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.

Friday, April 29, 2005



This just in from my Rabbi, Schachar Orenstein:

"On the Seventh Day of Pesach we crossed the Sea of Reeds. The Sfas Emmes teaches that the seventh day of Pesach is like
Shabbos in comparison with the other [six] days of Pesach. For on this day was achieved the purpose of the redemption. On the first day of Pesach we left from being 'the slaves of Pharaoh', to becoming 'the servants of Hashem'. On the seventh day of Pesach we entered the level of being 'banim'- the children of Hashem...."

This is such a touching reminder to me (Aviel) of this night, 6 years ago. I had the unparallelled honour of being present in the birthing room of my very dearest friends, R' David & Michal. She wore a birth dress, a handmade gorgeous blue decorated with crimson tzitzit & gold angel names - a wearable qame'a (amulet), if you like. This garment is passed from woman to woman specifically to be worn during this time of personal & global transition - the welcoming of a new Israelite.

After little Miriam Shefa Netzach was born (not so little now, kena hora) she & her ema rested together as her aba recited qidush right there in the hospital, in his hawai'ian shirt & tzitzit :)

She then had a taste of her first chag, her first sancitified wine, even before she had ever nursed.

Yom Huledet Same'ach, Miriam. May you live to 120!
Shabbat Shalom...chag same'ach

Thursday, April 28, 2005



Two celebrations coincide now: Passover & Earth Week. These holidays celebrate renewal & rebirth & encourage us to renew our sense of responsibility for our planet. As women, we share a unique understanding of these events.
Passover (Pesach) has roots in sprouting barley and the birth of lambs. Two ancient festivals predate Pesach: the offering of lambs to the Source in the spring, & a barley-farmer's festival featuring bread made from flour and water without leavening. The release from slavery in Mitzrayim intensified these two spring festivals and gave us their symbols.
The Yetziyat Mitzrayim story itself has an even deeper reference to Spring birth. B'nai Yisra'el, whom God called "My first-born," begin as an embryonic family & multiply swiftly until their emergence through the narrow birth canal, Mitzrayim (Egypt or Narrow Place).
Midwives Shifra & Pu'ah begin the liberation with their defiance of Pharaoh's murderous decree, Moshe Rabbeynu is born twice (once from his mother, again from the Nile), & the waters of the Red Sea break as the birthing begins. The birth of a people and their freedom is a continual process of rebirthing.
In Hebrew, the word for compassion (rachamim) and womb (rechem) share the same three letter shoresh: Resh-Chet-Mem. As women, we are intimately tied to creation and Ha’Rachaman (The Compassionate One), whether through the monthly cycles of our wombs, the birthing and nurturing of children, or our own intuitive connections to nature.
During Nisan, the month of Passover, Jewish women received the holiday of Rosh Chodesh, an ancient moon celebration that acknowledges the changing calendar as well as our own internal cycles.
During Nisan, our people were freed from Egypt in order to receive, learn & observe G@d’s commandments. Let's look at seven of these sacred obligations to help us explore the following question:
As women, what is our unique relationship to the natural world, how is this relationship changing, & what effect do these changes have on our spiritual growth?
Please consider these sacred obligations and explore together how they relate to your inner and outer life:

1). Honor Mother: Kavod Eym

2). You Shall Sanctify the 50th Year (the Jubilee): Kedashtem et Sh'nat Hachamishim Shanah (Ha’Yovel)

3). Save life: Pikuach Nefesh

4). Do not be wasteful: Bal Tashchit

5). Be kind to living creatures: Tza'ar Baalei Chayim

6). Do not oppress others economically: Lo Tonu

7). Keep the 7th day: Shmirat Shabbat

It's a house of cards: pull one of these out, & the others topple: If you don't let the ground from where your food emerges rest (#2), it will yield produce of lesser & lesser quality until you starve. If you're in such a hurry to make a buck that you keep your employees on slave-wages & are careless how you butcher your animals (see the Agriprocessor scandal), then your whole business is treyf, not just your product, from ignoring #5 & #6. It's arrogant to lay waste something perfectly useable (#4), & is often inspired by the consumerist attitudes of those who break #6 & #5. & what can I say about the other 3? To disregard those will fog your whole world for the rest of your life. To respect them will bring you joy til the end of your days & to those around you, animal, vegetable & mineral alike.

Treat everything as gift from The Holy Compassionate One & you will never step off your path.

Chag kasher v'same'ach...modim l'simchah

Monday, April 25, 2005



Kabbalah and Modern Life - Living with the Times - A Torah Message for the Month of Nissan from Rabbi Yitzchak Ginsburgh

The Passover Seder Plate: Mystical Meditations

The Passover Seder is replete with revealed and hidden significance. The following is a brief outline of the mystical dimension of the Seder Plate.

Z'roah ("Arm"--Shankbone)

Corresponding to the sefirah of chesed, lovingkindness, the Z'roah represents G-d's outstretched arm to redeem His People. We are thus reminded to emulate this trait, and to display lovingkindness toward G-d's creations.

Beitzah (Egg)

Corresponding to the sefirah of gevurah, awe, the beitzah represents our awe of G-d and awakens our commitment to Torah and Mitzvot. Two separate verses guide us in our service of G-d. The first says, "Ivdu et Hashem b'simcha," "Serve G-d with joy." The second enjoins us to serve G-d with awe and to rejoice with trembling. The inner dimension of this awe is joy.

Maror (Bitter Herbs)

Corresponding to the sefirah of tiferet, beauty and mercy, the maror represents the bitterness of the trials and tribulations of this world, and our prayers which arouse G-d's great and infinite mercy to redeem us.


This mixture of apples, pears, nuts and wine traditionally symbolizes the brick and mortar used by the Hebrew slaves in Egypt. Corresponding to the sefirah of netzach, victory, the charoset represents our confidence in the strength which G-d gives us to succeed in life's endeavors.

Karpas (Greens)

Corresponding to the sefirah of hod, thanksgiving, the karpas represents our sincere thanksgiving for all the good G-d bestows upon us, particularly, on this evening, our redemption from Egypt.

Chazeret (Bitter Herbs)

Corresponding to the sefirah of yesod, foundation, the chazeret reminds us of our strongest existential connection to G-d in all situations of life. This is a state of continual repentance, chazarah ("return"--same root as chazeret) b'teshuvah.

Three Matzot

Corresponding to the sefirot chochmah, binah and da'at (chabad), the matzot represent our meditation and knowledge of
G-d in an inner state of bitul, self-nullification. The matzot also remind us to continually be aware of Jewish continuity through our love for all Jews, who are divided into the three categories of Cohen, Levi and Israel (which correspond to the three matzot).

Four Cups of Wine

The ability to flow freely and connect all these levels together is accomplished by drinking the four cups of wine on the Seder night. "When wine enters the secret emerges."

The Recital of the Haggadah

The revelation of the secret is the recital of the Haggadah of Pesach, relating and revealing the wonders that G-d lavished upon His people, Israel.

Friday, April 22, 2005



Erev Pesach - finally finished slaving away & am ready for the oven doesn't work. Stove is fine. Changed fuse, tried circuit breaker, no dice. Apparently this year's Pesach prep killed it. I'll call the landlord after the chag. Joel did more than his share of the cleaning & prep, being the gentleman he cleaned & kashered the whole stove/oven, leaving me to do the fridge. Whatta guy!

Biur chametz was a gas - I took the challah heels & stale bagel halves out to a corner of our garden where we haven't planted anything yet & made a pile with bits of the sukah & dryer lint, dried ferns, sticks, paper bags & taco chips. The lint went up like a torch as did the ferns, but the paper bags are what had the staying power, to catch other things on fire before they burned themselves away....such interesting colours, too :D
The ash floated up & around our building like migrating geese or killer bees or something natural...
I'm such a pyro!

& I'm TOTALLY exhausted, so am looking forward to dinner/seder (sed-inn-er?) with R' Schachar & Me'ira.

We made a pit-stop at Choices, that place Joel makes a reference to in this eco-politi-kosher post. There is a beggar who is outside there practically every day. He isn't homeless, as he's always clean & well groomed, but he's quite gaunt. His toothless grin is charming, as his engaging wit. & he has a beautiful silver ponytail tied behind his baseball cap. He's the one I always give extra tzedaqah to erev Shabbat & chagim. Our last rabbi, Ross Singer, thought he was Jewish, so each Pesach he would leave the table & go out looking for him, in order to bring him to the seder. He was never to be found.
So we're dicussing this man while we shop & Joel, mensch that he is, goes back outside to the corner to ask the man if he's Jewish. The conversation went something like this:
"Are you Jewish? Because if you are, I'd like to invite you to a seder tomorrow night."
"Well, yes & no."
"Really? What do you mean?"
"Well, I'm circumcised, but I was the wrong baby."
"We got switched. But it allowed me to marry a nice Jewish girl."
"So your wife's Jewish?"
"Yes, & we're going to her mother's for the first seder. But thanks anyway."
Then he always ends his erev-yom-tov-or-shabbat remarks with, "Happy Holidays!" & a big wide grin.

Good Shabbes, Good Yontif

Thursday, April 21, 2005



The Original 15 Step Program The Passover Seder: A Blueprint for Freedom

By Rabbi Simon Jacobson

In our shaken and uncertain world the message of Passover has never been more timely.

The Hebrew word for Egypt, 'Mitzrayim,' is rooted in the word 'meitzar,' which means boundaries, limits, restrictions. Thus Egypt represents all forms of constraints and confinements: psychological, emotional and spiritual. Any trap, any enemy from within or from without that inhibits our free expression is a form of mitzrayim.

Thus the Exodus from Egypt is the single most important element in life: The ability to free ourselves from our confines and traps. The need to do so always exists, but the necessity is even greater in these fear-ridden, uncertain days both here in America and in Israel.

What better time to reaffirm and relive G-d's promise to Abraham that we will be freed from Mitzrayim and that we will come out with great wealth. This promise was true for the first Exodus from Egypt and is true today, as we relive and recreate the Exodus. "Each generation and every day one must envision himself as if he just left Mitzrayim."

On the first night of Passover - this year Wednesday, March 27 - a new energy enters the world, the energy of freedom and transcendence. How do we tap into this energy? How do we access this power that allows us to transcend and eliminate our personal and global miztrayims freeing ourselves from their shackles?

The Passover Seder is the answer. The Seder is a profound mosaic that provides us with the keys to open the doors of freedom on Passover Eve. The actual name "Passover Seder" is an oxymoron: The word Pesach (Passover) means to jump, to pass over the normal order, whereas Seder means order and organization! The Seder is actually a systematic order that allows us to transcend order, a structure that allows us to transcend structure. Like music: By playing the defined structure of the musical scale we have the power to create music that defies all structures, and to play an infinite number of combinations and songs.

One of the objectives of the Seder is to connect us to our inner child. That is why there is so much emphasis on children during the Seder. Just as the innocence of a young child has not been tarnished by the harsh responsibilities and emotional entanglements of adult life, so too each and every one of us has an inner child which has not been negatively affected by the coarseness of the physical world. The fifteen steps of the Seder help to connect us to this unblemished innocence that is at the core of every person.

Here is a brief description of the fifteen Seder steps, fifteen keys which each of us can use to open up doors that help free us of our own limits and confinements, fifteen steps that we can climb to reach a greater place.

The Fifteen Steps

1. Kadesh - reciting Kiddush
We start the Seder with Kadesh, making a blessing over a cup of wine. Kadesh (from the word kedushah) means to sanctify - we sanctify G-d's name and the wine by blessing it. Kadesh also means 'to separate,' referring to the separation between good and bad, holy and profane. The first step of the Seder process (and of every process) is to create a new space so that the journey toward freedom can begin. We separate ourselves from the mundane past that enslaves us and enter the sacred spiritual experience of the Seder which frees us.

On a cosmic level Kadesh is the counterpart of chochmah (wisdom), the first of the ten sefirot - the beginning of a new order, the first step in a process.

2. U'rchatz - washing the hands

The second step is U'rchatz: washing your hands before dipping a vegetable (Karpas) in saltwater. Following the separation between the mundane and the sacred, we wash and submerge our hands in water, cleansing our 'tools' in
preparation for the following 13 steps. Every new process always requires a cleansing.

U'rchatz is the only one of the 15 steps to have a connecting letter vav, which adjoins Kadesh to U'rchatz. This is because they are twins: Kadesh is chochmah and u'rchatz is binah (understanding), the "two friends that never separate." Kadesh is the commencement (chochmah), a mental separation from the past, U'rchatz is the development (binah) and tangible implementation of that separation. Together they help us create the transition from the confinement (mitzrayim) of the mundane to spiritual freedom.

3. Karpas - eating a vegetable dipped in salt water

The third step, Karpas consists of dipping a piece of onion or potato in salt water. This is done to provoke the children to ask: why? The Seder begins by stimulating the child to ask questions because a critical component of freedom is the encouragement and empowerment to ask questions. (More on this - see Maggid).

Why Karpas? The earthy vegetable (which grows from the ground) represents the body, which comes from the dust of the earth, and the salt water represents the salty tears shed in times of pain (the tears of those enslaved in Egypt then and now). We must take our physical body, made of earth, and dip it in salty tears. Salt is a cleanser, and tears are an expression of the soul. We cleanse our bodies with our soul's tears.

After Kaddish and U'rchatz moved us into the Seder "space," Karpas teaches us the secret that freedom is only possible by freeing ourselves from the illusion that binds and enslaves us to the material world. Our physical needs, which are vital for our survival and sustenance, consume us to the point that we can often feel completely dependent on them. The very nature
of the material world is a narcissistic one, that cries out "I exist and nothing else." As long as we are deluded by this perception, we can never be free.

Freedom comes when we realize that the material world is like a 'vegetable' that needs to be dipped in spiritual "salt water." Karpas reminds us that the body is merely a means, not an end in itself. Like the vegetable being dipped in salt water, the body's purpose is to transcend the world that it lives in, by connecting itself to the soul, and thus elevating and freeing both the body and the soul.

4. Yachatz - breaking the middle matzah

But even after we have this awareness, how do we actually release ourselves from the tight grip of materialism's tentacles?

The answer is: Yachatz. We break the middle of the three matzahs of the Seder plate. Matzah symbolizes bittul, suspending oneself for a higher purpose. Matzah is made of water and flour; water represents the soul and the Torah, and flour represents the body. The antithesis of Matzah is chometz (leavened bread). Chometz is bread that is allowed to rise. This
represents the inflated ego, which is mostly "air." Matzah on the other hand is the bare minimum of flour and water without any inflated air

The subjective ego is the biggest trap that biases and blinds us from seeing a broader perspective. Matzah empowers us with bittul, the ability to transcend your own viewpoint and allow in a higher truth.

Breaking the matzah (yachatz) emphasizes this bittul even farther. Breaking the matzah is breaking the self. Even the self as represented by matzah is broken to ensure that even the selflessness does not become another expression of self.

5. Maggid - reciting the Haggadah

After the first four preliminary steps are in place, we now have earned the right to actually tell (Maggid) and relive the story of Exodus. Maggid includes the largest part of the Haggadah.

Telling the story - Maggid - begins with the child (both inner and outer) asking the Four Questions. As mentioned above, the first and perhaps greatest freedom of all is the freedom to ask questions. To probe, explore and challenge. Not only are we free to ask, we must ask. Healthy questions are an expression of the search and the striving for something higher, reaching for a place that is beyond us. If you are complacent and notcurious, you remain stuck in your own space. Questions allow us the opportunity to truly grow.

After the child asks the Four Questions, we begin the answer by telling the story of Exodus. The story begins with the bitter Egyptian exile and ends with the liberation. Maggid is not just telling a story-tale of past events; it is reliving and re-experiencing them, recognizing how they play themselves out in our lives today.

Maggid - and indeed the entire Haggadah (which is rooted in the word maggid) - is the story of our lives, the story of all harsh and oppressive forces in our personal 'mitzrayim's,' and our liberation from them.

The first and most critical element in achieving redemption is awareness that we are in 'prison.' As long as we convince ourselves that our constraints are 'normal' and 'healthy' we cannot even begin freeing ourselves. So, we tell the story. Our story. By relating and recreating the story we recognize the limits of our personal struggles and challenges. And once we define the parameters of our own internal "exile," then, and only then, can we start the process of redemption.

6. Rachtzah - washing the hands

After we recite the story (maggid), we reach a new sublime level. And just as we washed our hands at the beginning of the Seder process (u'rchatz), we wash our hands again at this new stage. Once we are elevated to a higher level of holiness through the first five steps (kadesh through maggid), we need to submerge our hands once again in water, preparing ourselves for the next stage of spiritual growth and freedom.

What does this new stage consist of? The first five steps help put us into a psychological frame of mind of a free person, and to give us a taste of that freedom. Actual freedom is only possible when our minds and hearts are open to being free, when we have the hope and sense that there is more than our previous limited state. Once we reach that point psychologically and we have had a taste of it, we are then ready to begin manifesting and implementing this new-found freedom in our physical and material lives, and not just a taste of it but in a way that we can maintain it. Because after all, we live in a material world, and for freedom to be complete in this world it needs to be not just psychological but expressed in a real and tangible way, where the material world no longer holds us hostage. On the contrary, the material is transformed and even becomes a vehicle for spirituality,

7. Motzi - reciting the blessing HaMotzi

After washing our hands, we begin the process of transformation with Motzi: the first blessing on the matzah, HaMotzi lechem min ha'aretz, blessing G-d, 'who brings forth bread from the earth.'

This first blessing emphasizes the 'earthiness' (the body) of Matzah (the primary ingredient of matzah is flour - which comes from grain of the earth - mixed with water). But unlike karpas, where the focus is on the negativity of materialism, matzah focuses on the positive side of materialism; on its great potential which is released when we reveal the Divine spark within it. "It is not on bread alone that man lives, but on the word of G-d," the Divine spark within the bread. Indeed, the Kabbalah teaches us that the highest Divine sparks fall in the lowest places. Earth - symbol of all materialism - contains the greatest spiritual energy. But it remains locked and trapped in mitzrayim, until we begin to release it.

Lechem (bread) also means 'to battle.' A meal is like a war between the material and the spiritual sparks that lie hidden within the food, between our temptation to indulge and our ability to transcend and elevate the material meal by revealing and releasing these sparks. And when we release them lechem turns into cholom (the same letters as lechem rearranged), the
power to dream and reach a greater place.

The first step of releasing and freeing these sparks is through making the blessing HaMotzi on the matzah.

8. Matzah - reciting the blessing on the matzah and eating it

The next step is the second blessing, the special additional blessing which is unique to matzah, blessing G-d for 'sanctifying us with Your mitzvot and connecting (commanded) us through the eating of matzah.' This blessing emphasizes not the 'earthiness' of matzah, but its spirit - the power of bittul and selflessness [1] (see step 4, yachatz).

Then we eat the matzah. We ingest it and make it part of our body, sustaining our body and soul. You assume what you consume. By eating and consuming matzah - the food of bittul - we assume its qualities. As the Rebbe MaHaRash writes, eating matzah is like 'eating G-dliness.' On the first night of Passover matzah is called the "bread of faith." On the second
night it is called "bread of healing."

Blessing and eating matzah is the first real food we eat Passover.[2] And being that Passover is the beginning of a new year, matzah - the food of bittul and faith - is the first food that initiates us into a new year of meals, infusing us with the power to elevate all the food we will consume to its higher Divine purpose. This in turn help us achieve true freedom in our lives, integrating the material and the spiritual, body and soul.

9. Maror - eating the bitter herbs

However, materialism - including our food - still holds us in a powerful stranglehold. Therefore, following the matzah we eat the bitter maror, which reminds us that we are still enslaved in a world of selfishness, and the resulting bitterness.

Eating maror and feeling its stinging effect projects and transfers the bitterness of life into our tangible experience. It demonstrates our awareness of it, feeing us from the need to have to experience any more serious form of bitterness in our lives. Additionally, the bitter maror teaches us the process of growth. An olive does not produce oil until it is pressed. So too, maror hardens our mettle - the setbacks and pain in life strengthen us. Like steel that is hardened in fire and heat.

The maror is dipped into charoses (a sweet conglomeration of ground apples, pears, nuts and wine), sweetening it a bit (but not in a way that eliminates its bitterness). This demonstrates that even when we need to feel bitterness, its purpose and objective is not bitter, but to reach a greater freedom. As it was in Egypt - "The more they were oppressed, the more they
proliferated and grew." And today, 3314 years later, millions of their descendants sit around the Seder table all over the world celebrating freedom.

10. Korech - eating a sandwich of matzah and maror

We now unite both the matzah and maror experience all in one sandwich. Combining both the matzah's earthiness and bittul and the maror's bitterness (dipped in sweet charoses).

There is a time to sing and a time to cry. A time to celebrate and a time to feel the harshness of life. A time for the sweet and a time for the bitter. But then we must learn to join them both into one seamless experience called life - the mission for which we are sent here by G-d. And then we have freedom. Not through denial of the difficult and bitter, not through escape into the spiritual, not merely through either the material or the sublime, but through integrating them into one unit.

11. Shulchan Oruch - lit. 'set table' - eating the festive meal

And now, finally, we are ready. to eat.

After the first 10 steps (corresponding to the ten sefirot) of training to integrate spiritual freedom into our material lives, we are now ready for the first real test: Eating an entire material in an entirely new way, one permeated with a sense of Higher presence and G-dliness.

Let's see how we do.

Why is the meal called "Shulchan Oruch (set table)"? Because a meal is not just a meal. It is not merely an exercise in self-sustenance or self-indulgence. It is a complete experience - like a set table, that has everything set and ready for all the participants to sit down and partake in the meal. When we feed ourselves and others - both physically and spiritually, when we educate and offer services to other - we must always do so in a manner that prepares and anticipates everything in advance, everything is ready and prepared like a shulchan oruch, a set table.

When we recognize that we have been blessed and we have received so much, including the gift of the Passover Seder table, we must in turn share the gifts with others. As Moses was told, that he must present the teachings to the people like a 'set table,' so too do we have the responsibility to set the table for others who may not have the opportunity (for whatever reason). We must offer them a prepared meal - both physically and spiritually, sharing and teaching all that we know, and setting the table by applying ourselves to provide all the necessary elements.

12. Tzofon - eating the afikoman

Following the meal we eat the afikoman (the larger half of the middle matzah that we broke and then hid away in Yachatz). Tzofon means 'hidden.' It also means 'north,' where it's cold and seemingly void of spirituality.

After we have eaten a complete meal - the first meal of Passover and of the entire year - and we have eaten it as free men, women and children, a material meal eaten in a spiritual and refined way, we now have the power to reveal that which is hidden and unconscious - tzofon - within ourselves and those around us.

Furthermore, we have the power to conquer not just the revealed dimensions of materialism as adversary, but also its hidden dimensions. And we can reveal the enormous spiritual energy that lies hidden in the 'north,' in the places that seem so spiritually barren. As discussed earlier, that the highest 'sparks' are to be found in the darkest and coldest places.

The Afikoman is eaten as a dessert; not for sustenance but for pleasure. The matzah eaten earlier is bittul on the conscious level (for sustenance). The Afikoman matzah is bittul on the unconscious (hidden) level. Another point: The earlier matzah helps acclimate us to the bittul experience, as we learn to tame the 'ego' and 'narcissism' of materialism. Once we have reached bittul, we than can integrate it into the pleasure of our lives, where even our pleasures become permeated with higher purpose, with G-dliness.

Complete freedom is achieved only when we have been freed not just the conscious levels but also the unconscious and hidden ones.

13. Beirach - reciting grace

We conclude the meal with reciting grace. The meal is thus punctuated by the two spiritual poles - the first ten steps prior to the meal, including the washing of the hands and the blessings made on the matzah, and the grace said after the meal. This gives us the power to ensure that the meal - which is symbolic of all our material experiences - will yield the spiritual energy that lies within its Divine sparks.

Beirach (to bless) means 'to draw down' - to draw down into this physical world spirituality and G-dliness.

14. Hallel - reciting psalms of praise

Hallel also means 'to shine,' from the expression 'behilo nero - when his candle shone forth.' Hallel is recited on those occasions when G-d's truth shines forth into our material world, revealing and manifesting that G-dliness is the ultimate reality and that the material is naught.

After we have done everything in our power to achieve freedom in the first 13 steps of the Seder, we now say Hallel and through these words of praise we place ourselves in G-d's hands. We surrender to G-d to complement whatever we cannot do on our own and to conclude the process of reaching complete freedom.

15. Nirtzah - G-d's promise to accept our service

Unlike the previous 14 steps, this last and final step does not manifest itself in any prayer or action. We have reached a point that transcends words and praise. After we have completed our Seder service, we are accepted favorably - nirtzah - by G-d.

As such we are ready for the final and complete freedom and redemption


Wednesday, April 20, 2005



Pesach Same'ach - Joyful Passover!

"Every generation has to see itself as if it personally came out of Egypt." (from the Haggadah)

Pesach and the Seder particularly invite us to the journey of Yetziyat Mitzraim - Exodus from Egypt - Liberation from Narrowness. The Seder itself is a multi-dimensional experience designed to recreate the original night of the Exodus. & to internalize its lessons and insights. The 15 steps of the Seder are the blueprint for this. I'm including some material which can be used to enhance your Seder experience. You are welcome to print this out and share it at your Seder.

Below you will find a teaching by Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach on Matza as well as the URL to a Pesach guide containing his teachings.

May we and all human kind be blessed with true geula-liberation. Chag Kasher v'Same'ach & many blessings!

Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach on Pesach:


Reb Nachman talks about some thing called Noam Elyon, a kind of holy sweetness which flows down from Heaven. This sweetness is so whole, that if your mind isn't whole, and if your emotions aren't whole then you can't taste it. You don't have the plate in which G@d can give you the taste of holy sweetness.

Matzah is the simplest bread in the world, just flour and water. No salt, no pepper. Reb Nachman says that on Yom Tov the Noam Elyon flows from Heaven in simplicity. If you are not whole you cannot receive it.

The matzah we eat gives over to us its simplicity, wholeness. Matzah tastes so good because it is a piece of the sweetness of Noam Elyon.

What makes us so perverted? We put so much work into our little piece of bread. What do people do for the few rubles they make? They put their whole heart and soul into it, and each time they do, they become more and more slaves.

The matzah we eat on Pesach doesn't take much time to make. We put the least amount of time into our food, and the rest of the time we have is for doing great things, to be free. When you eat the matza you really have to be with it, you can't talk or joke. The piece has to be really big, and you sit and mamash eat matzah. Once a year there is a mitzvah to eat, we are commanded to eat matzah. Okay. It is also a mitzvah to eat on Shabbos, but it is not on the same level.

On Shabbos we have to be happy, oneg Shabbos, so we make ourselves happy by eating. On Seder night we fulfill the biggest mitzvah in the world when we are eating matzah. The holy Sanzer would sit after the seder, and put his hands on his stomach, and say "Ay! Tonight my stomach did so many mitzvos!"

The afikomen, the last piece of matzah is realty not from this world. We put it away, we hide it, and then we eat it. It is coming from a completely hidden world. When we eat the afikomen all our prayers are answered in that moment.

On Pesach we celebrate freedom, which means that G@d in Heaven opens the gates of freedom. This world is just a vessel for higher worlds, so something is happening in Heaven on Pesach night, and actually the whole month of Nisan, the month of freedom.

We see all of nature becoming free. All the little seeds who were sitting under the earth and crying are now coming out, becoming free. Everything begins to grow. There is a voice in the universe which says, "Let there be man", and there is another voice which says, "Let there not be man". These two voices struggle inside every person. The voice which says, "Let there not be man" wants to destroy man, says that he is worthless, he's no good. What we don't know is that we don't really hate man - we try to hold back life itself when we say "He's no good". It is the voice inside us which doesn't want man to be.

The Ishbitzer says this is why winter comes to the world. The voice which wants to stop life becomes too strong for a time. Then the voice which says "Let there be man" becomes strong again, and we have springtime, Pesach.

Why do we have to eat every day, over and over again? Nature doesn't really trust, because she knows that we have something inside ourselves which wants to destroy life. So nature gives its life - an apple, or some grain we can make into bread, but only enough for a few hours or a few days, because the earth doesn't completely trust man to listen to the voice which does say "Let there be man".

On Pesach we celebrate the power of giving life. The Zohar calls matzah "nahama dmehemenusa", bread of faith. It is the fruit of the Tree of Life, before Adam sinned. One fruit is enough to give you life completely so you don't have to eat over and over again. If man would only really have faith, one piece of matzah would be enough to last him for his whole life.

This is also why the last meal on the last day of Pesach is called Messiah's seuda, the feast of the Messiach. When the Mossiach comes one piece of matza will again be enough to give life to a person, because the earth will be able to trust man again.

Monday, April 18, 2005



Take one down, pass it around - I've finally emptied my first full bottle of sofrut ink! After repairing & writing Megilot, Mezuzot, Sifrei Torah, & writing a good part of this Torah as well, the bottle is empty! It only took 5 years... I understand why it's so expensive. Not only is it labour-intensive to make (I'm starting my first batch), but it lasts forever. Even for someone like me who lays the ink down generously.
Bottle number two is a slightly different recipe, called "Nahari", which both the sofrim who trained me recommended. It will be a joy to get to know its texture & viscosity.
& in all this time, I have not completely worn down any of my kulmusim (quills). Even though I sharpen them at least once per day while in use.
These materials have staying power, B"H.

Sunday, April 17, 2005



AH, such a day!
Davened, ate, wrote, had a telephone conference about a Sefer Torah, checked my e-mail, had lunch, met with a ketubah client, studied some Rabbeynu Asher on why women should not write Sifrei Torah & how the Sha'agat Aryeh refutes each of R' Asher's arguments, had a nap, wrote some more...this particular kulmus (quill) has taken on a life of its own, the nib curling ever so slightly more each day (regardless of my regular re-carving) so I must tame it later with water.

Today is the last day of the Vancouver Jewish Film Festival. Last week we saw In Satmar Custody, which was as deeply fascinating as it was disturbing. It has inspired me to help raise tzedaqah for this poor family, so they can get their children back. The VJFF also played The Ritchie Boys, which we gave a miss as we were given a copy by the film makers who I worked with earlier this year. It's a terrific movie, though, so if you have a chance...

We're heading off tonight to The Grind, one of my fave gallery/coffeehouses on Main St for a presentation on the Slow Movement. There's a panel. Should be good. Joel & I want to start a Slow Judaism revolution. & yes, I do go into treyf restaurants & no I do not consume anything there but cold water in a glass. Unless, of course, they allow me to check out how they make coffee & tea & the like - then I may have a kosher hot beverage in a glass mug. I've been spending some time with Is It Kosher?, the R' Eidlitz book which details the practical ways one can keep truly kosher without being perpetually enslaved to hek'shers. I told my rabbi all about it & he got so excited, he ordered a copy :)
This volume will make my Pesach more liberating, I'm sure...

Shavu'ah tov...

Saturday, April 16, 2005



Is a town in Pennsylvania where my husband Joel & I might stop in this summer, on our way between my teaching gigs at the ALEPH Kallah & Elat Chayyim. Just because of the name. C'mon, how can we not :) ?

& anyone else blogariffic out there who wants to hang out with us, We'll be touring the eastern USA & Canada in August & September, so give a holler...

Shavu'ah tov.

Friday, April 15, 2005



We had quite the interesting late-night encounter with a skunk in our garden. The little chap (or chappette, I suppose) unearthed some of our onions, then proceeded to dig the most enormous hole in our compost. Clear down to the clay. & he didn't care for parsnips, which he chomped on then cast aside. He then made scat on my bike wheel & left.

I see these confident creatures as the opposite of a Sefer Torah. A little White Fire on much Black Fire. Not much Chesed (lovingkindness) with a lotta Din (judgement). Thus the nasty trick they do with their tails. The Hebrew for "skunk" is "bo'eysh". The gematria of "bo'eysh" is 309, same as that of the word "leper". Perhaps there is a connexion there: Biblically, if we express our judgement of others in the form of lashon hara (evil speech), then we are stricken with tazria. It's popularly traslated as "leprosy", however the description in the Torah of this disease shows clearly that it is another affliction. Interesting, though, how lashon hara is so like skunk spray...

Bo'eysh Din.

Shabbat Shalom.

Wednesday, April 13, 2005



I have been verbally assaulted once again because I am a woman writing a Sefer Torah. It doesn't seem to matter that I am an Orthodox-certified Soferet who has been writing & repairing ST"M for years. All some people see is my gender & they don't investigate any further.

I come to this issue by way of faith & I am inspired to share my discoveries. I believe that Jewish women writing the words of G@d, this story not only of the Jewish people, but also of the world, is for the common good: everyone can benefit from this unfolding.

To tell me that I am harming my "female neshamah" (soul) by doing a "man's job" is simplistic, superstitious & without foundation in Halakhah. This does not deal with real struggles in real peoples' lives.

I take G@d's word seriously, so it calls me to pursue justice. It's BECAUSE I am a Jew of faith that I am on this path. It's this kind of radical faith that requires us to engage with the world as it is & gently turn it toward peace & fairness.

Our G@d is a personal G@d, but not a private G@d. Our G@d is a G@d of relationship, always reaching out to us, giving us another chance, forgiving us again & again. Why deny Jewish women this relationship with G@d through the Holy letters of the Alefbet?

Basically, my attitiude toward anyone who criticises something they don't know about is this: I encourage you to avoid making the mistake that G@d needs you to push your version of His Torah on others. You never know when you might be blocking His revelation coming through another by doing this. You must be humble to be a zealot. Live your life in accordance to your interpretation of Torah & let G@d make the judgements.

& pray that G@d grants peace between each brother & sister in Israel, so that we can finally stamp out our sinat chinam (baseless hatred) of each other, & be one People again.

Ameyn Selah.

Tuesday, April 05, 2005



This is the story of my experiences on the path to sofrut - the art of the Jewish ritual scribe - which I wrote a couple of years ago. First published in the Jewish Western Bulletin.

My first memory of seeing a Sefer Torah and Hebrew writing was as a child of three years old. I can only try to express now as an adult the feelings and thoughts I had then. I was amazed. I was fascinated by the scroll and was so drawn to it that I just wanted to be near a Sefer Torah, all the time. The lettering, too, overwhelmed me. I saw these letters, these shapes that I could not read, that made no sense to me, yet I was so excited about. They just seemed so sacred and their forms looked like fire to me – this thought I had long before I ever learned as an adult that the writing in the Sefer Torah has been likened in our mystical tradition to black fire on white fire.

By the time I was ten years old, I wanted to learn how to shape the letters of the Hebrew alefbet. As I had nobody to teach me, I went to the New Book of Knowledge Encyclopaedia in the bookshelves of my mother’s home office, took the “H” volume down and sat cross-legged on the rug. I spent hours pouring over the pages dedicated to Hebrew, teaching myself how to draw the letters and some basic words. Even then I felt that this learning was in fact a way of approaching something that was so much greater than myself.

After a couple of years, I abandoned interacting with the Hebrew language and Alefbet until into my early twenties. It was then, during rehabilitation from an accident where a car crushed my writing hand, that I became conscious of what I had been pulled towards on a soul-level my whole life: I desired the great privilege of writing a Sefer Torah. I didn’t know whether a woman had ever achieved such a goal, nor even whether mainstream Judaism permitted it, so I spoke to my rabbi.

He answered me quite thoughtfully when we had this conversation, this gentle, knowledgeable rabbi with egalitarian leanings. His response was to encourage me to pursue other ways to express my Judaism in a more artistic context. To produce decorative pieces, such as blessings for the home, ketubot (Jewish wedding contracts), or even Bar and Bat Mitzvah certificates for the synagogue. He praised my artistic talent quite enthusiastically, but thought I would be doing more good to perform “chidur mitzvah” – “beautifying a mitzvah” – by decorating ritual objects. Each time I approached my rabbi with questions about the Halakhot (Jewish Law) of women writing ST”M (Sifrei Torah, Tefilin and Mezuzot), he redirected my attention to the good work I could do elsewhere in Jewish ritual artwork rather than address my direct questions.

The next step I took was to begin calling sofrei ST”M to ask them. I understood that many rabbis don’t have a working knowledge of sofrut outside of spotting when a Sefer Torah is passul (not kosher and consequently unfit for use), so hoped that I would have my questions answered by an expert in the field. I had a number of disappointing experiences. I sent e-mails all over the world after doing a copious amount of research on the Internet, then still in its infancy. All but one of my e-mails went unanswered. This was from a rabbi in Yerushalayim who was also a sofer ST”M. According to him, he would be willing to teach me all the laws of writing ketubot and Megilat (Book of) Esther, but was only willing to teach me about writing Sifrei Torah for the purposes of chinukh - “in theory”. This was a beginning. I was also grateful to the rabbi, Hillel Goelman, who had put me in touch with him. This sofer was concerned about the very strong tradition of women not being allowed to write based on conversations in the Talmud, but not on actual halakhic rulings. He also expressed his fear that, should I ever go to the expense of writing one, that nobody would buy a Sefer Torah written by a woman. He was quite enthusiastic about teaching me how to write “what was appropriate for a woman”. I understood.

I then began phoning sofrim all over the world. I called them in Vancouver, Seattle, Toronto, Los Angeles, New York, Montréal, London…everywhere I could sniff out a sofer ST”M. The reactions to my request were varied. After I explained that I was an observant Jewish woman who had been in love with the Sefer Torah, the holiest object in our very object-less tradition, some sofrim asked me if I was married (I was not yet), saying that I would better serve The Tribe by having children instead. I replied that I wanted to do both – write Sifrei Torah And raise a family. Or they would pretend suddenly to not understand English, or just flat-out refuse. Why? Because, I was told, this is not a job for women.

I was at a loss. My community was quite supportive – the more learned, like Dr Louis Sutker and Lorri Feldman, provided me with pages of Halakhah either photocopied from Jewish books of law or downloaded from the Internet, all in an effort to help me learn. I studied in chevruta passages relevant to sofrut in Mishnah Brurah, Talmud Bavli, Shulchan Aruch…I did at one point hear of a sofer in New York who was willing to teach women in theory, but I did not pursue this lead. Frankly, I was concerned that I would miss something and I did not wish to live there while learning sofrut. All I wanted was to learn the rule and ritual required to produce a kosher Sefer Torah with love, respect, and conscious intention. I didn’t want to change any of the rules; I wanted to follow all the same rules as the men did.

In the meantime I began making Judaica, including various blessings, prayers and ketubot. I showcased my work on my own personal website and began a small Jewish art business.

After eighteen months of reaching out for a teacher, I gave up. Not permanently, but I sensed that I had used all my resources to find a guide and that my efforts lead me to a dead end. Either this was not meant to be, or it was not meant to be right now. I was also unwilling to simply keep teaching myself and plough ahead without mentoring. I knew to truly become a soferet ST”M was to earn a semicha (authority), not unlike an ordination of a rabbi or designation of a doctoral degree. Without certification from a sofer, I could never be a soferet. Then, just as I had let go of any hope that a sofer ST”M would open a door for me, G@d opened a window!

I was checking my e-mail one day when I received a message from an address I did not recognize. Thinking it was probably spam, I deleted it. After attending to other business related e-mails, I was about to empty my delete file when my curiosity got the better of me. I went back to this odd e-mail and opened it. It was from a man in Yerushalayim. His e-mail read, “Shalom – I had a look at your website and I really like your sense of design, but I think your calligraphy could use a little work. Do you need a teacher?” Before answering him I checked out his website. I was very impressed with his artwork, but more than that, I read that he was a sofer ST”M! When I responded to his e-mail I asked him if he would be willing to teach me, a Jewish woman, how to write a Sefer Torah. After some negotiation, he agreed to let me bring Halakhic opinions to him to prove my case. He said that if they checked out with his rav, & if I came to Israel so that he & his wife & family could get to know me better, then he might consider it.

We started by his sending me a Hebrew calligraphy course by post so that I could improve my letterforms, spacing and better ground myself in the Alefbet. With each lesson my skill expanded and my excitement grew. Eventually, I was ready to learn from him in person.

I arranged to spend a year in Israel to study in yeshivah (seminary) and learn from my sofer. In the beginning I lived on kibbutz and broadened my knowledge of Hebrew in the ulpan. In my spare time I did all the homework my sofer was still mailing me, completing assignments week by week. When the kibbutzniks asked what I was up to, I told them my story and of my goal of becoming a soferet ST”M. They listened and found it interesting, but also clearly thought I was weird for wanting so badly to learn such complex skills and laws when I would have such enormous opposition. They said I should just make a Sefer Torah however I wanted to and wished me luck.

Once at yeshivah in Har Nof, my notoriety spread. I had mixed reactions from my fellow students and it wasn’t long before the faculty caught wind of my extracurricular pastime. The rabbi in charge of admissions called me into his office. He questioned me about how I spent my time when not in class. Since I had resolved early on to no lie about the path I was pursuing, I was completely honest with this rabbi. I was learning the laws of writing Megilot from an Orthodox sofer ST”M. He demanded to know the name of my sofer, which I refused to give him, as I didn’t want any trouble made for him and his family. He asked where my sofer lived, what his car looked like. I refused to tell him. The rabbi told me to “deal with your feminist issues because you don’t want to make waves”, all the while repeatedly raising his hands and pressing them down as though trying to drown someone -- me. He said that if I didn’t stop my sofrut lessons, that I would have to leave the yeshivah.

About a week later, one of the rebbetzins approached me during lunch. She sat across from me and asked, “Are you the one who thinks she can be a sofer?” I replied that I was learning sofrut from a sofer ST”M. She insisted that it was against Halakhah for a woman to write anything ritually at all, that it was not within the scope of our roles as Jewish women. I asked her where it was written that women were forbidden, that I was of course concerned with living a life guided by halakhah and that I was interested in learning about the arguments against what I was doing. She didn’t answer me. Instead the rebbetzin asked who my sofer was and commented that he couldn’t be Orthodox if he was teaching me. Again I refused to reveal my sofer’s identity and told her that he was, in fact, Orthodox. She then demanded what his Halakhic grounds were for teaching me, so I confessed I did not know. She told me a feminist like me would never find a husband, especially when I was willing to be so immodest as to learn from a man in private. In defense of our learning arrangement I let her know that my sofer’s wife knows that he is teaching me and approves. That when she is out of town we do not meet and when she is in town that he leaves the door open to the studio (a standard practice among very observant adult Jews of the opposite sex to allow anyone who may pass by to see into the room) and that his studio has windows. We were certainly never “in private”. I respectfully asked her to leave me alone.

About a week later this same rebbetzin approached me again and asked, “If a Rav (a deeply respected rabbi of great Torah knowledge who makes authoritative Halakhic decisions for other Jews) told you whether or not you could write ST”M, would you follow his ruling?” This was a double-edged question. Being committed to living within the bounds of Halakhah meant that if I asked a sh’ayla (Halakhic question whose answer is binding) of a Rav, that I would have no choice but to follow his instruction for the rest of my life, whether his answer was to permit me or forbid me from sofrut. This question carried immense potential with it.
“Yes,” I replied to her, “but which Rav?” That piece of information was vital to me.
“Oh, we’ll find one for you and let you know.” It was obvious they were trying to stop me by sending me to a Rav who wouldn’t approve.
I didn’t trust them. I gathered several friends together to brainstorm which rabbeyim in Yerushalayim who were at all sympathetic to women’s issues and progressive enough to have a serious discussion with me. We all knew what was at risk.

In the end, this rebbetzin and the submissions rabbi offered me one Rav to meet with, whom I knew would tell me “no” without even hearing me out. I refused to set up an appointment with him and instead offered a few names of more balanced rabbeyim. They turned me down.

The following week a campaign began amongst the rebbetzins to set me up on shidduchim (blind dates). They reminded me that I wasn’t getting any younger. “Don’t you want to get married? To have children?” They prodded, “What good is a hen for, anyway? A hen is only good for boiling.”

About this same time, the submissions rabbi marched me into his office again and asked if I’d given up on my “crazy ideas”. I said no. He then challenged my Jewishness. He said that I obviously couldn’t really Jewish if I was going to do something so destructive to the Jewish People as to learn sofrut. He demanded that I prove to him that I was halakhically Jewish, otherwise I would have to leave the yeshivah. He outlined the different types of paperwork that I would have to submit for him to check, like my parent’s ketubah (Jewish marriage contract), a naming certificate, bat mitzvah certificate or any conversion paperwork, whichever was applicable. I was eventually able to furnish him with copies of the relevant paperwork so he could make calls regarding the rabbis who signed all the different papers.

A week after this incident, the same rabbi again called me to his office. He asked if I had stopped my foolish feminist activities. I said no. He told me that I was breaking Halakhah by learning ST”M. “Even for the purpose of chinukh?” I enquired. “Yes”, he was quite definite. I asked him about Rashi’s daughters and Michal, King David’s wife, who are said to have laid Tefilin. The Maid of Ludomir, too. He didn’t answer me except to say that women don’t need Tefilin because we have fallopian tubes, which serve the same function as Tefilin. We went a few rounds in this fashion until I finally presented him with a challenge. I said that if he could prove to me 100% with no safeyq, no doubt, that women were never permitted to write a Sefer Torah, that I would accept the Halakhah. He agreed. He offered to get back to me with times we could meet and learn together.

I waited. Weeks went by. He was never available to meet with me, until eventually he called me into his office once again. This rabbi told me straight that if I did not give up on my learning that I would be expelled from the yeshivah. “You can’t stay here forever”, he said. Each time I reminded him of our deal to learn together so he could prove me that I was in the wrong, he simply insisted that I was doing an aveyrah (sin) by continuing. He demanded one last time that I reveal the name, telephone number and address of my sofer, otherwise I had to leave. I packed up and left the yeshivah. I had lived there four months.

In the meantime, I often met with friends for coffee or dinner in the time I had left over after yeshivah and sofrut. Some of these friends who went to men’s yeshivot, sympathized with my predicament. They had respect for the way I wanted to serve the Jewish community and felt that I shouldn’t be harassed over it. In turn each of them offered to ask their rabbis about the Halakhah on women writing sofrut. They each returned with answers: “Rabbi so-and-so said that women can’t write anything ST”M because that isn’t a part of a woman’s role in Judaism.” “My rabbi said that since you would be doing a man’s job by writing a Sefer Torah and you have a female neshamah (soul) that you’d be damaging your neshamah.” “Such-and-such a rabbi told me that women aren’t allowed to write ST”M because they would make mistakes.”

I was at the next yeshivah in Qiriyat Moshe, slightly less black-hat Orthodox than the last, when whispers went around that there was actually a woman who was learning sofrut and boy are we lucky we didn’t have such apikorsut (heresy) in our yeshivah. I asked about this woman. The rumour was that she had just been kicked out of the women’s seminary in the next neighbourhood. That’s when I realized the woman they were gossiping about was I.

I meditated very much in my next yeshivah, a Breslover yishuv in the gush, far away from Yerushalayim and surrounded by five Hamas villages. It was one wacky place! Although this sect of Hasidic Judaism was equally as strict as my previous yeshivot in regards to men’s and women’s role being defined (by men) in a very traditional way, I somehow felt comfortable volunteering my story to the rebbetzin who ran the women’s yeshivah. Nobody was judgmental, nobody came out gangbusters condemning my actions or ideas or called me names, but they definitely thought I was odd. After some time there she even suggested that perhaps a woman writing a Sefer Torah would turn out to be a part of the events that must happen to bring Mashiach (the Messiah). I dwelled on this over Shavu’ot, the season of our receiving the Torah. I then returned to Yerushalayim.

I hadn’t learned with my sofer for some time, so we spent more time learning together and I even spent a few Shabbatot at his shul and in his home, becoming friendly with his wife and children. During this time I began attending my fourth yeshivah, in Bayit Ve’gan. I didn’t pull any punches with the faculty. My confidence and self-possession had grown over the past months since leaving yeshivah number two, so I told the rosh yeshivah (head of the seminary) first off about my learning sofrut. Even though Nishmat was an Orthodox women’s yeshivah, Rabbi Blobstein was unfazed by my statement and I was welcomed to move into the dorm.

I had been at Nishmat a couple of weeks when I was mugged downtown. Suddenly I had to turn my attention to replacing my passport, phone, bank and credit cards, etc. Although I was eventually able to obtain a temporary passport, neither the credit card companies nor my bank were willing to send me replacement cards overseas. This stopped my cash flow dead. I had no way of paying the yeshivah, my sofer, or covering any of my living expenses. My mother even tried to wire me money, but they required photo ID for me to pick up the cheque and I wouldn’t be able to pay for a temporary passport without this cash. I couldn’t borrow enough without the ability to repay it, so I could find no recourse but to schedule my flight home.

So I left Israel, determined to stay in touch with my sofer and to continue learning. I was now capable of writing a kosher Megilah, but I wasn’t finished with my sofrut journey.

In the past four years since returning to Canada, I have dedicated myself to exploring the texts pertinent to women and sofrut with a number of rabbeyim. In addition, I have conversed with a wide variety of Jews of every level of scholarship on this subject, encountering both horror and enthusiasm. I have been happy to discover in the writings of the Rishonim as well as our Acharonim that there is in fact room for women to practice some sofrut. These statements and arguments, made pre-feminism, exist alongside those that are against women having anything to do with the process or practice of sofrut & can be found everywhere from the TaNaKH to the Arukh HaShulchan.

I have also found employment in checking Mezuzot and repairing Megilot, B"H.

As we’ve seen over the past one hundred and fifty years in particular, women have been making room for themselves in the world, both inside and outside Judaism. As we continue to define our own roles and share what gifts we have to bring to our communities, I feel confident that, at the right time, G@d willing, the world will open up to women acting as ritual scribes. May these women be seen as pious rather than heretical. May this be granted in a good time and help expand world Jewish consciousness and hasten the arrival of Mashiach. Amen.

Aviel Barclay
Rosh Chodesh Adar Bet

Monday, April 04, 2005



Make me an offer I can't refuse...
Persian Jewish floral design in lightfast (non-fading) watercolour & ink on Arches acid free 100% cotton archival paper. Approximate outside measurements are 14 x 18", inside are 8 x 10". Can either be filled in at an additional cost or used to frame an existing ketubah text. Or any other text, for that matter. Signed by the artist (me).


"Persian Ketubah Border"© copyright A. Barclay

Sunday, April 03, 2005



I recently received an e-mail telling me I was not presenting both sides of the "women as sofrot" argument, that I had not laid out the claims against my practice & that this was irresponsible. I was surprised, because in my experience many people feel quite free to inform me that I'm a heretic for practicing sofrut. I'm under the impression that historical pressure to exclude women from this profession is common knowledge & what I desire to present in my blog is uncovered Halakhah, Minhag & earlier sofrot which is all supportive of widening women's ritual role within Judaism. I also have not elucidated on both sides because I am not a poseket, nor do I have any Halakhic authority to render a legal judgement on this issue. I have never pretended that there was nothing in the history of Jewish Law against women acting as sofrot & I have stated as much in earlier posts. But I wish to present the discoveries I am making & hope that I can help to broaden the choice of leadership role that Torah-observant women may take on their shoulders. & anybody should feel free to disagree.

If it's G@d's will, it will happen - & I want to have the priviledge of being a part of it. If it's against G@d's will, then it won't happen, plain & simple.

Saturday, April 02, 2005



I must echo Renegade Rebbetzin's statement about missing Pope John Paul II, now that he is gone. He worked very hard for his religion, his people. If we had such a charismatic rabbi who could turn Jews to mitzvot & non-Jews to conversion, think of where we'd be. For those of you who are tempted to make negative comments about the Pope here, please save them for blogs who invite that sort of speech.

I remember clearly when the last Pope died mysteriously after 35 days as John Paul I. His sudden, unexplained death seemed to have been a murder/coverup. Traditionally, Pontiffs are buried in the walls of St Peter's, but he was cremated the next day, despite that being against Catholocism. There wasn't even an autopsy. The whole world was on tenderhooks, awaiting the white smoke of the conclave.

Karol Wotyla travelled tirelessly around the planet in his war against atheism. May he rest in peace.

I hope the next one will be Cardinal Lustiger, the Archbishop of Paris. The child of religious Jewish parents, he was left with a Catholic family at 13 to hide during the Sho'ah. A few years later he converted to Catholicism & since then has risen to dizzying heights in the Church. Wouldn't it be interesting if it took a Jew on the throne of the Holy See to bring about Moshiach? The last Jewish Pope was 2,000 years ago. Read this about his beliefs & politics - he even sounds like a Jew. These words could have been spoken by R' A J Heschel z"l, R' Arthur Waskow, or heck, even Abby Hoffman z"l.

Best of luck to all the "Popefuls". May the next Pontiff fulfill whatever plan G@d has for him.

Friday, April 01, 2005



By writing on the subject of women being permitted to act as Jewish ritual scribes, I am careful to not sound like I'm giving p'sak Halakhah (rendering a legal judgement). I am not a posek, neither am I a rabbi nor am I even a scholar...just a soferet. Or no more than an elightened fool to some. Being the vanguard in this field is a grave responsibility which is sometimes frightening & always humbling. I am not in love with my cause, however I have a deep faith that pioneering this area of Jewish ritual & practice for women was always my calling. To be honest, each time I have tried to evade this destiny, G@d has whipped me back onto my netiv, my path & sent me forward.

I have a healthy fear of celebrity. I'm not into the celebrity culture aspect of being an artist or a figure of religious leadership. To me it represents extinction. The more people know about you, the less they want to try to figure out what you have to say with your work, and the less credibility you have. & loss of credibility in the practice of sofrut means loss of work.

Persistence of Vision is the key.

I continually remind myself: "Don't pay attention to the media, don't look behind you like Lot's wife, just face forward & walk your path."

With G@d's help

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