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.

Friday, October 21, 2005



30 Tishrei

Yeah, that's what I get asked sometimes. It's an awkwardly worded question, awkwardly asked. But I try to make the best of it:
"Actually, yes, I am Orthodox, but I'm the user-friendly kind." I smile.

After that, everything goes swimmingly.

I've said it before & I'll say it again: I love Jews. I have respect for the choices which other Jews make which are different from my own, even when I don't understand how they made those choices. If G@d gave all humans free will, then who am I to hold others in contempt for thinking for themselves & exercising that G@d-given freedom? I may not agree with them, but I respect them nonethless.

Did I mention that my female student is not affiliated Orthodox?

My prayer for the Jewish People, is for us to not hate each other for our differences, for us to not make negative assumptions about each other, for us to not veneer other Jews who have made choices dissimilar to our own with our own prejudices & fears. Ameyn selah.

Thursday, October 20, 2005



17 Tishrei

This is where I listed the ten middot (character traits) which I know I must work to change about myself. The ten most serious, anyway. The ten which I see interfere with my path, have the most negative influence on it. As you'll see, number two on the list is my committment to decrease fear. I failed on the first day of Sukkot, but will keep trying.

So, what happened? The time came in our synagogue service to do the hakafot, when we take our lulavim & etrogim (3 species of Israeli greenery plus a citron) & parade around the bimah. A teaching on this is: Traditionally, these species  are said to replicate G@d's 4-letter Holy Name.

Just as that was beginning, my dear husband came over to the women's side of the mechitzah (boundary between the men's & women's sections) & handed me the shul's extra set of lulav & etrog. We're so poor this year, we couldn't afford our own, but thank G@d our synagogue provides spare ones.

It was really thoughtful of Joel to offer the species to me, so I could join in the circling. At first I was confused, because he is supposed to participate as well, according to some he has a greater obligation to do so. But he knew I had not had a chance yet to bentsch (pray) lulav, so I accepted them & thanked him. I stood there at the edge of the plants we use as the gender division, but saw that not only did no other women have the species, but that the men were circling on their own side, where I'm not allowed to enter. I didn't know what to do.

I was surprised, because we used to all circle together, men & women around the whole bimah, on both sides of the mechitzah. But with an imploding shul & a new rabbi, our older minhagim (traditions) are silently & suddenly disappearing. The women & children stood behind the barrier, quietly looking on. I awkwardly stood there with my lulav & etrog, watching the men chant & march. Feeling very conspicuous that I was ready to join in the mitzvah, but noting there was no place for me. I was too afraid of offending some of the men to walk over there & join the line. Taking my place. Even though we weren't actually davening (praying), my presence, too close, may inspire a reaction I would not want to deal with.

So I handed the species back to my husband so that he could join the men, & burst into tears in the rabbi's office.

Joel brought the lulav & etrog back to me at the end of services, so that I could at least do the individual blessing. & our rabbi is now checking with his rav to find out how we can be more inclusive, Barukh HaShem.

But I still wish I'd had her courage.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005



17 Tishrei

As the Chag ("holiday" - from the same root as the Arabic word "hajj") preparations were such a whirlwind between Yom Kippur & Sukkot (now in its intermediate days), I have not yet had a chance to publicly thank Jordan for putting together my new masthead image. He's a cracking good web designer, which you can see for yourself if you check out his site. He's also a great pseudo-sibling & fab to talk comparative religion with.
Thanks, Jordy!

Monday, October 17, 2005



14 Tishrei

LEARNING TO READ AND WRITE IN MEDIEVAL EGYPT: CHILDREN'S EXERCISE BOOKS FROM THE CAIRO GENIZA is an academic paper published by Oxford University Press. In it, the author J Olszowy-Schlanger, writes the following:

"...The famous female scribe from Yemen, Myriam daughter of Benaya (MS lost), Paula, daughter of Abraham of Rome (MS Warsaw, Jewish Historical Institute no 6) and other copyists have been described by C. Sirat, ‘Les femmes juives et l’écriture au moyen age’..."

Journal of Semitic Studies, XLVIII/1 Spring 2003 © The University of Manchester, pp. 47-69(23) -

Miriam, whose pentateuch/Sefer Torah was discovered by Jacob Saphir is also featured here, as well as in the Encyclopedia Judaica.

& speaking of Paula bat Avraham of Rome, this site has the following to say about her:

"Among Hebrew scribes we also find women and children, however exceptionally. At the end of the 13th century Paula, daughter of Abraham, made her living as scribe in Rome. She was descendant of a family of scribes and scholars, among them the famous Rabbi Nathan ben Jehiel."

As I was doing further research yesterday, thinking that all I had to do was track down a copy of Colette Sirat's book (as I read French), I happened upon yet another female scribe who I had never heard of before! How delightful!! Please read this short, but very enlightening excerpt on Hannah bat Menahem Zion.

What a lovely, lovely way to enter Chag Sukot (the holiday of Tabernacles)! What a joyful discovery of yet another soferet in our history! Barukh HaShem :D

Sunday, October 16, 2005



13 Tishrei

We had a really interesting Friday morning class at Shaarey Tefilah a while back which I've wanted to blog about. I hope you find my notes of interest:

Kuzar is the Hebrew name for a kingdom whose entire population converted from pagan practice to Judaism.
Khazar is the Arabic name for the same group. I'm only mentioning this because this name sounds like the Hebrew word for "pig". What it actually refers to, though is people from the exposed north mountains.

The Kuzari, after their dispersion, disappeared into the various nations surrounding their former empire. Some vestiges of their existence include Kurdish people still speaking Aramaic; some Kurds are Jews descended from the Kuzari.

We then moved on to Talmud, tractate Shabbes 156a-b: "...if you are born on a Sunday, you will be of one nature - all good or all bad - you will tend to extremes. Because on the first day of creation the light & dark were separated...Mercury - kochav (star) - rules those radiant in wisdom."

Rabbi Yochanan said, "Eyn mazal le-Yisra'el" - There is no star over Israel. He taught that astrology is not deterministic. How do we know? From Yermiyahu - Jeremiah - where G@d says don't follow the way of other nations. Don't fear the signs of the Heavens, for the other nations will fear them, but you don't have to.

There is such a thing as collective versus individual destiny. Work with G@d to find your own.

The we read a midrash - legend - said in the name of Rav about Avraham Avinu - our Father Abraham - talking to G@d about moving planets to change his fertility. Where G@d says, "Think outside the box!" Shabbes 156b

That's all, folks!

Saturday, October 15, 2005



13 Tishrei

You know, G@d (or G-d, or Gd, or G*d, or just plain God - whatever you want to call Him/Her/It) is so gracious.

Think about how we get the nutrition for our bodies. I mean, all the vitamins & minerals we need are basically in the soil, but G@d didn't create us so that we'd just eat dirt to sustain ourselves. He could have, but He didn't. He created all sorts of beautiful plants which grow many kinds of gorgeous fruit or vegetables, roots & seeds. I think that G@d , if I may be so bold, really wanted us to enjoy eating, take pleasure in taking sustenance. So He created not only these wondrous delicacies, but wide eyes to enjoy their shapes & colours, a receptive nose to inhale their aromas, responsive fingers to explore their surfaces & interiors & a sensitive tongue to savour their complex textures & flavours. This is one of the ways we connect with The Holy One, by accepting these "extra" gifts. He could have created us in a way that we would have survived sufficiently on handfuls of earth - which would have made sense considering we each are "adam", "Earthling", formed by His hand from the adamah, Earth.

It's random realisations like this which support my confidence that G@d created us with purpose & with care.
Ameyn selah & shavu'ah tov. A good week to all.

Thursday, October 13, 2005



11 Tishrei

"Geniza" means to put something away permanently, or to bury it, because it is unfit for use.
Jastrow has this to say about the root Gimel-Nun-Zayin:
" cut off, set suppress or prohibit, declare uncanonical, to disappear, be hidden...cover up..."

Aside from our weddings, there was not much about 5765 I would keep. A true gift.

As I recall my Yom Kipur experience over the past day, I made special efforts to focus on the confessions for things I personally am not guilty of & praying for mercy on all Israel, even the people who mistreat me. That was very sobering.

Our Rabbi's drush was based on this great web site brought to you by the Skirball Centre atTemple Emanuel. Check out their faculty - it's my idea of Heaven, with a mix of scholars representing a broad variety of Jewish points of view.

Then perform your Virtual Tashlich.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005



9 Tishrei

With the lyrics of Leonard Cohen's "Who By Fire" dancing through my intrepid brain, I am inspired to make a list of:

The 10 things I would like to improve about myself this year, 1 for each of the Days of Awe in Tishrei:

1. increase my patience
2. decrease my fear
3. stop berating myself when I make small, human mistakes
4. give more money to tzedaka
5. volunteer a few hours each week to perform charity work
6. not withdraw completey from my community when I'm hurt or grieving
7. improve my relationship with food by divorcing my self from my mother's war trauma
8. stop interrupting people when they are speaking
9. slow down so I can be more conscious
10. really deepen my trust in G@d

All of the fast days, when observed properly, draw down Divine grace from the ultimate source of mercy, G@d's Name Havayah.

The Sefer Hatanya quotes the Arizal (Rabbi Yitzchaq Luria) as teaching his students to fast 151 fasts to repent for their anger. Nowadays, many people give charity instead of fasting (but not on the general fast days in the Jewish calendar, only for "personal" fasts). "Anger," or "ka'as" in Hebrew, equals the number 150. The rectification for anger (150), is anger plus 1 (G@d is One,) or 151. Your connexion to G@d can help you to rectify anger. It is advisable to give the sum of 151 to charity in dollars or other denomination each time that you become angry. That'd sure make me think twice before I lost my temper! I'll envision all that cash next time I get mad, & how I can't afford to part with it...

For a Hassidic bent on fasting (think Jewish Sufis) check thisout.


Tuesday, October 11, 2005



8 Tishrei

Back of my last mezuzah


So, I was working at a Conservative synagogue today, repairing one of their Torah scrolls. They're very friendly there, especially the rabbi, who is this fabulous German-Mexican JTS rav. I am always impressed by him each time we meet - I do some teaching there as well as work on their Torahs - because he exudes such passion for Judaism & such rigid ethical standards. It's like he's constantly on fire. I really admire him.

Unfortunately, each time I come to do repairs, the mantle has been inevitably switched on the Sefer I'm fixing & it always takes me a while to find it. & as they continue using the Torahs that are pasul (there are leniencies permitting this, so there's no problem), they are never rolled to the place where I left them. So each visit is rather time consuming in the beginning, but I manage. I just have to correct each one from one end or thre other all the way through, otherwise I'll miss a bit & that won't do. The Sefer I was repairing today has further degraded since I first checked & assessed it, as it is in delicate condition (it's from before 1860 & has some water damage) & in regular use. If I could just get them to give it a little break until I've re-kashered it, I'd be so happy.

But maybe I should be so happy anyway :)

So this rabbi told me a story of a well known sofer who came to his synagogue & asked to look at the Torahs. He whipped one out & threw it open & was very careless & rough with it as he rolled through it, announcing all it's problems. He insisted that he take all the synagogues Torah scrolls back to LA with him to repair. The rabbi said no. This is not a piece of wood, he said, not only some fabric. This is a Sefer Torah, & you have shown no kavod (respect) in handling it, so you cannot touch any of them.

So there.

I also had the pleasure of meeting another rabbi, a charming Israeli-Brazillian rav from the Qol Ya'aqov yeshivah. He teaches kabbalah here in Vancouver & guess what? He doesn't teach at synagogues or the JCC, he teaches at regular, not-Jewish community centres & even the Peretz Centre (for secular Jewish culture). Kol haKavod to him!

Front of my last mezuzah:


Talmud Bavli Eruvin 13a shares this exchange to support our understanding that global care of one's Self is necessary to perform sofrut:
When R' Meir became a student of R' Yishmael, the latter asked him, "My son, what is your profession?" R' Meir replied, "I am a scribe." To this R' Yishmael remarked, "My son, be scrupulous in your work, for it is a heavenly pursuit, & should you delete one letter or add one letter, such effort is tantamount to destroying the entire world."

Let's Keep the world going!

Monday, October 10, 2005



7 Tishrei

Happy Thanksgiving!
We went off to the Fifth Avenue Cinema to catch a matinee of "Corpse Bride", Tim Burton's latest masterpiece of puppetry. It was fantastic! Kudos to all the artists & actors!

I made Joel a celebratory meal for two, including creamed potatoes with peas, squash & green beans in butter & hickory smoked Tofurky slices (we have a dairy-only kitchen). This is truly a time to be thankful to G@d: for enough to eat, for a roof over our heads, for good health. But you don't have to wait until Thanksgiving Day to feel gratitude to HaShem for the blessings in you life - any day will do :)

Sunday, October 09, 2005



6 Tishrei

Work has been slow going, but I will persevere, im yirtzeh haShem (with G@d's help).
Tonight, Joel & I went to our friend Tabassum's to share in her Ramadaan Iftar (break fast). We had a wonderful time! & I can't believe it's been a year since we last joined her for a Ramadaan evening meal.

She picked up food for us all at Sabra's, one of our local hekashered meat restaurants, & we brought our glass plates, etc. Dietary practice only has the power to separate people if the practitioners allow it :)

We each took turns praying once we got to her place, Joel & I each doing Mincha & Tabassum doing Magrhib Salat (sunset prayers - the Arabic "maghrib" has the same root as the Hebrew "maariv", the evening prayers in Judaism). We compared our prayers, their similarity in words & actions. I really enjoy learning about Islam through my Muslim friends like Tabassum, Rabia & Kyla.

The rest of the evening was so great - we talked a lot about religion, a little about politics, how we rely on G@d, through our faiths, to help us be the best we can be. I really value being able to exchange philosophy of different religions with other people of faith. Thank G@d!

We stayed late - much later than we ought to have considering we have all early prayers & work, but it was so delicious to have such company!

Saturday, October 08, 2005



5 Tishrei

We had a beautiful Shabbat Shuvah, Sabbath of Return, filled with song, friends & other blessings, thank G@d. However, others in the world today were not so fortunate, as we had the misfortune to learn after Havdalah tonight. What a blinding tragedy to have happened to the people of south Asia today, & during Ramadan to boot.

We called Kyla right away, to make sure that her family & friends in Pakistan were all safe, find out if there was anything we could do. They're all safe, Barukh HaShem/thank G@d.

As it is our responsibility as human beings to help each other & as we Jews are commanded by the Holy One to perform acts of kindness & charity to non-Jews, please contact one of the following organisations, or another of your choosing, to speed the rescue effort, bring relief to the injured & comfort the bereaved:

American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee
India Earthquake Relief
711 Third Avenue, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10017

American Jewish World Service
989 Avenue of the Americas, 10th Floor
New York, NY 10018

B'nai B'rith International
Disaster Relief - India Earthquake
Disaster Relief Fund
1640 Rhode Island Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20036

...& pray hard!

Friday, October 07, 2005



4 Tishrei

As we have completed our study of R' Soloveitchik's "Lonely Man of Faith", B"H, we now begin a study of Rabbi Yehudah HaLevi's classic work of Jewish philosophy, "The Kuzari: In Defense of the Despised Faith".  This is how I spend my Friday mornings in synagogue: pray, breakfast & learn. & I've always been facinated by the Kuzar empire & their adoption of Judaism as "the true faith".

The Kuzari presents a dialogue between King Bulan of the Khazars and a rabbi, Yitzchaq Al-HaSangari (or
Mangari, as he is also known). The questions and answers discuss many of the fundamentals of Judaism, including: tradition vs. logic, prophetic messages, the afterlife, the land of Israel, the Hebrew language, the benefits of communal prayer, astrology, determinism vs. free will, and many other subjects. This is one of the most revered Jewish philosophical works of all time.

& it just plain rocks.

In other news, Joel has now been officially accepted as an immigrant to Canada! After all the paperwork, medical expenses & various fees which nearly broke us, the wait is finally over! Thank G@d!
The blessing we recite when we hear good news which is of benefit to ourselves & others is:
Barukh atah, H', Eloqeynu melekh ha-olam, ha-tov ve-ha-meytiv!
Blessed are you, L@rd our G@d, ruler over time & space, who is good & does good!

Wishing you all a beautiful, heart-opening Shabbat Shuvah!

Thursday, October 06, 2005



3 Tishrei - the fast of Gedaliyah

I can't believe it's been 2 years. & then all at once, I can't believe it's been only 2 years. So very much has unfolded, run roughshod over me, been a great blessing, taken me by surprise. & yet, although I did not expect it all, nor at first accept it all, I have been learning how to dance with it all.

Thank G@d. May each one of us move from strength to strength this year, & for those of you who are choosing to fast today, may it be easy yet meaningful. Blessings to all.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005



3 Tishrei

This is one of those things that restores my confidence in the existence of G@d, on those days when everything seems so chaotic & out of control that there's just no way there's a higher, benevolent intellegence behind the scenes.

& no, Jordan, I'm not referring to the Demiurge* ("Don't pay any attention to the man behind the curtain!")

* The definition of "Demiurge" on page 14 of The Bluffer's Guide to the Occult (Ravette Books, 1988) is:

An evil creator who tried to trick everyone into believing he was G@d while the real G@d stood in the background being mysterious.

Monday, October 03, 2005



30 Elul

My Hebrew birthday is tomorrow. Alef Tishrei, or Rosh HaShanah as more people know it. The following is a list of events which happened in Jewish history on that date:

Death of Sarah Imeinu/our mother & Akeidat Yitzchak/the binding of Isaac, 1676 BCE

Birth of Rav Yisroel Abuchatzeira, the Baba Sali (1890-1984)

Death of Rav Yaakov Dovid ben Ze’ev Wilovsky of Slutzk, Chicago and Tsefas (the Ridvaz), one of the great European scholars to come to America. As a consequence of the halachic standards of kashrus that he attempted to impose in Chicago, he eventually had to flee for his life (1845-1914).

Death of Rav Meir Yeudah Leibush ben Yechiel Michel (Malbim). (1809-1879). He was born in Volhynia and was still a child when his father died. He studied in his native town until the age of 13. He then went to Warsaw where he was known as the ‘iluy (prodigy) from Volhynia.’ From 1838 to 1845 he was rabbi of Wreschen, district of Posen, and in the latter year was called to the rabbinate of Kempen, where he remained until 1860; he was thereafter known as "der Kempener." In 1860 Malbim became chief rabbi of Bucharest, Rumania. But he could not agree with the rich German Jews there; they wished to introduce the Reformed rite, and did not shrink even from violence in the pursuit of their aims. By intrigues they succeeded in throwing him into prison, and though he was liberated through the intervention of Sir Moses Montefiore, it was upon the condition that he leave Rumania. He became Rav of Moghilef, on the Dnieper in 1870, but his lack of subservience provoked the resentment of the richer Jews, who denounced him as a political criminal. The governor of Moghilef ordered him to leave town. Malbim then went to Königsberg as chief rabbi of the Polish community, but there he fared no better than in Bucharest and Moghilef; he was continually harassed by the German Jews. His fame and immense popularity rests upon his widely esteemed commentary to Tanach, in which he details the close reationship between the Oral and the Written Law.

Death of Rav Amnon of Mainz, who died on Kidush HaShem(was martyred), while composing the Rosh Hashanah prayer, "Unesaneh Tokef" (1012).

Death of Rav Yitzchak Meir of Kopycznitz (1931).

Death of Rav Shefatia, author of the selicha, “Yisrael Nosha BaHashem,” (886)

Cardinal Caraffa (later to be Pope Paulo IV), with the backing of Pope Julius III, publically burns sefarim in Rome, 15
(this list is chiefly from another website whose name & URL I have long since forgotten & I'm sorry)

As my thoughts turn to teshuvah/repentance, for which we Jews are given the gift of these 10 "daze", I'm publicly encouraging anyone reading this blog who I may have hurt & owe an apology to, to please contact me privately.

As for me, this year has been full of tsuris (troubles). I have been presented with unforseen professional difficulty, intense work-related stress & a home synagogue which is falling apart at the seams. Thank G@d, HaShem has given me one bright spot, my wedding to Joel, as a comfort. I'm trying to have faith that since this year was so incredibly hard, that next year has *got* to be better.

May 5766 bring you blessings, joy & peace!

Sunday, October 02, 2005



29 Elul

אשפך לפניו שיחי צרתי לפניו אגיד

Eshpokh l'fanav sichi tzarati l'fanav agid

I pour out before G@d my prayerful meditation; my distress, before G@d, I declare
Psalms 142:3


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