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.

Wednesday, November 30, 2005



30 Mar Cheshvan

This month has been truly bitter, Barukh ha-Shem. & will soon be over. May its bitterness end with the revival of the moon.
I made beeswax candles today from the stubs of ones which had burnt down, their life force used up. This will renew their souls & make our home sweet.
"Ner ha-Shem nishmat adam...", G@d's candle is the human soul...

Tuesday, November 22, 2005



20 Cheshvan

Amud Yud-Zayin/column 18 of my latest Megillat Esther scroll containing the list of 10 of Haman's sons who were hanged after they tried to kill us & we fought back:


You'll notice that some of the letters here are written very large (the Vav beginning "Vayezata" at the bottom right) & others very small (like the Zayin - no snickering, please - in the same name). I've written some commentary on the laws of writing this column here, but I'll be writing a complete workup soon...

Friday, November 18, 2005



16 Cheshvan

Experimenting with an online store to help make ends meet. I'll be sprucing it up, too, so check back often...

Thursday, November 17, 2005



15 Cheshvan

Knowledge of sofrut is nothing without real experience. Without mentoring. Without context.

It's not even a drop in the bucket; it's mist in the air.

Each time I sit to write I am basely humbled. The consistency which my faithfulness must reach for in every moment deeply impresses my heart, to the point of pain. I play a role as ego-effacing conduit, however unworthy, however heavy the burden. The responsibility to serve with care & with restraint offers both terror & release.

I am sure that when the Holy One ends my earthly life, it will be heart-related.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005



14 Cheshvan

This article appeared in the Jewish Independent the end of last week. My edits & comments appear below.

Nov. 11, 2005

Local scribe on Vision

The Torah being written by Aviel Barclay is a first.

There are few people in the world who have the gumption and the determination to follow their dreams, let alone if those dreams conflict with societal norms or religious doctrine. This month, VisionTV will air Soferet: A Special Scribe, a documentary about Vancouverite Aviel Barclay, who has chosen to become a Torah scribe (soferet), despite the fact that most Jewish authorities believe that rabbinic law forbids a woman from writing a Torah scroll for ritual use.

"I was told by one [sofer, male scribe] that I would better serve the Jewish people by getting married and having children," says Barclay in the documentary. She then laughs confidently, adding that she told the sofer that she wants to do that, too.
[I'm glad I come off sounding confident, in a way, but I recall that I did not feel confident during that interview. First of all, although the film makers were terrific, I was very nervous about being interviewed on celluloid. Second, nobody can be "confident" that they will ever become parents - that's a blessing that only G@d can grant, so I can only pray that my husband & I will find favour in the eyes of The Holy One.]

Barclay's husband, Joel Rothschild, is one of the many people interviewed in Soferet. He underscores Barclay's assertion that she is obligated to be a scribe. She "believes she has been given this work to do by God," he says.

Such conviction and self-assuredness seems to have directed much of Barclay's life...When her father died suddenly, when she was 16, Barclay stepped back from religion entirely for a couple of years. After her right hand was crushed in a cycling accident, she had to undergo much therapy to write again...

...Barclay started doing Hebrew calligraphy – reviving an interest in Hebrew letters that she had had since childhood. It was then, she says, that it dawned on her that she was to be a soferet; that she would write a Torah scroll.

Soferet includes a brief history of Barclay's life, including an interview with her mother. It touches upon some of Barclay's struggles in finding a willing scribe to teach her the art. Many rabbis are also featured, such as Or Shalom's Rabbi Hillel Goelman and Shaarey Tefilah's Rabbi Shachar Ornstein. Other clergy are interviewed as well, and the documentary cogently explains the central role played by the Torah in Judaism and sensitively presents the controversies surrounding whether a woman can be a soferet.

... For more information on Barclay's ritual and mystical art, which includes ketubot (marriage contracts), amulets and other work, visit Soferet: A Special Scribe airs on VisionTV on Wednesday, Nov. 16, at 7 p.m., and repeats on Thursday, Nov. 17, at 8 p.m.

[the original article can be found here].

Tuesday, November 15, 2005



13 Cheshvan

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

Sat, November 12, 2005

Torah barrier broken

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 14, 2005



12 Cheshvan

The Babylonian Talmud, tractate Kiddushin 31a, discusses which is a bigger mitzvah? The mitzvah performed by a person obligated to do so, or the mitzvah performed by a person voluntarily?
The conclusion is that a person who is obligated (let's say an adult Jewish male) must overcome his ego in order to perform the mitzvah, where a person who is not obligated (anybody else) does not have ego as a barrier to their performance. Therefore, there is "more reward" in the next world for those who perform commandments they are obligated to.

This, of course, ignores the intrinsic value of any other valid motivation for the performance of mitzvot. Problematic?

This subject is of great interest to me, as part of the argument against women writing Sifrei Torah, or for those woman-written Sifrei Torah to be considered kosher, is the question of a Jewish woman's obligation.

Rav Kook wrote a pamphlet he called "Shevet Yisra'el", in which he argues that doing a mitzvah without being commanded is in fact, of a higher level.

Must find this pamphlet!

Sunday, November 13, 2005



11 Cheshvan

After morning prayers in synagogue this morning, we gathered together for our mid-morning study session. One of the threads of conversation that grew out of our learning was on tefilin.

In our discussion, I likened the tefilin shel rosh, the tefilin (or tefillin) worn on the head, to a spelunker's headlamp. It's purpose is to illuminate one's way along life's journey.

In English, we use a Greek word to refer to tefilin. The word is phylacteries. the same word as prophylactic, meaning "protection".

The tefilin shel rosh has 4 compartments each containing a verse from the Torah, while the tefilin shel yad, or arm-tefilin, contains only one. Why?

Because the human mind is divisive. One can think oneself into multiple opposing ideas, plural realities. This serves to confuse & confound us. It can be paralyzing. & the mind tends to cycle faster with fear, with self-preservation. G@d says, "lo tir'ah" - fear not! The fearful mind separates us from our hearts, from G@d. The more you get caught up in your rationalizations, the farther you are from your heart, the seat of G@d within you.

The human heart, the house of the soul which The Hoy One gifted us each with, only requires the tefilin shel yad resting near it to contain a singular verse of Torah, because the heart knows its singular purpose & function.

Thus, when a Jew wraps the stap around the middle finger of the arm bearing the tefilin shel yad, the final step in wrapping oneself in them, the following words are recited:

"Ve-eyrastikh li le-olam, ve-eyrastikh libe-tzedeq u-v'mishpatu-v'chesedu-v'rachamim. Ve-eyrastikh li be-emunah,ve-yada'at et Ha-Shem."

"I will betroth you to Me forever, & I will betroth you to Me with righteousness, justice, kindness & mercy. I will betroth you to Me with fidelity, & you shall know G@d."

The same words a Jewish groom says to his bride under their chuppah.
Ameyn ve-ameyn selah.

Saturday, November 12, 2005



11 Cheshvan

The American national debut of Soferet: a Special Scribe airs November 13th on The World of Faith & Values, F&VTV.

I hope you all enjoy it.

Shavu'ah tov - a good week!

Friday, November 11, 2005



9-10 Cheshvan

Kol Ha-neshamah t'halel Yah haleluYah - Let all that breathes praise G@d; praise G@d. Tehilim/Psalms 150:6

Haleluhu kol malakhav - Praise G@d, all G@d's angels. Tehilim/Psalms 148:2

Wednesday, November 09, 2005



7 Cheshvan

Qeset Hasofer pereq [chapter] 28 se'if 7: What a few soferim are accustomed to do is that each time The Holy One is hinted at, to write that with the beginning letters of the words or the end letters of the words larger (roshei teyvot & sofei teyvot), but one should desist at the outset. In any case, you don't declare pasul this sort of writing or Megilot that are written like this & you can use it after the fact.

Se'if Chet: A Megilah that is written with vowel marks or the trope marks, or similarly if they wrote in it on the first page the blessing over the reading or liturgical poems, it isn't invalid because of this. But you should never write these things in it. & if the shaliach tzibur isn't familiar with the chanting & there isn't anyone there to help him read it then it's even permitted to write the trope marks in after the fact, or it could be read without chanting.

Se'if Tet: A Megilah that was written with the left hand [if the scribe is right-handed], or if a woman wrote it or if a minor [child under the age of 13] wrote it, some say that it's pasul & some say it's kosher.

Lishkat HaSofer note 7 in Se'if Tet: "ve-yesh makshirim" - "some say it's kosher". In the Birkey Yosef it's written that one should be in doubt that if a woman that wrote a Megilah, it may not be kosher. & he wrote in order to admonish/reprove what Rambam wrote, that the hide used for a Megilah doesn't need to be processed lishma [for the sake of Heaven], evidence that not every matter is the Megilah compared to/similar to a Sefer Torah.

Friday, November 04, 2005



2 Cheshvan

Jordan & I are part of a mutual appreciation club. Although we did not begin our comparative religion dialogue, as I like to call it, until quite late (almost 20 years ago!) I must still gratefully credit him with much positive infulence in my life. In addition to his general gentle Liberalism, a value which went under nourished in my childhood home, I am eternally thankful for his introducing me to Gematria (a Greek term used for Jewish numerology based on the value of Hebrew letters which is used for Torah study, among other things). & the rest is history. I am now a soferet partially due to his ongoing dialogue with me over most of our lives & will always be indebted to him for this. He crows about me here, which I could not allow to go unacknowledged.
Thank you, Jordan, for the continuing sacred conversation which uncovers the Divine Revealed Within, the full face of G@d.

Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, November 03, 2005



Rosh Chodesh Cheshvan

Much healthy debate & expansion going on here. & lishma, too (for the sake of Heaven)!

Chodesh tov! A good month!

Wednesday, November 02, 2005



18 Tishrei, Chol Ha-Mo'ed Sukot

Qeset HaSofer 28 Se'if: Hey = note Vav in Lishkat HaSofer: the tradition continued "& the margin notes on (Ohr Zarurah) I looked into these & it says there b'sefer samekh ayin gimel the 10 sons of Haman there should be ISH at the beginning of a row & ET at the end of the row & I saw additionally to unify The Name (Le-Echad Qadosh) he speaks the genius the sage the teacher who wrote this (is apparently Chayim Yosef David Azulai) he says in his Peyrush Kisey Rachamim LM"S there in chapter 13 Halakhah 10 this is a direct quote from that text: "when one writes the Megilah it has to be with the sons of Haman at the end & the word 'aseret' has to be at the end of the daf." his words. & see in She'eylot Tshuvot Beit Efraim, siman Ayin, so they went a little longer on this matter in the end he brings what is in the tradition as it's written that ISH must be at the top, etc. [they're using daf & amud interchangeably here, so it's interesting]...the intention of this tradition is our minhag & is the same & IMHO it seems that following the fact that he doubled & said both things, b'sof ha-daf ve-be-sof ha-amud [at the end of the page & at the end of the column], we learn from this because he said ISH at the beginning of the daf at the beginning of the width of the daf he said that at the beginning of the row & not at the beginning of the column...therefore we see IMHO even though it's not in our hands to change the minhag [tradition], we have the minhag of this taking up the whole page. If in any case it happens that a Megilah does not have ISH at the top of the page & if there is another Megilah but that other one has in it some kind of unfavourable condition or some kind of doubt, then you read from the other. (this is really just to make sure we always remember that the 10 sons of Haman always take up a whole daf - the repetitions gets to you). In any case, ASERET comes at the end of the page, as it says in Makhseket Sofreim, but if you don't have it at the end of the amud, then you're not going to read from that Megilah unless there is not another kosher then you can & everyone is yotzey & you even say brakhahs.
(so we have to be strict strict strict, making a lot of difference between Megilot, but if you only have this one then you have to use it the exact same way as if it were kosher & even say brakhahs in other words make them exactly the same/treat them exactly the same. Why? Because you really want kosher Megillahs you want them not sloppy but the mitzvah is to hear it, so when push comes to shove, make it as perfect as you can & if you can't then be practical & make sure people re are still yotzei.

Sai'f vav in Q"HS - what soferim are accustomed to writing, the 10 sons of Haman large, it's not really from the ikar/essence of the law/tradition of the large letters. The soferim are accustomed to doing this according to the majority write the Megilot on large pages/columns & the 10 sons of Haman are only 11 rows & they need to fill with them the whole page & there would remain a big empty space at the end it a big empty space in between, so they write the letters big (obviously it's important for these men's names to occupy their own column). & even though on another page one doesn't make big letters or little letters because it's not accepted by the masters of the tradition to do that since Aseret B'nai Haman (the 10 sons of Haman) are written on a special daf by themselves, one doesn't need to be strict even though the other pages are written in small, fine, delicate writing & this is written in gross writing - don't worry about it. if the panels of the Megilah are not long & the appearance of the column, if one writes with a medium writing, close to the writing of the rest of the pages, then it's better to write with an intermediate sized script.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005



29 Tishrei

The word "tzedaqah" in Hebrew is often referring to "charity". To give tzedaqah (or tsedakah) is to donate money, in the mundane sense of the expression, or to give of your time, resources, etc in the general sense. But the root of the word, Tzadi-Dalet-Quf, has a broader attitude.

The consonants Tz-D-Q mean the following:
To be right, be just; apologise; vindicate, justify.

As we are commanded by Devarim/Deuteronomy 16:20: "Tzedeq, tzedeq tir'dof - Justice, justice you shall pursue."
It is in this spirit, & in recognition that I need to cling more closely to this mitzvah, that I have added some charitable links to my right side-bar under the heading "Good Causes I support". I have taken these on as my own responsibility, giving change to street folks not being enough equalisation to bring into this world. Please click on these links (I do not receive any payment for this) to further explore acts of justice which we are all given the opportunity for. I will slowly be adding more links, as I have the opportunity to look into different tzedaqah chances.

So from this we learn that to perform an act of charity is to do an act of justice. To make something right. To be kind.

The letter Tzadi has the same root as this word "tzedaqah", & has a gematrial value: 90
Midrash on this holy symbol tell us that Tzadi was the first letter formed by The Holy One, for "Deeds of giving are the foundation of the world." Tzedeq, "justice".

Tzadi comes to us in the shape of a Mystic bent in humble prayer, arms extended and hands raised. According to our tradition, the only time of the year we take this position is during the Aleynu of musaf, the afternoon service, on Yom Kipur. The Final Tzadi, Tzadi Sofit, is standing tall with arms raised in joy for having his/her act of devotion accepted and answered - whether the response is "Yes" or "No". Aye, there's the rub!

What is a Tzadiq/Tzodeqet (upright person)? It is usually translated into English as a "perfect" or "righteous" individual. A Tzadiq is one who is present in every moment, whose consciousness is such that s/he is able to make correct choices and act appropriately in any given situation. If s/he does make a mistake, s/he rectifies it and learns from the experience. Proverbs 25:26 compares the Tzadiq to a spring of water, which, even if it becomes polluted sometimes, eventually recovers its purity. Not a Perfect One, but One Perfecting.

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