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.

Monday, April 17, 2006


19 Nisan/5Pesach

The pictures are finally in! YAY!
Thanks to R' Linda Motzkin & R' Jonathan Rubenstein, you can now have a gander at our adventures in the preliminary steps of parchment making :)

Qlaf (or klaf, as it is more popularly but incorrectly transliterated) is one of the kosher types of hide Sifrei Torah are written on. The other type is gevil - mentioned here & here, but look for more about it in a later post. Sofrut-o-rama.

But first:
Very gory pictures below of raw deer skins being denuded of their fat, blood, tissue & other matter in preparation to become kosher Sefer Torah parchment! Photo credits got to R' Jonathan.
Don't say I didn't warn you...

Deer Hide 2

Above: This is Dr. Michael C, R' Linda M & me in the Motzkin-Rubenstein back yard. We have 2 of the 4 skins we'll process mounted in the fore- & background. We're all wearing heavy duty rubber gloves, boots & black plastic garbage bags to keep the dead Adirondack deer guts off of us.

Deer Hide 3

Above: We're all looking over at a big ol' bulldog who came sniffing around the yard, as she caught the scent of venison carcass on the breeze. When she saw a bunch of humans in slaughter garb standing around all the bloody stuff, she left with a cautious look on her face.

Deer Hide 5

Above: Working the underside of the skin with a fleshing tool especially made to peel all the viscera away from the dermis. As you can see, I've cleaned most of this (pale pinky-white area) of the extraneous guts (red/brown/beige) necessary before the next step in parchment making. We all made the verbal declaration in Hebrew together before we began, saying that we were about to flesh the hides for the sake of the mitzvah of Sefer Torah.

Deer Hide 4

Above: More of the same, just harder & in close-up. This is an excellent upper-body workout :)

After we fleshed all 4 hides, we brought them into the garage & sunk them in tubs of water with lime (don't inhale this - wear gloves & goggles, too), declaring that we were also placing the skins in the lime for the sake of the mitzvah of Sefer Torah. The lime has a ph sufficient to allow one to pull the fur out after soaking it - how long depends on humidity & temperature. Usually a week or two, at least in upstate NY :D

In the old days, when tanners couldn't acquire sufficient mey afatzim/gall-nut water, they used to use dog poop for the same application (before lime was used), which is why even in ancient times a Jewish woman could obtain a divorce (& a settlement) from her husband if he was a tanner. The rabbis recognised that the marriage couldn't work if she couldn't stand his smell...

2 weeks ago, I was in upstate NY, where I have many dead ancestors & living friends. While there I spoke in Saratoga Springs at Skidmore College, for the Department of Women's Studies, the Department of Religion & Philosophy & with the Campus Chaplins' group. They were all fantastic. I was so lucky, thank G@d.

I even made the school's faculty paper.

I also had the delightful privilege of spending a few hours over delicious coffee with none other than the Velveteen Rabbi! Thanks for the gorgeous post, Rachel, for so many links to my various posts & of course most importantly for the coffee & conversation!

I also got to hang out & learn with my sofrut student. A nice change from our telephone chevruta.

Jen, my "little sister soferet", made the 3-hour car trip with another woman who wants to become a soferet. We all talked shop, just us girls. A husband listened in & took photos
It was such a great trip.
Thanks, everyone :D

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Blogger Poor Mad Peter said...

Hmm. Never thought of deerhide as parchment (always thought that was cow hide or goatskin). Having processed a moosehide when i was younger and crazier, I resonate achingly with your efforts, Aviel.

As well, the traditional Ojibwa I know would thank the animal in question for the sacrifice of its life (when hunting), and state what the animal's body would be used for. It parallels the prayer you mentioned and the statement about making a kosher hide for sofer work.

5:02 a.m.  
Blogger Amishav said...

How interesting, just a couple of weeks ago the rabbi at my shul pointed out that one of our torahs is written on deerskin and how unusual that is. Thanks for sharing how that must have been done!

1:59 p.m.  
Blogger Soferet said...

Great to hear from you, Peter!

Parchment these days usually is made from cattle, because of the enormous factory-farming of "industrial beef" (insert disgust here), so that makes a lot of hide available. There are Torahs that pre-date mass beef consumption which are made from deer, sheep or goat, which makes sense for a chiefly agricultural society in the Middle East.
So you really processed a moose hide? WOW, I'm impressed - it must have been huge!

That's very cool about the Ojibwa :) I'm not surprised. I'm a big fan of APTN, & saw a man dry a lynx hide on a board indoors in this show. I'm trying to find ways of doing this work so that it meshes with my current living situation (ie, no garage or workshop space).

But really, thanks should be given. & what we're doing can't just be looked at as a job.

It's holy work where you interact with this beautiful creature, part of the family of Creation. It's life was taken to feed people, & the skin would normally be discarded by the hunter, but here we are using it to continue spreading Torah so we're raising it up, we're lifting the sparks & our consciousness at the same time. Having the right 'tude while you do the work is vital!

Whatever you do, always declare your intention, People!

Hi, Amishav, & welcome to my blog.
So this deer Sefer Torah your shul has - is it Mizrachi or Sefardi?

8:16 p.m.  
Blogger Emily said...

I thought the garbage bags put a whole new spin on tznius clothing as well ;) Maybe you'll start a new trend Aviel!

An educational post, much enjoyed as usual.

9:19 a.m.  
Anonymous flickr_idea said...


You can choose a different size for the images that fit inside your blog borders and readers can click to view larger images.

Speeds up loading time.

6:18 p.m.  
Blogger Soferet said...

Emily - you're hilarious! Do you really think shiny black vinyl suits me? ;)

Thanks, flickr_idea. I when I post my pix I check each one out in the various available sizes & choose accordingly...

9:34 p.m.  
Anonymous peninah said...

aviel, this is amazing. thank you very much for sharing.

6:34 a.m.  
Blogger Soferet said...

Glad you like it, Peninah - it was so much fun, & such an experience. Couldn't have done it without the featured Dr Cohen & R' Motzkin, so I owe them many thanks :D

2:29 a.m.  

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