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.

Tuesday, May 25, 2004



I made a neder (a vow) at Pesach (Passover) to write this Sefer Torah in silence. No music, no talk radio, no chatting. I hadn't been indulging in any of this while writing previously, but I made the neder to keep me highly conscious of avoiding sound that may distract me. I learned from this how rare true silence is. How one could calm all manner of vibration within one's home, workspace - even heart or mind - & still the noise pours in from everywhere. We are surrounded by noisy entities, be they people, cars, animals, wind... how do I write in silence? Ear plugs didn't work - they just served to isolate the more acute sounds I was needing to separate myself from. So I tried white noise. An AM radio set to no station. It's sound, but as amorphous as silence & blocks discernable noises from my ears.

& then I got to thinking. If I'm going to surround myself with a vibrational field, why not one of distinct origin, one with a clear connexion to G@d, one that will not only allow my total focus on this Work, but one that fills me with awe? So it seemed obvious. I needed to listen to the Cosmos.

I found this link with the help of an astrophysicist friend (todah rabah, Evgenya) & now write envelopped in the vibration of Creation itself.

Monday, May 24, 2004



Shavu'ot is coming. The day we chant Yetziv Pitgam & try to open ourselves to saving the world entire. I'm never ready. Even the omer doesn't ready me *enough*. May the Holy One grant that I become ready during this sacred time. Ameyn selah.

Friday, May 21, 2004



Chodesh Tov! It's Sivan!

So I took on some nedarim (vows) at Pesach. It became obvious to me that I had some major processing to do, so I made a neder to G@d to fast erev Rosh Chodesh Sivan, the day before this new moon.

Originally I wanted to take on a vow that I would fast erev Rosh Chodesh every month, like a Yom Kipur Qatan. But that made Joel twitchy. He's very concerned that I always have enough nutritous food to eat & fluids to drink. I'm so lucky! Besides, once we're married he can Halakhically annul my vows. I feel very divided about this - on the one hand, why should anybody have authority over the vows made by a full grown adult female? One the other hand, what if I make a poor selection for a neder? What if I make a neder for the wrong reasons or what if I don't consider it thoroughly before I declare it to The Holy One? I mean to say, I'm only human. Times like this, I'd like a failsafe :)

I had also considered becoming a nazir (consecrated/dedicated to G@d) for the time I would write the Sefer Torah. Some people thought that was very cool. Others told me I was crazy. I'm used to that. The thing that I realised was that it's extremely difficult to be sure that there are no alcohols or grape products in many foods, as they're often chemical extracts. So until I'd done much more research, I wasn't going to become a nazir. Besides, at the end of the nazir period, I'd have to shave my head, & Joel wasn't a big fan of that, either :)
fiancés, man! What can you do?

Actually, this is all wonderful. I love being engaged to him. We're both well, I think part of our partnership is that we're sort of each other's "boss" in a way...that's not the best way to describe it...but Jewish Law recognises that there are some things a husband should have the last word on & some things a wife should have the last word on - & they're not the ones you'd think! All this doesn't sound so PC, I know, but it's real & it works & it's right (for us). I'm looking forward to our chupah & the life we're, G@d willing, going to build.
He's a good employer :) I think I'll keep him!

ANYWAY, I'm fasting for clarity & for tshuvah. & I find fasting a very effective & satisfying spiritual tool with which to draw closer to G@d. The tshuvah (repentance/response) & re-orienting & re-grounding I could feel happening even early in the day - my prayers have been more sincere & focused & thoughtful. "T'filah" actually means "self-examination", but it's translated as "prayer". So as the fast was working on me, I asked for strength to correct some of my faults that sometimes get in the way of things... fear.

I know that sometimes my Din (the s'firah of judgement) is perhaps stronger than it needs to be. My fear of unworthiness has interfered with my fully embracing of writing this Sefer Torah. A holy priviledge, but a frightening prospect. I was at a shiva home & ran into a good friend of mine, a Kabalist rabbi, who asked me with stars in his eyes what it felt like to write G@d's name. I told him I hadn't done it yet. "What? Why not?" I told him I was afraid. That I would make an error or that I hadn't earned the priviledge somehow. I'd been writing amudim (columns) of the Sefer which didn't include any of the 10 holy names I would need to recite a special blessing over. "Aw, you've gotta write G@d's name," he said with a smile, "with joy & happiness & enthusiasm & ecstasy! You know, you're really lucky to be able to do this." He was right. I related this to Joel & he agreed. "You have to put G@d in where He belongs, Ohev." he said.

So I fasted. Kept my stomach closed & my heart open all day.

I'm really wanting to make this a regular monthly practice for myself for ever & ever. I mean, I wouldn't necessarily fast while I was pregnant or nursing (G@d willing), but otherwise...this is so good for my neshamah, so I *want* it! Maybe I could make a life-stage vow. Sort of as a part of a particular process: my plan is to do this and when this process is over, we'll see.

It worked. I feel "cleaner" & have written more beautiful letters today. Barukh haShem!
Shabbat Shalom.

Thursday, May 20, 2004



Some compelling research I have recently performed lead me to this exciting information. Wouldn't it be for the great benefit of all Jews to establish that there once existed a small soferet tradition? Halakhah depends so much on precedent, & so many rules are made to justify accepted community practices, that it would be such a treasure to be able to prove this was the case for sofrot! If anyone else out there has further information, or can put me in touch with a women's historian, please e-mail me! This just might be what we need to make women normative ritual scribes in Judaism!

Written Out of History: Our Jewish Foremothers – Sondra Henry & Emily Taitz
1983 Second Edition, Revised Biblio Press

“It was rare to find a footnote such as this one by an anonymous woman:

‘I beseech the reader not to judge me harshly when he finds that mistakes have crept into this work; for when I was engaged in copying it, God blessed me with a son, and thus I could not attend to my business properly.’”*

“…It was not common for women to be taught how to write at all in medieval Europe or the near East, but, as always, there were notable exceptions. Miriam Benayahu was perhaps one of the most notable. In San’ya, Yemen, where her family lived, women were generally excluded from all religious learning. Yet Miriam, a scribe of renown, copied the Torah – the Five Books of Moses, and with it a note in her own hand, which reads:

‘Do not condemn me for any errors that you may find for I am a nursing woman. Miriam, the daughter of Benayahu the Scribe’**

Miriam’s family was famous during the fourteenth century and afterwards for producing over four hundred books for synagogues and private individuals. These books are still known and remembered for their beauty and accuracy.”

* Solomom Schechter, Studies in Judaism, First series, 1911, “Women in Temple and Synagogue,” Chap. Xiii, p.264
** S.D. Gitein, Jews and Arabs: Their contact Through the Ages, (New York, Schocken Books, 3rd. ed., 1974), p. 186. See also: Encyclopaedia Judaica, “Benayah,” Vol. 4, and Jacob Saphir, Ma-asei le-Teman, (ed., A. Yaari, 1951), pp. 173-174. Saphir visited Yemen in 1859 and describes the Pentateuch that Miriam copied.

“And All Your Children Shall Be Learned” Women and the Study of Torah in Jewish Law and History – Shoshana Pantel Zolty
1993 Jason Aaronson

P 145
“When I speak of women scribes, I am not referring to a scribe in the sense of the halakhically defined “sofer”, a professional expert in the writing of Torah scrolls, tefillin, and mezuzot used for religious ritual. Rather I mean women who copied religious texts for use by the general community in the days before the advent of the printing press, when every Jewish book had to be transcribed by hand…A Pentateuch of the Late Middle Ages, discovered in Yemen and written in precise and beautiful style, is inscribed with the following inscription, ‘Please do not fault me if you find herein a mistake, as I am a nursing woman, Miriam the daughter of Benayah the Scribe.’*
At first, it seems surprising that this manuscript was found in Yemen, considering that women in Yemen were, by and large, illiterate.** Noting, however, that Miriam’s father was a scribe, one can understand how she was more likely to be literate as well as educated. If she happened to have been an only child, it would explain her level of education, since it was common practice among Yemenites who had no son to instruct a daughter…in higher Jewish subjects, even including the laws and practice of ritual slaughtering.** * There is also indirect mention of another female scribe in the Genizah documents: we are told that the Jewish community of Daquq (today called Tawuq), Iraq, was headed by Azarya, ‘son of the female copyist.’ He was praised by the Hebrew poet Judah al-Harizi for his noble descent and character as well as his munificence.”****

* Goitein, Sidrei Hinukh, p. 64
** Aharon Ben-Dod, Ha-Hinukh ha-Yehudi be-Tz’fon Taimon, p.73
*** Goitein, Jews and Arabs: Their Contact Through the Ages, p. 186.
**** Goitein, A Mediterranean Society, vol. 2, p.184

Also: Safra Benayah ben Sa'adiah
BENAYAH (Benaiah), family of scribes, who lived in Sana, Yemen, in the 15th century. The books copied by members of the family, particularly the Scriptures, are noted for accuracy and beauty, and to this day Yemenite Jews remember BENAYAH as the greatest scribe in their history. The members of the family known to have been scribes are Benayah, his sons DAVID and JOSEPH, and his daughter MIRIAM. Benayah's signature was "Safra (writer) Benayah b. Sa'adiah b. Zechariah."
According to Yemenite Jewish tradition, the Benayah family copied some 400 books for synagogues and private individuals, some of which are still extant. Most of them are unilingual Pentateuchs (Tijan), which include the large and small masorah in the margins and Mahberet al-Tijan, which deals with matters affecting the traditional reading of the scriptural text and with grammar. Apart from Pentateuchs, they also copied books of haftarot with Aramaic translations and prayer books; one such prayer book, containing a wealth of songs and piyyutim, which had been copied by Joseph, is in the Royal Library in Berlin (Heb. Ms. 103).
The periods during which members of the family engaged in their work can be determined from the dates given by the inscriptions in the books: Benayah, 1470; David, 1484–1510; and Joseph, 1485–1508. Miriam, Benayah's daughter, was a phenomenon in Yemenite society and culture, where, as a rule, women were illiterate. Jacob Saphir, who visited Yemen in 1859, describes a Pentateuch that Miriam copied, and which contains an apology by her at the end: "Do not condemn me for any errors that you may find, for I am a nursing woman; Miriam, the daughter of Benayah the scribe."
Two other scribes by the name of Benayah are known: BENAYAH B. KALEV B. MAHPUZ AL-BAULI, around 1342 (J. L. Nahum, Mi-Zefunot Yehudei Teiman (1962), 252); and BENAYAH B. SAIDA B. JOSEPH, around 1587 (Moscow, Guenzburg Ms. 1306).

by Yehuda Ratzaby

& here is a book scribed by Miriyam's brother!

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