Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Write on, Sister! Woman Begins Work on Fourth Torah


When a woman is not obligated to do something, it doesn't mean she CAN'T do something. There is a big difference between not obligating and prohibiting. I think it is very dangerous when we think they are the same.

For example, women are not obligated to study Torah, but we can study it if we want to. Women are not obligated to pray three times a day, but we can if we want to. Woman are not obligated to stay up all night on Shavuot, but we can if we want to.

Thus, it should follow, that if women are not obligated to write a Torah, that they still can if they want to.

After all, the Torah requires that every Jew--men and women alike--are obligated to write a Torah in their lifetimes.

So, what is wrong with this young woman, blessed by talent and overcome by duty and love of Torah, has chosen to write the entire Torah and to teach others to do so as well?

Go ahead and argue if you wish, but the Talmud is not completely clear on whether a woman can write a Torah or not. (It is clear, however, that she should not write the parchment for the Tefillin).

You can argue until you are blue in the face with me on this point, but the ambiguity about whether a woman can write a Torah will still exist, and you can't tell me that such ambiguity must lead to a prohibition. If this were so, then everything from kashrut (What exactly constitutes glatt? Which birds can we eat? How much time between meat and milk?), to mikvah (when does one start counting seven clean days? What, exactly, constitutes Niddah?), to Shabbat observance (Is a modern Eruv Kosher? How long do we wait for Havdallah?) would be prohibited due to ambuiguity in the law.

Don't try the "It isn't part of the tradition" argument with me either. If you do, I will start with the "Neither was Kydniyot" and the "How many Chumrot have they added" answers.

So, I say, write on sister! We should be so lucky to have every Jew in the world take on even the Mitzvot for which they are obligated, let alone extras.

You are an inspiration!

Female Torah scribes test limits of Jewish law
By Kevin Deutsch

In the Israeli town of B’nai Brak, bearded men sit before desks in dimly lit rooms, writing Torahs that can be sold to synagogues for more than $100,000. They are master scribes, taught by Jewish law to believe that men — and only men — can write a kosher, temple-ready Torah.

Then there is Jen Taylor Friedman, a scribe who works in a brightly lit apartment in Riverdale. She studied the same Jewish texts as those bearded men in Israel, and, two years ago, became the first woman known to have written a sefer Torah, a handwritten Torah scroll created in strict accord with Jewish law. The Torah is the holiest text in the Jewish religion, and scribes must use specially made materials like kosher parchment, inks and high-quality quills to write one. Even individual letters must be formed and inked in specific ways dictated by Jewish law.

Before she completed her first Torah, Ms. Friedman created “Tefillin Barbie,” dressing the iconic, denim-skirt clad figurine in Jewish ritual garb and selling her to customers.

Many consider Ms. Friedman, 29, an important feminist figure, holding her up as a pioneering example to young Jewish women. Other Jews, primarily in the Orthodox community, believe she is out of bounds, doing work meant only for men or — in the case of Tefillin Barbie — simply inappropriate.

Ms. Friedman sold her first two Torahs to synagogues in St. Louis and Michigan.

Now, as she undertakes a third Torah, she is still adjusting to her role as lightning rod in the Jewish community. She’s been named to the Forward’s list of 50 influential Jews and, just last week, to Jewish Week’s list of 30 influential Jews under 30.

Ms. Friedman said she did not start writing Torah as a political or feminist statement, but rather because it suited her talents for mathematics and crafts. Soft-spoken and studious, she’s had to adapt to the scrutiny that comes with her role.

“If I sat down and counted all the instances of people objecting because I’m a female, it would probably add up to quite a lot,” said Ms. Friedman. “You learn that you’re not going to win everybody over.”

Born in England, Ms. Friedman studied math in college but didn’t know what path to take afterwards. She thought work that combined analytical reasoning with craftsmanship would suit her, but wasn’t sure what that job could be.

Ritual scribe
Her interest in Jewish law and calligraphy led her to Mordechai Pinchas, a ritual scribe who taught her about a line of work she calls “a glorious combination of ancient and modern.” She knew then that the right job had come along.

“I discovered that I had all these skills which meant that being a scribe is a good job for me, and the politics came out of that: Torah first, politics second,” Ms. Friedman said.

She also studies halakha, or Jewish law, looking for “loopholes” in the system that justify her writing Torah, she said.

“Legitimacy is gained by a combination of reasoned justification and widespread acceptance of the law in practice. Reasoned justification I have; I hope that widespread acceptance will follow.”

Rabbi Dov Linzer, academic head of Yeshivat Chovevei Torah Rabbinical School in Manhattan and a teacher of advanced halakha, has rebutted Ms. Freidman’s arguments regarding women’s eligibility to write Torah, writing in a published paper that he empathizes with her but that “this is one of many sacrifices that must be made for the sake of halakha. While it is necessary for us to explore opportunities to allow for greater inclusion of women in areas of ritual, we cannot allow such an impulse to compromise a rigorous approach to halakha and the halakhic process.”

Grateful students
But women like Julie Seltzer, one of about a dozen aspiring female scribes Ms. Friedman has taught, are eternally grateful to her.

“I’ve learned and improved so much,” said Ms. Seltzer, 33, of Riverdale.

While debates over her work continue, Ms. Friedman sits down to work each day. Torah writing requires a focus and discipline not common to most jobs, since a complete scroll takes about a year to finish.

The creations are as costly as they are hard to make. Rates for Torahs range from $20,000 for a below average or basic piece of work, to $40,000 to $50,000 for a quality work and more than $100,000 for Torahs penned by renowned, accomplished scribes, Ms. Friedman said.

And, while prices may be high, people don’t usually create Torahs just for the money.

“You have to focus really hard,” she said. “It’s extremely rewarding, and it’s extremely hard work.”

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please do not use comments to personally attack other posters.