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.

Thursday, July 29, 2004



Back in Seattle's north end.
As I strolled to Leah's Bakery for Shabbes supplies it occurred to me that the Hebrew word "yayin" (wine or grape juice) has a gematria of 70 (Yud=10 + Yud=10 + Nun=50 = 70) which is how many names we have for G@d in Judaism. & *that* gematria is also shared by the letter Ayin. The eye. Sight. All-Perceiving...

& you know what our tradition says - when the wine goes in, the secrets come out!

Wednesday, July 28, 2004



My work & home life have pressed down on me so hard the past while I've had barely any time to sleep, let alone blog. I am grateful for this, but it is very trying.
I have had to take on all the extra work - mostly ketubot - I can find to make ends meet. If my earning the heter hora'a of sofrut is to mean *anything* to the world or to other Jewish women, I must be able to make a living at it. This will be the real trick.
My body is perpetually curving inward & to the right due to the hours I spend bent over the Sefer. I am unable to work vertically on it as the ink suspended beneath the tip of my quill leaps to the parchment & creates unintended blobs which must be allowed to dry & then carefully sanded away. There is no time for this, so I must work on the horizontal until a miracle happens.
My poverty prevents me from returning to Pilates, but I can at least afford to visit my chiropractor each month. I used to see my massage therapist each week so she could unravel me, but this has also become too costly. The best I can do right now is to periodically get myself to physiotherapy so I can prevent a full-blown repetative stress injury. I refuse to hurt myself, jeopardise my future *or* leave off from this work.
My bent back does keep me in a certain amount of discomfort - I wouldn't call it pain yet. But it adds to my tiring out earlier & slowing down. I seem to be writing fewer letters per day, even though I am writing for longer hours. I must solve this problem asap. For now all I can do is take on even more art work & accept speaking engagements & teaching gigs - I prefer these as they get me out & connecting with real people & I stretch my body.
There's been pain randomly surfacing in various parts of the left side of my body. I imagine because it must stretch to compensate for my right side crumpling up.
But I'm really not complaining. I would rather suffer like this to do this Work than not do it at all. That also brought me much suffering, but of a different kind. One of the soul.
Just call me Quasimodo ;+>
I spoke not too long ago at the beautiful community in New Westminster. They treated me so kindly - picked me up & dropped me off, even though it was a really far distance to travel. They were such enthusiastic, open-hearted people! & such questions! I held up a piece of uncut qlaf to a window so the light would shine through & they could see all the patterns of the skin. It really was a lot of fun - people came from a Xtian college in Washington State to hear me speak, even. They were really a joy to spend time with after the talk as well. Some very bright souls there, & a real feeling of community support & commitment. I'm still in contact with some of them & hope to be teaching there in the Autumn.
On another note, we had a Shabbat not too long ago where a prospective new rabbi & his wife (R" Ross & Emily are moving to Israel) came for a "job interview" type visit. They were quite wonderful - we ended up hiring him, so I look forward to celebrating the Chagim with them next month! Anyway, during his drash on Shabbes, he was speaking about how our shul is progressive & happened to mention, as one of his examples, that we were the first Orthodox synagogue to have a woman write them a Megilat Esther. Afterwards, one of our members, who every 6 months or so makes a crack at me, said, "Well, I'm sure *you* really liked the rabbi's d'var."
"Uh, yeah - I think everyone did. I saw a lot of nodding heads." I replied, confused at what he said. It was only later that I understood. He is subtle enough & I try to practice ayin tov (seeing people in a good light), so I didn't immediately get his drift. Each time he's said anything about my learning or work in sofrut, he's always implied that I'm doing it to serve my ego. Perhaps I'll go on absorbing his remakrs indefinitely or perhaps I'll take him aside at some point. We'll see.
G@d wll pull the plug on me, I hope, & on anyone, who risks turning holy work into a vehicle for ego enhancement.
There is so much more to say.
So many other stories now coming to mind which I have neglected to tell. But I must chase sleep while I can.

Please, G@d, keep me realistic, practical & humble.

Friday, July 23, 2004



All I have written here in my paper diary is, "Why the Ayin & not the Dalet of "eyd" in Devarim?"
& I have now searched through Devarim/Deuteronomy with no success. What *was* I talking about?
"Eyd" means "witness". & the letter Ayin is an eye - both its shape & its name. So there is something in Devarim we must pay extra special close attention to really truly seeing, for G@d to want the EYE of WITNESS to be enlarged.

Thursday, July 22, 2004



I was fixing an old Sefer for a local shul in the Vancouver area recently. Such beautiful letters! They practically *danced* off the parchment with joy! His spacing & layout were just so skillfully executed! I look forward to when I am no longer a novice & can give a Sefer the honour it deserves by making it gorgeous, not just kosher.
I could tell by the script that the sofer who had written it had been a Chasid. I wondered what he might think of me re-inking his letters where they'd cracked & peeled with time. I thought to myself: what can I learn from this mysterious sofer by retracing his strokes made hundreds of years ago?
I tried to look at the work I'd done on top of his with *my* sofer's critical eye. What would he do? How would he judge this?

Sometimes when I'm filling in a tiny crack in a letter, it's so fragile that as I add the tiniest drop of ink to seal the crack, the whole letter will stick to the dyo on my quill & come away from its home on the qlaf, leaving a pale gold imprint behind on it's former bed. So I re-write the entire letter, beginning to end, in the original sofer's own script, filling in the gold.

But what do I do with the homeless letters?

They were written with such great care & kavanah & generations of Jews have chanted them in awe. They've been the vehicle of mitzvot performance - I couldn't just throw them away.

So I drop each one into my inkwell, that they may rejoin the liquid ink & one day be transformed into more holy letters in a Sefer Torah.

B'ezrat HaShem.

Thursday, July 15, 2004



1. What is "sofrut"?

Sofrut is the practice of sacred Jewish ritual scribal writing. The items which fall under the definition of sofrut have an acronym, "ST"M", which includes Sifrei Torah, Tefilin, Mezuzot and Megillah scrolls. A male Jewish religious scribe is called a "sofer", while a female Jewish religious scribe is called a "soferet".

2. How does one become a sofer or soferet?

If a Jewish man wishes to become a sofer, he can apprentice with a sofer & learn under him or go to the Vaad Mishmereth STaM in B'nai B'raq, Israel, where he can learn in a class full of other men and achieve certification. If a Jewish woman wishes to become a soferet, she must apprentice privately with a sofer, if she can find one who will teach her. Alternatively, she can apprentice with me if she wishes to become fully certified, as no male scribes are currently certifying women.

3. How long does learning to become a sofer or soferet take?

It takes anywhere from a year to as long as it takes to learn the laws well and how to properly write the letters, among other things.

4. How many rules are there in the practice of sofrut?

Approximately 4,000, roughly 150 of which govern the shapes of the letters and how to write them.

5. How many letters are there in a Torah scroll?

Although there is a Midrash - a story used to teach about Judaism - stating that there are 600,000 letters in each Sefer Torah, there are actually 304,805 letters.

6. What is a Sefer Torah made from?

Sifrei Torah are made from especially prepared skins and sinews of kosher animals, written on with special sofrut ink with a pen made either from a kosher bird feather or made from a reed.

7. How long does it take to write a Sefer Torah?

Depending on the sofer or soferet and his/her experience and skill, it can take anywhere from six months up to two years to write a Sefer Torah, but it usually takes twelve to eighteen months. A Torah which is written over a period of time as short as six months, although less expensive, will be less beautiful and harder to read than a Torah which the scribe has taken the appropriate time and care with.

8. How do you prepare yourself physically and spiritually before you write?

I clean my body thoroughly, then immerse myself in a miqveh (ritual bath) the evening before I resume work each month. In the morning, I again wash my body thoroughly, dress, offer prayers, then begin my work with the intention of performing it for the sake of Heaven.

9. Who accepts you as a valid scribe?

Happily, my first commission as a certified soferet came from my own synagogue - an Orthodox one - for which I wrote a Megillat Esther. Although no Orthodox communities have ever invited me to write or repair a Sefer Torah for them due to my gender, I have been lucky enough to work for and with every single denomination of Judaism in my full capacity as scribe, teacher and mentor.

10. ?????
What's your question? Ask me!

Monday, July 12, 2004


MY DESIRE... to do something good. To achieve this mitzvah for the sake of Heaven. Not to be (in)famous, or gain honour, or offend anyone, but to make a contribution. THIS IS MY WORK. I JUST WANT TO DO MY WORK.

Wednesday, July 07, 2004



I received an e-mail some time ago, the content of which surprised me so much it took me a while to respond & even longer to record the experience here. A woman wrote in her message to me that she saw me as equal to Moshe Rabbeynu. I thought about her statement & shared it with some friends (one of them laughed so hard she snorted) & my rabbi before I replied, as my response to her would naturally be powerfully personally charged. I thanked her very much for her kind & flattering words & encouraged her to keep on with the work she was doing. It was a very pleasant exchange. So why did I not protest her likening me to the greatest of all G@d's prophets?
I have learned, as my fame (or infamy - depends on your point of view) has slowly grown that people have come to me, whether electronically or in person, with their own ideas & perceptions of me which have little to do with my reality. This is common - for example, I may feel that the lyrics of "Changes" reflect my own life & experience so closely that David Bowie must "know" me on some deep level. Or that I "know" him. When really, he's just reflected a common human experience that resonates with many people - which is why it was such a massive hit & teens today know all the words even though it was written well before they were born.
I'm not likening myself to either Moses or Bowie (comments to follow!) but when one does something with one's life that others can identify with or others consider to be their province - copying out their most holy text, for example - people are touched, no two ways about it. Thrilled or furious, people express their sense of propriety, as well they should. In my case, I've both been threatened with physical harm & likened to the most humble man on the planet, who had a closer more intimate relationship with G@d than any other human ever in history.
When people have praised me to the point of embarrassment, I have gently protested with a smile on my face. But they often just say, "No! That's what I see in you so I'm allowed to say that!"
When you're just *present* with people, allow them their voice, they feel respected & empowered. I don't see any danger in this as I'm determined to not let these words go to my head.
I'm not here to argue with people or to tell them their vision is false, they're mistaken. & I'm not here to upset people by rejecting their praise, even when it makes me uncomfortable. They take it very personally. I think it's important that we accept what people bring to us, regardless of whether it positive or negative, because people who are in fact *not* friends or family - people who don't know us - can project whatever it is they feel or see & for them, it's valid. For them, it's their truth. So my work around this has been to learn how to graciously accept both praise & criticism & to tell the difference between what actually applies to the REAL me & what does not.
Because some people offer really important guidance in their crit & others very helpful support in their praise. & I require both of these things because I'm still just an ordinary human. Not a prophet. Every day & try not to make aveyras & to run to do mitzvot, & although I often succeed, I still fail G@d every day that I'm alive. & I hate that. But G@d has given me this gift of life for I don't know how long, so every day I'll keep praying, blessing, writing, loving everyone who comes to me as much as I can.

May HaMaqom bless me with the strength to act appropriately in The Presence & with everyone who encounters me.
Ameyn v' ameyn selah.

Monday, July 05, 2004



Sometimes I am challenged by those who judge me as not "looking Jewish". I find this strange, because as Jews ought to know, "Jewish" can look like anything. Why? Because we were scattered amongst the nations. For millenia we have lived from China to Scotland & have taken on local characteristics through environmental adaptation & conversion, or, very often, rape. So I don't understand why so many Jews believe the Ashkenazi Jewish stereotypical look is the only shape & colour Jews come in.
As it happens, I carry the blood of many people integrated with my Ashkefard forebears. I don't have curly hair, I'm not olive-skinned, I am who I am. Wherever I go, my identity goes with me. These are the genetics I carry & the DNA that I am embodied with. All of these diverse people make up me, & I am from all these rich cultures. & I am very happy the have such a broad heritage. Barukh HaShem!

Even the letters of the Alefbet are made up of many components. Take for example a midrash on Tzadi, when she asks G@d to begin Creation with her (as told by R' Joel C. Dobin):
"...enters Tzadi & says: Lord of the Universe, may it please you to create with me the world, inasmuch as I am the sign of the righteous (TZaDiQYM) & of yourself who is called "righteous" as it is written, "For the Lord is righteous, He loves righteousness" (Tehilim/Psalms 11:7), & therefore it is appropriate to create the world with me." The Lord made the answer: "O you are Tzadi & you signify righteousness but you must be concealed, you may not come out in the open so much. For you consist of the letter Nun surmounted by the letter Yud (representing the female & male aspects). & this is the mystery of the creation of the first human who was created with two faces (male & female combined)."

G@d's will as an unfolding revelation. All in good time...

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