It being 17 Tammuz, a fast day, Hadar is learning about fasting.

We learned the story from Ketubot 67b:

In Mar Ukba's neighbourhood there lived a poor guy, and every day Mar Ukba used to leave a dollar in his mailbox. One day, the poor guy decided to find out who was leaving these dollars, so he kept a look out. Now, that day Mar Ukba stayed late at the beit midrash, and his wife came to find him. They went home together via the poor guy's mailbox, and the guy spotted them and came out! Mar Ukba and Mrs Ukba ran away fast fast fast, and hid [naturally] in a conveniently-empty communal oven. But it was still hot, and Mar Ukba's legs got burned, ouch. But his wife's legs were fine.

So she says to him, stand on my feet. And he does, but he's devastated. Well, dear, she says to him, what do you expect? You give charity to the poor by putting an anonymous dollar in the mailbox, I do it by having them round for meals.

Thus it is said, it's better to leap into a fiery furnace than embarrass someone publicly.

Well, you can analyse that as much as you like, re different modes of giving charity and their respective merits, relationships with those to whom one is obligated, and so on, and we did, but my brilliant chevruta remembered another story about people who go into ovens, and WOW, is that one ever brilliant.

Get this.

Bava Metzia 85a. Rabbi Zeira used to live in Babylon, but mid-life he went to Israel. There were learning communities in both places, and there were a few rabbis who travelled between them, carrying the Torah of the communities one to the other. This was how the academies of Babylon learned the scholarship of the academies of Israel, and vice versa. Important exchange of scholarship.

But Rabbi Zeira, when he went to Israel, he fasted a hundred fasts so that he would forget all the Torah he had learned in Babylon, so as to be able to concentrate on the Torah he could learn in Israel.

Rabbi Zeira fasted another hundred fasts so that Rabbi Elazar, administrative head of the community, would not die and leave all the world on his, Rabbi Zeira's, shoulders.

And he fasted another hundred fasts so that the fires of Gehennom would not burn him in the hereafter.

He used to make sure he was okay vis-a-vis Gehennom thus: every month he'd go stand in an oven, and his legs wouldn't get burned, so he knew he was fine. But one time, his colleagues gave him the evil eye, and his legs got burned. And ever afterwards he was known as "that little guy with the burny legs."

Now connect to Berakhot 6b, which teaches that how the whole point of fasting is charity, and Sanhedrin 35a: one who fasts without doing their charitable duty is like one who spills blood. Not to be overly judgemental, but Rabbi Zeira's motives could have used a bit of work - I mean, he wanted to learn Torah from other people but he didn't want to share his own Torah; he didn't want to share the duties of running the community, and he apparently wasn't 100% comfortable with his own behaviour because he still had to keep fasting to avoid the fires of the hereafter.

And his colleagues weren't so delighted either; they gave him burny legs!

The Mar Ukba story makes it quite easy to judge Mar Ukba negatively - his feet got burned, his wife's didn't, so his method of giving charity wasn't utterly reprehensible but it wasn't amazing either. But compare to Rabbi Zeira! In Sanhedrin 37a, we hear that Rabbi Zeira used to hang out in rough neighbourhoods trying to get the locals to repent and reform (his colleagues didn't approve of that either, incidentally). Even someone who agrees that reformation is generally a good thing ought to be able to see that this type of charity is not awfully appropriate, being unsought, imposed, condescending, and lacking all empathy. Leaving a dollar in the mailbox may not be ideal, but it's a heck of a lot better than going up to someone and saying "Ah, you look like a poor person! Here, poor person! Let me give you this healthy apple I didn't fancy at lunchtime."

There are lots of ways of giving charity. I may not be on the Mrs Mar Ukba* model, I don't usually form human relationships with the recipients of my giving (and anyway that's not always entirely appropriate); but at least I'm not on the Rabbi Zeira model, imposing said relationships to make myself feel good. There are worse things than just giving money to charities.

* I know Mar means Mr. Mrs Mar Ukba is humorous.
workspaceThis morning in the synagogue we read Exodus 13:9, which contains the phrase "The Torah of God shall be in your mouth."

Rabbinic tradition expands this concept: if we are to put the Torah in our mouths, it obviously cannot be made of things that we may not eat. So all animal products used on Torahs are made from the kosher species.

Quills - swan or goose feathers, turkey or duck, but no peacock or ostrich, eagle or crow. Glue - before synthetic glues, sticky stuff was mostly made from animal products, did you know that? - fish glue or cow-hoof glue, but not rabbit-skin glue or horse-hoof glue. Thread, which is made from tendons and glue - cow tendons, but not horse tendons. And parchment.

Torahs are written on parchment, in Hebrew klaf, קלף, (with a kuf). Proper parchment is really a type of leather - here's a site which talks about how klaf is made. Nowadays most Torah parchment is made from cows, because the meat industry mostly deals with cows; older Torahs are often goat, one also sees deer and occasionally sheep; you could use bison, or chicken or turkey (but that would make very small pieces, and probably not be worth it). You could even use a giraffe, if you could find one.

And yes, I have this dream that one day someone will give me a dead giraffe and I will be able to write a Megillah on it, because you could fit the whole Megillah on one giraffe skin* and that would be unbelievably amazing so if you do know anyone with giraffes that are looking a bit tottery, do introduce me, or if you know a parchment-maker who's up for an adventure, likewise.

Continues under cut, I just had to leave the giraffe bit visible :) )
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 22nd, 2009 07:42 pm)
Hebrew Name KeyringsThis is what I was doing this afternoon (clicky picture for bigger). The shul had a Lower East Side Nostalgia Fundraising Klezmer Concert Thingumajig, and I was being the Lower East Side Sofer stall, where people can get their Hebrew names written. I had a cracking time.

I do this writing-Hebrew-names thing a lot, and I rather enjoy it; names are easy, and people like them very much, so it's a very good investment-to-return ratio. I don't usually do it in my home shul, though, so today was a nice change; no travelling to speak of, and writing for people I actually know is nice also.

Normally I just write the names on parchment-look paper, but I had a Brilliant! Idea! in the form of keyrings, clear acrylic ones into which one slips the paper, and then it's cute and useful and all kinds of shiny. And my goodness they were flying off the shelf; from 12-3 I did 45 keyrings, as well as names-on-paper. I'd only brought about 35 keyrings with me, had to do the rest at home and mail them. People were buying them as afikoman gifts, which is very sweet.

I do feel a bit guilty for contributing to rampant consumerism - if Reduce, Reuse, Recycle is the thing, cutesy keyrings fail on the first step - no-one actually needs a cute keyring with their Hebrew name on it. So perhaps I should come up with something made of paper instead - a bookmark, or something - that is less wasteful of resources. Any bright ideas?
North Dakota's House of Representatives voted 51-41 yesterday afternoon to declare that a fertilized egg has full human rights.

This is a step towards banning abortion: to ban abortion, first you have to define where life begins, and this is what they've just done.

Observe that in order to define life, they've taken the broadest possible set of values - a maximally-inclusive definition. From one perspective, that's fair enough; I can see that one might prefer it over a time period or a hard-to-define growth stage. From a practical perspective, though, it's rather silly, starting with the problem that a fertilised egg is pretty damn hard to detect, and going from there. Working with extremes of scales can give you rather ludicrous results, and that'll happen here. (ETA: look, people are giving examples in the comments! Ludicrosities.)

Bearing in mind that it is just the extreme end of a scale, it plumbs straight into the broader debate of whether you can kill a foetus, so in that sense it's not a particularly significant ruling, just a significantly extreme one. To that debate I will say two things only:

Women have always had abortions and they always will. Making abortion illegal means women will die from botched abortion jobs. This is not civilised. I happen to think it's not civilised to force people to be pregnant, either, but since that's basically the underlying debate we can leave that aside just now.

Second, for the biblical morality crew: Exodus 22:1. If a thief is breaking into your house in the dark, you are allowed to kill him. Period. If it's daytime, so you could have investigated further, you may not, but if it is night, when they are simply an unknown quantity in your space, you can kill them without penalty, no matter what the situation turns out to have been. Think about that.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Oct. 12th, 2008 10:57 pm)
Our sacred scrolls must be written on parchment, if they are to be kosher - fit for ritual use. Parchment can mean many things, but in this context it means animal skin.

Parchment for sifrei kodesh, sacred scrolls, has to come from a kosher species of animal, but the animal does not have to have been dispatched by ritual slaughter. The kosher meat industry has its ethical problems, but the non-kosher meat industry, arguably even more so. To be kosher meat, an animal has to be reasonbly healthy; to be a kosher mezuzah, the animal could have been most horribly maltreated.

But a mezuzah reminds me that I am living a Jewish life, and a big part of a Jewish life is respect for all life. It troubles me that my mezuzah - worse, my sefer Torah - should be tainted with such suffering.

In the world of kosher meat, these sentiments take the form of animals raised humanely by people who care, slaughtered carefully by people who care, sold to people who care. All these exist. The idea of humane treatment of animals and kosher meat has taken root.

The idea of humane treatment of animals and sacred scrolls has not.

We have the humanely-raised animals. We have the humanely-slaughtered animals - we can get both of these from the non-kosher world as well as the kosher world. As far as I know, we don't have anyone who knows how to make kosher parchment who would be bothered to use only these skins. So we'd need that - or at least, someone who wouldn't dismiss the idea as goyische nonsense. Then maybe we could make mezuzot - perhaps megillot and Torahs, with enough skins - that hadn't suffered. If we had someone who knew how to make tefillin cases, we could make tefillin also.

I fear that's a long way off, but I think I'm not the only one who would like it. I would like it better than giving in and just using alternatives. Saying "The meat industry is messed-up, therefore I will change the Torah and use parchment alternatives" is accepting the messed-up-ness of the meat industry. I would rather say "I will tackle the messed-up-ness of the meat industry rather than change the Torah because of it."
Why not just use paper for the sifrei kodesh, the sacred scrolls? Why not have paper mezuzot, cardboard tefillin, a sefer Torah written on specially strong reinforced indestructible paper?

Ritually, parchment is a requirement. The rabbinic tradition holds that parchment for sifrei kodesh was commanded at Mount Sinai, and therefore parchment is the material we use. Given this, for some Jews paper is and never will be an option for sifrei kodesh.

Some Jews, though, may wonder if fidelity to rabbinic tradition in this particular should outweigh concerns for humane treatment of animals. Perhaps, but it is not only about blind adherence to tradition.

There are many pragmatic reasons for using parchment rather than paper. From the artisan's perspective, parchment is far superior to paper in every aspect. It itself is more beautiful. The writing can be more beautiful. On parchment, the scroll is stronger, and is less affected by such things as damp in the air. It lasts longer - hundreds of years longer, and remember these are the scrolls which carry our tradition.

And spiritually; unlike paper, kosher ink and parchment undergo a complex series of chemical reactions by which the letters form molecular bonds with the parchment. The letters become one with the parchment and each other.

There are many reasons to use parchment. It is possible to have vegetarian, even vegan, kosher parchment; see accompanying post and outline of necessary logistics. I think this would be the best of both worlds. Halakhic, pragmatic, and ethic, all in a scroll.
hot days
When it starts getting warmer, one's parchment wakes up and remembers what it used to be. You can tell it's a hot day when it stops lying nice and flat, and starts trying to go back to being a cow.

Certainly keeps life interesting. And besides, it's another of those powerful reminders that like it or no, rabbinic Jews are part of a world where people use animals for their own ends - and that that has implications.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( May. 25th, 2008 09:50 pm)
I posted on Friday, asking readers to volunteer help for a rabbinical student beset by adverse circumstances, and I'm greatly heartened by all the people, commenters and lurkers alike, who left offers of assistance in the comment thread and who emailed me privately with same.

Thanks, y'all. You made my world a better place.

And of course it's not too late to join in :)
I know what you're thinking, I really do. You're thinking "Jen, all these posts about menschkeit are all very well, but we read this blog to hear about Torahs. Where are the Torah posts?"

I do have some Torah posts on the way, I promise. But there again, part of being a sofer is being a good person. Some people attain this by studying chassidut and mussar. I do it - partly - like this.

So, that said, here's an appeal for help. Not just to regular commenters - if you're a lurker, now would be a good time to come out of lurkdom.

I have a friend, a fine and lovely person, who is coming to LA to rabbinical school (AJU) very shortly. She is newly-married, and the US visa system being what it is, her husband is trapped behind in Europe, because while she can get a student visa, spouses of students don't get any consideration.

People in LA: this is someone who has left her husband and her homelands to come to LA. Can you extend the hand of friendship? She can't yet drive; can you extend the hand of friendship a little further, and at the same time help her feel welcome? Can you welcome her into your home, help her learn to drive, take her shopping, tell her where to find good food, check in on her when rabbinical school starts to drive her potty?

The husband is an IT type. Anyone want to offer him a job even vaguely close to LA and sponsor him through the visa process? He'll do stuff other than IT, if it means he can be near his wife.

Anyone know an immigration lawyer who could do a bit of pro bono for them?

Anyone like to donate some air miles so that they can see each other?

Anyone want to offer her some pulpit work so that she can earn some $ to e.g. manage LA without a car?

Anyone want to help her out with unwanted household goods? She'll be needing to set up house and the baggage allowance is only 80lb.

Leave your email here, or email me, and I'll put you in touch. Little mitzvah, big difference.

Shabbat shalom...
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( May. 22nd, 2008 08:58 pm)
Government to kosher meat producer: You abuse your workers and you are not treating the animals right.

Kosher meat producer to government: ANTI-SEMITIC SCUM!

Government to kosher meat producer: No, seriously...

Kosher meat producer to government: ANTI-SEMITIC SCUM!

Jews to kosher meat producer: You abuse your workers and you are not treating the animals right.*

Kosher meat producer to Jews: ANTI-SEMITIC...oh. Er.

Workers: Cheers!
Animals: Cheers!

The organisation Uri L'Tzedek is co-ordinating that bit where the Jews talk to the kosher meat producer. To add your voice, email

* In somewhat more detail, this is what Uri L'Tzedek is saying:

Lag b’Omer 5768
May 23, 2008

Mr. Sholom Rubashkin
220 N West St
Postville, IA 52162

Dear Mr. Rubashkin,

We write to you out of a deep sense of ahavat Torah and ahavat Yisrael, with both great respect and great concern.

Your company produces 60 percent of the beef and 40 percent of the chicken provided to the kosher marketplace in America. You employ 968 factory employees and serve as a pillar of the food economy. Your generous philanthropy supports moral and significant causes and is a great source of pride for Israel and Jewish institutions around the world. You are an important and respected leader of the Jewish community.

Therefore it is with great frustration and sadness that we write this letter. We are the kosher meat consumers of America. We are mothers and fathers raising our children in a kosher home. We are rabbis, teachers, and Jewish professionals who use your products in our work. Since you control much of the kosher meat market in America, we rely on you to uphold the halakhic requirements, both ritual and ethical, of the food we eat. We believe you have failed, and we are deeply troubled.

We are deeply troubled that you have demonstrated a pattern of knowingly exploiting undocumented workers, to paying them less than market wages and treating them poorly.

We are deeply troubled that according to many experts, the wages you pay your workers are the lowest of any slaughterhouse in the nation.[1]
We are deeply troubled that, despite years of public inquiry and concern over worker conditions at your plant, AgriProcessors was cited for 39 new health and safety violations in March 2008. It pains us to hear that examinations of Agriprocessor's OSHA logs reveal amputations, broken bones, eye injuries and hearing loss that occurred at your plant.[2]

We are deeply troubled that animals have been abused against the laws of kashrut and of tzaar baalei chaim, causing needless pain to animals.[3]

We are deeply troubled that among the hundreds of workers who were arrested by federal officials on May 12, eighteen were children between ages 13 and 17.[4]

We are deeply troubled to read reports of various criminal operations taking place at the Postville plant, the account of a Jewish floor supervisor who severely abused a Guatemalan worker in the most reprehensible conditions, and allegations of sexual assault and verbal abuse.[5]

Continued under cut )
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Feb. 7th, 2008 11:21 pm)
Talking to the Meorot Fellows the other week about why I work as a Torah scribe given that it challenges gender roles, one of them asked me whether I thought everyone should be egalitarian, and what my vision was for Jews, and people in general.

So I said, as I generally do, that egal works for some people and not others, as is true of most lifestyle choices, and my vision generally is for people to live happy lives in well-functioning, sustainable communities. Ones where the formal structure contributes to people according each other and their surroundings the kind of treatment which contributes to their lives and environment being more or less comfortable and contented. (The point there was that in communities where imposing an egal structure would make people very uncomfortable, I wouldn't say being egal was necessarily the best thing. We're not talking about that now.)

I see the Judaism I choose to live as helping me live towards that vision. Judaism is one of my formal structures, and it prompts me - or forces me, if I'm feeling lazy - to have a sense of respect for the world I live in. To care about the members of my community. To value other human beings. Not to live selfishly. To be a basically decent person living in a basically decent community.

A couple of weeks previously, I had to change health insurance plans. As a Torah scribe, I'm self-employed, and accordingly I'm extremely lucky that I'm able to get health insurance at all. I get it through the Freelancers Union, whom I cannot praise highly enough. I have insurance; I'm one of the lucky ones, but still, I have medication that I have to take, and on my new plan, my medication costs quite a lot more. Adjusting my budget to encompass that wasn't fun, but it's not like I have a choice right now.

Also in conversation of late, I've noticed US Americans being awfully surprised that the US is not in fact the world leader in caring for the environment. Being surprised that the US lags an awful long way behind Canada and Europe in this.

And the combination of these three has made me realise this: Respect for human life and its surroundings are at the core of who I am, who I want to be, who I want my fellows to be. My day-to-day existence is structured around the Jewish customs which are the outcroppings of these principles, which lie deep and under it all. This is who I am. This is who I want to be. But I am choosing to live in a country which doesn't value human life and doesn't value its surroundings. Which doesn't have free universal healthcare and doesn't care about the environment when so doing entails any inconvenience. Whose primary formal structure has a fundamental and systemic lack of respect for human life and the world it lives in.

This is a problem.

It's mitigated by my knowing a great many extremely fine people who are very much not like this; who would rather the US worked differently, and who do in fact value both human life and the environment. On the whole, the specific community I spend my time with appears to have pretty similar values to my own, to the extent that most of the time I am able to avoid confronting this problem. I appreciate you, I really do. But unlike most of you, I have a choice: I can live elsewhere. I can leave the US and live in Britain, whose approach to human life and the environment seems more compatible with who I want to be as a Jew and who I want to be as a human.

I'm left wondering whether I should exercise that choice.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Oct. 22nd, 2007 11:21 am)
There's something ironic about someone who is so engrossed in reading the Chofetz Chayim that he bumps into you on the street and doesn't apologise.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Apr. 22nd, 2007 05:10 pm)
Rabbi Avi Weiss is a man who loves Jews. I mean he really, really loves Jews. He is TEH JEW LOVE MAN, in fact.

This past Friday night, R' Weiss led davening,* and during the part where the congregation recites together "You shall love the Lord your GOD with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might,"** he scooped up a child who had wandered up onto the bima,*** and stood there leading davening with one hand and cuddling this random child with the other. Cos R' Weiss loves Jews. I think that is what it is for him to love God.

And you'd think that would be horribly cheesy, wouldn't you? For the prayer leader to cuddle a small child whilst leading this prayer about love? But it isn't when it's R' Weiss. That is one of the things which makes him special.

* services. At the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale, his home patch.
** in Hebrew, though.
*** pulpit, more or less
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Sep. 26th, 2006 09:31 pm)
Every time someone starts to talk about the Akedah (i.e. the story of the sacrifice of Isaac which we read on Rosh haShana), my eyes glaze over, because it almost always goes "The Akedah story is scary and shocking. Here is a way to think about it which makes it comforting and inspiring. Shana tova." Sometimes it's a bit more subtle than that, but basically, that's the form.

Child-sacrifice is fairly standard for the ancient world, so leave that aside. The scary shocking part is that Avraham had no idea that he was going to have to sacrifice Isaac; he's got one child left (God told him to send the other one away into the wilderness, and that was that for Ishmael), it took an awfully long time to get that one, and he's awfully fond of the kid. And God says, go sacrifice him. God even rubs it in, reminding Avraham that Isaac is his son, his only son, the one he loves. And God strings Avraham along until the crucial moment, and then says "just kidding."

This is the scary shocking bit - that God could be so awfully mean. It doesn't even turn out okay in the end - in the midrash, Sarah is so horrified that her soul leaves her, and Isaac develops some kind of speech disorder (and no wonder). Isaac is alive, but the family is broken.

At this point, the sermon either extols the virtue of doing exactly what God tells you, or finds some way to gloss over the nasty bits and pull out some kind of comforting platitude.

However, let's look at the liturgy for a second. Specifically, the Unetana Tokef, which says that in the next ten days, God is going to decide who shall perish by fire and who by water, who by sword and who by beast, who from hunger and who from thirst, who by earthquake and who of plague, who by strangling and who by stoning - and so on. And the thing is that God doesn't play fair. Avraham ended up with a broken family; we all know of bad people who prosper and good people who suffer.

In fact, God can be mean, and God doesn't play fair when deciding to whom to be mean. The raw horror of the Akedah story is the raw horror of the Ten Days of Penitence which start on Rosh haShana - this year, bad stuff is going to happen in senseless ways. People are going to die in fires, be drowned by tsnunami, starve on the streets, die in earthquakes, get horrible diseases - it's not going to be nice and it's not going to be fair. Sanitising the story, choosing to focus on the inspirational parts of it, making it comforting, stops that message coming across.

The blast of the shofar is supposed to awaken our souls to action. In choosing the most unpleasant story in the Torah, the rabbis give us an emotional blast. We don't cover our ears when the shofar is blown; we shouldn't try and make the story of the Akedah nice. BAD STUFF IS GOING TO HAPPEN TO PEOPLE WHO DON'T DESERVE IT, and it might be you, but you don't know it. It might be you, and empathy breeds sympathy; if it was you dying of cancer, how would you want people to behave towards you? If it was you starving to death, how would you want people to treat you?

Ten days of discomfort, people. Our tradition says we need shaking out of our comfortable ruts once a year. It's not about being uplifted, it's about being disturbed, and appalled, and horrified, and jolly well shaken into being better people.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( May. 1st, 2006 11:13 pm)
We had a nice weekend in Baltimore/DC. Shabbat in Pikesville (Baltimore-ish); W was being the guest rabbinical presence.

a) So much green! and flowers! and balmy breezes! and space! rabbits! birds! I was HAPPY.
b) Nice Orthodox shul. I was the only woman wearing a tallit (I'm used to this), and after the service a woman came up to me and said "Can I ask you a personal question?" Here we go, I thought, it's the tallit questioning. So I said "Sure," like the nice role-model I am, and she said "Where did you get your pants?"
A shul where people were more interested in the funkiness of my trousers than my tallit! Oh, I was happy.
c) W gave some talks. I am increasingly proud of him; he is very good at what he does, and he does good things with it. He is very special indeed.
d) There was a cute DOG at our hosts' house. A Lassie dog.

We got a ride to DC with a shul member and some of his children.
a) It was Girl #2's first time ever on a train, so I got to point out things like the electric rail, and she was so cute and excited
b) She grilled me about being a sofer, and she got that sort of look on her face which told me that if I'd had tools handy, she would've been having a go at calligraphy in about two seconds. Maybe if they invite us back I can do a Sunday morning workshop.

We were in DC for the Darfur rally.
a) I couldn't hear a thing, but there were lots of people there I hadn't seen in a while, and we got to hang out under some nice shady trees and have a nice picnic
b) There were about a million billion Jews there. Seriously lots and lots and lots. I don't know who mobilised the Jewish community or how they did it, but it was very fine to see so many Jewish groups there.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 2nd, 2006 07:39 am)
Spent yesterday working in a studio in which music was playing. Pirated music, and the others were merrily chatting about various things having to do with pirating music.

They're working on Torahs. You know, that book dealing with communal integrity and civil justice. It says Lo tignov - don't steal - right there in front of them. I pointed this out, and heard a variety of excuses to justify pirating music ranging from vaguely creative (but unconvincing) to downright pathetic. Soferim are supposed to have a high degree of integrity. They are not supposed to do things which they know are wrong and make up feeble excuses to justify it. It's disturbing to see people working on the symbol of all that is good whilst enjoying stolen property.

I can understand people working on a Torah and going out to eat treif food for lunch - that comes from having decided that the religious principle of kashrut can be discarded. If you're Reform, that's fine. But I doubt that they would also think that religious prohibitions on stealing can be discarded, or that the communal principle of adherence to civil law can be discarded in order to steal. Reform doesn't go that far.

Whether you like it or not, until the civil law changes, pirating music is stealing. It damages people's livelihoods, and undermines communities. This is why it is illegal. A sofer occupies a position of trust within a community; a sofer can't survive without a community's trust. He has a duty to repay the community's trust by acting in a way that won't damage the community. Providing pasul sefarim damages the community in one way, and stealing damages it in another way.

Please, soferim. If you must listen to pirated music, don't do it while you're working on Torahs.