Netivat Sofrut: diary of a Soferet

Adventures of a female sofer learning to heal the world by doing Holy Work...writing a Sefer Torah

נחזיר את השכינה למקומה בצייון ובתבל כלה

"Let us restore the Divine In-Dwelling to Her Place in Zion & infuse Her spirit throughout the whole inhabited world."

So wherever we are, let us bring the Peace of G@d's Presence.

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Location: Vancouver/London, British Columbia/UK, Canada

SCRIBAL EVANGELIST As the only living certified Soferet (סופרת - female Jewish ritual scribe) & the first woman to practice sofrut (creation of sacred Hebrew texts) in over 200 years, I feel an obligation to blog about my experiences of The Work. I am also currently researching the foundation of a lost tradtion of women practicing this holy craft. For more on the services I provide, please see; Sofrut Nation. I am now available to engage with students, male or female, wishing to enter into the preliminary stage of learning sofrut. You are welcome to join me on this path. "Tzedeq, tzedeq tir'dof - Justice, justice you shall pursue." Devarim/Deuteronomy 16:20.

Tuesday, November 15, 2005



13 Cheshvan

This article appeared in the Edmonton Sun over the weekend. My edits & & comments appear below.

Sat, November 12, 2005

Torah barrier broken

Aviel Barclay works on a Torah scroll for a Seattle congregation, using a turkey quill pen. (Supplied photo)
[The photo was taken by my husband, Joel Rothschild]

...Ever since she'd seen the movie Fiddler on the Roof when she was a child, she'd been fascinated by the striking shapes of the Hebrew alphabet.

"They looked like fire to me," says Aviel of the Hebrew letter she saw for the first time in the film.

"I just had this sense that they were very sacred and I was very drawn to them."

When she was 10, with the help of an encylopedia, she taught herself to write the Hebrew alphabet. Her friends thought she was geeky.

...According to orthodox tradition, only men are permitted to be Torah scribes. But a progressive Jewish community in Seattle has commissioned Aviel to create a Torah scroll.
[According to the majority opinion, true, however, there are other voices as well. The Ba'er Heytev says in the name of the Rif & the Tur & others in his commentary of the Shulchan Aruch that the prohibition cited there only applies to tefilin. There is also a Rif which I am learning which may prove to be another voice permitting women to write. There are others. I cannot publish everything until I have gone over it with a fine-toothed comb with multiple rabbis to be absolutely sure. This is part of my work.]

Aviel's story is presented on Wednesday night in the Vision TV documentary Soferet: A Special Scribe. (The hour-long film repeats on Thursday night.)
[Wednesday night it shows at 10pm EST, Thursday at 11pm EST.]

"Some people are never going to accept my work and that's OK with me," she said in an interview last week. "I don't need that as a validation."

...after she was hit by a car while riding her bike when she was 23, she concluded during her recuperation that she "ethically, logically and emotionally" belonged to Judaism, she explains in the film.
[I was 22, but no big deal]

She renewed her interest in Hebrew calligraphy...and realized that, more than anything else, she wanted to be a soferet (a female Torah scribe).
[I had this revelation during my recovery from G@d shattering my right hand. Because I had forgotten Jerusalem (Tehilim/Psalms 137:5).]

The documentary is both an intimate account of Aviel's spiritual journey and a compelling portrait of a faith community struggling to balance progress with tradition.

The Torah - the holiest book in Judaism - is the first five books of the Bible handwritten on parchment.

Since Torah scribes have always been male, when Aviel searched for a sofer to instruct her, she was repeatedly turned down.
[Well, they haven't always been male - there is evidence of at least seven sofrot who preceed me. Any of them may have written a Sefer Torah. I'm still investigating that. Suffice to say that none have lived for around 200 years.]

"I was told by one that I would better serve the Jewish people by getting married and having children," she recalls. In the film, she questions why she can't be a soferet as well.

She finally found a sofer in Jerusalem who was willing to instruct her but that prompted threats from people enraged that a woman was being taught how to create a Torah scroll.
[I wasn't learning how to write Torahs then, I was learning the laws of Megillah. But I was still being harassed for that, even though more Halakhic authorities say women are permitted than not.]

"They wanted to know where my sofer lived and what his phone number was and his name and what his car looked like, which was very creepy," says Aviel.

The notoriety forced her to move from one yeshiva (institute of Torah study) to another in Israel. One yeshiva threatened to kick her out if she didn't abandon her "feminist issues," she recalls. So she left.

At the next yeshiva, she heard rumours about herself. "People were talking about me. They just didn't know it was me." She switched to another academy.

...She deliberately chose turkey quills, with their large shafts, because they're easy to handle. In her cycling accident, her right hand was crushed and she almost lost her middle finger.

"My fingers are crooked and parts of my hand are on kind of weird angles," she explains. Nevertheless, she is pursuing her dream.

Says Aviel: "I feel really grateful to God to be in this position."
[the unedited article can be found here.]


Blogger Regina Clare Jane said...

Very interesting article, Aviel. Thanks for posting it. Your work and the struggle you go through to bring it to fruition is so inspiring- thank you. Looking forward to hearing more about the history of women writing Torah. G-d's peace be on you as you continue your work...

4:02 a.m.  
Anonymous jen said...

That reminds me, I should send you fifty-odd pages of halachic wibbling, since I finally wrote the conclusion. Hope you've got a lot of free time.

5:15 a.m.  
Blogger Adam Daniel Mezei said...

Cute title for the post....!

6:14 a.m.  

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