As we reported a few months ago, Jen Taylor Friedman recently became the first known woman to write a sefer Torah. However, she will certainly not be the last. This week’s Forward has a feature on Rabbi Linda Motzkin of Saratoga Springs NY, who is working on a sefer Torah that she is not only writing, but creating from start to finish.
After finding a rabbi who would teach her, however, Motzkin noted an even more daunting challenge: How to acquire the basic materials, if the vendors refuse to knowingly sell to a woman?
Motzkin, who refused to obtain the tools of her holy trade under a pretense, turned instead to her own backyard, drawing on the townspeople and the environs of Saratoga to fashion her own materials.
Motzkin makes her own parchment out of deerskin, bounty given to her by local hunters, fashions quills from reeds or bird feathers, and ritually immerses herself in a neighbor’s pond. The ink she uses was a gift from her teacher, but she is working with a congregant to brew her own.
Obligatory plug: Rabbi Kevin Hale‘s summer 2003 mezuzah-writing class, which the article mentions as the place where Rabbi Motzkin got her start at soferut, took place, of course, at the NHC Summer Institute! I had the privilege of being in this class too, though unlike Rabbi Motzkin, I didn’t actually do anything with it afterwards.
Another unusual and significant element of this story is that Rabbi Motzkin is not only a woman but a Reform rabbi. Every liberal Jewish community with a permanent home has one or more sifrei Torah, but the vast majority of these are purchased from the Orthodox world, since liberal Jewish soferim/soferot are few and far between. As more and more liberal Jews learn these essential skills, the liberal Jewish world can become more self-sufficient.
As Rabbi Ethan Tucker writes in Zeek:
A critical aspect of communal empowerment is a sense of self-sufficiency and a feeling that one does not need to turn to other Jews in otherwise secluded communities with whom one has no relationship in order to preserve the basics of Jewish life. We all cook and bake. Why shouldn’t every community be making its own matzot? We all know people who can write beautifully. Why shouldn’t they learn to write our sacred texts? Not only is the empowered community richer, it is also more self-confident, as it knows that its self-sufficiency entitles it to a place at the table with any other Jewish community in the world and throughout history.
Kein yehi ratzon.