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Women and Safrut: Can a Woman Be a Scribe?
By Ross Singer
from the JOFA Journal, Winter 2006 Tevet 5766
sofer: scribe (m)
sofer STa”M: scribe of texts of Torah scrolls, tefillin and mezuzot
soferet: scribe (f)
safrut: scribal arts
Our synagogue’s Megillat Esther was extremely faded and worn. For the past few years we had been borrowing a megillah from a nearby shul. Upon learning of this situation, a female member of our synagogue and student of safrut (scribal arts) was offering to restore our scroll. I did not know what the classic sources said about women writing and repairing megillot, and I was relieved that the condition of the scroll precluded the necessity of an immediate response to her offer. However, our conversation got me thinking: Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a megillah penned by one of our own congregants? Furthermore, to have a woman write it would fit with our community’s openness to exploring untried halakhic options for women’s participation in synagogue life. With this in mind, I began researching the issue of women and safrut and uncovered a considerable amount of fascinating material.
Perhaps most striking was the discovery that my very question regarding the status of women writing a Megillat Esther had been asked previously l’ma’aseh (in an actual case). Sarah, daughter of renowned head of the Beit Din of Prague, Rabbi David Oppenheim, (1664-1736)1 wrote a Megillat Esther and the question arose as to the possibility of reading from it on Purim. The deliberation over this actual megillah, as well as many other theoretical discussions, provided rich material containing varied positions on women’s status vis-à-vis safrut. I am grateful to JOFA for providing me with this forum in which I can share a brief sketch of what my research uncovered….
See the full article here in the JOFA Journal: Women as scribes
Rabbi Avi Weiss writes
… Since the early ’90s, Orthodoxy has undergone a number of great shifts. Responding to a precipitous move to the right within Modern Orthodoxy, a plethora of institutions and organizations have emerged.
These include the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance (JOFA), Edah, YCT and YM, the Institute for Jewish Ideas and Ideals, and the International Rabbinic Fellowship (IRF). In Israel, too, Beit Morasha, Beit Hillel, Ne’emanei Torah Ve’Avodah and others were founded and today women are being ordained (receivingsemikha) from Yeshivat Maharat as well as Yeshivat Har’el.
Modern Orthodoxy, which 25 years ago faced a significant decline, has been reclaimed by tens, even hundreds of thousands of adherents.
Debate has surfaced over what this reassertion should be called. In the end, names are secondary to the substantive changes that have been put in place. Still, names matter as they are descriptive of what we are, our mission and values, taking into account the changes and challenges of the times….
from the JOFA Journal, Fall 2014
The Road To Wearing A Tallit: Why This Orthodox Woman Wears a Tallit, By Bat Sheva Marcus
I will never forget the first time I saw a woman wearing a tallit. I was twenty-seven years old, living in Israel, and attending the first International Conference on Women and Judaism. I came early, stumbled into the “wrong” room, and came upon a room full of women praying. Many had on tallitot, tefillin, and kippot. I thought I was going to throw up. To me, it looked awful. It looked like a mockery of everything I loved. It seemed to me a caricature of the pictures I held close to my heart of my father standing in a faintly lit room in the early morning, wrapped in tallit and tefillin. I backed out of the room and went into the ladies’ room to calm down. Even then, I was rational enough to be annoyed at myself for my violent overreaction.
So here I am, twenty-five years later, a tallit wearer. I often marvel at the transitions we go through in our lives.
I can’t pinpoint exactly when my feelings began to change. When my sense of disgust transformed itself into an indefinable longing. When I began to look over the mehitzah at my husband wrapped in his white tallit and find that I too wished I could be wrapped in white, feeling cool cotton transport my existence into a space of holiness. But somewhere and somehow my feelings had changed. Maybe it was partly that as I got older, the “right way” to do something often seemed less clear. Meeting different people, discussing issues openly, somehow I found out that in so many areas of my life, right and wrong were not quite as black and white as I had originally assumed them to be.
Maybe it was also that I couldn’t “seem to get myself into a good space” for tefillah. I grew up in the day school system, praying daily. I grew up in a home where tefillah was expected to be a part of my daily life, even on vacation days. But I never really davened. Usually I daydreamed. Often I moved my lips to mimic the prayers. And then I found myself an adult, no longer praying to fulfill someone else’s expectations, and unable to sustain regular, daily, ongoing prayer.
The agonizing fact was that, philosophically, I believe prayer to be critically important in our lives. It’s a chance, amid the chaos and the self-centeredness of our generation, to stop and thank God for all of the everyday miracles: for our children, our community, and our health. So there I was, thirty-five years old, still struggling with daily prayer and full of frustration and guilt because of it.
And then my daughter was born. If I knew one thing as a parent, it was that if she didn’t see me davening daily, it would be hard, if not ridiculous, to expect her to do so. In my heart of hearts, I knew that if I didn’t want her to grow up with the same struggle, it was time for me to resolve the issue once and for all……
..In Orthodox prayerbooks, a traditional daily morning blessing specifically thanks God for “not making me woman.” It is a part of a trio of prayers expressing gratitude for what we are not. The other two members of the trio are thanking God for”not making me a slave” and for “not making me a non-Jew”. These blessings remain only in Orthodox prayerbooks, (at least in the negative “who has not made” formulations) all other denominations having gotten rid of them for various reasons.
I have heard numerous well-intentioned men (and a some women like Mrs. Leah Kohn and Kressel’s Korner ) explain that the blessing for not having been made a women is not a negative reflection on women, which the simple or pshat reading would tell, you but in fact is gratitude for the additional mitzvot/ obligations that a man has, but which a woman is excepted from due to her duties to her husband and childrens….
[but read on… these negative blessings were quite obviously sexist]