaism generally do. If a non-O sofer wants to alter hilkhot sofrut and has a decent halakhic reason so to do, that's fine by me - it's when people throw it completely out of the window that I get bothered, and in my personal experience non-halakhic soferim do this.

moreover, it is clear you have no understanding or familiarity wth C halacha or you would not be lying as you are (is ignorance akin to lies?).

That's extremely amusing, given my background and practice. However, Aviel's blog is not really the place for us to have that discussion. You're welcome to come over to my blog and we can talk about it there.

2:31 PM  
Blogger Maggid Sarah said...

Well, I was hoping to avoid making a public defense, but now I feel that I have to. I take public exception to Barefoot Jewesses' attack on my person and on my jewish character. To anonymously slam someone in this way is abusive beyond measure. You, Barefoot, do not know me or my life or my life's work. If you did, you would understand how out of place your comments are. You are reading my comments through anger colored lenses and because of this, you see only things to be angry about. I challenge you to reveal your identity to me, so that I can answer you personally, before you unleash anymore l'shon hara in my direction.

More comments on our discussion to follow, when my anger subsides.

May we all be inscribed inthe book of life for the upcoming year. (with sweetness)

4:07 PM  
Blogger Maggid Sarah said...

When I talked about this discussion at shul last week (a reconstructionist shul with renewal and recon rabbis), I spelled out Soferet's original question like this: "What is a Masorti Sofer St"m?" This is a legitimate question. Is a masorti sofer st"m:

1) A masorti sofer following "rthodox halachic minhag/practice and "rthodox st"m

2) A masorti sofer following masorti halachic minhag and "rthodox st"m

3) a masorti sofer following masorti halachic minhag and masorti st"m

Each of these three things are totally different scenarios with different implications for sofrut and peoplehood/jewish spirituality.


As i've followed this discussion, and have taken it elsewhere, the overall feedback I'm getting is that most people have very little problem accepting option 1. Liberal movement affiliated sofer following "rthodox halachic minhag/spiritual practice and "rthodox st"m is okay with most folks.

Option 3, liberal movement sofer following liberal halachic minhag and practicing liberal st"m, is something that gets A LOT of raised eyebrows. There is, though, room for debate.

Option 2, liberal movement sofer following liberal halachic minhag, but practicing "rthodox st"m seems to be where the real heart of the problem is.

Over and over and over again I'm hearing that liberal judaism needs its spiritual practices and halachic minhag validated as totally, awesomely Jewish. The problem with requiring liberal sofrim to follow an "rthodox halachic minhag, as a function of lifestyle (assuming that the technical details of st"m will still have industry accepted standards), is twofold:

First, it sends the message that liberal Jewish practice is somehow less holy than "rthodox practice. Liberal Judaism has cultivated many areas of spiritual leadership where traditionally only those deeply committed to a spiritual lifestyle were permitted to practice. Like Rabbis. And Cantors. And Pastoral Councelors. Not to mention our very holy teachers of all kinds. The question is, if the liberal halachic minhag can be a path spiritually holy enough for these sacred roles in the community, then why is sofrut any different? How can we argue for "rthodox practice among our sofrim in one breath, and demand recognition of liberal/progressive Rabbis in another (breath)?

The other problem is more of a practical nature. If we ask liberal sofrim to adopt "rthodox Halacha then we are, for all intents and purposes, preventing them from taking part in the full life of their communities. Unless, of course, that scribe then moves to a more traditionally observant community. This is because there is virtually no support or infrastructure for an "rthodox halachic practice in most liberal communities. I know in my own life, I am constantly coming up against the issues of Kashrut and driving on Shabbos, because these standards are way outside of the norm in my community. I have to actually remove myself from the life of the community to maintain my practice. How can we ask a liberal scribe to fully participate in the life of the community, as a requisite for sofrut, (or at least, theoretically be able to fully participate) and then deny him/her the ability to participate in their home communities? Something seems not quite right there.

I still think that it would be tragic to establish denominational standards for the process of sofrut. And, when I say this, I'm including "rthodoxy, which although a strong voice, should not be construed as having ownership of halacha or sofrut. I, Maggid Sarah am saying here: "RTHODOXY SHOULD NOT BE CONSTRUED AS HAVING OWNERSHIP OF HALACHA OR SOFRUT. Halacha belongs to all Jews equally.

Maybe it is time, as some have suggested, to judge our sofrim as individual artists and spiritual practitioners. (?)

Anyrate, I'm still a little fuming from before, so I'm going to call it quits for now, but I thought that it was important to reintroduce some of these thoughts that came up earlier.

Thanks for letting me ramble.

Blessings!

5:22 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
Sarah - always feel free to ramble :)

Barefoot - I have not responded to you yet because I have faith that you will rejoin this discussion when you are ready to treat the others here with respect, & not before. I don't engage with rage.

You have have made multiple offensive statements personally attacking most of the people commenting here, even without first making sure you understand their statements. This does not add anything of value to our group conversation. My blog is not intended as a forum for that sort of behaviour. This hurts & angers people unnecessarily, & I am concerned this crosses the line of Rule #4 of my Blog Policy. Consequently, I will be implementing this policy more attentively as our exchange unfolds.

I invite you to ask questions & share your opinion respectfully here, otherwise I will delete your comments from now on.

May we all merit 5766 being a good year of peace, life, blessings, parnasa & love.

& Happy Thanksgiving to all the Canadians out there!

9:56 AM  
Anonymous Tzipporah said...

Thanks, Maggid Sarah, for explaining the initial question and your concerns in depth. I suspect that if you had laid it out like that in the initial post, us "outsiders" would have had a better idea of your position. That explanation is radically different from what an ordinary Jew would have understood your initial comments to say. I don't think you realized that, but the fact that you were willing to spell it out for your congregation makes me suspect that you knew it was a complicated discussion.

I understand the anger both you and barefoot jewess are feeling, which came from both sides feeling misunderstood and thinking your comments/positions had been invalidated. These discussions touch as much on our identity as on individual points of halacha. Please be gentle with each other.

11:19 AM  
Anonymous Tzipporah said...

Back to the discussion -

maggid sarah said:
I still think that it would be tragic to establish denominational standards for the process of sofrut.

I'm really curious about what you're including under the heading of "process" - it seems like the Orthodox already have a denominational definition of "the process of sofrut" which includes wide-ranging issues about soferim and daily life. It is only when people like Soferet and the "Masorti sofer st"m" come into the picture that we are able to see that definition itself as Orthodox, not orthodox.

11:36 AM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
Very good points, Tzipporah - thank you for making them. :)

Just for the record, I think I've clarified my position over the course of these comments, but if anyone reading is not 100% sure that I have, then please ask me to be more clear. I really don't mind.

I disagree that Orthodoxy uses denominational standards for sofrut. Not that "Orthodox" is not a denomination - the huge range of theory & practice it encompasses - it is. But the laws of sofrut, even the "newer" customs, are pre-denominational.

11:53 AM  
Anonymous Tzipporah said...

Soferet said:
the laws of sofrut, even the "newer" customs, are pre-denominational

Interesting point, Soferet! I hadn't thought of it like that. But these laws do not exist in a vacuum - they are interpreted, and since we are interpreting them *now* with different denominational bents, our interpretation makes them denominational.

Example:
many of the interpretations of Rambam are excepted ipso facto by the Orthos, such as the exemption of WOMEN from mitzvot that are required at specific times.
A Recon Jew (like me!) might say - hold on a minute, that's an exception for a ROLE, not for biology. In Rambam's time, the two were inconceivable as separate items, but today, no one gender has exclusive ownership of that role. So (we reason), since that exception made sense then, we can keep its good sense best by adjusting the interpretation to apply to those members of our community who currently fit that ROLE (family/child caretaker), whether they are women or men...thus making a denominational interpretation of a predenominational law.

12:07 PM  
Anonymous Tzipporah said...

ha! I of course meant accepted, above, not excepted...it seems Maggid Sarah's spelling/meaning bug is contagious...

12:09 PM  
Blogger Yoel Natan said...

to all:

With great love and respect I have to say, if we want a holy conversation then we have to be more conscientious about not putting words in each other's mouth. Furthermore, being nitpicky about literal semantics is fine for hashing out theoretical and philosophical issues, but not for describing our emotional or spiritual relationships. If someone says they didn't mean something a certain way, we have to accept that as an apology for any offense taken and move on. Pushing the grievance further by insisting on a particular (unintended) interpretation of someone's words, just davka perpetuates conflict, and that will only denigrate the very high -- and, I'll say it again, very closely allied -- intentions of everyone here.

12:15 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
Thanks for those sentiments, Joel.

I am not aware that any of the denominations are interpreting Hilkhot sofrut, Tzipporah, so I don't know who the "we" is you're referring to. Would you mind speaking further to this?

You're correct in saying that the laws do not exist in a vacuum. But these laws being pre-denominational Judaism does not mean they have no source. They came from something. They do have a context, stemming from the Torah given by HaShem to Moshe Rabeynu at Sinai.

I don't think we can correctly assess the reasons of scholars so far away from us, both in culture & historical context. I believe we need to work with what they did say, & study their commentators as well, rather than veneer them with our selves. To participate in G@d's perpetually unfolding revelation, there are some boundaries we must keep. There is no quick or simple way to engage with Halakhah, as there is always more to it than meets the eye.

In my experience, Orthodox people do not ipso facto accept Rambam's rulings. There is much study, debate & pursuit of G@d within any text. Don't forget all the people who rioted & burned Rambam's books at publication.

Writing a Sefer Torah is not a right, but a commandment. Therefore, we must make ourselves ready, body, mind & soul, to undertake the task, with G@d's help. May we each merit the achievement of this mitzvah.

5:55 PM  
Blogger Maggid Sarah said...

Ahhhh... you're giving me too much credit, Tzipporah, or not enough!

I am very deliberate in the language I choose, and while I certainly meant no offense to anyone, especially the masorti sofer in question, I certainly did leave the wording as it was knowing that it could provoke a response.

I am, after all, a maggid by trade... and we do now have a 56 comment long string going, and going strong.

Blessings to you all for an easy fast. Gmar chatimah tovah! Gut Yontif!

1:28 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
Well aren't you the tricky one, Sarah?
;+>
I was jumping on your intentionally vague bandwagon to see who would bite as well :)

11:00 PM  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

I am very deliberate in the language I choose, and while I certainly meant no offense to anyone, especially the masorti sofer in question, I certainly did leave the wording as it was knowing that it could provoke a response.

No, maggid sarah, what you said in your original post comes across as offensive, not a productive side of being provocative.

11:58 AM  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

That isn't really what I meant - I meant whether one can be "liberal" in some areas of one's life and "orthodox" in others - in the sense of adherence to the halacha. I think your question applies well to Soferet's point that one should believe what one is writing.

jnr,

I think that that is setting up a false dichotomy- if it is not "a", then it must be "b". The way that you present it suggests that denominationalism, is, indeed, central to this discussion. And who is going to define the "right" belief?

12:02 PM  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

Non-halakhic streams of Judaism don't particularly care about halakha more or less by definition - and halakhic streams of Judaism generally do.

jen,

I haven't been over to your blog yet, but you tar all non-O Jews with the same brush. Again there is this false dichotomy that is presented as truth- that there are Jews who are halachic and then, the rest are not. There is C halacha but you choose to ignore it- it is a halachic stream of Judaism, but you choose to dismiss it. And anecdotal experience does not give lie to the fact that C halacha exists and is, indeed, practised by more of us than you imagine.

12:13 PM  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

You're correct in saying that the laws do not exist in a vacuum. But these laws being pre-denominational Judaism does not mean they have no source.

soferet,

I think that this comment is misleading. Correct me if I'm wrong but it seems that you are equating the 'pre' stuff with Orthodoxy. Given that view, a C/Masorti sefer who kept all of C halacha would still be considered non-kosher by O. And I think that is the crux of the matter, and basically what maggid sarah was opining in her way.

12:24 PM  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

Okay, you're right. I should have said that the majority of liberal soferim of my acquaintance don't care, by which I meant soferim who don't ascribe to any halakhic form of Judaism, who say they care about hilkhot sofrut but by their actions demonstrate that they actually don't care, and don't care to learn. To give names would be lashon hara, but these people exist.

jen,

I'm wondering here, since I am largely ignorant of who is who. Are there Reform sofers for example, who scribe a sefer Torah? Or are you talking about other stuff like mezuzah scrolls, etc.?

Actually I am not aware of C scribes either, except for this one in Israel. My old synagogue used an O scribe in Israel. I will have to ask my rabbi about the Masorti sofer, and the implications.

12:30 PM  
Blogger Barefoot Jewess said...

jnr,

I know this sounds harsh, and I have to admit that I am cynical. I have not, so far, found that any discussion that involves the different denominations to be particularly holy. I wish it were true. It is not.

I wish it were holy, but then that would mean respect. The first two posts gave no indication of that, though they were suitably non-commital. In fact, why would the topic even come up if there were not some concern, and as far as I can gather that concern is about halacha and observance. And an implicit suggestion that the Masorti sofer is not kosher. That's how it came across. And IMO, that is worth exploring for the sake of heaven, in that it pits Jew against Jew, rather than some ersatz notion that this discussion is really about .....well, I guess I lost the thread of the discussion cause it veered into female scribes and the laws and stuff and left the original post in limbo.

No, I do not agree that this thread has been for the sake of heaven. It would be, if it were actually for the sake of Jews.

12:43 PM  
Anonymous Tzipporah said...

hey, barefoot jewess,

if you're still interested in what the original post was about, and not what it SEEMED to be about, go back up to post 42 or so and read Maggid Sarah's really nice breakdown of the question again. I think you will find that the other writers here are not implying Orthodox superiority quite as much as you think...as another "liberal" Jew, I understand your reaction, but I ask you to read with an open heart and take a breath to figure out if you are really understanding their position, or simply putting lashon ha-ra into their mouths, because it fits with your own current feelings of alientation.

Blessings on you all in your continued search to resolve this discussion.

3:33 PM  
Anonymous jen said...

I haven't been over to your blog yet, but you tar all non-O Jews with the same brush.

Nono. I tarred all non-halakhic Jews with the same brush. There are halakhic movements and non-halakhic movements, which define themselves as such. C defines itself as halakhic. Good enough for me, at least in the context of this discussion.

There is C halacha but you choose to ignore it

er no, I choose to practice it, there's a difference.

I'm wondering here, since I am largely ignorant of who is who. Are there Reform sofers for example, who scribe a sefer Torah?

Yes, there are. Some of these Reform soferim practice "liberal sofrut" - they don't pay attention to the halakha of sofrut nearly as much as they should, and IMO their sefarim are pasul. Some of them (well, one) practice "traditional sofrut" whilst in all other aspects following Reform practice, and IMO their sefarim are kosher.

So far as C soferim go, aside from the chap in Israel - if you ask someone O, they'll tell you I'm C, and if you ask someone C, they'll most likely tell you I'm O, so you can take your pick. There is also a chap named Jay Greenspan, and a chap in NYC named Dan who is still training but getting there.

8:25 PM  
Blogger Maggid Sarah said...

Well, it looks like our string has run out of steam....meanwhile, I keep getting comments from people at shul about it-- so many that I'm seriously thinking of offering a class around this subject in the spring.

Shavua Tov, Blessings!

11:33 PM  
Blogger Maggid Sarah said...

P.S. All input relevant to a future class will be graciously recieved, and I mean ALL input.

Thank you, Blessings!

11:35 PM  
Blogger Maggid Sarah said...

Barefoot, your comment has a lot of merit. If I had known just how offensive my words would be to some people, I might have worded it differently. It turns out, as you have pointed out, that I was ignorant of some facets of mainstream liberal Judaism. (I'm catching up as quick as I can) In the end, I probably would still have stated things as I did. A lot of the offense taken (on both sides) was driven by false assumptions/perceptions, and part of what I'm looking to do is challenge those assumptions. Nevertheless, my follow up comments could have been more forgiving.

So, as we approach the end of the holidays, our last chance for healing before the gates close for the year, I both gift forgiveness to all concerned, and ask forgiveness in return.

Blessings to you all for the new year, Shalom!

11:43 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
Weelll...I haven't run out of steam on this comments thread, it's just that have you noticed the chagim? This month has been a series of "shopping day-cooking day-holiday" falling so close together, it's hard to gather energy for anything else, especially when I (& probably many of us commenting here) have so much work to catch up on in between all the "holy daze".
Bli neder (without making a vow), I'm going to write more on this after all the celebrations are over, as there is more to be said.
May huge compassion be visited on all of us!

2:06 PM  
Blogger Maggid Sarah said...

Have I noticed the chaggim? Are you kidding? Am I a Maggid? No one was more surprised than I that we kept this string thriving through the holidays, and also have been far, far too overwhelmed to put much energy into the blogosphere (my own site hasn't seen any real activity in weeks).

Simply curious where the interest was!

11:31 PM  
Blogger Maggid Sarah said...

Blessings!

11:34 PM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
I began this thread with an honest question: What does it mean for this sofer to be Masorti? Denomination aside (& yes, I do consider Orthodoxy to be a denomination, as we have adopted the organised institutional model which identifies us as such. Had they not done this & remained a more loosely confederated group, I would not), what is his actual practice of Judaism? How is it different than that of those rabbis who shaped our sofrut tradition? If there is no significant difference, then I don't see a problem, myself.

3:11 PM  
Anonymous jen said...

Theoretically Masorti'im are basically indistinguishable from Orthodoxim except on certain theological points - but I hear YU rabbis expounding the same theological points, so that's not a good distinction...of course some Masorti'im aren't very observant of anything at all, but then neither are most Anglo-Orthodoxim, so that's not a good indicator either. Masorti has a teshuva about eating kitneot on Pesach...but then Israeli Orthodoxim do that too.

His shul probably doesn't have a mechitzah. That's a reliable one.

I dunno - you know me, and most Orthodox people call me Masorti.

7:29 PM  
Anonymous Tzipporah said...

Hmm...

Your question (how does Masorti practice differ from Orthodox) is a bit vaggue - which Orthodox? In America, or Israel? Or elsewhere?

Given that actual practices will vary more within the same denomination than between them, are you asking about actual practices, or about *standards* of practice among the people designated as role models (rabbis, sofers, etc.)?

8:54 AM  
Blogger Soferet said...

בס"ד
I'm not sure I can agree with that - although I could be misunderstanding you.

As I said earlier, the rules of sofrut are pre-denominational, so nowhere does it say (as far as I know) that a sofer/et has to be "Orthodox". However, a sofer/et does have to be shomer/et mitzvot.

So if someone's avodat ba-leyv, the true work of their heart, is sofrut, then they will be called to be shomer/et. If they chose to not be shomer/et, then they will invalidate their own work, but this is by their own choice & actions that their work is excluded.

This is about integrity & it's important. I'm not judging the way other Jews choose to practice, G@d forbid - that's between them & G@d - but I need to represent what I believe to be true based on the laws of sofrut. Some authorities say women are invalid, others say kosher; all say that (for example) eating treyf results in an unkosher product.

If you want to be a doctor or a lawyer or a hockey coach or even just earn a B.A., you need to learn how, you need a mentor (or many of them) to train you, & you spend years gaining practical experience & then one or more people who can vouch for you to say they consider you a colleague & make you one of them. There are ways of doing things for a good reason.

Sofrut is no different. Why should it be?

10:58 PM  

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