hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 6th, 2009 04:11 pm)
Onion win excerpt:

...Mouse-killing isn't solely the province of organic and medical scientists. Many other scientists kill mice, as well.

"As a physicist, I don't really have much cause to use mice in my regular research, which mostly requires the use of theoretical math," said Dr. Thomas Huber, author of the 1996 study Mouse Elasticity And Kinetic Rebound In High-Acceleration Collisions...

In other news, I've just put together a worksheet for those who would like to begin learning to write Torah-style, but don't want to get into quills and suchlike just yet. This is a worksheet that gets you going on motor skills and eye skills, and you can do it with a two-dollar calligraphy marker. I'm going to keep it off the internets for the moment, so if you would like a copy, bung me an email.

We discovered an error in [our] Sefer Torah this Shabbat. The error...involves a Tav that should be a Hay.

There are two aspects to dealing with this; the theoretical and the practical.

The theoretical side represents hours and hours of study. Before you go anywhere near fixing a Torah, you've got to know why this is a total disaster, for instance:

and you have to learn the several thousand other potential disasters that a sofer has to know how to avoid.

However, the practical side of a fix like this is actually very easy. It's a tiny bit of knife work and a tiny bit of ink work.

I've put in the hours and hours of study, and we live in a digital world. Suppose Esther lives hundreds of miles away from any sofer, and her Torah has this problem. She takes a picture of the problem in the Torah and emails it to me. I can look at it, and chances are I'll know how to fix it. If she knows how to use a knife and ink, I can send her something like this:*

and she can fix the problem. She can be my hands over hundreds of miles. If necessary, we could use a webcam, so that I can see exactly what she's doing.

Of course ideally Esther's community would have a fully-trained sofer. But in the real world, I think this could be the next best thing. It's better than reading from a non-kosher Torah, and it's better than having the Torah languish unused until a sofer happens to come to town.

I think this could happen. I could take a day and teach people how to use these:

and how NOT to use them (can you identify the things there that you must NEVER NEVER use on a Torah?).

In a day, someone is not going to learn all the rules about how to fix letters (what do you do with something like that thing to the right? do you need to do anything?), but I believe they can learn enough that they can make basic repairs under remote supervision.

One might say that letting half-trained people loose on Torahs is a dreadful idea, with unlimited potential for havoc to be unleashed. However, of course one would teach boundaries. Fences around tricky areas. When not to attempt something. The importance of not overestimating one's ability. And it might very well be better than the present state of affairs, where entirely untrained people attempt repairs that are quite horrifying.

* NOTE: Don't try this at home. This is not Torah writing. This is Times New Roman. It would not look quite like this on a Torah.


That's my vision. I reckon I can teach someone to do this in a day, if they've got some arts-and-crafts background. Anyone want to have a bit of a Manhattan guinea-pig day?
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Nov. 26th, 2008 10:02 pm)
Picture a room with a couple of soferim in it, writing Torah. A proto-sofer is practising letter samekh. The sound of a lecture on the weekly Torah portion floats in from down the hallway. Another proto-sofer takes a deep breath; she's about to start writing her first mezuzah. Her teacher is there, keeping an eye on her as she turns months of hard study into a real scroll.

A rabbinical student drops in with a megillah; he can't quite work out what he's doing wrong, but someone with more experience can get him back on track. Bolstered with good advice, he goes on his way, passing on his way out another proto-soferet who is coming from her Talmud class. Letter samekh is set aside and the two pull out books and tackle halakha. Mezuzah girl, taking a lunch break, helps them out when they get stuck.

They leave - they have Bible class now - and another student arrives. She's an expert on the Ancient Near East, a university professor and rabbi. She lives in the next state and studies on her own, and comes in every few weeks for an hour's lesson, after which someone is bound to get her into a discussion about texts from antiquity, and everyone will get very excited. After she's gone, work resumes, perhaps punctuated by occasional exchanges of advice or the sharing of a thought on the text. Someone will fetch some tea, someone will take a minute to look up a halakhic ruling. Letter by letter, their scrolls grow.

In the late afternoon, a round-eyed eleven-year-old comes in with her bat mitzvah teacher. They're taking a break from a Torah reading lesson, and coming to see the Torah being written. A Torah scholar spends an hour working on her own calligraphy; she doesn't want to be a sofer, but she likes practising here with the scribes. Her Seeing Eye dog sleeps under the table; she's practically blind, but she finds calligraphy inspiring. Everyone else finds her inspiring.

Around suppertime, a sofer and a proto-sofer arrive from their day jobs. Over supper, they catch up, talk shop a bit, and then set to reviewing some of the basics. They'll almost certainly end up chasing a tangent through the rabbinic literature. Someone will bring an academic perspective, someone will share a midrash; they may finish the evening discussing practical concerns, or philosophy, or awed speechless by some particularly astounding idea.

Sounds nice, doesn't it? And the great thing is, it's not just a pretty dream. It happened last week, and the week before, and the week before, and God willing it will happen next week and the week after and the week after. Baby scribes and proto-scribes and getting-better scribes, people sharing what they know and what they've learned, writing and studying and listening together, and all the while the Torah grows and grows. It's very beautiful.

(I can be emailed for more info.)
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 2nd, 2008 07:23 pm)
New addition to HaSoferet.com:

Outline, with many useful links, of how one learns to be a sofer. Including an easy Hebrew calligraphy worksheet for a pretty aleph-bet and a hard worksheet for learning ktav Beit Yosef, one of the sofer's aleph-bets.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Oct. 18th, 2007 01:52 pm)
Drisha asked me to teach a class in some way related to What I Do next semester! What an honour.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Oct. 9th, 2007 10:48 pm)
Today: Sofrut III started. We did some quill work, and then some halakha. We did the first chapter of the Keset ha-Sofer, where the message, more or less, is: This is serious stuff. Don't mess with it. Lay tefillin. Those who couldn't make it: I will (iy"H) send you the sources and summarise by email.

Next week, the laws of How to Write the Letters.

On the way home, realised with horror that I'd left my keys in the city. Went to neighbour to request couch space; incredibly, she had a spare set of my keys, left there by W ages ago. Such relief, goodness. Literally weak at the knees. People: deposit keys with your neighbours, because being locked out is really horrid.
This year's crop of Megillahs has been harvested and sent to the happy recipients. This makes seven Megillot since I wrote my first for Purim 2004.

In the academic year 2003-4 I was in Israel, learning at Pardes. In my spare time, I continued to study the laws of sofrut - as my learning skills improved courtesy of Pardes, I was able to make better progress with this - and eventually I felt ready to attempt the Megillah.

The Megillah is a traditional starting point for new scribes. It's not too long, and it doesn't contain any of the Names of God. Thus, it's pretty hard to make any really terrible mistakes, and the baby scribe can get through the project in a manageable sort of time.

You can study theory all you want, but if you can't get hold of materials, and you wouldn't know how to use them if you did, you're a bit stuck. Fortunately for me, since there are opinions which say a woman may write Esther, a sofer who teaches at Pardes was willing to help me write it. He would get materials for me, and show me how to use them. That was a courageous thing for him to do, because in giving me those skills he would be helping me along the road to writing sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzot, which is something he could not condone. Many people would say that he should not give me a tool to do something permitted if there were to be a chance of my using it for something forbidden. He gave me the tool and let me choose what to do with it, and I thank him for that.

That year, there was an earthquake in Israel. I was in Pardes' study hall that morning, writing away, but I stopped writing when the building rocked and the room started wobbling up and down. For a second we thought it was a bomb, but bombs don't make the floor ripple. Pardes has a very diverse community; you could tell the Californians, because they dived underneath their desks. The rest of us sat there gaping until the room came to a standstill. People came over to me, asking "How's the Megillah?" It was fine.

I finished the writing, and took it to the sofer. He looked at it. I waited. "It's a very good first Megillah," he said. At three years' distance, I see just what he meant. Still, it was nice enough, I was proud of it, he was satisfied. I think I was his first female student to complete a Megillah.

I took it to Rabbi Landes, the top bod at Pardes. I asked him: can we read from a Megillah I've written? He looked at me from behind his beard. Had I already written it, he asked. Yes? He would need some time to think about this. Give him a few days. He had to decide whether it was okay, in principle and in particular.

Pardes does things by the book. It's not an Orthodox institution, but it's an institution Orthodox people can be part of. That means when it does something, it does it properly. R' Landes riffled through some enormous tomes and decided that in principle, he was okay with reading from my Megillah, but - but - if I hadn't written it properly, Pardes' reading would be completely invalid. So he talked to my sofer. Was this a kosher Megillah? I wasn't in on that conversation, but the answer must have been yes, because R' Landes hunted me down and said the Pardes reading for that year would be from my Megillah.

I was over the moon. My work had been weighed in the balance and found worthy. It could be used to fulfil the mitzvah of Megillah reading for the yeshiva.

A decision like that isn't taken lightly. The Megillah reading fulfils the obligation of an awful lot of people; someone co-ordinating a reading has a responsibility to the whole congregation to make the reading kosher. Approving my Megillah meant that serious people with heavy responsibilities were satisfied with my grasp of the scribal arts to the extent that they would trust the reading - the fulfilment of everyone's obligation - to my scroll.

That was when I felt I'd graduated. For sure I still had a long way to go - still do - but I was over the bar of being minimally competent.

So I kept studying!
Sofrut 2 is coming up to taking the Vaad exam,* and doing all kinds of marvellous things with mezuzot, Megillot, and Torah repair. Hooray for Sofrut 2!

Sofrut 1 has almost finished its first cast through the halakha, and then it will move up a level and start looking at the complicated bits and the background stuff. Yay and whoo for Sofrut 1.

As a sort of preliminary sniffer, who here would be interested in learning sofrut, practical and theoretical, one evening a week? Class level and goals negotiable, but basically with an eye towards Vaad certification (where biologically and philosophically viable, anyway) and being able to write and repair sifrei kodesh.

I'm thinking about starting in the new academic year, so as to fit in with certain rabbinical students who're doing their year in Israel just now. Really depends who's interested.

Oh, yeah, and you need to be able to get to New York, on account of that being where I am :)

Anyway, if you think that sounds worthy of consideration, bung in a comment, or drop me a line jen@geniza.net. Don't worry that your Hebrew or your calligraphy or anything else isn't good enough - we can do something about that. You'd be surprised.

* the Vaad Mishmeret Stam in Brooklyn - the real deal when it comes to sofrut certification.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Dec. 3rd, 2006 07:58 pm)
It occurred to me the other day, teaching someone about wood glue, that I've been building up to this work for twenty years. I haven't been doing calligraphy for twenty years, far from it - more like six or seven. I took up calligraphy in college, because I didn't have space in my college room for all my other craft stuff. But I've been doing crafts since I was five, when my mum taught me how to sew things for my toy Bunny, possibly as a ruse to get me off her back.

Why crafts are good )

Twenty years of dollshouses don't make you a sofer, but they certainly help.
The stretching letters post!

Torah columns are fully justified - that is, the text extends tidily to each side of the column (see left). If you read the tikkun post, you'll remember that there are various scribal techniques for achieving this effect.

The tidiest way to do it is by making letters and spaces ever so slightly bigger or smaller, so that the change in size isn't even noticeable. However, sometimes that isn't an option. The image at right is part of the Song of the Sea, where the text is constrained by a very specific layout (more on that some other time). There is simply no way to do this line subtly; one has to stretch. So, what can one stretch?

Read more... )

hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Oct. 4th, 2006 06:30 pm)

I've finished translating the alef-bet part of Mishnat Soferim, a treatise on the letter forms by R' Yisrael Meir Kagan, the author of the Mishnah Berurah. Despite its name, it doesn't have much to do with the more famous Mishnah. It's a 19th-century Polish work.

My translation is here.

Here's a sample of the sort of thing you'll see; this is from the directions for the form of letter khaf which comes at the ends of words.
Its leg should be long and its roof short, so as not to resemble reish, although the roof should not be too short, because then it might look like a long vav or like straight nun, and a child's reading it as such would invalidate it. Accordingly, at the end of a line one may not stretch it to make it long at all. In general one should not stretch letters, but this is because that's the nice way to do it and bedeavad [post facto; in less-than-ideal circumstances - JTF] they aren't invalid; if one extends the roof of straight khaf so that it looks like reish it is invalid.

This is a nice segue into the Stretchy Letters post, which I've been meaning to write for a while now. I'm planning to write it after I've had supper...not that we have any actual food around the place; I'm going to have to go shopping, bleugh. Booooooring.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Aug. 23rd, 2006 11:53 pm)
It just keeps coming, doesn't it?

A fairly comprehensive introduction as to exactly why I'm not allowed to do what I do - i.e. the status of women vis-a-vis sofrut, with sources.

And just in case you missed it the first time round: My Halakha Library, with its translation of the Keset ha-Sofer and the relevant bits of Mishnah Berurah.

Finally, a gratuitous link to my pretty postcards, for those of you who have started reading since I last posted about them.

hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Aug. 17th, 2006 10:50 pm)
Haha! The Sekrit Projekt has come to fruition!

Now, a warning: it's kind of technical, so don't be too disappointed that it doesn't involve lots of shiny pictures.

However, here it is: complete online English translation of the Keset ha-Sofer and a translation of the most relevant section of the Shulhan Arukh, with the entire Mishnah Berurah in funky funky javascript footnotes. It's part of a somewhat wider halakha resource which I've been putting together - the other bits are still brewing (because translations take time).

Getting that online involved an unbelievable amount of admin faff and general fiddling. Now it's done, I can go back to my usual normal-paced, relatively admin-free existence.

That said, today was full - a column and a quarter, swimming, teaching leyning, therapist (I'm a New Yorker now), and Sofrut I. Except that Sofrut I rescheduled, so W and I watched The Fellowship of the Ring instead, which was less educational but more thrilling.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Jul. 16th, 2006 08:06 am)
The following came into my inbox yesterday:

It is important to note that there are currently no women today who are certified scribes. A few women have become “qualified” scribes by way of training with male scribes in a traditional framework. Certification comes through an Orthodox committee which to date will not grant women this status. Be sure to ask anyone who claims to be a certified scribe to see the papers documenting this.

This is incorrect.

To start with, it's just factually incorrect: certification is available through a number of organisations which exist for the purpose, not "through an Orthodox committee." The "Orthodox" bit is correct; the "an" and "committee" are not.

It's also incorrect on a more general plane. Certification in sofrut is like any other kind of ordination. There exist ordaining bodies, and ordination from them is an indication that your knowledge met a certain standard when you took their examination.

Let's take for an example one's psychiatrist. If your psychiatrist is a member of the American Psychiatric Association, that means they've demonstrated a minimal standard of competence in the opinion of the APA. If somebody isn't a member of the American Psychiatric Association (let's say they live in Scotland), that doesn't mean they're not a perfectly good psychiatrist. Perhaps this Scot has a letter of recommendation from a member of the APA which says that that member is satisfied as to their abilities; you could perfectly well choose this person as your psychiatrist.

Let's move into the Jewish field: I've spent a year studying the laws of Shabbat. This is about as long as your average Orthodox rabbinical student spends learning it, and considerably longer than your average Conservative rabbinical student. I don't have rabbinical ordination, but I'm competent to deal with questions of Shabbat observance, either by simple yes/no, or by knowing where to look up an answer, or by knowing when to defer to a higher authority. I'm not a rabbi, but I know about keeping Shabbat; likewise, there are people ordained as rabbis who do not know about keeping Shabbat.

How does one become a rabbi? By having ordination from a rabbi. We have rabbinical schools and associations because if Rabbi Cohen comes along and tells you that she got her ordination from Rabbi Levi, that doesn't tell you very much about Rabbi Cohen's proficiency or outlook. However, if Rabbi Cohen tells you that she got her ordination from the Jewish Theological Seminary, you'll know quite a lot about Rabbi Cohen's qualifications without having to ask. Rabbi Cohen's JTS ordination is an indicator of her knowledge and personal practice.

Private ordination is not invalid. Rabbi Ner-David got her ordination privately because Rabbi Ner-David is Orthodox and could not get into any of the Orthodox rabbinical schools because she is a woman. Would you say that Rabbi Ner-David is merely "qualified"? No. Rabbi Ner-David is ordained. Certified. To find out more about Rabbi Ner-David's competence you would have to ask her herself or the rabbi who ordained her. This is more work for you; it does not mean that her ordination is any less valid.

Similarly with sofrut. There exist certifying bodies; certification from these bodies guarantees a certain level of knowledge, and depending on the body a certain level of maintained knowledge, skill, and integrity. This is precisely similar to the situation with the psychiatrist or the rabbi. Certification from an organisation is more easily understood; private ordination is not invalid.

Soferet Barclay has private certification; she is every bit as much a certified soferet as Rabbi Ner-David is a certified rabbi. Saying otherwise is an insult to these women, their work, and those who ordained them, besides demonstrating a very incomplete knowledge of the certification processes.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( May. 1st, 2006 11:34 pm)
Hung out this evening with Proto-Soferet LC. Proto-Sofer DMV was sick, so he wasn't there. LC and I talked technique for a bit, and read through the Mishnah Berurah's definitions of some of the letters.

I thought I had an English translation of them somewhere, and thought I'd post it here, but I seem to've mislaid it, and there's not a great deal of point putting only the Hebrew up (since if you're able to comprehend it, chances are you have access to the Mishnah Berurah already; this bit's at the end of siman 36). Bleah. [livejournal.com profile] margavriel, you haven't perchance made a translation, have you?
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 19th, 2006 10:01 pm)
The Lishkat ha-Sofer is a commentary on the Keset ha-Sofer, a summary of the halakhot relevant to sofrut. Although Lishkat can be distinctly tiresome (overenthusiastic use of acronyms being his main fault), he is occasionally charming, as in his comments in chapter 10, s'if katan 6.

He quotes a rule from the Keset, and then quotes another source against it. The usual procedure at this point is to quote the opposing source's subsequent discussion, to explain how the seeming contradiction is reconciled. Lishkat, endearingly, does not do this, but notes in parenthesis "I didn't understand his explanation."
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 9th, 2006 09:23 am)
So I wrote this huge long article about why exactly women can write sifrei Torah from a non-egalitarian halakhic perspective.* I didn't want to put it in the public domain until it'd been read by people I respect who are friendly, in case I'd made terrific clangers, since I'd rather have that pointed out by my friendly teachers than by enraged persons who want to tear me apart (I mean, anyone can pick holes in an argument, but it would just be embarrassing to have one's argument destroyed because of a clanger).

Anyway, I sent it to various people, and today I got a response from Ross Singer, he of Women and Writing the Megillah fame, who said he was impressed with the scholarship, if not entirely convinced by the conclusion. And he used various complimentary adjectives, which I won't quote here since I haven't asked him if I may, but suffice it to say my confidence was boosted.

* look at me being post-denominational. I could have just said "Orthodox." Am I good?
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Feb. 12th, 2006 10:14 pm)
The snow is very pretty! It is DEEP and WHITE and THICK and YOFI. Nice nice nice. So we had a snow day and stayed home (instead of teaching and going out to do the taxes); I wrote half a column of Megillah, finishing the column I started on Thursday. I'd normally expect to do more than half a column a day, but sometimes other things get in the way - last week it was tefillin checking eating up time, for eg.

Mar Gavriel came over for a quill-cutting and letter-forming lesson. It's nice to talk shop with someone who knows how to learn halacha - most of the halachically-minded people I know aren't into sofrut, and most of the sofrut-minded people I know aren't into learning.

Tomorrow I'm going out to Westchester to work on a Torah. The snow ought to be interesting - it's a half-hour walk from the station to the shul in good weather, what it'll be like in fifteen inches of snow is yet to be seen. But I like snow, and we haven't had much yet this year.