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, August 31, 2006



Barukh Ha-Shem! Wonderful news! I've been selected to teach at the renowned Limmud conference held annually in Britain! What an honour!

It's the largest Jew-do in Europe & they're celebrating their 25th anniversary. I'm so excited that I'm not even sure which of my courses I'm going to teach, or whether I'll give over some of the offerings from my women's sofrut certification program. We'll see what the Brits want... :)

A Psalm for Divine Guidance, Tehilim Chapter 139:

א לַמְנַצֵּחַ, לְדָוִד מִזְמוֹר:
יְהוָה חֲקַרְתַּנִי, וַתֵּדָע.
1 For the Leader. A Psalm of David.
O LORD, You have searched me, and known me.
ב אַתָּה יָדַעְתָּ, שִׁבְתִּי וְקוּמִי; בַּנְתָּה לְרֵעִי, מֵרָחוֹק. 2
You know my lowering and my rising, You understand my thought afar off.
ג אָרְחִי וְרִבְעִי זֵרִיתָ; וְכָל-דְּרָכַי הִסְכַּנְתָּה. 3
You measure my going about and my lying down, and are familiar with all my ways.
ד כִּי אֵין מִלָּה, בִּלְשׁוֹנִי; הֵן יְהוָה, יָדַעְתָּ כֻלָּהּ. 4
For there is not a word in my tongue, but, lo, O LORD, You know it entirely.
ה אָחוֹר וָקֶדֶם צַרְתָּנִי; וַתָּשֶׁת עָלַי כַּפֶּכָה. 5
You have hemmed me in behind and before, and laid Your hand upon me.
ו פלאיה (פְּלִיאָה) דַעַת מִמֶּנִּי; נִשְׂגְּבָה, לֹא-אוּכַל לָהּ. 6
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; too high, I cannot grok it.
ז אָנָה, אֵלֵךְ מֵרוּחֶךָ; וְאָנָה, מִפָּנֶיךָ אֶבְרָח. 7
Where shall I go from Your spirit? or where shall I flee from before Your presence?
ח אִם אֶסַּק שָׁמַיִם, שָׁם אָתָּה; וְאַצִּיעָה שְּׁאוֹל הִנֶּךָּ. 8
If I ascend up into heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in the underworld, behold, You are there.
ט אֶשָּׂא כַנְפֵי-שָׁחַר; אֶשְׁכְּנָה, בְּאַחֲרִית יָם. 9
If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the deepest parts of the sea;
י גַּם-שָׁם, יָדְךָ תַנְחֵנִי; וְתֹאחֲזֵנִי יְמִינֶךָ. 10
Even there would Your hand lead me, and Your right hand would hold me.
יא וָאֹמַר, אַךְ-חֹשֶׁךְ יְשׁוּפֵנִי; וְלַיְלָה, אוֹר בַּעֲדֵנִי. 11
And if I say: 'Surely the darkness shall envelop me, and the light about me shall be night';
יב גַּם-חֹשֶׁךְ, לֹא-יַחְשִׁיךְ מִמֶּךָּ:
וְלַיְלָה, כַּיּוֹם יָאִיר-- כַּחֲשֵׁיכָה, כָּאוֹרָה. 12
Even the darkness is not too dark for You,
but the night shines as the day; the darkness is even as the light.
יג כִּי-אַתָּה, קָנִיתָ כִלְיֹתָי; תְּסֻכֵּנִי, בְּבֶטֶן אִמִּי. 13
For You have made my reins; You have knit me together in my mother's womb.
יד אוֹדְךָ-- עַל כִּי נוֹרָאוֹת, נִפְלֵיתִי:
נִפְלָאִים מַעֲשֶׂיךָ; וְנַפְשִׁי, יֹדַעַת מְאֹד. 14
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
wonderful are Your works; and that my soul knows so well.
טו לֹא-נִכְחַד עָצְמִי, מִמֶּךָּ:
אֲשֶׁר-עֻשֵּׂיתִי בַסֵּתֶר; רֻקַּמְתִּי, בְּתַחְתִּיּוֹת אָרֶץ. 15
My frame was not hidden from You,
when I was made in secret, and curiously wrought in the lowest parts of the Earth.
טז גָּלְמִי, רָאוּ עֵינֶיךָ, וְעַל-סִפְרְךָ, כֻּלָּם יִכָּתֵבוּ:
יָמִים יֻצָּרוּ; ולא (וְלוֹ) אֶחָד בָּהֶם. 16
Your eyes did see my unformed substance, and in Your book they were all written--
even the days that were fashioned, when as yet there was none of them.
יז וְלִי--מַה-יָּקְרוּ רֵעֶיךָ אֵל; מֶה עָצְמוּ, רָאשֵׁיהֶם. 17
How weighty also are Your thoughts to me, O G@d! How great is the sum of them!
יח אֶסְפְּרֵם, מֵחוֹל יִרְבּוּן; הֱקִיצֹתִי, וְעוֹדִי עִמָּךְ. 18
If I would count them, they are more in number than the sand; were I to come to the end of them, I would still be with You.
יט אִם-תִּקְטֹל אֱלוֹהַּ רָשָׁע; וְאַנְשֵׁי דָמִים, סוּרוּ מֶנִּי. 19
If You but wouldest slay the wicked, O G@d--depart from me therefore, you men of blood;
כ אֲשֶׁר יֹמְרוּךָ, לִמְזִמָּה; נָשׂוּא לַשָּׁוְא עָרֶיךָ. 20
Who utter Your name with wicked thought, they take it for falsehood, even Your enemies--
כא הֲלוֹא-מְשַׂנְאֶיךָ יְהוָה אֶשְׂנָא; וּבִתְקוֹמְמֶיךָ, אֶתְקוֹטָט. 21
Do not I hate them, O LORD, that hate You? And do not I strive with those that rise up against You?
כב תַּכְלִית שִׂנְאָה שְׂנֵאתִים; לְאוֹיְבִים, הָיוּ לִי. 22
I hate them with utmost hatred; I count them as my enemies.
כג חָקְרֵנִי אֵל, וְדַע לְבָבִי; בְּחָנֵנִי, וְדַע שַׂרְעַפָּי. 23
Search me, O G@d, and know my heart, try me, and know my thoughts;
כד וּרְאֵה, אִם-דֶּרֶךְ-עֹצֶב בִּי; וּנְחֵנִי, בְּדֶרֶךְ עוֹלָם. 24
And see if there be any way in me that is grievous, and lead me in the way everlasting.


Three cheers for Jewish learning! Hip-hip...

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Wednesday, August 30, 2006



So the lovely & talented people at Vision TV are offering for sale the documentary of my life story & how I became a certified soferet 3 years ago on DVD!


You can either purchase it through Vision by clicking here (I make no money on this option), or from Yours Truly by e-mailing me (I make a small comission on this option).


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Thursday, August 24, 2006



Public art at Ben Gurion Airport in Tel Aviv:
Public Art at Ben Gurion Airport

Public art at Vancouver Airport in Richmond:
Soferet's Welcome Home

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Wednesday, August 23, 2006



My Mum has had an accident, so I must head straight for Victoria. Please pray for her complete & speedy recovery.

I only just realized that when I changed my blog's time zone to Israel from than Pacific, that it changed ALL of my posts times, not just the ones I wrote since coming to Israel. That means when I change it back to Pacific time when I return to Vancouver, some of the entries will appear to have been written on Shabbes :(

This is very very bad.
I keep Shabbat - really!

Qever Rachel - Rachel's tomb - was an adventure. We boarded a special bullet proof bus with IDF soldiers as escorts at the front & rear doors. They rode along with us, M16s drawn.

Breyshit/Genesis 35:16 - 20:

טז וַיִּסְעוּ מִבֵּית אֵל, וַיְהִי-עוֹד כִּבְרַת-הָאָרֶץ לָבוֹא אֶפְרָתָה; וַתֵּלֶד רָחֵל, וַתְּקַשׁ בְּלִדְתָּהּ. 16
And they journeyed from Beth-el; and there was still some way to come to Efrat; and Rachel travailed, and she had hard labour.
יז וַיְהִי בְהַקְשֹׁתָהּ, בְּלִדְתָּהּ; וַתֹּאמֶר לָהּ הַמְיַלֶּדֶת אַל-תִּירְאִי, כִּי-גַם-זֶה לָךְ בֵּן. 17
And it came to pass, when she was in hard labour, that the midwife said to her: 'Fear not; for this also is a son for you.'
יח וַיְהִי בְּצֵאת נַפְשָׁהּ, כִּי מֵתָה, וַתִּקְרָא שְׁמוֹ, בֶּן-אוֹנִי; וְאָבִיו, קָרָא-לוֹ בִנְיָמִין. 18
And it came to pass, as her soul was in departing--for she died--that she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.
יט וַתָּמָת, רָחֵל; וַתִּקָּבֵר בְּדֶרֶךְ אֶפְרָתָה, הִוא בֵּית לָחֶם. 19
And Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Efrat--the same is Beth-lehem.
כ וַיַּצֵּב יַעֲקֹב מַצֵּבָה, עַל-קְבֻרָתָהּ--הִוא מַצֶּבֶת קְבֻרַת-רָחֵל, עַד-הַיּוֹם. 20
And Jacob set up a pillar upon her grave; the same is the pillar of Rachel's grave unto this day.

When you look on a map of Israel, it looks like Jerusalem & Bethlehem are far away from each other, but they're really just 2 or 3 kilometres of tense No Man's Land apart. A couple of weeks ago I took the wrong bus & ended up south of Ramat Rahel, which is right at the Green Line. There were even turrets & fortifications, complete with scars from bullets & shrapnel. I was still officially in Jerusalem, but I was surrounded by sheep, mosques & fences.

The bus to Rachel's tomb hurries along a deserted road right up to the security wall & drives right butt up against it. Then it makes a sharp curve to the left, where a parallel security wall runs alongside the opposite side of the bus. Basically, we're speeding down a 2-storey-high corridor just wide enough for this one bus to pass through.

At the end of the narrow concrete hallway is a huge metal gate laced with razor wire. More IDF soldiers appear & open it so we can pass through. The bus pulls right up to the entrance. The security wall, now 3 storeys high, surrounds the tomb. There is nothing else here. We are instructed to walk straight from the bus into the mausoleum & that we have 20 minutes. The driver is quite serious.

Shot of the entrance of Qever Rachel, taken from the door of the bus:
Soferet @ Rachel's Tomb Entrance
Notice that it's fortified, is covered with camoflage & sandbags, & has turrets.

Sandbagged defensive window, narrowed toward the outside to facilitate shooting:
Fortifications at Rachel's Tomb

The soldiers usher us in & we wash for prayer. There is a man collecting alms for the local yeshivah. The men & women each gather at our respective sides of our mother Rachel's cairn & pray the afternoon service & say psalms. This is a view into her tomb from what used to be an outside door. The embroidery on her cairn depicts how the quaint little building used to look before it was turned into a fortress:
Soferet in Rachel's Tomb

At the end of the alotted 20 minutes, the soldiers began ordering us out of the building. On my way out, the same way we came in, I snapped this view of the security wall in between the front door & the bus:
Security Wall from Entrance to Rachel's Tomb
The bus driver & all the soldiers were commanding us to go straight onto the bus, & not tarry around the entrance. We had to either be under the shelter of the facade or in the bus. They said it wasn't safe. There are apartment blocks right behind that wall.

Our bus shunts around & heads back out the wired gate & back along the cement tongue-in-groove corridor back to the relative safety of the central bus station. Is it really this bad? Are these the lengths the we legitimately have to go to in order to make a pilgrimage of faith to the grave of one of our most revered foremothers?

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Tuesday, August 22, 2006



A photo diary of my second to last day in Eretz ha-Qodesh, the Holy Land:

An arched building adjacent to the Armenian Quarter of the Old City. This says "1938", the year my Mum was born:
Soferet @ Kotel 2

The first az I encountered, as I peered at the Kotel from Mount Zion:
AZ Red Soferet

As I turned around I found this on a gate:
AZ Gold Soferet

On my way out of the Rova, near the valley that Hell is named for, I caught another one:
AZ Stone Soferet

In the park at Yemin Moshe:
AZ Stam Soferet

& finally:
AZ Soferet: Water Honey Earth Milk

The memorial plaque at the restored & rejewvenated Cafe Hillel:
Soferet at Cafe Hillel Memorial

One of the last lines reads Hashem yenuqam damam - G@d will avenge their blood.

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Sunday, August 20, 2006



Melodic Arabic trembles above the din of Jews praising, begging, thanking.

Soferet at The Wall

G@d took our holy temple & its sacred mountain away from us because we committed sinat chinam, needless hatred, against other Jews...
...when will the Messiah come?

I wade through supplicating Jewish women to lay my palm flat on the soft warm stone & pour my soul out on these ancient rocks, washing them with my gratitude, my fear, my desire.

A bridal couple arrives amid flashes of light - she a silver shimmer in the night. The joy rising from the horas spinning on the stone almost drown out the voice of the muezzin. Almost.

Pebbly shadows creep up the middle of the windmill. I lean in the corner of the park facing this marvel. I recline & a group of Arab boys hoot through. I rise. Feel the dew on my books & inhale the rosemary, jasmine & honeysuckle. Heady. Heavy, Penetrating the close air.

Soferet at Montfiore's windmill, Yemim Moshe

Throughout this day I have encountered signals that I must act. After absorbing & processing my latest meeting with Secret Sofer, which will take some time & more letter-forming, I wander the familiar streets of the Old City's Jewish Quarter. Everywhere I turn I see the same word:


Everywhere I turned I saw different colours, textures & surfaces all branded with this word in Ashkenazi ketav stam. From the narrow corridors within the old walls all the way to the park across the valley & to the south.

AZ Soferet: Water Honey Earth Milk

May G@d help me be truly present in each moment.

[Addendum: or perhaps אז is the roshei teyvot, an acronym, for or zaru'a...scattered light. A sewn seed of light.
Hat tip: Simon]

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I met with Secret Sofer today (the not-Rabbi-Laimon-sofer who taught & certified me) for a crit of my recent work. Because I can always learn more & I can always do better. This serves to keep me humble(r). Besides, other soferim find nothing to criticize in his work. I'm so lucky to have him as my teacher.

It makes such a huge difference to my work when we can bend over it together. I wish we lived in the same city. Heck, even the same hemisphere would be a start...

He began with my Qufs (ק): the rosh, head, of the descending tail is waaay to close to the lower horizontal. It's still technically kosher, but this will cause the reader to stop & check for a negi'ah, letters touching (which is not allowed). It's just bad calligraphy. It must not be distracting. Also, I have to think "circle" when I'm making that initial stroke. Round. Like Reysh (ר).

We moved to Ayin (ע). I have a "Sefardi" (Iberian/North African style) angle/curve/heel on the upstroke of the tail. The Ashkenazi Ayin's tail is straighter. Also, the left head must be turned to 90˚ as he commanded me 3 years ago, so that it resembles the upper Yud (י) of the letter Alef (א).

Went on to Mem (מ). I make a Sefardi-type curved bridge where the Ashkenazi is supposed to be straight across. & the body is a tad wide on my Mems as well - they should be two-thirds of a Khaf (כ), except that the bottom right hand corner needs a sharp, square shape.

Now Shin (ש). I have to make the inner corner more pronounced & smooth, a gradual, sexy curve from the base to the "wrist" of the far right Vav. 45˚ angle of the middle arm into this corner is also a must.

Then Chet (ח). The join between the roshei, heads, & their respective legs must be stronger & in more proportion, ie the difference between the thickness of the join & the middle of those down-stokes should be less exaggerated.

& finally, Hey (ה). Make a "6" for the Yud-part. 'nuff said.

I noted that he had nothing bad to say about any of my other letters...thank G@d :)

Here's a piece of scrap parchment we worked on together (sorry about the silver highlights - that's just the black ink being all shiny under the flash). I did some of my letters with a bamboo kulmus I carved & others with a quill, while all of his are with a quill:
Soferet & Sofer work together

I am committed to ongoing guidance from my mentor, as I aspire to continue growing my craft & refining my skills.

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Saturday, August 19, 2006



The Shabbatot I have spent here have been glorious, thank G@d.
I haven't blogged about them much, because shabbes is a whole day requiring a half day of preparation, so by the time it's over so much has happened that I never know where to begin with my writing. Besides, getting back into headspace after 36 hours of heartspace disturbs my mellow, man...

I have been lucky enough to celebrate with the holy Yidden at Yakar, the Leader Minyan, Yedidya & others.

& to share delicious food with kind, gracious hosts who allow me to contribute. Laugh, share, meet new spouses & babies of friends I have not seen since my last trip here 3 years ago. Go for walks. Make new friends. Take naps. Learn Torah.

This is what life is all about :)

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Friday, August 18, 2006



The meetings I've been having with rabbis & sofrim here in Jerusalem have been very enlightening. Not only have I met with my own mentors, but with other Orthodox rabbis & sofrim who don't agree with what I'm doing. They're respectful - I won't meet with anyone who isn't - & they won't be named on this blog. I don't need to get them in trouble nor do I want to appear as though I'm validating myself by publicizing their identities.

I am pleased to note, however, that once we have got past the very difficult & challenging discussions we have together, that they'll still talk a little shop with me :)

I think this is really important to preserve my integrity & by extention the integrity of my work. G@d willing, it's working...

Because what we're doing can't just be looked at as a job.

It's holy work we do on behalf of other Jews where you take this beautiful creature, part of the family of Creation. It's life was taken to feed us, & the skin would normally be discarded, but here we are using it to continue spreading Torah so we're raising it up, we're lifting the sparks & our consciousness at the same time. Having the right attitude & supportive Jewish practice while you do the work is vital!

Do it only for the sake of Heaven - not for fame, ego, self-glorification, not to be a "rock star" or to otherwise draw attention to yourself...& declare your intention! If you have a speck of davka, spite or rebellion, in what you bring to the work, please put down your quill & process that until it's gone.

Shabbat shalom!

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Thursday, August 17, 2006



Well, my teaching at Pardes is over. What kind, consciencious people run that establishment! I see how they have earned the excellent reputation they so richly deserved.

At the closing banquet, one of the Australian students stood to speak about how a very close friend of hers was killed last week in Lebanon. He was 23.

A teacher rose to thank everyone for supporting her through the war because her eldest son was in Lebanon. A paramedic. I cringed.

It was all very touching & made the fact that Jerusalem had stayed relatively quiet during the whole crisis seem like even more of a miracle. So, thank G@d.

I got really good reviews from my students (because this is my blog, so everything is all about me, me, me...did I mention me? ok. me.), which is a huge blessing. I didn't have a large class, but they're often smaller in the summer (so my teacher R' Dov Laimon who normally teaches this class told me) & this has the benefit of my being able to spend more time with each individual student helping them sharpen up their letters. So, yay.

I also have taken on some new female students "on the side", as they say, & am very pleased & impressed with their work.

In the evening I went to a single's tzedaqah (charity) night where we made up gift packages for the Israeli children who had to spend part of their summer feeling terrorized in bomb shelters rather than at camp or whatever else their family had planned. It was also a schmooze for single Jews which was fun & cool. The added bonus was that I now have 2 shadchanim (male matchmakers) & 2 shadchaniyot (female matchmakers) keeping an eye out for a Good Husband for me.

See? I told you this was all about me ;)


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Tuesday, August 15, 2006



Today, meaning yesterday (Tuesday August 15th).

My days typically look like this. See if you can spot today's anomaly. It's not easy:
* wake
* wash
* pray
* make myself one of those Israeli mochas out of Elite instant coffee, powdered chocolate & milk
* write
* hand wash my laundry for the day & hang it on the line where it will dry in 4.5 seconds due to this baking heat
* eat something, if I remember to
* attempt to catch up on 25% of the hundreds of e-mails I get every day
* try to connect with my mother on AIM (I have no phone)
* wash
* pray
* go out. do something I can only do in Jerusalem & nothing that I can do in Vancouver
* meet with an Orthodox sofer stam who doesn't approve of what I'm doing (because only listening to people who praise me is unhealthy & unreal)
* accidentally stumble into an angel who advises me on my life, future, G@d, the messiah & asks that he be invited to my wedding.
* meet a friend for dinner & drinks
* come home & cruise the internet
* wash
* pray
* go to bed

Did you spot it? I know, it's hard. I hid it really well.

His name is Moshe Tzvi. He is a living, breathing blessing & I was supposed to meet him today.

Please buy his holy art.

Entrance from the lane across from the Ticho house into Rav Kook's home courtyard, where The Museum of Psalms is:
Soferet @ Rav Kook's house

Ceiling just above the door in the previous pic. Moshe Tzvi told me he painted this & all the ceilings inside his museum "10 years ago...when I was young". 10 years ago he was in his mid-70s...
Soferet @ the Museum of Psalms

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Within hours of this ceasefire going into effect, Hezbollah was making moves to ambush more IDF boys. Why do you think the Israeli army is called the "Israel Defence Force"? Israel wouldn't have to have the 4th largest war machine on the planet if others weren't constantly planning its destruction. Don't you think Israelis would rather be spending their tax money on enriching their arts scene or restoring more historical antiquities to share with the world?

I wag my finger at Fox, CNN & EuroNews. Your re-framing of the facts is shameful.

Look at poor Haifa. Why?

Despite "the situation", I've been enjoying some of the awesome beauty this Holy Land has to offer.
I clambered around the ancient aqueduct we built to feed the Har Ha-Bayit/Temple Mount from the springs of Hevron with Steg & Simon:
Soferet's Aqueduct Adventure
This was so cool. My Mum would love this.

I spent a few ecstatic hours drooling over The Aleppo Codex, a millenium-old scribe's toolbox & various holy scrolls in The Shrine of the Book at The Israel Museum. It's one of my personal sacred spaces. This is it on the right, juxtaposed with the Knesset:
Israel's present & past. What does the future hold?

I survey'd the hand-built scale model of Jerusalem as it was 2,000 years ago, before the Romans destroyed everything & scattered us around the world. This is it from the south side:
Isn't it amazing what we can learn from archaeology?
The Har Ha-Bayit/Temple Mount is the large campus of buildings on the far right, where the Dome of the Rock now satands.

This is how it looked 2 millenia ago:
& this is how it looks now.

& I've met with both my sofer-mentors, an example of each of their Ashkenazi ketav stam (European-tradition sacred scritpt) here:
Soferet's 2 Mentors
Top: my certifying sofer stam who wants to stay off this blog.
Bottom: R' Dov Laimon, who considers women's certification basically meaningless because it doesn't change any of the prevailing Halakhic standards (& actually, he's right).

I've also wandered the chi-chi neighbourhood of Emeq Refa'im, where I used to live & where the Cafe Hillel bombing took place. The reason why this community was targeted (aside from it being full of Jews) is because many residents are sympathetic to Israeli Arabs, Palestinians & are interested in a just peace. Here's an illustration of how this neighbourhood feels about Arabic:
These stencils appear all over Emeq Refa'im - Arabic with a transliteration in Hebrew underneath, so Hebrew-speakers can learn random nouns in Arabic. This means "bank machine" & is prayed on the corner of Emeq & Wedgewood, where the Discount bank sits.

& this, which is stencilled on a garbage can one block away is how the people in the neighbourhood feel about English:
So there you have it.
More consideration towards Arab neighbours than to American tourists.

That's all I've got in me for today. I'm off to make pilgrimage. Thank G@d I'm able.

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Sunday, August 13, 2006


20 Av

I'm up very late - or early - because I can't sleep. I've been sick off & on with a cold & various other ailments for the better part of a week now, which foils my plans to donate blood while I'm here. The least I can do is bleed a pint for someone injured by the war.

Being sick has allowed me to watch tv, listen to the radio & talk to people about the war. & I'm sick of it. Tired of the shocking behaviour displayed by Hizbullah, Nasrallah, Ahmadinejad & the disastrous decisions made by the Israeli government. This UN ceasefire proposal has only encouraged terrorists to rebuild, reorganize & to hit us again.

& I'm especially sick & tired of this:
A bereaved mother speaks out to Olmert
& this:
Arab nations called to destroy a weakened Israel
& especially this:
Mike Wallace (a Jew) convinced that Iranian leader is not an anti-Semite

What I would like to see is more of this:
25 Ways to Help Israel
Donate to Magen David Adom (Israeli Red Cross) - they provide full medical services not only to Jews, but to the Druse, Christians, Bahai & Muslims when maniacs rain missiles down on us.
Peaceful & just coexistance between Jews & Arabs

So here I sit at my laptop in Jerusalem, which is a safe place to be, thank G@d, provided that our soldiers & police stop the daily attempts at suicide bombings. But young Jewish men are still being stabbed to death in the Old City. There are cops, army & UN everywhere. Ambulance, police & fire sirens as well as alarms going off frequently. Where I live is about two & a half kilometres from Bethlehem & Beyt Jala. We have a sealed room in the basement of this building, just in case.

I took the bus (which I never do here, but I'm sick) to Yoel Moshe Solomon Street so I could buy small gifts for some friends & family. I walked into a store & the woman behind the counter rose to greet me. She was American-Israeli & could tell that I was Anglo.

"Welcome", she smiled, "Thank you for coming to Israel during this crisis. It's so expensive to come & stay, so we really appreciate your supporting us when you could have just as easily stayed home or traveled somewhere else. It means a lot to us that you're here. What's your name & where are you from?"

She had a lot of pain in her eyes. I asked her how she was doing - whether business was good. She answered, "My son is in Lebanon".

Her pain turned to anguish.

I gave her a blessing that her son should return to her very soon, all in one piece in his body & as well in his head.

People seeking refuge from the north of Israel jump & cry when you so much as slam a door, or when a car backfires.

She told me of her little cousin, a young man who was killed in his tank by Hezbullah. It was so dangerous there that it took the IDF 3 days to get him out. Meanwhile, his family was given the tragic news, but were unable to have a funeral or begin shiva. They just had to wait. He was to be married next month.

When are travesties like this going to be stopped?

When will we realize this dream?

I came home after my excursion downtown only to find a refugee asleep in my housemate's room. She was from the Galilee. My housemate had driven all the way up north to deliver food, toiletries & other badly needed articles & picked her up. She must have dodged a lot of bombs to be sleeping like that.

Some friends & I visited with a family who escaped Tzfat & are staying in a vacant apartment here in Jerusalem. The mother asked, "Why should my son be opening each door only to find what behind it when we could have finished this without sending the boys into Lebanon? Lamah? Mah Karah?

Why? What's happening?

I'm sick & tired of this war.

אִם-אֶשְׁכָּחֵךְ יְרוּשָׁלִָם-- תִּשְׁכַּח יְמִינִי
Im esh'kacheykh Yerushalam -- tish'kach yemini
If I forget you, O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose her cunning.

[Addendum: for another, more eloquent & informed, Jewish Canadian's take on what is happening here, read my friend Zach.]

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Wednesday, August 09, 2006



I was unfairly portrayed - ok, slammed - by someone on another blog recently. Someone who doesn't know me, nor showed me the respect of contacting me & checking out what I stand for before they railed against me & my work. I'm not going to include a link to the tripe this person wrote, but below is the comment I left on their post. I hope it clarifies & dispells a few things:

Hi & thanks for all the very kind things you say about me, Shawn & Cipher.
Some clarification, folks:

This is a list of women who worked in sofrut throughout our history. Some of the information I've come across is anecdotal & some is a matter of historical record. I wouldn't call them "Orthodox" per se, as I'm not a revisionist, but I'll say that none of these women belonged to a non-Halakhic movement.

Although I do learn & teach midrash & some Kabbalah on the otiyot, I don't claim to be "a Kabbalist".

Of the 4 seminaries I learned in, one told me that if I did not reveal the name, address & phone number of my sofer & tell them what his car looked like, I would have to leave the yeshivah. So I left.

I was trained by 2 sofrim, one was R' Dov Laimon (a Bostoner Chasid) & the other is Centrist Orthodox who learned his craft in Me'a Shearim & wishes to remain out of the spotlight until further notice.

My rabbi is R' Ross Singer, who is responsible for the tshuvah showing that it is the majority opinion that women can write Megilot Esther & that men who leyn from it or hear the leyning from it have fulfilled their obligation on Purim.

I attend Orthodox shul. My committment is to normative Orthodox Jewish practice, which I carry into my sofrut. I could go on, however, all the questions I see asked here can be answered by visiting my blog, so I invite you to do so.

I may visit this blog off & on, but I don't plan to follow up on this thread, so if you'd like to engage in respectful discussion, we can do that either on e-mail or at my blog.

Brakhhot to you all.

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Tuesday, August 08, 2006


14 Av

You HAVE to check this out.

Danya Ruttenberg has put together a thoroughly researched, well thought out, seamlessly formed resource on ideas for the Jewish wedding ceremony.

It's a good mix, I think, of recognising traditional Halakhic sources while seeking to address the real-life present needs of Jews wanting to tie the knot (forgive the pagan reference ;D).

So if your practice falls anywhere between Orthodoxy &, wade into the sea of intelligent & conscious explorations Danya has made on your behalf.

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Monday, August 07, 2006


12 Menachem Av

To celebrate T"U be-Av, the full moon of this comforting Jewish month & the traditional day to pair off with one's future spouse, I'll be giving the low-down on Love Sparks!: Sacred Sexuality & the Hebrew Letters at 8pm this Wednesday, August 9th, hosted by Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies.

The park where we will meet is between Elazar Hamodai, Reysh Laqish & Rabi Chiyyah streets, at the end of Bruriyah street next to the Beyt Elisheva

(War permitting, of course)

As advertised on MySpace.

We'll discuss traditional sources on the positive gender-tension within G@d's 4-Letter Name & various other ideas supporting the unity of Creation.

All are welcome & it's free.


In other exciting sofrut news, I've added new products & images to my CafePress Store & to my Flickr page. Check 'em out :)

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Saturday, August 05, 2006


11 Menachem Av

Written Thursday, during the Fast of the 9th of Menachem Av...

Al-Aqsa Mosque Overlooking our Distruction
Remains of our Beyt Ha-Miqdash, Holy Temple, which were pushed into the street by the Romans as Jerusalem burned. There are still soot stains left from the ferocious flames which licked & hungrily consumed our spiritual & national home.

The Holy One gave us the letter Tzadi to teach us not just to be perfect, but how to be perfect.

Tzadi was the first letter formed by The Holy One, before all the other otiyot, letters, in the Alefbet, 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 & answered - whether the response is "Yes" or "No". This is the key: to learn to accept from Ha-Shem either answer with equal joy.

What is a Tzadiq/Tzodeqet (upright person)? It is usually translated into English as a "perfect" or "righteous" individual. But "perfect" has the wrong
connotations, even baggage, in English. & "righteous"? Only ever heard in the context of a holier-than-thou attitude or at a concert, often followed by "dude" & the sign of the devil horns.

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.

Mishlei/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. Process.

So don't think "perfect-ion".
Think "perfect-ing".

Thank G@d for the purge of Tisha Be-Av, before the Full Moon, before the month of Elul when we begin our supplications in preparation for the Days of Awe. Empty only to fill up to overflowing. Ameyn.

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12 Av

I found this tonight, while Google-stalking myself. Trackback on BlogWog.

soferet & reb aryeh
That's me & R' Aryeh Hirschfield. He's wonderful. Ah, how I miss my old laptop...

By Anne Koppel Conway
Special to the Jewish Review

SOFERET AND RABBI--Aviel Barclay, right, and Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield of P'nai Or examine a Torah for flaws and other distinguishing characteristics June 20.


Aviel Barclay is not the first woman sofer, Jewish ritual Torah scribe. You haven't heard of any others? No names of soferets popped up at dinner parties? That's because the last time a woman – prior to Aviel Barclay – had a profession of writing sefer Torahs was 200 years ago, said Barclay, a soferet from Vancouver, B.C.

According to her research, at least 10 Jewish women have used a feather quill or bamboo or a reed to calligraph aleph-bets on parchment before this 21st century female scribe entered the scene.

Certified in 2003, Barclay believes she is the only certified soferet alive today.

She said she's perfectly happy not being "the vanguard. … It's better for everyone if I'm not the first. Halakhah depends so much on precedent."

Barclay, 37, was at P'nai Or to check the congregation's Torah.

Rabbi Aryeh Hirschfield said, "We don't have a resident sofer in our community, so it's a big deal to have one come. It's our intention to raise money for needed repairs." He encourages people to sponsor letters requiring repair.

Mateh Esther/Linda Brownstein said P'nai Or hopes to have Barclay return to do repairs at the end of August. "We would love to have other communities, who need their Torahs repaired, to split the cost of bringing her down here." Brownstein can be contacted by e-mail,

Totally at ease with the Torah, Barclay multitasked. She scrutinized each section of the Torah, consulted with the rabbi, typed notes on her laptop, offered suggestions, answered a barrage of questions and interspersed all that with a running commentary about the Torah.

It doesn't take much to have a Torah declared passul, invalid.

"If just a single letter has a tiny crack in the ink, it's enough to make a sefer Torah not kosher," Barclay said.

"I love doing this, because every time I see something new in a sefer Torah," she said. "Maybe part of the Torah was written by a different sofer later on," though having one scribe write an entire Torah "is more common."

She also has seen beloved Torahs that had been damaged and pieced together with other Torahs to make one kosher one.

"There's a big black-market for stolen Torahs," she cautioned. Barclay has seen them posted on eBay. "For a Torah this size, the materials alone would run $4,000, if it had to be replaced."

Barclay's interest in becoming a scribe began at age 3, when watching "Fiddler on the Roof" "a 100 times" at her father's theatre in Victoria, B.C. "It was the first time I saw the letters of the Aleph-Bet; they stayed with me."

Male sofers simply purchase their supplies from sofer supply outlets. Since these stores will not sell to women, her mentor ships her the needed materials. And she is learning to make those supplies herself, "So, if God forbid" her supply is cut off, she will be able to create her own materials to continue her work.

She has learned how to make the special Torah ink. "There are a few recipes in the Talmud. You first have to boil the ingredients and then let the mixture steep like tea for six months to a year."

She is also trying her hand at making parchment. Since scraping deerskin gets "gory," she wears "industrial strength gloves and large garbage bags."

Getting turkey feathers to make quills is an easier task.

It has not been easy for the 21st century woman scribe. Barclay was a gemologist, when God "sent me a message." Her hand had been badly crushed in a bike accident. Someone opened a car door without looking, jamming her writing hand between the door and her handlebars. She called it "a door-prize. I knew I wasn't following the right path then. I'm stubborn. Sometimes God has to yell at me."

After regaining use of her hand, at age 26, she began her studies with two soferim in Jerusalem. One was Dov Laimon, a Bostoner Chasidic Rabbi, now deceased. The other sofer chooses to remain anonymous – and for good reason.

During this time she also was studying at a yeshiva. When the school found out she was learning sofrut, school officials demanded to know the name of the sofer who dared to instruct a woman, where he lived and what car he drove. She refused to reveal that information and was summarily shown the door to the yeshiva.

"It was creepy," she said. "The school wasn't right for me anyway. After that I went to others that were good."

One piece of advice from her mentor sofer: "Don't make skinny strokes." In the long term the thin strokes will crack faster. "Be kind to your clients so they won't have to make repairs again in five years," is the lesson he taught her.

The certified soferet continues to get hate e-mail. "It's mostly boring." Some tell her she will go to hell if she continues to practice sofrut. "It's just cursing; something Jerry Falwell could have written. You can't engage them in [intelligent] dialog."

On the Jewish continuum,"I'm user-friendly Orthodox," she quipped. Actually, she sees herself as centrist Orthodox. "The only thing weird about me is that I'm doing sofrut."

Rabbi Tzvi Fischer, an ordained Orthodox rabbi, who is the director of the Kollel Jewish educational learning center in Portland, said that whether a woman can be a sofer, according to Halakhah, is discussed in Shulhan Arukh (Set Table) law codifier, written by Rabbi Joseph Caro in 17th century Israel, which states women cannot write Torah. This opinion is followed by the "standard Orthodox community" today, Fischer said, and most, therefore, would not use the services of a soferet. However, he continued, this opinion "is not absolute." In Rabbi Falk Katz's responsum he disagrees with Rabbi Caro saying that it's OK, no problem for a woman to write Torah. "Both [positions] are standard Halakhic codifiers," Fischer said.

A few comments/corrections I'd like to make on the above article:

- I must say that Anne, the journalist who wrote this article, was very nice

- My name is Avielah

- the theatre which my Dad managed where I saw "Fiddler on the Roof" so many times all those years ago was the Fiesta Twin in Nanaimo, BC

- As my reputation has grown for doing good work, I'm finding it easier & easier to purchase my materials in more locations, barukh Ha-Shem (however, if you want to check me out making kosher deer skins into parchment, click here)

- Rabbi Dov Laimon - my sofer #2 who doesn't mind being publicly named - is very much alive & well, thank G@d. I saw him last week & he looked quite good

- the R' Falk Katz who R'Tzvi Fischer refers to above is none other than the Drisha, R’ Yehoshua Falk ben Alexander Katz. He lived in the late 1500’s – early 1600’s in Lublin, Poland. He also studied with the two most prominent Polish rabbis of the previous generation, R’ Solomon Luria and R’ Moses Isserles.
The Drisha, in his commentaries on the Tur*, had two possible explanations as to why the Tur omitted women from his list of those who, if they wrote a Sefer Torah, it would not be kosher. He said it could be that the Tur thinks women are not kasherot to write a Sefer Torah for public use. Men could use it for study or women for women's tefilah, for example, therefore we wouldn’t have to geniza it (store it away because it's no good - there's an explanation in this post).
Now the Drisha himself says that this reason is "dachuk" - not a very good explanation, so he goes on to say that the Tur's omission is more likely because he actually believes that women are kasherot to write a kosher Sefer Torah for public kria.
The Drisha then goes on to say “…& I have written at length about this matter in my earlier responsa.” – sadly, we have never found this volume. It may not have survived. He spent early life composing extensive analytical commentaries on the Talmud, which were later lost in a fire.

Also, a note on his reference to Shulchan Arukh Yoreh De'ah Reysh-Peh"Alef Hilkhot Sefer Torah pasuq Gimel is one famous for being used to prohibit women from writing Sifrei Torah. It reads, "A Sefer Torah which has been written by a Masur (Jew who has turned away from Judaism to atheism), Eved (slave), Ishah (woman), Qatan (minor), Kuti (someone who is of doubltful Jewish status, like a Samaritan), or Yisra'el Momar (a converted Jew who has re-converted back to their birth-religion) - pasulin (these Sifrei Torah are disqualified from/unfit for use in public kria).” Very simple & straightforward, no?
NO! If you just look at the *footnote* made by the Be'er Heytav, he speaks in the name of the Drisha (an Acharon/later commentator mentioned above), who spoke in the name of the Tur, the Ro"sh & the Ri"f (all Rishonim/early commentators). He writes that the above pasuq, these aforementioned great Rabbis understood to mean the prohibition extended only to Tefilin.

* the Tur (or Ba’al HaTurim) was R’ Ya'aqov ben Rabbeynu Asher ben Yehiel (the ROSH). He lived in late 1200’s – mid 1300’s in Germany & in Toledo, Spain.
In his volume "Arba’a Turim - Yoreh De’ah" (Four Pillars - Teach Knowledge) lists those who, if they wrote a Sefer Torah, we would have to geniza it:
Idolaters, Non-Jews, Slaves, Minors
Who’s missing?
He left women off his list of those who are pesulim from writing a Sefer Torah.

...& the beat goes on. Shavu'ah tov - a good week to everyone, & may we reach a fair & just peaful agreement this week!

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Friday, August 04, 2006


10 Menachem Av

Written Wednesday, before the fast...
I'm actually working on Eycha right now, getting ready for Tisha B'Av & its transformative powers. The trope fills me with trepidation, so the challenge is to engage with it & just be present. Acknowledge the feelings it inspires & bravely stay with it. Wish me luck.

My aim is to utterly dump my spiritual viscera this Tisha B'Av so I am an empty vessel ready to soak up that holy vibe from my time & experiences here.
Ve-liYerushalayim irkha b'rachamim tashuv...
"And to Jerusalem, Your city, may You return in compassion..."

More soon...

Written late at night, Wednesday...or maybe very early Thursday morning...

ne'alekha - "your shoes"

On our dutiful march to the Kotel I was reminded of Parshat Sh'mot, Exodus 3:5:
?????????, ???-???????? ?????; ????-?????????, ????? ?????????--???? ????????? ?????? ?????? ?????? ??????, ???????-?????? ????.

Va-yomer, al-tiqrav halom; shal-ne'alekha, mey'al rag'lekha -- ki ha-maqim asher atah omeyd alav, ademat-qodesh hu
"And He said: 'Come no closer; take your shoes from off your feet, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.'"

The gematria/numerology for na'al, shoe or sandal, is 150; Nun (50) + Ayin (70) + Lamed (30).
The number 150 is the same for the word ka'as, anger (Khaf (20) + Ayin (70) + Samekh (60). It means to be vexed, angry or irritable.
The same shoresh/root can mean to fasten or bolt; enclose, lock, or shut up.

There is a midrash, a way of understanding the underlying meaning of this Torah text, which tells us that this is how a person must enter into sacred relationship. That in order to be successful, no barrier should be placed between oneself & one's Beloved. So Ha-Shem required before inviting Moshe to begin covenanting. We see this later - Kohanim serving in Temple, Yehoshua entering the Land...

In other words, don't cause your partner to give up their humanity in order to engage in relationship with you.

As we entered the Jewish Quarter - the smallest Quarter - of the Old City, I removed my sandals & stepped onto the warm, smooth stones. It was delicious, like G@d had installed radiant heating. I highly recommend it.

The sacred act of pilgrimmage is one we have to be careful with. There is an exquisitely fine line between actions performed lishma, for the Sake of Heaven, & those which are rooted in self-indulgence. The latter turns an offering of pure faith into fetishism.

Jordan, Danya & I all agree: "...considering religion in general is 90% fetishism, and pilgrimage = fetishism + tourism for the most part, how can you hit people over the head and say, "Be mindful! Stop being a caricature of yourself!"?...

With this attitude I approach the Wall

It's important to remove the tumah - the spiritual impurity - of fear & the soul-paralysis that leads to. It's a bad road & there's nothing but sin. I began this process by weeping through Ma'ariv, particularly at the point where we beg G@d to return to us on this holy mountain, the retaining wall of which I was clutching. I was surrounded by thousands of Jewish women crushing me into the stones, crying, "Sh'ma qoleynu!" "Hear our voice!"

I disassembled myself there, against the holy wall, in preparation for becoming the most receptive vessel that I can, what with my ego & all.

& I attempted to birth a new existence on the floor of the Isralight Centre later.

Afterwards there were shiurim by R' David Aaron & R' Binny Freedman were thoroughly inspirational. R' Freedman had just lost a cousin in the war up north. The boy had been married for only 2 weeks. Kol ha-kavod la-hem.

Cigal & I walked home in the deserted city streets.

An easy fast...

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