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.

Monday, July 31, 2006


7 Av

Sasha Edge came over today to resume filming on her documentary about R' Haviva Ner-David, Danya Ruttenberg & me. It was great fun. Sasha's very cool. I'm not very eloquent in person, one of the reasons why I have a blog, so hopefully I won't come off as a total jerk in this movie. If I do, I'm sure it'll be all my own fault :)

After she interviewed me, she taped me writing. I explained on camera about Amaleyq (which is a fave theme of mine: I write about it here & speak some about it in this doc).

I cut a quill for her & then demonstrated how to test the quill before using it for any holy purpose: you test your nib (which any professional calligrapher would do anyway) by writing the name "Amaleyq" & then obliterating it. I write here that one crosses the name out with one horizontal stroke, however since then I have adopted the tradition that R' Dr Eric Ray, z"l, taught of: crossing the name out 3 times on an acute diagonal.

The Good, The Bad & The MacIntosh
"The Good, The Bad & The MacIntosh" ;)
That would be my Amaleyq scrap on top of my Pismo...

The above scrap of parchment will be ceremonially burned, complete with blessings, on the Eve of Tisha Be-Av (Wednesday). May this name & all its related behaviours be blotted out & erased & removed & destroyed from the souls of all people, Ameyn.

Later, I facilitated my first ever class at Pardes! YAY!
I had a lot more students than had signed up, but still a small enough group so I could easily come around & help anyone who needed with their lettering. Thank G@D!
The first day is always a bit jerky, what with folks getting used to using the tools & writing on klaf, plus there's an enormous amount of information exchange in the beginning, but we all went through 4 letters or so, discussed some sofrut, Kabbalah, practical applications, etc & even got to some Midrash. They were very god sports. I hope I see them all & their shiny, eager faces at the next class!

As I promised on the sign-up sheet, I gave each student a gall nut. When I explained what gall nuts were, they said "Ew", & left them on the tables. Oh well, all the more for me :)

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Sunday, July 30, 2006


6 Av

Met with my Sofer, spent many hours with my friend Yehuda in his book bindery learning about different kinds of skins, qlaf repair & kosher parchment restoration. Acquired a bag of gall nuts with which to make d'yo (sofrut ink). Sorted through lockers full of sofrut supplies for my students at Pardes. Am now soaking quills ready for them to cut tomorrow. I am in Heaven. G@d is great.

Pictures at 11.

No pictures of Sofer, as per his request that he remain unnamed & unimaged on my blog, but here's a shot of my fave book binder, Yehuda. He's the super-genius who bound the original (only) copy of David Moss' Haggadah!
Yehuda Miklaf, Bob Dylan, & Standing Press
Yehuda Miklaf, Bob Dylan, & Standing Press at Shalom Yehuda Press.

I quizzed Yehuda for literally hours about different materials applications in restoration & he pulled out all sorts of different kinds of hides & chemicals. I learned SO MUCH! You see, neither of the sofrim who taught me are so much into the restoration/Torah fixing biz, but Yehuda restores Sifrei Torah & 800-year-old books as well as knows the Halakhot/Jewish Law end of what is kosher & what is not to repair religious items, like our precious scrolls. I'll be spending much more time on this. Object: to become a Full-Service Soferet!

Then, I acquired a bag of gold at the end of some rainbow:
My Bag of Gold...I Mean Gall Nuts!
Actually, they're gall nuts, but they might as well be gold, considering how valuable & multi-useable they are. Please note turkey quills soaking in the background.
"Multi-useable" that a word?

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Saturday, July 29, 2006


5 Av

Erev Shabbat a man forced his way into the Jewish Federation of Seattle & shot several innocent people, including a pregnant woman. One is dead.
Thanks to Jordan for the heads up on this. I worry for my friends who work on behalf of all Jews in the Diaspora, including my home community of Vancouver. May G@d bless the work of their hands.

The weekly message from the head of Federation in Vancouver, newly returned from his trip to the north of Israel, included this statement:

"...while the evacuation of southern Lebanon has been heavily covered by the Western news media, the equally large evacuation of northern Israel is barely a story to the rest of the world. An estimated 500,000-700,000 people have left northern Israel to relocate to the centre and south. The remaining population, mostly the elderly, poor and new immigrants who don't have the family or financial resources to leave, is hunkered down in bomb shelters. The streets are empty. Factories and businesses are shut down. Restaurants and stores are closed. Fruits and vegetables are rotting in the fields. The entire north of Israel has become devoid of life and activity..."

There are thousands of soldiers up there risking their lives so that I could have a pleasant Friday night of prayer & sharing food with Simon & his family, Danya & Steg here in Jerusalem.

Rabbi Yisrael Lau once recounted a story from his childhood. I recall that he told of the last time he saw his big brother before they were separated at Buchenwald Concentration Camp. The elder Lau said to the little boy,
"There is a name of a place you must know. It's called 'Eretz Yisrael'. Remember this name always. No matter what happens, you must repeat this name, so when this is all over & they ask you where you want to go, you must tell them, 'Eretz Yisrael'. Because that is the only place in the World where they do not kill Jews."

I must close this post & my eyes.
Tomorrow it's off to the bindery, in this perpetually besieged country.
The sofrut must go on.

Shavu'ah tov - may you have a good week.

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Friday, July 28, 2006


Av 2

I'm very upset with the leader of my country.
Stephen Harper deserves a bonk on the head for his media-hound antics over evacuating Canadians from Lebanon. This isn't about you, Mister Prime Minister, this is about your citizens who require your assistance. If you do your job & take care of your people, the fame & the glory you seek will find you. You will earn the majority government you lust after. But if you micro-manage everything into a photo op, you'll slow the evacuation down. If you arrange it so that you magically appear in your private jet to save a few Canadians personally, rather than use our country's resources to the fullest, you will leave people waiting in harm's way. Don't you dare keep risking the lives of people you are responsible for. Here's the clumsy aftermath.

Meanwhile, a jihad had been issued against the State of Israel, & terrorists are using UN ambulances to achieve their murderous missions.

& I am, by the grace of G@d, safe in Jerusalem.

Where I attended today's student & staff orientation at Pardes. I am so lucky to be here, now, thank G@d.

I hope I do a really great job in bringing the students what they're looking for in sofrut, so that they *heart* me there, B"H. I didn't have very many students sign up for my class, so I thought, "Oh, drek - I didn't pitch it well, now they're going to cancel it". & I was all, like, "Try to be Zen/Chassidic about this - even tho' Pardes is the 'only' reason why I came to Israel right now, maybe there's another secret reason that Ha-Shem has that's The Thing & you should just relax, Avielah."

But then, even tho' I have a tiny group (smallest ever, in my life), a few other students said they hadn't signed up yet & that they would later, & I spoke with R' David Levin-Kruss & he was SO not worried. R' Daniel Landes was happy to have me, too, so thank G@d. I also may have got a tutoring student out of this, so yay! Another soferet running around would be good!

Here's to women writing!
Shabbat shalom! May each Shabbat bring us closer to the end of this violence between Jews & Muslims.

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Thursday, July 27, 2006


Rosh Chodesh Menachem Av

Just some photos for now - I'll write about today a little later...

Early morning, Western Wall:
The Western Wall of the Har Ha-Bayit
Taken at the Kotel from the women's side of the prayer partition. I was there with Women of the Wall to celebrate the new month in prayer.

My fervent prayer:
My Fervent Prayer
Mine is the folded one in the centre.

Trio at Robinson's Arch:
Soferet, Haviva Ner-David & Danya Ruttenberg @ Robinson's Arch, Jerusalem
The author, R' Haviva Ner-David, & Danya Ruttenberg.
You can really see how deformed my writing hand is from being crushed all those years ago. I never realized how obvious is was until now.

Work view:
Twin Windows at Tmol Shilshom
Much time was spent in conversation & meditation beneath these twin arches at Tmol Shilshom, my fave place to be second only to the Holy Wall.

Tmol shilshom - a long time ago - is just as much a sanctuary as it ever was. So much energy exchange here. Sharing. Acceptance. Giving. Vulnerability. Depth. Communing. Love.
This place affords an intimacy rarely found.
Takes me back to another time - a long ago which seems like the day before - when there was such a presence here, sitting across a small, round table from me.

Did G@d create us to desire another, ephemeral, naked, fragile resting place for our souls...& for what purpose?
If G@d is enough, then why do we pursue Not-G@d? Because of the spark of G@d within that which we desire...

Danya & I met outside my place & embraced on our meeting for the first time. She is a luminous being :)

We caught a cab to the Kotel & met with the (in)famous Women of the Wall.

We were summoned to gather very close together so we could all hear the woman leading the prayers without her raising her voice. It is against Israeli law for women to lift their voices at the Western Wall.

There was a tremendous amount of tension in the air, even though this group meets at the back corner of the women's area, as far away from the men's section as possible, & prays quietly so as to respect the prayerspace of others. We davened shachrit in that early morning light blue sky thin air face to face with the Western Wall of the Har ha-Bayit.

Our leader reminded us to feel our feet on the ground of this Holy Place & to feel privileged that we could stand here at all.

After shachrit & Hallel, we recited Tehilim/Psalms 121 & 130 for the protection of the Land, its People & to help those whose work & sacrifice allows us to be in this Place. I felt so grateful.

Years ago, I sat with R' Ross Singer, my Rabbi, in our synagogue. I asked him to go through the siddur (prayerbook) with me to show me what were the minimum daily prayers, psalms, & etc I was obligated to say. I starred them with pencil & to make them easier to find later, I used a series of coloured paper clips to keep the pages together containing passages that I "didn't need" to read, recite or perform. Now, as we went through the morning service together at the Wall I found myself having to peer between my clipped pages in order to keep up with the leader. Eventually, I took one of the paper clips off, freeing the pages for the first time in ages. To see my hand remove these boundaries & to see the leaves of my prayerbook fly free, filled with Psalms & supplications to G@d was so liberating!

more later...

When it was time for the Torah service, I offered to carry the Sefer from the Kotel to Robinson's Arch, the designated prayer spot for W.O.W. It was such an honour. I had an exchange with Anat & later with Batya. The whole experience just filled me up, being with so many other women of all ages, some in tallit, others also wrapped in tefilin.

The young woman who leyned the Torah portion for Rosh Chodesh Av, the New Month, was beautiful. Her voice pure, in jeans & Naots with her hair covered. I was tempted to take a picture, to capture an image of this moment, but really, if I'm going to be present in this instant then I will just simply be.

The moment that truly brought me to the sobering reality of where I was & what I was doing was when I found my voice rising in front of this great wall in the holy place - something I had never been allowed to do before.

Women's voices must always be undetectable to men at the Kotel, but here, slightly south & on the other side of the ramp leading to the mountain, we were free to read Torah, lay tefilin & pray to the creator as we so chose (which was an Orthodox women's service).

My voice caught in my throat at this realization & my chest filled with joy.

No one was going to shut me up. My reaching for G@d would not be snuffed by yelling, spitting or chair-throwing. Thank G@d.

After, I met the wall up close. I wrote the deepest, most dear wishes of my heart on a paper torn from my moleskine flip-pad I always carry & prayed my extra prayer as I am accustomed to.

I wept.

I placed my note in the wall, just in a small crack between the ancient limestone blocks & retreated. I noticed a pair of doves communing in a larger crag of the rock. Grey & white.

R' Haviva Ner-David, Sasha Edge, Danya Ruttenberg & I all met together. I was so honoured. R' Haviva is such a beautiful woman, both her physical manifestation & her neshamah (soul). Sasha interviewed us for her film as we all sat on a fallen pillar from the destruction of Jerusalem almost 2,000 years ago.

It's such a privilege to sit with these 2 distinguished women who have done such important work on behalf of the rest of us. I surveyed the remains of our destroyed Temple Mount piled like random stone sugar cubes, still bearing the scorch marks from the great fire.

How did we get here?

Danya, Sasha & I settled in at Tmol Shilshom after a trip to the Arab shuq where I bought gifts for my Muslim girl-friends back in Vancouver.

Nothing else needs to happen today for this First of Av to be great.

Chodesh tov - a good month to all. & may the month of Menachem Av bring the People Israel, the State of Israel & everyone in the world comfort & peace.

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Monday, July 24, 2006


29 Tamuz

I'll be giving a lunchtime teaching over at the Conservative Yeshivah in, oh, about 8 hours. Followed by Mincha. Come one, come all!

Written later...
My talk at the CY went swimmingly, I think. Had about 20 people show, all eager faces. A pleasant surprise was chatting with Simon afterwards & even pleasanter that he gave me a very handsome tallit katan with p'til tekhelet tzitzit. No pic for now, as I've already exceeded my upload limit on Flickr. But soon...

R' LeBeau was very kind & guided the discussion - many of the students asked really good questions, too. They were all very bright. R' Hillel brought me Megilah Khaf"Dalet amud Bet (Tractate Megillah of the Babylonian Talmud, 24 column 2) & the Shulchan Aruch Quf Khaf"Chet, se'if Lamed"Gimel (128:33) to illustrate a story I had used as an example of how we pronounce the letter Ayin as a glottal stop & not just a silent consonant who carries vowels & has no voice of its own (like Alef). I'd learned the Talmudic source years ago & had not only forgotten it but had also failed to find it again. A matter of moments after the class ended, R' Hillel had found both the source plus a reference to it & brought both volumes to me, laying them out on the table. Rabbi Supah-Genius, he is.

I stayed for some chevruta learning & had the pleasure of meeting their Rosh Yeshivah R' Pesach Schindler (who'd attended my talk). Then sat through a lecture from R' Joel Roth - after all his writings & rulings, I was so curious to experience him in person.

Later I dropped in on my bestest friends - they're family, really - in Jerusalem. Yehuda is the most gifted bookbinder on the planet & Maurene is a high-up techie. We had a really good visit, long over due, I listened to one of their son Adam's tracks (he's a bassist) & then toddled off to my Sofer's.

In honour of the Rosh Chodesh meals my Sofer's yeshivah used to put on, his family hosts people for Rosh Chodesh meals now - & so tonight begins the Nine Days & the month of Av.
It was great fun - I met more of his family (who was staying with them because they've been bombed out of their home in Haifa) & one of his students. I really have great admiration for both my Sofer & his wife. Very lucky to know them.

Chodesh tov - a good month - of Menachem Av!

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Sunday, July 23, 2006


28 Tamuz

I spent an awful lot of today running around, trying to figure out how to pay my rent here & change money & fight with my ATM card, which has decided it's Anti-Semitic.

In my wanderings, I found myself back in Emeq Refa'im, so I took a few snaps of my old stomping grounds...

Here's the driveway leading up to my old flat when I last lived here, on Ha-Tzefirah:

Soferet's Old Digs

I'll let the Hebrew speakers enjoy the graffiti, but I ain't translating it on this blog, nosiree. I agree with the concept, but the way it's expressed is...shall we say...less than family-friendly :)

& here is the little shul I lived right next door to, but which I could never pray at because there was no women's section (& you really need one when you have genders sharing space in a garage):

No Room for Soferet

After taking care of all sorts of business-type things (like exhausting my Bezeq card at the public phones because there's no line in the apartment & figuring out my internet situation here, argh), I went to visit my buddy Gilan. He's a good egg. We caught up over amazing shwarma - which he treated me to, because my ATM card is a Nazi - & went for a walk.

Later, we met up with the many Vancouver Chassidim who populate Jerusalem. Here we are at Cafe Ne'eman:

Vancouver Chasidim in Jerusalem
This photo courtesy Jeff Nider (thanks, Jeff!).

That's Gilan, Jeff & Elizabeth, Tamara, Yours Truly & Emily (not R' Ross' wife - different Emily).
Ain't we a handsome group?
Same folks, moved:

Soferet & Friends at Cafe Ne'eman!

It's so great to connect with Yidden from The Old Country.

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Saturday, July 22, 2006


27 Tamuz

...a few quiet moments alone in my cool bedroom to relax, reflect, write.
Breathe, too. Breathing is good.

I had such an intense Shabbes! R' Ross, Tzvi, Cigal & I all davened at Yedidya, then retreated to R' Ross & Emily's Yemenite landlord's place for dinner. Our hosts were hardcore-from-the-old-country Yemenite, so their songs were exotic & in beautiful keys, their food spicy & their blessings long & loving. & they were all so smiley! The family had 11 children, 7 of whom were married.

My new housemates plus the woman I'm subletting from invited a few friends over for lunch, so I met more folks. They were great! There was a woman named Ayelet (I've always loved that name - it's so pretty & strong at the same time!) who'd just completed a 3-year full time Gemara program at Matan. & she was married with a baby! Good on her. 3 cheers for women's learning.

There was also a very cool Swede, the son of missionaries, who was studying Judaics at Hebrew U.

During the third meal of Shabbat, I returned to R' Ross & Emily & then experienced my very first Yemenite Havdalah. Wow. We were each passed a fresh piece of I don't know what plant for us to crush & smell at the b'samim (spices) blessing. It was unbelieveable - like citrus & herbal fruit. I pressed it in my volume of "Liqutey Sifrei Stam" when I got home.

I'm REALLY going to miss R' Ross & Emily...but feel very grateful that I could at least spend part of this day with them, 2 years after they left Vancouver.

I went for a walk around the old neighbourhood I used to live in 3 years ago, while I was here completing my sofrut certification. Emeq Refa'im, it's called, the Valley of Healing. & true to it's name, there is a wealth of health food stores, pilates, yoga, organics, recycling, chi-chi net cafes & funky restaurants all up & down the strip.

Cafe Hillel was one of those cafes - until September 9th, 2003. I lived 2 blocks from there & went for coffee & snacks with friends almost daily. This was my experience of the tragedy.

I strolled up the Emeq, curious as to what had been done with the old Cafe Hillel space, when lo & behold there it was. Completely rebuilt. Illuminated. Full of people.

My eyes teared up.

Now this is Israel. To rebuild in celebration & defiance. To make a memorial from renewed life. I decided to be davka as well & joined the throng inside.

I asked for a cafe barad ("barad means" "hail", as in one of the 10 Plagues). "Ayn ice" - there's no ice, said the shop girl. I asked for a shokolatte - they were out of chocolate as well. Barukh Ha-Shem! What a pleasure that this place is SO busy on a Saturday night that they run out of ice & chocolate - despite the suicide bombing of 3 years ago!

I collected my foamy warm drink & sat in the crowd where so many innocent folks had been torn apart that night, in a place that looked like nothing had ever happened. Terror now replaced by that familiar sexy Saturday night vibe you will find all over Israel.

The Valley of Healing, indeed.

Shavu'ah tov - a good week.

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Friday, July 21, 2006


25 Tamuz

So this is where I'll be living the next 5 weeks:

Soferet HQ, Jerusalem

On top is the Sofrut Tower, which receives signals from Jews in distress over their Torah emergencies. "I'll save you!" ;)

I have very sweet housemates, thank G@d, one a consultant & the other a police officer. Both women are in their mid/late 20's & are doing extra army service right now because of the war. A terrorist was caught with a 5 kilo bomb this week in downtown Jerusalem, before he had a chance to kill anyone, thank G@d.

I have a huge bedroom! Larger than the room I have at home. & I also have my very own little mirpeset (balcony) complete with bean-bag chairs. Apparently, I have landed in Shomayim (a.k.a. Heaven)

Each time I live in Jerusalem, I stay in a slightly different neighbourhood. & Just far away from my last neighbourhood, that I'm not quite sure where I am. But this is a good thing, because it gives me cause to get to intimately know the Holy City as a mosaic. I did some exploring, & this is what I found along a path near the apartment:

Femdom Forever - Girl Power!

I especially like how the "o" in "Femdom" is drawn like a shining sun...

Every Woman is a Goddess

You just never know what people will graffiti-ize.

My friend Cigal, who turns out to be my neighbour (yay!) & I hung out a bit this afternoon & caught up. Then we got ready for Shabbes with R' Ross & Emily Singer! I miss my rabbi & his wife so much, & they're moving to run a synagogue in Baltimore, so this will be a bittersweet Shabbes...

Shabbat Shleymut!

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Thursday, July 20, 2006


24 Tamuz

I watched the sun rise over Ireland this morning & caught a glimpse of a constellation shaped like an Angel fish.

G@d is great.

Found myself wondering if mead really needs a hekasher (kosher certification). It's just honey, water & yeast, so if the honey is kosher...

I checked my e-mail at Heathrow to find out whether Marc & I would be meeting & also to fire off an all-clear to Mum (I don't want her to worry). You'll find a link to Marc's site on my blogroll - it's probably the best sofrut site on the Web, & one I've been following for years. After his spread in Letter Arts Review Volume 19, Issue 2 which came out about a year & a half ago, I decided to connect. We've had a very pleasant professional e-relationship since.

Marc was good enough to come out to meet me, so here we are together at Heathrow:

We had a terrific visit. We talked shop , shared a couple of laughs & I'm so pleased to have met him. Thus the First Annual Canada-UK Sofrut Mini Convention closed.

After Marc left I settled into a corner to read "Bee Season", by Myla Goldberg. Charming novel. I think the chair I was sitting in was one I sat in over 25 years ago on my first trip to England. Heathrow's Terminal 1 was my first experience of a huge airport. It hasn't changed a bit: the bombed El Al counter, the new El Al counter, the multiple men in navy & black sporting automatic weapons & flack jackets. Just a taste of what I'll be surrounded by in Israel...

I've decided that I'm not going to reset the time on this blog until I actually get to Jerusalem. Messing about with time zones is crazy-making.

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006


24 Tamuz

Had a layover in Toronto on my way to Israel, & found myself wandering through Pearson (the airport there) enjoying the public art on display. One was for a local theatre group. There was a magnificent white framed steed created from rope & held together with white paint (or so it seemed), Gandalf's ride from their production of The Lord of the Rings:

Shadowfax - Gandalf's horse

They were also doing a play based on the life of a girl who was murdered in the Holocaust, named Hanna Brady. These are some of the costumes & props, including a yellow "Jude" star & a replica of her suitcase:


Excuse the bright reflections of the airfield in the glass - but I think these snaps look kind of cool anyway...

I tried to get in touch with family, with Avrum, with the Zuckerbrots, to no avail. I should catch up with Judy Kriger as well, about the new doc & other work matters. See? Now I'm not on vacation anymore! What a short trip this has been.

I see many Jews around me praying in the warm staccato that is Hebrew - Mincha in Terminal 1.

I overheard the man next to me on his cel to a friend in Israel - he got a $168 return flight Toronto/Tel Aviv. It's so cheap now because of the fighting. Health insurance is no good, either, if you're injured or killed by an act of war or terrorism. He'd heard that a rocket had landed only 70 metres from his house in the north, so was on his way to check it out. His wife didn't want him to go. These are troubling times.

Sleep eludes me. Must remember to confirm my registration with the Canadian Embassy once I'm in Israel.

Thank G@d I'm returning to The Land...

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Tuesday, July 18, 2006


22 Tamuz

Today I put the finishing touches on a Sefer Torah I'm working on. So, thank G@d for that, but I still have "miles to go before I sleep".
Let's see:
Buy health insurance; pick up gifts for my Jerusalem house mates; purchase or borrow a power adaptor; get my last will & testament signed & witnessed by two people who are not beneficiaries...

Things have been just nuts the past while, between the divorce & most of my technology breaking down & preparing - mentally, physically & spiritually - for this trip. Especially hard with what's been going on there recently. G@d willing the violence will end pronto & by a just means. I plan to catch up on all the work I'm behind in while in Israel. I'm teaching in the evenings, so that leaves my days "free" to fulfill my sofrut obligations to clients.

CTV reported on Sunday that 8 Lebanese Canadians were killed in the assault on southern Lebanon. So tragic. My question for the anchorwoman is: Why bother saying they're immigrants to Canada? Much as people can have bi-cultural identities, a Canadian is a Canadian. It's like making a difference between a Jew who was born of a Jewish mother & a Jew who converted through miqveh. Not cool, lady. At least immigrants & converts are vetted before they're allowed in!

There are now many French voices rising in Montreal shouting anti-Semitic rhetoric. Quelle suprise.

I think Mr MacKay could have acted faster to get Canadians (regardless of their country of birth) out of Lebanon. I did not vote for Mr Harper, but I appreciate his position on the current crisis. However, I still think he's a danger to Canada, the likes we haven't seen since the country was Mulroney-ized.

Just read an article about Stephen Harper paying a political price for
coming out more strongly in favour of Israel's right to defend herself. Some Canucks are saying that Harper is Bush's lapdog; others are saying that our government must be politically neautral at all times in order to be taken seriously as peacekeepers & negotiators. I understand this: ever since Canada came up with the idea of UN peacekeeping (which ended the Suez Crisis & earned our then Secretary of State & later Prime Minister Lester Pearson the Nobel Peace Prize), this has been a dear part of Canadian identity.

My question is: when you see a wrong being done in the world, at what point do you decry it? Is it not required by Torah to speak up immediately & correct the crime being perpetrated?

From Aaron:

Politicians are keenly aware of public opinion, so whether or not you vote Conservative it can only help Israel to have more people telling the Canadian government that there are people who appreciate his position on this issue.

Here's how to call his [the PM's] office:

* Call 613-992-4211 [toll free]
* Someone will answer, just say you want to express your opinion about Israel.
* They'll transfer you ... the phone will ring a few times.
* They'll say "we can't take your call right now, leave us a message"
* Leave message.


& tomorrow I shall head for the Holy Land...

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Monday, July 17, 2006


21 Tamuz

Maggie Anton is a researcher & the author of books & articles about Jews in Medaeval France, particularly the free, almost "feminist" lives of women under the leadership of Rashi. Please do have a look at her fab piece, Rashi & his Daughters which appeared in the Spring 2005 issue of Judaism, a quarterly mag.

It mentions Rashi's great-granddaughter, Dulcie (or Dolce) who I suspect may have been a soferet. Also some of the practical, respectful decisions he made allowing women to take on the same commandments as men, such as tallit & tefillin.

Over 900 years ago & we're still fighting about it. Why, people?

My fave quote from this article?

"In two comments we hear the sublety of Rashi's reasoning: In his commentary to Talmud Betzah 2b, 'The authority of those who prohibit arbitrarily means little, for anyone can hand down a prohibition even in matters that are permissible.' And in his commentary to Talmud Ketubot 7a, 'Anyone can be stringent merely out of doubt, whereas leniency requires a conclusion based on knowledge or tradition.'"

Ameyn ve-amyen selah!
Ad kan, even.

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Sunday, July 16, 2006


20 Tamuz

An Egyptian cleric encourages youngsters to participate in jihad (Holy War) on children's tv program.

An interesting note on Nasrallah's foresight which I spied on one of the news feeds I subscribe to:
During his press conference where he announced the kidnapping of the Israeli solders last week, a reporter asked: "Did you consider the price the Lebanese economy would pay?"
Nasrallah, surprised, squirmed and gave an answer that could be condensed to one sentence: "Yes, but there are more important things."
Way to plan ahead.
What's more important than people living in safety, with access to nutritious food & clean water?

This sort of thing makes me crazy. Crazy like how 2 years ago the UN asked the Lebanese government to be responsible for the south of their country by taking control away from Hezbollah. Because Hezbollah will lob rockets into Israel indefinitely. It's one of the few guarantees in life - like death & taxes.

So now the Lebanese people are split, some furious at Israel, some at Hezbollah, & I don't blame them. Hezbollah rockets have landed in Tiberias, may everyone there recover, dangerously close to people I love at that Kibbutz where I used to live, Kfar Ha-Nasi. Also the holy city of Tzfat. I don't think they'd bomb Jerusalem, what with the various Muslim holy sites atop the Temple Mount, but you know...I'm not sure what the madman in Iran Ahmadinejad is capable of. I hope this reporter is right.

Khaleel Mohammed writes in this fascinating article:

"I argue that a thorough investigation of Islam's two main sources, the Qur'an and the Hadith, present conflicting views on the issue. If the Qur'an is read on its own, without the refraction of the Hadith, it could, based on certain verses, be mistaken for a very right-wing Zionist document. The Hadith, on the other hand, collected more than a century after Muhammad's death, can never be mistaken for anything remotely Zionist: the land of Israel is Muslim territory to be wrested from the accursed Jews in a brutal and bloody eschatological battle. In this paper I examine those contradictory perspectives and investigate the importance of this information in and outside of the Muslim world. Throughout this paper, unless otherwise indicated, the term "Zionism" is not used as in political or secular definitions, but in accordance with the Biblical concept of Eretz Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people. There is certainly no doubt that when Nathan Birnbaum coined the word in the 1890s, he did so from a secular perspective; yet, the concept (as opposed to the term) is as old as the Bible itself if we take it to refer to a scriptural writ of enlandisement.

The Qur'an

If the idea of Israel (Zion) as a homeland for the Jewish people were to be found only in the Torah, it would have been irrelevant to discuss the Muslim view on that issue. But this Biblical concept is found in the Qur'an to the point where Islam's main document mentions that God favored the Children of Israel above all nations and decreed Israel as an abode for them, granting holy status to that land:

"And Remember when Moses said to his people: O my people! Remember the
favors of your Lord that he has bestowed upon you, as He has made
prophets and kings from among you, and has given to you that which
has never been given to anyone amongst the nations. Enter then, my
People, the Holy Land, that God has written for you, and turn not
back, or you will suffer."
Qur'an 5: 20-21

Long before the formation of the State of modern Israel in 1948, the Muslim exegetes explained these verses in a manner that would have shocked their coreligionists of today who clamor for the destruction of Israel. To elucidate my point, I have rendered verse 5: 21 above in as literal a manner as possible: translating the Arabic KaTaBa as "written." This word has definite theological connotations: in Islam, as in Jewish belief, it conveys the idea of decisiveness and finality, e.g., in "written Torah" as opposed to "oral Torah."

In the notes on this piece, I find:

"...Since the Qur'an 5:20-1, like the Torah, sees a specific geographic area as belonging and governed by the children of Israel, I feel comfortable using the term [Zionism]."

"...The Qur'an 5: 21 is extremely clear that Israel, by divine decree, is the land of the people of Moses. ... That verse ... does NOT in any way deny Israel as the land conferred on the Jews by divine decree."

"Several other verses support the above two, among them: Q7: 137, 10: 93, 17: 104, and 21: 71, 81. The verses that are particularly important are Q5: 20-1."

He also goes into how the whole Jew=White=Western=Evil propaganda was originally used to further the cause of Arab nationalism, but since the steady rise of fundamentalist Islam over the past couple of decades the nationalists have hitched their wagon to that star. This way they can still party with the power-base.

I still say we have Britain & France to "thank" for setting up this house of cards for us.

In concluding this article, Professor Mohammed writes:

"...Muslims are not only beginning to reexamine the culture of death and terrorism that have developed out of a hadith-based Judeophobia and all things related to Judaism, among them Zionism..."

"It may be argued that currently Islam is still used as the cohesive force among those opposed to the state of Israel, and that there seems to be no room for any dissent among Muslims regarding this seemingly unanimous position. The views expressed in this article, despite being culled from the Qur'an itself and the most authoritative sources, represent a minority position that seems unlikely to be accepted by the larger body of Muslims. But this is precisely why the information is of vital importance to both Muslims and non-Muslims. It forces Muslims to see that the Qur'an has a totally contrary worldview to that of what the imams have been preaching about Zionism and Israel. It forces Muslims to realize that the oral tradition is the source of the inimical attitude. This article also provides non-Muslims with the requisite information to argue against the Muslim extremists who argue that Islam is against Zionism and Israel. And it forces both non-Muslims and Muslims to delve into history and remember that in 1919, Amir Feisal had reached an agreement with Chaim Weitzman regarding Israel. This proves that the opposition to the state of Israel is NOT an intrinsic part of Islam; instead it is a later formulation brought about by political and nationalistic ideologies."

So, in summary:
The Qur'an recognizes the Divinely granted right of Jews to live in the Land of Israel...
...&. I.
have. not.
done. acid.

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Saturday, July 15, 2006


20 Tamuz

More violence over Shabbes. I'm beginning to feel anxiety for the safety of my friends in Israel, especially now that the Hezbollah rockets are landing further & further south. May Ha-Shem, Ha-Rachaman the Compassionate One, bring a quick & peaceful resolution to this crisis Ameyn.

This piece was written for the Shabbes that just passed & is cross - posted at Radical Torah.

Rabbi Chayim David Halevy, z"l, the former Chief Sefardi Rabbi of Tel Aviv, was a Kabbalist who wrote many volumes of wise commentary.

In R’ Halevy’s 9 Volume series of She’elot and Teshuvot (Halakhic questions & answers) entitled Aseh L’chah Rav in Vol. 5 he begins the book with a section entitled “Kontrus Torah Min Hashamaim.” In that section beginning on page 58 you will find the piece on the big and small letters.

In the Torah portion we read tomorrow, there are two odd letters: a small Yud in the name “Pinchas”, & a broken Vav in the word “shalom”. English translations are based on those of Fox.

Be-midbar Parshat Pinchas/Numbers 25:11 reads:

יא פִּינְחָס בֶּן-אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן-אַהֲרֹן הַכֹּהֵן, הֵשִׁיב אֶת-חֲמָתִי מֵעַל בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּקַנְאוֹ אֶת-קִנְאָתִי, בְּתוֹכָם; וְלֹא-כִלִּיתִי אֶת-בְּנֵי-יִשְׂרָאֵל, בְּקִנְאָתִי.

“Pinchas ben-Elazar ben-Aharon hakoheyn heyshiv et-chamati mey’al b’ney-yisra’eyl b’qano et-qinati b’tokham v’lo-khiliti et-b’ney yisra’eyl b’qinati:”

“Pinchas son of Elazar son of Aharon the G@D-helper has turned My venomous-anger from the Children of Israel in his being-zealous with My jealousy in their midst, so that I did not finish off the Children of Israel in My jealousy:”

So, why a small Yud? R’ Halevy tells us that whenever we encounter a small letter in our writings, that this indicates a person in the narrative has missed the mark. That s/he made a less than ideal choice. The diminutive letter is there to draw our attention to it & to ask questions. Ultimately, to learn.

What is Yud? Well, it’s a yad, a hand. & by the act of religiously motivated murder that Pinchas committed just before this verse, we see that his yad, his hand - his agency - is diminished.

Although his zealous killing stopped the plagues, he had a better option which he did not take. It’s our job to figure that out: how to be zealous for G@d in an appropriate way.

Be-midbar parshat Pinchas/Numbers 25:12 reads:

יב לָכֵן, אֱמֹר: הִנְנִי נֹתֵן לוֹ אֶת-בְּרִיתִי, שָׁלוֹם.

“Lakheyn emor hin’ni noteyn lo et-briti shalom:”

“Therefore say: Here, I give to him My covenant of peace:”

Pinchas was rewarded by G@D for his devotion with a promise of peace and the plague we had been dying of disappeared. The Vav in the word “shalom” is broken. So why the word “shalom”? Why not the word “briti”, for example? And why is the Vav broken and not some other letter?
In English, what does the word “peace” mean? It means “quiet”, “calm”, “an absence of war”, in other words it indicates a lack of disorder. There is no conflict. “Peace” features nothingness.
In Hebrew, what does the word “shalom” mean? The shoresh/root of “shalom” is Shin-Lamed-Mem Sofit and this combination of letters gives us words like “rest”, “reward”, “completion”, “accomplishment”, “wholeness”, “perfection”, “renewal”…there is an entirety in “shalom”, an infinite totality.
So, nu? It is ironic that a word which communicates completeness is incomplete.
Vav - the Hook letter - the sign of conjunction and continuity is written broken. The Vav is broken because although Pinchas’ act had the right kavanah/intention and it served to pacify G@D’s jealousy and stop us all from dying from this spreading sickness, what did he do? He was a vigilante. He KILLED two defenseless people. He surprised them in bed and impaled them on a spear while they were being intimate. So even though G@D’s anger was appeased, two people died brutally and G@D is never happy when even one of G@D’s creations is killed under any circumstances.
Pinchas was granted a broken peace, incomplete because it was tainted from the deaths of Cozbi and Zimri. This can teach us an important lesson in non-violence, or "ahimsa", as Rabbi Gandhi called it.

Ironic, how we have entered the Three Weeks & are facing such seething rage & violence in The Land.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shavu'ah tov, everyone. A good week, a week of peace.

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Friday, July 14, 2006


18 Tamuz

Registering online with the Canadian Embassy in Tel Aviv, I find this.

OFFICIAL WARNING: Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada advises against all travel to the region(s) specified below.

There is SO much to do before I leave - my laptop completely conked out, the power adapter cord broke, & the external cdr/w is corrupting files. I screwed up my blog template's code, so I had to choose this new one (pretty, isn't it?), but now this blog looks awful in Explorer, which is the most popular web browser. My friend Raziel says it's "Mercury Retrograde". I prefer to call it "G@d".

So I keep reminding myself that I'm lucky to not be living in a country where people want to kill me for being a Jew, or where I wasn't allowed to go to school because I'm female. That I can choose to fast on religious occasions rather than be starving from a famine.

& that I'm choosing to go through with my plans to live in Israel for a month. I'm lucky to be able to make my own decision. The choice is the thing.

I have a responsibility to share my knowledge & skills gained in my certification. & the more available I make myself (sofrim: you should avail yourself as well!), the fewer people will be trying their hand at sofrut without being fully trained.

I have always believed that sofrut theory should be made available to all Jews, but sofrut practice must only be open to those who will learn from adequate teachers & masters in great discipline. The teachings must continue to be passed down from mentor to student as they have been for untold centuries. That way the tradition will be preserved, the teachings intact, the practice kosher. It is easily perverted, used for the wrong ends, with inappropriate intentions. This only increases sin in the world, pushes the Messiah further away rather than inviting "him" closer, & does much personal & universal damage.

I want all Jews to be fully empowered in sofrut. This means proper training & an integral life practice to support it.

Just because someone writes a Torah or a mezuzah, it doesn't make them a sofer. Just because someone asks me a Halakhic question, it doesn't make me a rabbi! Arab women write Torahs all the time, which get floated onto the market. Some "sofrim" treat their Torahs, during writing or sometimes correcting, in a way which makes them not kosher. Or they are secretly not fully observant in their personal lives. Then other Jews unwittingly pay money & say blessings over these Torahs. It's a shanda.

These roles & titles (rabbi, sofer, shochet, mohel) must be very carefully guided & only awarded to those who have earned them. Would you give your 8-day-old son to be circumsized by a man who claims to be a mohel, without checking his credentials?

If you need to be tested & approved for a driver's license, how much more so for religious leadership, in which you perform sacred duties on behalf of others?

I'll leave you with a quote from R' Aryeh Kaplan's Jewish Meditation: a Practical Guide, which illustrates my point using mountaineering & meditation as an example:
All texts on Jewish meditation stress that the person embarking on more advanced forms of meditation should first develop a strong internal discipline. This is very important, since higher states of consciousness are very enticing and it is possible to lose one's sense of reality. However, if a person is in control of his actions and emotions in general, he will also remain in control of his sense of reality. Rather than negate his life, his meditative experiences will enhance it.

It is in this context that a common folk saying states that people who study Kabbalah go mad. This obviously does not mean the academic study of Kabbalah; although Kabbalah is a difficult intellectual discipline, it is no more dangerous than any other study. However, involvement in the more esoteric forms of Kabbalistic meditation can be dangerous to mental health, especially if the meditator proceeds without adequate preparation.

In a sense, it is like climbing a mountain. Even for an experienced climber, there is always an element of danger. If a person had limited experience, he would not even think of climbing a difficult mountain without a guide; to do so would be to court disaster. The same is true of one who tries the more esoteric forms of meditation without proper training and discipline.

The forms of meditation presented in this book are not dangerous mountains. Rather, they are gentle hills, which are safe to climb, but from which one can see wide vistas.

In other words, don't go chasing waterfalls - please stick to the rivers & the lakes that you're used to (TLC).

Shabbat Shalom!

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Thursday, July 13, 2006


17 Tamuz

I leave for Israel in less than a week, thank G@d. Some of my friends & family are worried, what with the increased rage, escalated violence & two fronts to this latest crisis. I understand their concern. I feel nauseous. & it's not just all the fasting today. But the purpose which brings me there this time is to teach Torah, so I must go.

I'll be something of a Feminist sofrut emissary at work, & have made arrangements to join in with Eliyahu MacLean's Jewish/Arab peace work. I'll also be going on shudduchim.

Ultimately, I am a fatalist. I have noticed that no matter what we do, we can't force G@d's hand. The best we can do is to listen to our souls & try to adapt our shape to that of the Divine Will, which has existed before Creation. All I can do is pick my way through this life with faith & integrity. How & when I will die is beyond my control, so I try to treat each day as the last.

I do hope, though, that G@d will have mercy on my Mum & not take me before her.

Regardless, may events like this end immediately. May we humans maintain our sense of yir'ah, awe, that each person carries a Divine Spark, is made be-tzelem El@qim, in the image of G@d, & is here to fulfill the will of Ha-Shem. If we can hang onto that, it will be impossible to murder.

That's my wish for humankind.

An easy, meaningful fast.

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006


16 Tamuz

With the fast of the 17th of Tamuz imminent, please let's focus our intention on a return to cooler heads in the Holy Land. This inspired by my friend Cigal, who lives in Yerushalayim...

Israel really needs our help. There're more & more being killed. Please say this Tehilim (Psalm), 121, right now for the safe return of Gilad Shalit and the two missing soldiers (names not known yet) & for an Aliyah neshamah (to raise the soul) for those who've been killed. Below in Hebrew and English:

שיר למעלות, אשא עיני אל ההרים, מאין יבוא
עזרי מעם ה' עושה שמים וארץ, אל ייתן למוט
אל ינום שומרך. הנה לא ינום ולא ישן שומר
ה' שומרך, ה' צילך על יד ימינך.
יומם השמש לא יככה וירח בלילה
ה' ישמרך מכל רע, ישמור את נפשך
ה' ישמור צאתך ובואך מעתה ועד עולם
(מזמור קכ"א בתהילים)

A song to the ascents. I lift up my eyes upon the mountains; from where will come my help? My help is from Hashem, Maker of Heaven and Earth. He will not allow your foot to falter; your Guardian will not slumber. Behold, He neither slumbers nor sleeps - the Guardian of Israel. Hashem is your Guardian; Hashem is your Shade at your right hand. By day the sun will not harm you, nor the moon by night. Hashem will protect you from every evil; He will guard your soul. Hashem will guard your departure and your arrival, from this time and forever.

An easy, meaningful, effective fast tomorrow, everyone.

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