hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Oct. 5th, 2010 04:06 pm)

The Soferet is going to Limmud 30, people!

What do you think I should present?

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

ETA: Lethargic_man points out that he too lives in a Jewish neighbourhood, in London, and none of this applies in his neighbourhood. I did not mean to imply that all Jews drink death-defying amounts of carbonated water on festivals, nor that all Jews are so environmentally oblivious that they use plastic for every meal – no, indeed. Just the ones near me!

Back to the post:

I live in rather a Jewish neighbourhood.

This is how you know the Jews are having a holiday:

Perfectly terrifying quantities of seltzer.

This is how you know the holiday is Succot:

Mind-boggling quantities of plastic forks.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Sep. 13th, 2010 04:52 pm)

Soferet desktopWhile I’m waiting for the kettle to boil, a quick post about how much I love pens.

Really. When the Soferet is miserable or grouchy, a trip to the art store is almost always a good plan. Pens are little tubes of potential, and they don’t cost much, so they’re good happy-making things.

Then you keep them in your pen-holder, and then when you want to create something, you’ve just — whee! — got all the pens you need, right there on hand. It’s very happy.

That’s my pen-holder there. Old shoebox, brown paper, and tape, and it holds a marvellous litter of pens for art projects.

I’m working on a rather exciting ketubah. More about that later; I also want to write you a few posts about liturgy and the High Holy Days here in New Frankfurt-upon-Maine, and about the Kohelet scroll I’m working on, and I think I still owe you pictures of Eicha, and I want to write various other fun things too, but at the moment it’s the ketubah, the other ketubah, the two other other ketubot, proofreading someone else’s Torah, writing Kohelet, and having masses of Yom Tov. Oh, and that Torah repair I still need to finish. Oy.

Tea’s ready. Back to work.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

Jen and Julie, quill-wearing soferot

I’ve mentioned, from time to time, my student Julie.

Julie came to meet me one day in Manhattan a couple years ago, looking oh-so-very timid. I recognise the look; it’s the one I wear when I’m in the presence of a Great Brain, where I cannot quite believe my own temerity in bothering the August Personage with my vastly trivial affairs. Except of course I do not expect people to wear that look around me, so I made haste to be as friendly and lovely as I possibly could.

Once she realised I don’t bite, she worked hard as hard, and just shot ahead. You could see her progress from week to week, and she’s got a rare head for halakha as well. She even enjoyed learning the really hard parts with me, the bits that I’ve never learned with anyone before because they’re so convoluted it takes a particularly clear head to get through them.

That was a treat for me, an absolute treat – but Julie’s also an incredible feminist; she insisted on paying me for lessons even though I was probably getting as much out of them as she was half the time. In so doing she taught me some very important things about how getting paid and feminism interrelate.

So it was my utter pleasure to receive a phonecall a while back from the Contemporary Jewish Museum of San Francisco, who were looking for a scribe for a rather exciting exhibition, because I could recommend Julie most wholeheartedly.

And actually it’s rather lovely; people I know vaguely keep coming up to me – at shul or in the supermarket or wherever – and going “I was in San Francisco last month and…” and they tell me about how they saw Julie and how super she was, and I get to go “squee bounce I know!!!”

And she’s working her way through the Torah, slow and steady, just as you might expect; and I hear great things about how she gives presentations and talks to people and explains everything ever so clearly and nicely. All good.

So why this post today?

Because today I’m helping her and her NEXT employer write a contract, and there’s a certain bittersweet feeling when you wouldn’t have minded being in further negotiations with that project yourself! But this is the true success – when your students become your colleagues, your equals, your competition. And that is, ultimately, wholly sweet.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

The New York Public Library is having an exhibition this winter, about Three Faiths And Manuscripts, or some such. Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, and their various adventures with calligraphy.

I’d link you to the relevant Library page, but the exhibition is not on the website yet, not even under “Upcoming.”

Anyway, part of the exhibition is going to be films of various calligraphers doing their various calligraphic things, and one of the calligraphers is me.

The Library is this gigantic building on 42nd St. I got out of the train at Times Square and walked across town, because I don’t do that very often and it’s sort of picturesque, in a startling kind of way. It was chucking it down with a) rain b) tourists; I contemplated taking pictures of both, but I was running a little late, so I got you that image from Wikimedia instead, and you’ll have to fill in the rain and the tourists from your imagination.

We were working in a large panelled room with large panelled doors and a large marble doorway and a lot of fancy-pants lights, some part of the museum’s setup and some part of the photographer’s kit. He was the best sort of photographer, the kind that just films and lets you get on with writing. The annoying kind keep going “Can you do that again? -Can you dip the pen again? Now can you kind of hold it like that?”. I don’t take that sort of direction while I’m writing any more; either you let me write, or I do something fake, but you don’t get to tell me how you think me doing writing should look, because that messes up the writing, and I decided some time ago that my priority is always my work and never the camera – but I didn’t have to explain that to this chap, which was a treat and a half.

The Library were most emphatic that if they had to have a lady scribe, she had to be doing something politically acceptable, so that orthodox visitors wouldn’t freak out. Personally I think that once you have a Reform scribe in your video (which they do) you’ve got no reason to exclude a female scribe, but that just goes to show that the concern is not so much Orthodox Legal Sensibilities as Icky Girl Cooties. Then again, they could have chosen to exclude me completely, so I guess I’m mostly grateful.

Anyway, that meant I didn’t do anything Torah-related for their film, nor even the mezuzot I’m presently working on, no, I wrote some of the Megillah of Kohelet.

I’m sort of writing Kohelet and thinking maybe I’ll finish it in time to read on Succot – at the present rate that doesn’t seem very likely, but we’ll see – anyway, as it turned out, I was writing this bit that day. Good for being filmed, because of the distinctive pattern.

It’s the bit – you probably remember it, it’s the only thing anyone remembers from Ecclesiastes – “a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant and a time to uproot; a time to kill and a time to heal; a time to tear down and a time to build…” It’s poetry, obviously, and the rhythm of the words is reflected in the rhythm of the layout.

Side of computer included in image for size comparison and general pleasingness of contrasting media.

I did not take any pictures of me writing, on account of, I was busy writing. But afterwards, I took a picture of the view out of the window. And I took some photos of the tourists who kept trying to come in, for amusement’s sake, but they didn’t come out so well.

Days like that are rather funny to blog. I go to whatever location it is, and set up, and do my thing as I would at home, and someone hovers around with a camera, and then they go home and cut and paste and eventually they turn it into something that is splendid video but looks most unlike how I was feeling. I guess maybe an egg feels like that when it gets made into a cake. So too with blogging – I think you’re sort of expecting to hear about the cake, and I’m more inclined to write about it from the perspective of the egg.

Thus it is that I can write a whole post about “Today I went to the NYPL to be filmed doing writing” and have no pictures of Teh Soferet Writing.
It was cool to go to the fancy-pants library, and see the pretty pretty architectural details, and swan nonchalently through doors labelled “Staff Only,” but I’m most excited about this photo of the view from the window.

Never mind, eh? When the exhibition opens, I’m sure they’ll have something online, and I’ll tell you about it then. In the meantime – this is what it’s like being an egg.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

Well, that was fun. An afternoon at Hadar working with one of my accomplices apprentices on Elementary Proofreading.

No, I don’t really have apprentices. Just the occasional afternoon teaching here and there; the sort of thing that I would do more of if I had apprentices. Anyway, we were doing some sheets of a sefer that needed proofreading. It was the soferet’s first Torah work, I think, and the client, for doubtless good and valid reasons, had decided not to have a computer check.

The computer check, you remember, is the one that super-reliably checks that you’ve got all the letters in place – no missing vavs or extra yuds or homophones or accidental switches. Lacking that, apprentice and self have to do that job, which means checking each letter, several times, against the tikkun.

Me, I have my lovely scribomatic program to help me with that, but Apprentice hasn’t bought a copy of it (yet), so I was taking her through the old-fashioned method, reading each letter off the tikkun and checking it that way. First I read and she checked; then we swapped places and I checked while she read. We marked in pencil everything that seemed to need attention, and compared notes afterwards.

It’s very easy, when proofreading someone else’s work, to get into one of those superior “dear me, my daughter-in-law has dust on top of her bookshelves!” mindsets. Proofreading is an inherently critical process – it’s your job to look for mistakes – and accordingly I’m trying to get into the habit of, if I’m criticising, to turn it into a lesson – not “this is bad” but “here is how to improve this.” “This is pasul,” sometimes, but not “therefore you suck,” rather “here is how to make it kosher.” I didn’t have anyone to do that for me, so if I do it for other people, the world is a better place, right? So I was trying to model that for Apprentice, and I’ll also be sending an email version (with photographs) to the Soferet.

Apprentice is taking some sheets home with her to work on, and we’ll meet again and look them over in a few weeks’ time. The first thing she needs to do is do the Thing with the Tikkun; this is relatively easy. The more subtle details – is this kosher, is that kosher, what about this detail – she’ll have a go at, and we’ll meet again in a few weeks and see how she got on. If she was a full-time apprentice she’d do that with me checking in pretty often; as is, we’ll have to save all the checkups until we next meet.

Anyway, after several hours, I needed to leave the Apprentice and go buy shoes – my sandals are falling to bits on my feet, not good – but the Apprentice didn’t want to start driving to Boston in rush hour. So – we were at Yeshivat Hadar – I cast about the beit midrash, and propositioned a likely-looking person – one of those people whom you rather suspect would get a kick out of being asked to help – and left the pair of them sitting and doing the Thing with the Tikkun.

This pleased me rather. There’s me, with a fair bit of experience, leaving Apprentice, who has a little bit of experience, working with Yeshiva Girl, who has no experience fixing Torahs but can perfectly well read letters from a tikkun. And she’ll ask questions of Apprentice, who asks questions of me, and everyone moves up a step.

Except me because I didn’t find any sandals, but hey, can’t have everything.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Jul. 7th, 2010 04:23 pm)

I finished writing the sefer Torah for Dorshei Emet. You might have worked this out, from the lack of Torah-writing posts of late, but I didn’t actually get round to making a post about it yet.

I tweeted the final stages of putting the sefer together on May 11 and 12, and it was delivered to its new community on May 16.

You may remember that I spent a couple of days a week writing at Yeshivat Hadar, being the unofficial soferet-in-residence. Being in a friendly, welcoming, Torah-filled environment was a tremendous boost.

So, when I’d finished writing, we celebrated together, and there was cake for breakfast.

Then the sefer Torah got collected by someone driving from New York to Montreal, and driven to Montreal. This is safer than trying to come through Montreal aiport customs early on Sunday morning with a sefer Torah, a process liable to take an indefinite amount of time.

Because I had what to be doing on Sunday morning, namely, writing letters with congregation members:

In the afternoon, the sefer Torah was brought in under a chuppah with much rejoicing:

Then there were miscellaneous speeches, the filling in of the very last word, dancing and so on, and the sefer got its new clothes, and it was unrolled around the children of the congregation. Who were possibly slightly bemused, but it was all terribly symbolic and meaningful and so on.

I heard from a Torah reader a few weeks later. Apparently they had had a nice time reading from it. Good to hear.

This was my third sefer Torah.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (esther)
( Jun. 28th, 2010 01:32 pm)

This is the piece of artwork I was working on the week before last, a little piece of illuminated poetry. I had the most glorious time with it; waking up in the morning and bouncing out of bed going “ooh!” with anticipation, working long, long days at it because it was so delicious I didn’t want to stop.

As you can see from the text, it was for the wedding of Aryeh Yitzhak and Tamara Hana – if you’re reading this, I hope your marriage will always be as filled with delighful anticipation and fulfilling potential as this artwork was.

Clicky image to see bigger

I love it. I love how the blue and cream balance each other; I love how the flowers dance through the bands of background colour. I love how the edges of the bands are so bubbly and graceful. I love the curves and curls of the foliage, and how it looks so colourful but yet so light and fresh. I love the little touches of greenery, and how those are echoed in the border. I love the border, how it’s so rich and regular but also so simple. I love how the symmetry plays against the dense knot of golden letters in the middle. I love how the letters flow and snuggle together and together stand forth in glory.

I’m especially happy with it because when I look at it I have the sense that my eye is being led into a state of pleasureable befuddlement, which I think is the point of this sort of artwork – it’s commonly used in Islamic contexts, where it induces the slightly meditative state of mind contingent on being sensually overloaded. I feel as though I’ve really achieved something artistically.

Indeed, I enjoyed it so much that I am going to make one for myself, just as soon as I choose a suitable text. And I am going to make a maximum of three more, for prices which are not inconsiderable, but also not insulting; email me for more info.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

Occasionally I dip my pen, by accident, into my tea instead of into my ink.

When that happens, I wipe the tea off my pen, and dip the pen into the ink as per original plan.

But sometimes apparently I don’t get all the tea off my pen. A tiny drop of it lurks in the barrel, and when I’m not expecting it, it trickles down and lands in my writing.


Tea and ink, not mixing

Tea and ink, not mixing

The three little dots are the gleams from my desk lamps, and the other gleam is the light from the window.

Blue sky and clouds.

Blue sky and clouds.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.



and they coil madly out of the box! and I get to sort them into pairs! and have them fixed!

And Emfish says to recite the blessing Lehaniakh, tefillin!, or “Lie down, tefillin!” so I will do that later and they will all uncoil themselves and behave perfectly.

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (esther)
( May. 26th, 2010 03:55 pm)

The soferet is taking a couple of days to make an enormous batch of Tefillin Barbies, with some American Girl size tefillin thrown in, just in case anyone’s interested.

Breakfast is served chez soferet

Breakfast is served chez soferet

They’ll be on sale shortly at the soferet’s Etsy store, should you be interested. Not just yet though, I still have to go buy ribbon for the straps. Sunday, probably.

Tefillin on a plate

Tefillin on a plate

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

I’ve got a friend at shul.

He’s a lovely guy, he’s got a lovely family, and he’s got leukemia.

A bone marrow transplant could save his life. But so far, no-one on the bone marrow registers is a match for him.

Registering is a matter of a cheek swab. Actual donating, should you be a match, isn’t quite as simple (in a nutshell, this is why one isn’t halakhically obligated to register for these things), but…but you save someone’s life.

Information for people in all locations is at http://www.mattfenstercircle.org/

Information for people in New York, especially if you are going to the Salute to Israel Parade in New York City on Sunday, May 23, under the cut…

Read the rest of this entry » )

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

hatam_soferet: (esther)
( May. 9th, 2010 10:59 am)
Sofer's ink, being the intriguing chemical it is, doesn't come out of clothes.

You can sometimes get it out, if you're quick, with neat bleach - this is my explanation of why traditional scribes wear black-and-white; if it's black the ink won't show, and if it's white you can bleach it - but one of the problems encountered by a Liberal Scribe such as yours truly is that sometimes you're wearing a coloured shirt, and you get ink on it, and you don't notice until it's dry, and you can't dump it in neat bleach because then it will look very silly.

I talked to a chemist specialising in ink, and he didn't have any advice on how to shift stains from this sort of ink. It's basically immovable.

Accordingly, every so often I gather up the clothes with ink-stains (yes I do wear an apron most of the time, thanks) and dye them some dark and thrilling colour, so that the ink-stains won't show. Last time it was wine-red, the time before that it a foresty green.

But - this is the interesting bit - the ink-stains aren't simply disguised, they're actually removed. Whatever chemical magic goes on with the dyeing is of sufficient extraordinariness to shift the chemical magic of the ink. Really makes me wish I knew more chemistry.

Today is a dyeing day, so I've gathered up a few sad splotchy shirts and the greyest, most pathetic knickers in my drawer, and I'm dyeing them a cheerful yellow. That's the idea, anyway. They're on the stovetop at the moment and they're a really alarming Barbie-type orange, but one must have faith in the dye packet.
New York woke me up in the middle of the night with some truly impressive rain. Really, it must take a lot of effort to drop that much water out of the sky.

I was going to try and take a picture for you, but by the time it was light and I'd showered (why did I bother doing that? I could have just sat on the fire escape for a bit) and stuff, the rain had slacked off.

When it started raining (in the middle of the night, of course) I got out of bed and closed the windows, because I have bits of a Torah on my various tables, all too close to the windows for irresponsible sleeping through rainstorms. Okay, they're all at least a metre away from the windows and it would take some REALLY determined rain to get that far in, but you try sleeping through a rainstorm with open windows and bits of a Torah on your tables, and I bet you wouldn't make much of it either.

Oh, re: tables - that'd be one writing-desk, and one dining-table, which is temporarily serving as a Torah Corrections Zone (that sounds a lot more borstalian than it actually is), so meals are eaten on the balcony fire escape during fine weather and on the couch otherwise. Lest you should think that la vie soferet involves sumptuous drawing-rooms, or something.

Anyway, I'm off to Hadar today. Cheerio.