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.

My Photo
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.

Saturday, April 22, 2006


25 Nisan

"Egalitarian Ketubah Text" copyright A. Barclay lightfast ink on watercolour paper

This was an intense, full Shabbat, thank G@d. Much walking & processing. Too much to write about, so all you get tonight is a picture & a link to this incredible poem, Shodo of Fifteen Years’ Marriage, second one down.

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Friday, April 21, 2006


23 Nisan

Tomorrow is the one day set aside each year to stop how we normally live & to give some thought to how we could be living. The one day some of us remember that we & the Earth & the animals & the plants & the air & the water are in fact all in the same canoe, as some of our First Nations hosts say, & that whatever we do to harm them ultimately returns to bite us in the end. Pun intended.

Earth Day.

I look around myself to see the tremendous speed at which many of us live our lives today, chasing the almighty buck, consuming whatever looks shiny & bouncey, distracted from our true environment: food, family, water, air. & encourage you to take the environmental footprint quiz found at the Earth Day link above & pay attention to how you could make it even a teensy bit smaller. You might also want to have a look at Adam Va-Adamah's site . Vancouver's Jewish environmental society has much good to share with people of all beliefs.

I have been inspired today to read Qohelet, the Book of Ecclesiastes, as well as some commentary on it. It's quite sobering. Not in a fire & brimstone way, just in a transparent way. The kind of transparency you find when your heart recognises the truth. It resonates, because it already dwells within your soul.

For example, Qohelet Rabbah 4:6 states: "Look at my creations, see how beautiful they are, how excellent. Make sure you do not ruin or destroy My world, for if you do there will be no one to repair it after you."

& much as some people see environmentalism to be inconvenient to humans because it somehow demands that we "put the Earth before our needs", don't forget that living with integrity on the Earth also means treating ourselves & other people with integrity.

Something that the Federal & Ontatio Provincial authorities are not doing right now. I'm deeply disappointed that a paper considered legally invalid by the courts is being used to rationalize the mistreatment of the Six Nations People, their supporters & their land. This is unacceptable. What's going on in southern Ontario right now brings tears to the eyes of this not-quite-white Jewish woman in Vancouver. Have we learned nothing from Ipperwash?

To the peaceful protesters I wish to give encouragement from what I have learned today, from words traditionally attributed to King David:
Qohelet/Ecclesiastes 5:7
ז  אִם-עֹשֶׁק רָשׁ וְגֵזֶל מִשְׁפָּט וָצֶדֶק, תִּרְאֶה בַמְּדִינָה--אַל-תִּתְמַהּ, עַל-הַחֵפֶץ:  כִּי גָבֹהַּ מֵעַל גָּבֹהַּ, שֹׁמֵר, וּגְבֹהִים, עֲלֵיהֶם
If you see oppression of the poor, & violent perversion of justice & righteousness in the state, wonder not at the matter; for One higher than the high is watching, & is higher than they.
Qohelet/Ecclesiastes 10:4
ד  אִם-רוּחַ הַמּוֹשֵׁל תַּעֲלֶה עָלֶיךָ, מְקוֹמְךָ אַל-תַּנַּח:  כִּי מַרְפֵּא, יַנִּיחַ חֲטָאִים גְּדוֹלִים
If the spirit of the ruler rises up against you, stay in your place; for gentleness can allay great offences.

So bravely continue your peaceful, unarmed protest & wear your integrity as a shield until justice is done, either, G@d willing, by the government, or failing that by G@d.

Shabbat shalom.

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Thursday, April 20, 2006


23 Nisan

My weekly Torah portion blurb is here at Radical Torah. I have earned a beer :)

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Tuesday, April 18, 2006


20 Nisan/6 Pesach

I dedicate this amulet to the victims of the pigu'a/terrorist bombing in Tel Aviv, may the dead rest in peace, may the injured recover their wholeness, & may their loved ones have the strength to support them & heal the trauma.
I dedicate this also to my grandfather's cousins who were killed 100 years ago in the Great San Francisco Earthquake. May the memory of those children, whose generations were cut off, be only for a blessing.


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Monday, April 17, 2006


19 Nisan/5Pesach

The pictures are finally in! YAY!
Thanks to R' Linda Motzkin & R' Jonathan Rubenstein, you can now have a gander at our adventures in the preliminary steps of parchment making :)

Qlaf (or klaf, as it is more popularly but incorrectly transliterated) is one of the kosher types of hide Sifrei Torah are written on. The other type is gevil - mentioned here & here, but look for more about it in a later post. Sofrut-o-rama.

But first:
Very gory pictures below of raw deer skins being denuded of their fat, blood, tissue & other matter in preparation to become kosher Sefer Torah parchment! Photo credits got to R' Jonathan.
Don't say I didn't warn you...

Deer Hide 2

Above: This is Dr. Michael C, R' Linda M & me in the Motzkin-Rubenstein back yard. We have 2 of the 4 skins we'll process mounted in the fore- & background. We're all wearing heavy duty rubber gloves, boots & black plastic garbage bags to keep the dead Adirondack deer guts off of us.

Deer Hide 3

Above: We're all looking over at a big ol' bulldog who came sniffing around the yard, as she caught the scent of venison carcass on the breeze. When she saw a bunch of humans in slaughter garb standing around all the bloody stuff, she left with a cautious look on her face.

Deer Hide 5

Above: Working the underside of the skin with a fleshing tool especially made to peel all the viscera away from the dermis. As you can see, I've cleaned most of this (pale pinky-white area) of the extraneous guts (red/brown/beige) necessary before the next step in parchment making. We all made the verbal declaration in Hebrew together before we began, saying that we were about to flesh the hides for the sake of the mitzvah of Sefer Torah.

Deer Hide 4

Above: More of the same, just harder & in close-up. This is an excellent upper-body workout :)

After we fleshed all 4 hides, we brought them into the garage & sunk them in tubs of water with lime (don't inhale this - wear gloves & goggles, too), declaring that we were also placing the skins in the lime for the sake of the mitzvah of Sefer Torah. The lime has a ph sufficient to allow one to pull the fur out after soaking it - how long depends on humidity & temperature. Usually a week or two, at least in upstate NY :D

In the old days, when tanners couldn't acquire sufficient mey afatzim/gall-nut water, they used to use dog poop for the same application (before lime was used), which is why even in ancient times a Jewish woman could obtain a divorce (& a settlement) from her husband if he was a tanner. The rabbis recognised that the marriage couldn't work if she couldn't stand his smell...

2 weeks ago, I was in upstate NY, where I have many dead ancestors & living friends. While there I spoke in Saratoga Springs at Skidmore College, for the Department of Women's Studies, the Department of Religion & Philosophy & with the Campus Chaplins' group. They were all fantastic. I was so lucky, thank G@d.

I even made the school's faculty paper.

I also had the delightful privilege of spending a few hours over delicious coffee with none other than the Velveteen Rabbi! Thanks for the gorgeous post, Rachel, for so many links to my various posts & of course most importantly for the coffee & conversation!

I also got to hang out & learn with my sofrut student. A nice change from our telephone chevruta.

Jen, my "little sister soferet", made the 3-hour car trip with another woman who wants to become a soferet. We all talked shop, just us girls. A husband listened in & took photos
It was such a great trip.
Thanks, everyone :D

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Sunday, April 16, 2006


19 Nisan/5 Pesach

I was researching further the small, large & backwards letters in the Torah & came across the Rashi commentary on Parshat Shoftim Devarim/Deuteronomy 18:13 where it says, "You will be whole-hearted with the L@rd your G@d." The First letter of that verse is enlarged. The Tav of Tamim, pure- or whole-hearted. Totally sincere. You won't find this oddity in every Sefer Torah you read, as this large Tav isn't one of those letters Halakhically required by "Midrash Rabbah Aqim". It is a later addition by Kabbalist rabbis.

Rashi was a wise teacher. He said about this pasuk that it meant, "...Walk with Him wholeheartedly & hope in Him. Pry not into the veiled future, but accept whatever lot befalls you. Then will you be His people & His portion..."

Teacher Daniel
Mishlei/Proverbs 13:14 copyright A. Barclay; lightfast ink on vegetable parchment.

Shavu'ah tov!

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18 Nisan/4 Pesach

My latest Megillat Esther amudim 17 & 18

10 ways to tell whether you can use your Sefer Torah (no particular order):

1) Anything that makes it impossible for a 13-year-old boy or 12-year-old girl to read any letter in a Sefer correctly, with difficulty, or not at all renders that Torah pasul (not kosher).

2) Tears at the top or bottom of the parchment render the scroll unfit until they are repaired - unless the tear runs through more than 5 lines of the text. If this is the case, you must geniza the whole thing.

3) If the Sefer Torah does not have the Halakhically required 11 large letters, 6 small letters, 250 petuchot (open paragraphs) & 379 stumot (closed paragraphs), it's unfit & must be put away.

4) If the scroll has one or more missing or extra letter(s), it's pasul.

5) A Torah which is written in any language other than the original Hebrew is not kosher

6) Only Katav Ashuri, the "Syrian" or "Square" script used since Ezra the Scribe, is allowed. Note: Samaritans still use the pre-Ezra Katav Ivri, "Hebrew" script, but we don't use their Sifrei, & it's ok for them.

7) When a seam is torn or has broken stitches, it is pasul until this is repaired.

8) If part or all of a letter's ink has broken away but the stain left behind where the ink used to be is dark enough for a child to read, it's still not kosher & must be re-inked before it's publicly read again.

9) A Sefer written with sub-standard d'yo/ink, particularly the type that sheds dust each time it's used, has to be buried. The text is constantly fading & obscuring itself. This type of "d'yo"is made in the USA by sofrim trying to make a buck. Generally in Brooklyn.

10) When a hole appears inside the inked part of a letter, you can't patch it from behind as all words must be written on the same piece of parchment. To make it kosher you must cut the word out & re-write it on a new piece of parchment, gluing it in place from behind (only kosher glue, please).

My other sofrut top 10s are here & here.

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Saturday, April 15, 2006


18 Nisan/Pesach 4

No, not the art film featuring Geoffrey Rush, Kate Winslet, Joaquin Phoenix & Michael Caine, I'm talking about these:
Kulmus (singular) or kulmusim (plural).
These are turkey quills I bought in Me'a Sharim. The whole story behind how I managed to do that is here.

The nib of the one on the left is 1.5 mm & I'm currently using that for writing the Megillot I'm working on right now (including a Megillat Esther & a Megillat Ha-Sho'ah, a Holocaust Scroll - pictures to follow). The one on the right has a nib of 0.5 mm & I use it to write Mezuzot. However, I cut & shape my quills to whatever width I require them to be, to match the sirtut/scoring of my parchment.

So I've joined MySpace. My profile on the site is a little sexier than it is on Blogger, so enjoy. I'm not sure if this is the proper link or if this is, but click 'em both. Why not? :)

Joining MySpace was my (future ex-) brother-in-law Jeremy's idea. All the kids are doing it. & we all know how easily I'm influenced by peer pressure ;)

Jeremy (he's mentioned in & comments on this post) & I spent most of First Day Chag together & we went to the Second Seder together. He's great. It had been way too long since we'd hung out. :)

Shavu'ah tov!!! Have a matzahdik Pesach!!!

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Wednesday, April 12, 2006


14 Nisan

Tonight is the first seder! It's mitzvahs a go-go!

I'm going to try next week during chol ha-mo'ed to find the time to blog about my fabulous sofrut trip to upstate NY, where I did this, this, this & this. But there's more - I actually got my hands dirty learning how to prepare hides to become kosher qlaf/parchment, so I'm well on my way to becoming a full-service soferet S"M :)

What you may not know is that I have to order all my supplies through my sofer, as nowhere on the planet knowlingly sells sofrut supplies to women...yet. & I am unwilling to purchase from them by lying. Risking non-access to my materials is an unnacceptably vulnerable position for any business or career to be in. Besides, getting anything from Israel, even by courier, can be a real circus. Thus, in order to fully prepare each item required in sofrut, I have begun doing, not just learning. I learned how to make qlaf & gevil (another type of skin I'll talk about later, with pictures!), but now I will be able to actually make them, thank G@d.

There're photos of the mechanical process of qlaf-making here, at Sofer ST"M Benjamin Cohen's site, just click on "Preparing the Parchment".

"Creation Meditation Circle" copyright A. Barclay. Lightfast ink on vegetable parchment.

May we all come up & out of Egypt, Mitzrayim, the Narrow Place this Pesach to full, responsible liberation from our own chameytz, & realize that it is often our egos, fears, & the Narrow Places of our selves which enslave us.

Chag Pesach Kasher ve-Same'ach, ve-Shabbat qodesh shalom

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Tuesday, April 11, 2006


13 Nisan

As Pesach begins Wednesday evening, I posted this week's Parsha blurb over at Radical Torah. Theme: Redemption. Enjoy!
Shir Ha-Shirim/Song of Solomon Copyright A. Barclay. Lightfast ink & Liquitex on hand made floral paper.

The above piece was commissioned as a wedding gift. The chatan & kallah's (groom's & bride's) names are contained within 2 concentric mageyn Davids (stars or shields of David) & surrounded by letters spelling Ha-Shekhinah, the feminine, Divine in-dwelling presence of G@d. The outer ring contains the following words from Shir Ha-Shirim: "For the long wet months are past, the rains have fed the earth & left it bright with blossoms: Birds wing low in the sky, dove & songbird singing in the open air above."

Unity has a redemptive quality. & for Jews this is Redemption Week. Big time.
Chag kasher ve-same'ach

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Monday, April 10, 2006


13 Nisan


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Sunday, April 09, 2006


11 Nisan

It's so good to be home, B"H. This is what I woke up to this morning:

Gorgeous. Funny how my latest NY gig brought snow flurries while my back garden brings me flower flurries :)

I went on the MS Walk this morning with my great friends & neighbours, Kim, Jay & their daughter Shula. We saw a swan couple building their nest together just off the trailhead circling Lost Lagoon in Stanley Park.

While I was away Vision Television aired my documentary for the 4th time, B"H, & the World of Faith & Values TV will be re-screening it Sunday May 14th. YAY!

I spiffed up my store a bit today - it still needs work, but that will have to wait until after Pesach - there is much cleaning & preparation yet to be done before the Seder. I was inspired, tho' order to fully completey come up out of Mitzrayim, we must first make the descent.

Shavu'ah tov - godt voch - a good week to you all.

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Saturday, April 08, 2006


11 Nisan

...since I last posted!
Erev Shabbat I got home from here doing this:


Yep, that's me doing my little lecture-dance in full red-eye. Taken with the new digital camera given to me by my fab host family! It's shehechiyanu time! :D

I'd like to publicly offer my great thanks to Rabbis Linda Motzkin & Jonathan Rubenstein for their generosity & kindness.

For my shiur on the Torah portion we read today, check out Radical Torah as per usual.

Shavu'ah tov!

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