Religion, Sex & Gender, Uncategorized

Women Writing Torahs

Filmmaker Sasha Perry recently traveled to Seattle to document a historic event: the completion of the first Torah scroll written by women scribes to be commissioned.

There’s a bit of history that you need to know to clarify the situation. Kadima, a Jewish community in Washington, wanted to buy a Torah written by a woman. After making inquiries, they learned that there were no Torahs written by women. So they decided to commission six women to write one.
Since the time that this Torah was commissioned, in 2003, several women have become Torah scribes (or sofrot) is and completed the writing of a Torah on their own. (In fact, one of those is Julie Seltzer, an MJL writer who bakes a different challah for every Torah portion {here’s this week’s — not that it has anything to do with the movie; it’s just independently cool}.)
Perry explains a bit of the background:

Since the time the Women’s Torah Project began, nearly 50 women have become Torah scribes, and one woman, Jen Taylor Friedman, has written 3 sefer Torahs by herself.  Not only has Kadima created a beautiful Torah for their community, they have also opened doors for women to take their places in Judaism one step further.

Now that the community has this Torah, what are they going to do with it? The next step is, of course, decorating it — other women from the community are already starting to work on the crown, mantle and yad. But really, the next big step is Shabbat — like any other Torah, they’re going to read the eternal story of our people’s history each week.
Crossposted from Mixed Multitudes.

12 thoughts on “Women Writing Torahs

  1. There seems to be a cart before the horse problem here.
    While the Jewish women in SF (as you mention) are busy making lots of Torah scrolls instead of lots of Jews, the Jewish women in Orthodox communities are busy making lots of Jews instead of lots of Torah scrolls.
    For a variety of practical reasons, the Orthodox women are doing things right.

    This is a link to a Rabbinic Responsa (Tshuvah) written by the learned Rav Simcha Roth of Herzliya on the permisibility of reading from a Sefer Torah written by a woman.
    Sorry it is only in Hebrew.
    האם מותר לקרוא בציבור מספר תורה שנכתב על-ידי סופרת סת”ם?
    I shall paste the conclusion – but it does not do Rabbi Roth justice to read the conclusion only without the full text.
    לסיכום: על אף האיסור המפורש שבגמרא יש פוסקים גדולים מרבותינו הראשונים שמדבריהם ניתן ללמוד שציבור אכן יוצא ידי חובת הקריאה בספר תורה שנכתב על-ידי סופרת – וכדאי הוא בעל הפרישה והדרישה לסמוך עליו – ועל אחת כמה וכמה רי”ף רא”ש ובעל הטורים. לגבי תפילין ומזוזות שנכתבו על-ידי סופרת, כל אחד ואחד יחליט בעצמו אם הוא סבור שדעת הרב גולינקין ושאר הרבנים בארה”ב מכשירה בעצם גם תפילין ומזוזות שנכתבו על-ידי סופרת, מהנימוקים שהבאתי לעיל.

  3. I fully support sofrot, but this writing is halakhically terrible. Some of the letters which one needs to be careful to distinguish one from the other (nun sofit, zayin) are written almost identically. Why should we be proud of a sefer Torah written by women when the Torah is, from some of its available samples, is pasul?
    Unlike the work of Jen which is actually accurate and awesome.

  4. @ Desh: The Responsum is quite long but the bottom line is that this is the first Psak I have seen that gives the green light.
    There are certainly traditional/egal Jews who would accept a Torah written by a woman because they see egalitarianism as a basic value.
    But here it is a Tshuvah that is based on sources.

  5. Thanks, Anonymous 🙂
    It’s true that a lot of the letters we can see are rather problematic, but let’s remember that access to education and training is very hard for women to obtain. My first work wasn’t anything to write home about either; hopefully this is a start and they’ll improve as scribes from here.

  6. Boxhead, basically you’re saying that women should be consigned to baby-making machines instead of enriching the faith.
    Yep, that’ll go over well in this site.

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