I can still tell you about this thing I noticed on Purim, can't I.

Artscroll puts out a Children's Megillah, also a Children's Haggadah.

There are little "Did you know??" boxes on a lot of the pages, with enthusiastic-looking children asking questions and learning things. Boys and girls, score gender awareness points Artscroll (and you never thought you'd hear me say that did you).

All these little boys and girls look like your classic peanut-butter-and-jelly American kids - see pictures here - blonde or light brown hair, white skin and chubby red cheeks, little snub noses.

Now, in the Purim book, there are some Villains, right? You remember the story. Evil people. Check out the picture. What's fascinating is that the evil villains in Artscroll's Children's Megillah have dark hair, big noses, strange hats - in fact, they look awfully similar to how anti-semites tend to portray Jews.

That is, here's a Jewish book in which the Jewish kids look like classic American kids as portrayed by white Americans, and the non-Jewish villains look like classic Jews as portrayed by white Americans. Artscroll's illustrators have chosen the classic presentation of the Evil Middle-Easterner, which is an old anti-Semitic trope inherited from Europe.

Suggests that they think of themselves as white European-Americans, which is interesting; it's not so long since American Jews were a Non-White Ethnic Group.

I'm mostly just struck by a certain irony here. I'm familiar with the dark big-nosed sneaky-looking character primarily as a Jewish one, from anti-Semitic propaganda. It's somewhat disconcerting to find it in a Jewish book, representing non-Jews. It could be deliberate irony, I suppose, but that's a bit subtle. I'm more inclined to read it as a group of assimilating Jews taking on the cultural role of "white folks" and with it the tacit permission to use ugly stereotypes of Middle Easterners.

I mean, okay, it's a story with villains, and you have to make the villains look villainous somehow, but I'm not sure that classical anti-Semitic polemic is the healthiest way to do it.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 25th, 2011 12:10 am)
The story behind this image, and lots of adorable pictures of little kings, are all over at http://www.hasoferet.com/blog/?p=883.

I didn't cross-post, because the formatting went all whack, and I didn't feel like reformatting the whole thing for DW/LJ. You'll just have to click over, my loves. It's well worth it, I think.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Feb. 2nd, 2011 01:35 pm)
I posted recently-ish about one Theodor Nöldeke, who was a teacher of Louis Ginzberg.

In another Ginzberg book (vol. 2 of Ginzei Schechter, thanks to Hillel Lavery-Yisraeli) I saw the following transliteration of the name Nöldeke:

Umlauts in Hebrew? I never saw that before. Did any of you?
hatam_soferet: (waan)
( Jan. 26th, 2011 01:01 pm)
This is the second time I've seen a certain hawk in the tree outside my living-room window (yay binoculars!). It looks a lot like the pictures of the juvenile red-tailed hawk here (yay internet!), so I'm guessing it's a juvenile red-tailed hawk.

Here is a picture (yay camera!):

I am amused by the similarity between the hawk's expression and Waan's expression in the icon.
chocolate trifleThe Boyfriend sent me this link and now I can't close the browser tab. YES I DARE YOU TO CLICK ON IT and tell me how YOU'D deal with the situation.

Today contained me saying to a young man I'd just met: "If you take your pants off, we can get on with the next part of the program."

This does not usually happen.

Actually, we'd been helping a mutual friend move house, and he'd torn his trousers in the process, so I traded work with him - he'd help me schlep the bedframe I was buying of Madame Moving, and I would fix his trousers. So in context it makes sense, and he skulked modestly in the bathroom until they were done, but still. What a line, eh?

Shabbat featured chocolate trifle. Stale Oreos from a beach trip a couple of weeks back, some extremely indifferent peaches that'd been lurking in the fridge - add a packet of chocolate pudding, a packet of frozen raspberries, and a pint of whipped cream, and this yumminess resulted. I think it could have used some alcohol, but otherwise it was very good.
(Now on BoingBoing, thanks Aharon!)

Snapped this afternoon downtown.

In words:

There's this enormous cave in Mexico, and visitmexico.com is encouraging you to visit Mexico by having a life-size poster of the cave on the side of a Manhattan skyscraper.

In the picture are people on ropes, being lowered into the cave.

This afternoon I saw the workers putting the poster up. They're on a gantry, on ropes, being lowered over the poster.

So the small things on ropes that look like cave-descenders are in the poster, and the small things on a gantry that look like workers are in my photograph, and it pleases me immensely that I saw it in that stage.
hatam_soferet: Fractal zayins (zayin)
( Nov. 29th, 2009 09:13 pm)
I did a quick photo-series explaining how to make toy tefillin.

Toy tefillin

Originally I made them because Chum said that his Kid got fascinated by his tefillin when he was davening in the mornings, and he thought that Kid would be well-served by having some kiddy tefillin, so as to be able to join in.

So I made him some. Kid loves them, I hear, and Chum can daven in peace.

Apparently the grandson of the Alter Rebbe used to make toy tefillin out of potatoes (scroll to section 26), so for those who say toy tefillin teaches sacrilege, go take it up with the Alter Rebbe, and also with the fluffy sifrei Torah people.

I'm posting instructions because ChumsKid isn't the only one out there, they're awfully easy to do, and we're all about resources here. If they're so rough-and-ready as to be incomprehensible, I can make more detailed instructions, but I should think they're okay for most.

That said, for those who aren't artistically inclined, I can probably knock up a few pairs in time for Hanukah, if anyone's interested, profits split between Yeshivat Hadar and Project Renewal. Comment below or email if interested.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Sep. 29th, 2009 09:11 pm)
I never got around to saying, last month - one reason the soferet loves going blackberrying is because blackberries are all gleamy and black in the hedgerows, so they look an awful lot like new letters, which are also gleamy and black, albeit not in the hedgerows.

hatam_soferet: Fractal zayins (zayin)
( Sep. 26th, 2009 07:41 pm)

Sukkah-building. Ink in foreground.

The Soferet likes a bit of human interaction now and again, and so on Thursday I was working in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary here in New York.

There's a bit of the library which is set up as a beit midrash, with Talmud volumes instead of the usual academic books. It's got great big windows, and most of the time it's very quiet. (The real beit midrash is elsewhere, you see. Underground, so the light isn't as good. But with free tea. I might work there next week.)

A young woman passed by and did a double-take: quill and ink? what is that happening there? crikey, it looks like Torah... and we ended up having a nice conversation, in which she mentioned that she'd never before seen a Torah in the process of being written, and indeed had never really thought about how the Torah gets to be the way it is.

A soferet's job is like that. You work in the background, doing your job, and when it's done, all attention is on your product, the shiny new Torah, and perhaps you deliver it and interact with the community and perhaps not, but in any case afterwards you fade back out and the Torah takes over.

Personally, I don't mind this - I also enjoyed stage-managing in college - but what grabbed me particularly was that outside the lovely big windows, the JTS ground staff were building a sukkah, ready for the Sem to use next week. Next week perhaps the students will have sukkah-decorating and perhaps they won't, but the actual building of the sukkah took place, like much Torah-writing, in the background, so that next week the sukkah will be ready for use and the ground staff will have faded into the background.

So, that was a nice parallel, last Thursday. Me inside, writing Torah more or less unseen, and them outside, building a sukkah more or less unseen, setting the stage for the pageantry of Sukkot and Simchat Torah, upon which the curtains will open next week.

(Edited to add: bother, while I was working I evidently missed this pathetic protest - check out the link, the picture is fantastic! That crush barrier!)
D'you remember the tale of the Koren siddur? I said it'd make a nice border for something.

Koren siddurKoren siddurPsalterium Hebraeum

And so it proved. With shiny blue and purple paint, what's more. Yummy, eh?

It being vilely hot and sticky in New York at the moment, the fancy takes me to show y'all just how little of a sheet of Torah is actually visible while I'm writing it. Well-written, polished, intellectual blog posts with nicely-edited pictures and everything are kind of hard when almost your entire brain is screaming "MORE ICE CREAM NOW PLZ," and this is moderately educational, anyway.

Here's a picture of my tabletop last Thursday.

Soferet desktop

A and B: plasticised cardboard off old calendars (or cereal boxes, whatever's around). This is a general protection against mucky fingers, dust (not that the work is ever lying around long enough to collect dust, oh no), stray ink blots, and the like.

C and D: kitchen paper. On hot hot hot days, the function of the kitchen paper is primarily as a sweat-soaker. Resting my forearms on kitchen paper means that when I raise my arm to dip the pen in the ink or write along the line or other such activities calling for a certain degree of mobility in the limbs, there isn't a sticky timelag while my arm peels itself away from A and B.

You will notice the inkstains on D, though; that's because even on sensible days when one can wear sleeves to the wrist one still needs pen-wipers. Long sleeves present a peril all of their own, namely FLUFF, which is why A and B are present whenever I can manage it; there's nothing quite like finishing a day's work in a purple sweater and realising that now you have to fetch your erasing sponge and remove the delicate purple bloom from your parchment, except *not* realising it and having your client ask why their sefer is patchily purple. I would guess. Not that that has ever happened to me. No indeed.

A thru D are attached to the parchment with paperclips. E, though, actually moves (that is to say, it is mobile. I move it, like a manual carriage return). I call E a finger guard; goodness knows what anyone else calls it, but its function is to keep the fingers off the parchment, so "finger guard" seems like a good name to me.

Parchment is temperamental, especially on hot days; it likes to cockle itself nostalgically and ripple gently across the desk. This is not especially helpful when you are trying to write on the darn stuff, so your left hand has the constant task of holding flat the square inch you're writing on. Without the trusty finger guard, that means you're continually writing on nice fresh fingerprints, and that's not so spiffy.

F is my tikkun page, wot I am copying off of. I have it as near to the working line as possible, because it's much easier to flick one's eyes a short way than raise one's whole head. You aren't allowed to write sans tikkun, as I've mentioned before.

G is the usual amount of visible Torah, although recently the days have been so hot and sticky that the ink takes forever to dry, so there are perhaps ten lines visible instead of the more usual four.

H. I'm very proud of H. It's that non-slip stuff that yachtie tablemats are made out of, that will sit quite happily on a table inclined at thirty degrees and not go anywhere. Ideal for people who work on tables inclined at thirty degrees, if you see what I mean. H is being a place marker, so that I don't go writing line 29 instead of line 35 or some similar foolishness.

I uses the same stuff to keep the inkwell and other tools from sliding off the desk. On I you can see tile; scalpel; pen; inkwell; giant blots. The tile and scalpel are for pen-sharpening (the tile serves as a chopping board). The giant blots are the natural consequence of giving Soferet Jen bottles of ink in handy easy-to-knock-over locations (you might describe me as ham-fisted, but we're too kosher for that aren't we); at J you can see how the wall has suffered similarly in the past.

Ice cream is totally relevant to writing Torah, anyway. They both come from cows.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Aug. 4th, 2009 09:31 pm)
Koren siddurKoren siddur
The front of the new Koren siddur* is very pretty. Just the sort of design I like for my own artwork.

Click the thumbnail of the left image to see a bigger version. The right image is where I have highlighted the pretty. Rather indifferently :)

Still, even thought it'd make a lovely border for something, one can't very well plagiarise a prayerbook. I mean, it's a prayerbook. That seems to make it at least one degree worse than ordinary plagiarism.

So imagine my joy when I went again to the Valmadonna Trust exhibition and found this:

Psalterium Hebraeum

It's the title page of a certain Psalterium Hebraeum, printed in Genoa, in 1516 by Pietro Paolo Porro.

I tend to think that when something's that old it's fair game. Koren evidently did!

* The inside is jolly nice as well.
Text and image from this article at the Contemporary Jewish Museum site:

Starting this October, the Contemporary Jewish Museum will present As It Is Written: Project 304,805, an exhibition centered around a Soferet (a professionally trained female scribe) who, for one year, will meticulously write out the entire text of the Torah, also referred to as the Five Books of Moses, on public view. As she works within the gallery, the Soferet will actively engage in dialogue, answer questions, and share the mysteries and tools of her trade [but not while she's working -jtf]. The Museum will be the first public institution to reveal this process, offering visitors an opportunity to learn about its spiritual and ritual essence while framing it as a profoundly contemporary act.

that's my student whee!

and do you recognise the HAT?

In some script styles the samekh and the mem look quite similar, and the only difference is the bottom right-hand corner.

I came across a Torah in this script style, in which the word "Ramses" (you know, as in Egypt) had been misspelled, so it read "Ramsem." The final samekh had been mistakenly done as a mem.

So it was my job to fix that problem, and turn that final mem into a samekh.

This kind of fix illustrates one of the crucial sofrut principles, that of hak tokhot, or carving-to-form-a-letter. To turn final mem into samekh, all you need to do in principle is round off the corners - but in sofrut, that counts as forming the letter by carving, and we don't do this. Why? because carving isn't writing, and what we do is writing. So instead of just merrily trimming away the corners, you have to erase the whole bottom part of the letter until it isn't any letter at all, and then rewrite it with curved corners.

This is one of the things where afterwards you can't tell the difference, but the proper method is crucial. If you carve, the letter is pasul and the Torah is pasul. If you write, all is kosher. But no-one except you knows whether you wrote or carved.

It's pure formalism, in a way - it doesn't look any different, whether you make it by scraping or inking; you can't tell the difference, but the way we define Torah writing, there is a difference.

Looking at it from a homiletical perspective, it's easier to see why.

You can't form Torah from destructive acts. The letters have to be made with additive processes, not subtractive processes. The creation has to go in one direction, adding to the body of the letter, not taking away from an existing body.

We might make a comparison with sculpture, in particular Michelangelo's famous comment that David was already inside the marble and he, as the sculptor, merely removed the surplus. Torah letters cannot be made in this way. You can't take a blob of ink, scrape away the surplus, and reveal a letter, and on some level that's because without human interaction Torah doesn't mean anything. It's not a pretty statue, that once revealed stands there looking beautiful - it's a relationship, so there has to be interaction. The content comes from without, but it doesn't become part of us unless it also comes from within.

Compare how Torahs are made from perishable materials. They last a long time, but ultimately they decay, and hence the ever-renewing process of writing fresh scrolls to replace the worn. Stone tablets are very symbolic, but like the statue of David, they aren't a relationship. You make them once and there they are (until they break or get lost), but there isn't that process of internal, ongoing recreation which is what keeps Torah alive.

Really the more you think about it, the more important this little rule about not-forming-letters-by-erasing seems. On one level it's a formalist rule of artisanship, and on another level it's a whole theological discourse on the sympathetic relationship between the Jews and the Law.

good, eh?
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Jul. 31st, 2009 06:55 pm)
I have a kind of lurgy whose effects mimic those of a bang on the head. So I'm perpetually dizzy and a bit disoriented, slightly nauseous, and very tired, but minus the actual bang on the head.

Unfortunately, of course, all my gainful employment requires a good deal of brain, and can't be done with this kind of impairment. So, for instance, I would like to write you something terribly profound connecting this post of Slacktivist's with something tircha said about the first chapter of Eicha, but it ain't going to happen this year.

So instead I will share some photos of a scarf I finished a while ago. Can't remember if I've already shared these (lack of brain), but they're still pretty.


and here look this is me wearing it and holding some feathers


I'm going to do a piece of headgear with the remaining yarn for when I am leyning at my shul and have to wear headgear. Ladykippah sort of thing.

Anyone on Ravelry, by the way?
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Jul. 27th, 2009 05:48 pm)
Brooklyn Bridge swiped from wikipedia[community profile] livredor and I went touristing on Sunday, to the Brooklyn Bridge. First we had EXTREME PIZZA in the East Village, and then we went over into Brooklyn (via 14th St to see the moving platforms) so as to walk back over the bridge towards Manhattan.

Weather.com had told us that there would be Isolated T-Storms (I insist upon interpreting this as "isolated tea storms," because it pleases me), and standing in the sunshine at the Brooklyn end of the bridge, we could see an Isolated Tea Storm over Manhattan.

Liv observed that it's obvious why the Dutch liked Manhattan; the sky had that curious opaque grey with funny pearly-yellow clouds look to it that you see in Dutch paintings.

lightning hitting the empire state buildingWalking over the bridge towards the storm, we saw a huge streak of lightning fizzle out of the clouds and ground itself in the lightning conductor on the American International Building. That's the Empire State Building in the picture, so it was like that except a bit further south. Anyway, the American International Building is the tallest building in Lower Manhattan, so you would sort of expect lightning to ground there, but I've never actually seen actual lightning actually sparking into an actual lightning conductor before. It was very exciting.

Mostly it wasn't raining on us, either. We were on the bridge between Brooklyn which was doing just fine and Manhattan which now had proper lowering clouds absolutely filled with sheets of lightning periodically grounding itself in any tall building that happened to be handy, watching the storm (you can see a lot of sky, from the bridge), not getting wet, and having occasional bouts of engineering lust at how pretty the bridge is.

Umbrella of Utter HappinessI had the Umbrella of Utter Happiness with me so when it started actually raining we were okay. The Umbrella of Utter Happiness is concentric fuschia and marigold stripes with radial blend, and I love it to bits. (It is from the guy with a stall at 73rd and Broadway, if you're interested.) It wasn't much use against the Total Tropical Downpour, but happily we were basically in the subway by that time.
Zayin is, fundamentally, a stick with a lump on the top, as we've seen - sticking out on both sides of the stick. You'll notice that shin, ayin, tet, nun, zayin, gimel, and tzaddi all have such a zayin as part of their makeup - sometimes bent to the side rather - kuf and het also have zayins, but not ones which are otherwise unoccupied, since the ones in het carry the hump and the one in quf is in the quf's tummy so it can't wear a crown yet. Anyway, they all have a zayin, and they carry their taggin on the flat head of the zayin.

This leads to one of my all-time favourite halakhot, thus: why do we put the taggin on the flat head? Surely, since they are a commandment, we should do them as soon as possible, and (reading from right to left) put them on the first head we come to? like the right-hand head of tzaddi, and so on?
Tzaddi with tagginTaggin on right head of tzaddi

You can't do that, the halakhic narrative responds; if you did, they'd fall off.

Like this.
Tzaddi and taggin

This is one of my all-time favourite scribal rules. You can see why :)