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.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

A WOMAN OFFERS JUDAISM'S SACRED HAND

BS"D


A St. Paul synagogue will celebrate its jubilee with a visit from a pioneering Torah scribe.
Pamela Miller, Star Tribune


When Avielah Barclay leans over a Torah scroll and slowly shapes the elaborate Hebrew letters, she's not thinking about being the only female soferet -- certified Jewish sacred-text scribe -- in the world.
She's thinking about beauty.

"From the time I was 3, I've been drawn to the alefbet [the Hebrew alphabet]," said the Vancouver, British Columbia, artist. "My dad ran a movie theater, so I saw 'Fiddler on the Roof' a few times and was stunned by these gorgeous letters. I wanted to be as close to them as possible."

From then on, Barclay, 38, knew she wanted to be a soferet.

She'll share her story, skills and passion for the sacred texts next weekend at Temple of Aaron, a 100-year-old congregation that is celebrating its 50th year in St. Paul's Highland Park neighborhood, said Rabbi Randall Konigsburg.

Jewish law does not ban female scribes, but long tradition holds that they should be male, said Bernard Raskas, Temple of Aaron's rabbi laureate.

At 82, Raskas has witnessed much of the synagogue's history and decades of dramatic events in the history of the Jewish people. Barclay's pioneering role is important because it weds tradition and innovation, he said.

"She sure knows her stuff," Raskas said. "After she decided she wanted to be a scribe, she tried to get training and kept hearing no, no, no, because she is a woman. When she finally found a sofer [a male scribe] in Israel willing to teach her, he said it was only on condition that she never reveal his name, never touch him, and work in a room with open windows and doors." The teacher wanted to be sure that there could be no suggestion of impropriety, he said.

Barclay has learned "the thousand rules" that govern proper creation of a Torah, Raskas said. On Sunday, she'll oversee a private ceremony in which hundreds of synagogue members will shape a Hebrew letter in the Torah, guided by Barclay's gifted hand in what she calls "a very careful and difficult process."

Said Raskas: "There's a commandment [in Deuteronomy] that says every Jew has to write a Torah. Of course that's impossible, so in the 12th century, Maimonides [the great Sephardic rabbi and scholar] ruled that if you write one letter, you have fulfilled the commandment."

Konigsburg said the siyum sefer ceremony, as it is called, "is very moving."I've seen people weep with emotion when the sofer guides their hand through the shaping of the Torah letter" because it connects them with their faith and ancestors, he said.

The scroll they'll work on will bear a new cover "lovingly crafted" by Sam Rafowitz, an 81-year-old Holocaust survivor, in memory of his family, Konigsburg said.

When the ceremony is over, "the Torah will be kosher and we will celebrate," Barclay said. And she will have shared her passion for what she calls "art with intention."

Going where she's welcome

Although Barclay knows of no other female Torah scribes now living, her research has led her to suspect that there have been a few scattered through history.

"When I was certified to do this three years ago, there was no record of any other female Torah scribe," she said. "But I've found that there were possibly up to 10 women who did this before me, including one in Yemen in the 1400s and in Rome before that. Sometimes they were rabbis' wives."

It's important for her to identify predecessors, she said, "because if I can show there were others, we can open it up even more to other women."

Although acceptance is growing, many Orthodox Jews still balk at the idea of a woman doing the sacred work, she said.

"Some say it wouldn't be kosher for a man to use a Torah written out by a woman," she said. "I get many e-mails or objections on my blog [at www.soferet.com]. That's the way mainstream Judaism has gone for centuries, and as an Orthodox Jew, I acknowledge that. But there is a minority opinion that says it's perfectly kosher.

"I'm not upset about people objecting, and they don't have to hire me," she said. "But views differ, and many are willing to accept me."

Since being certified, she's talked about her work or overseen Torah rededication projects at many synagogues in the United States and Canada.

Barclay's early fascination with the Hebrew alphabet stayed with her through an early career as a gemologist. But in her 20s, during a period of healing after her writing hand was crushed in a biking accident, she had what she calls "an epiphany" that she should pursue her dream of being a soferet.

"Then it took me 10 years to find the teacher who finally took me," she said. "It's been a slow process to get where I am, but that I can do it at all is a huge blessing."

She does her work with the healed hand, which still bears scars from the accident and surgery, she said.

Shortly after she was certified, Barclay was asked by her Vancouver synagogue to write out the Book of Esther, and since then, her work and reputation have grown.

"I do feel like I'm at a pivotal point in Jewish history, for both women and all of us," she said. "People tell me that my story and work have affected them in a positive way, and that's a wonderful thing to hear."


Soferet Temple of Aaron Logo
Temple of Aaron's Jubilee logo, which I jazzed up a little for them :)
It was great fun & I'm really looking forward to this weekend!

There are a few comments & corrections I'm going to make on this article as soon as I have a minute. Nothing drastic - the reporter was totally lovely to talk with & I think she wrote this really nicely - but there's the odd thing that isn't quite right in the article that I'll write about in the addendum I always put at the end of stories about me.
When I have a minute!




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2 Comments:

Blogger Sister Mary Hasta said...

On that 'jazzed up' logo-- did you use gold ink or gold leaf? Inquiring artsy-fartsy people wanna know!

8:50 AM  
Blogger MiriyaB (Becca) said...

Very pretty!

8:51 PM  

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