hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Dec. 16th, 2009 01:04 am)
Jewish Week mention - sweet article, and would you believe I'm one of the optimistic voices for once?!
In the spirit of Chanukah, I’ve polled more than a dozen prominent Jewish women about miracles, about the brightest moments in the news since last December, especially those which illuminate new frontiers for Jewish women. But many of my sources, normally an eloquent bunch, hesitate to respond...

When the author polled me, I'd just had email that started "Hi, I'm the new scribe on the block," and I was all pleased and happy about that, but I'd also spent a lovely day writing Torah at Hadar, and I was all pleased and happy about that too. So it was jolly nice to be asked "hey, what's good?" at just that moment.


And yes, it uses the dreaded phrase "first soferet." In a bid to stave off the inevitable hatemail: please remember that journalism doesn't really do in-depth explanations of subtle points that detract from the thrust of the story and need lots of feminist-historical consciousness. I emailed and requested less hyperbole, and I expect the editor will think it too minor to be worth bothering with. They generally do. Please read this post. Thanks.

Further to previous post squeeing about Julie.

Her primary teacher is Jen Taylor Friedman, a New Yorker born in Britain who is just 30 but among the very few women to have completed an entire Torah. According to Ms. Wolf, she may indeed be the only one who has ever done so.

"I’ve never seen a source that says otherwise," Ms. Friedman said in a telephone interview. "But 'ever' is a big word, and Judaism has been around for a long time."

As ever, I would be charmed to see a source which says otherwise. There's bound to be one somewhere. We know we've had female copyists, general non-ritual scribes, and I've had one source sent me which speaks of a woman who wrote a chumash; it is possible to interpret that as "a sefer Torah for ritual use," but yeshiva-educated scholarly-rabbi friend RHCY says it means a regular book-type chumash, and he generally knows what he's talking about. We know women have worked on repairing Torahs, both many generations ago and within the past twenty years. Writing? Don't know.

A Torah's a big, expensive thing, right? Before the late twentieth century, if you were somehow in the Torah trade - married to a sofer, or something - and you somehow got the skills and materials and free time and you wrote a Torah, you weren't going to tell everyone about it! because then your Torah would have no market value. Scribes have never earned much; you can't afford to throw away a whole Torah like that. You're going to pass it off as your husband's and you're going to sell it.

Of course that isn't very proper, because technically it wouldn't be fit for ritual use, pre-gender-egalitarian congregations - that's why it has no market value - call it economic necessity, call it feminism, call it what you will, Judaism is a religion of human beings, not of saints. Of course it's happened. It'd be pretty darned remarkable if, in the whole of Jewish history, no woman had ever written a Torah. If nothing else, that would mean that I, me, Jen, possess some quality that no other Jewish woman has ever had, and that's preposterous.

What I have is the luck to live in a generation where I could write a Torah openly, as part of a community that was happy and excited about that. That's what's unusual about this generation of female scribes. Not that we write Torah, but that we're part of a world that can accept that.

This perspective rarely comes across in articles, you understand. Journalism doesn't really do in-depth explanations of subtle points that detract from the thrust of the story. For practical purposes, the simplified version does the job - conveys what is exciting without needing lots of feminist-historical consciousness.

This is why Julie's Torah project is arguably more exciting than mine. We've got the whole "gosh look a vagina wrote a torah" thing out of the way, and we can get on with the important thing, which is "gosh look, a Torah."
Yay Julie, in the New York Times!

Ms. Seltzer’s performance — an admittedly odd word for what she’s up to, and one she doesn’t like — at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco [is] unique and compelling...

As the central element of a new exhibition, “As It Is Written: Project 304,805,” a simply and elegantly organized introduction to the fundamental role of the Torah in Jewish life, she is creating a new holy scroll.The work is indisputably artful, but it’s not intended to be expressive. The idea is to copy exactly; writing a Torah is less an act of creativity than of sublimation.

“I know the museum sees it that way, but if I thought this was a performance, I wouldn’t be able to do it,” Ms. Seltzer said.

And indeed, in that very denial lies the art in her performance. Watching her impossibly steady hand, the deft maneuvering of the quill (each of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet requires its own separate technique) and the inexorable progress of the text across a column and down a page yields a palpable sense of ancient ritual that slows your breathing, and you can’t help seeing that she is communing deeply with the text as she copies it. The writing is an act of faith...

What I like best about this is that she's in the paper not for being A Woman Coo Ur Gosh, but as A Torah Scribe Doing Something Unusual who just happens to be a woman. That is tremendous. That's the world I want to be part of - where women doing things isn't remarkable just because they're women.
Study Finds Women Wear Shoes That Cause Pain, says the New York Times.

What's next - Study Finds That Dog Bites Man?

Here's the money quote:
“I think women need to really pay attention to how a shoe fits, and realize that what you’re buying could have potential effects on your feet for the rest of your life,” said the paper’s lead author, Alyssa B. Dufour, a doctoral student in biostatistics at Boston University. “It’s important to pay attention to size and width, and not just buy it because it’s cute.”

This has essentially nothing to do with the study, which was an exercise in data analysis showing significant correlation in women between wearing of stupid shoes and foot pain. There was no corresponding data for men because most men don't wear stupid shoes.

So, Ms Dufour. You really have to be careful how you talk to journalists, because this one just made you sound like a privileged little arse: Stupid wimmins, if they'd just do like I'm telling them - with my study and my biostatistics - they'd feel so much better! Why don't they just do it my way? It's all so simple! Women are obviously really stupid!

Journalists love headlines like "Women Too Dumb To Come In Out Of Rain Wear Comfortable Shoes." So next time a journalist asks you about your work, remember that, eh? I'm deliberately giving you the benefit of the doubt and assuming you didn't mean to be horrifically patronising (because I'm nice like that) with your little quote there.

Maybe - next time - emphasise that women, by and large, aren't totally masochistic and they aren't totally stupid, so if they're buying shoes which hurt, maybe there's a reason.

Maybe give the journalist some clues, like this: what kinds of shoes are women expected to wear at work? what kinds of shoes are women expected to wear if they want to be "pretty"? what happens if you aren't "pretty"? what kinds of shoes are widely available to people on low budgets? isn't it funny that women are willing to put up with foot pain? why might that be? isn't it interesting that men don't seem to wear the kinds of shoes that hurt them? why might that be?

As is, the journalist and the editor need a good kick in the behind. As do you, if you actually meant to sound like a patronising arse - a kick from something with really pointy toes. An example of when painful shoes are worth it.

In our second "36 Under 36" section we throw a spotlight on three dozen forward-thinking young people who are helping to remake the Jewish community. They're raising our eco-IQs, blazing new religious paths, reaching beyond national borders to do good, and creating new enclaves of non-native Jews here. Welcome to the future.

In which I am revealed as hopelessly parochial. I have no plans to stop teaching, and plenty of plans involving dual citizenship and scribal workshops, but I find I miss my family and dearest friends too much to stay in America permanently.

Oh, edited to add - the article says I am the first woman in history to adopt the title of soferet, female Torah scribe, and all respect to the Jewish Week but this isn't accurate; I'm the first one to have accomplished the main job of the soferet, writing a Torah.

So will people please stop writing and telling me about Avielah! And PLEASE stop bitching me out, I can't help what other people write. I never say I'm the first to call myself soferet, I never say I'm the first soferet, I say I'm the first we know of to have written a Torah, and if people assume that means "= first soferet," that ought to tell you something about the nature of how they percieve the role of "soferet." I've written to the Jewish Week asking them to clarify the point, so please stop sending me bitchy emails calling me a liar, okay? Thanks.
hatam_soferet: (toothpaste)
( Mar. 27th, 2009 01:04 am)
The Riverdale Press reports on last Sunday at shul. I posted then about keyrings with Hebrew names, which were apparently a Good Fundraiser.

I'm only posting this really because I like the photo, with the scary colouring. Hee.*

* (Additional commentary about root vegetables excised on advice of Rochester Potato Marketing Board)

hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 25th, 2009 09:57 pm)
Cripes. Obama reversed the media block on military coffins. The media is now allowed to print pictures of "flag-draped caskets of fallen U.S. troops returning home," pictures which were banned because various US presidents, quite a lot of whom were called Bush, thought that such images might make people fed up with wars.

That's pretty amazing, really.
Women are allowed to chant the Scroll of Esther on behalf of men if no competent men are available, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef, the spiritual leader of Israel's Sephardi community, ruled in a landmark decision liable to outrage many of his Ashkenazi counterparts.
From Vos Iz Neias, or Haaretz, and loads of people emailing me.

Let's start with how this isn't a landmark decision.

The above is roughly akin to saying "Prisoners should not be detained unlawfully, Democrats ruled today, in a landmark decision liable to outrage many of their Republican counterparts." It's not exactly an innovation. A lot of people have been doing it that way for quite some time, left-wing Orthodox Ashkenazim as well as the liberal movements, so it doesn't really count as "landmark." It also wasn't a "decision," in that he's been saying and teaching that way for some time, in line with quite a lot of rabbinic Judaism over the past couple of millennia. And he didn't "rule," it just came up in a class on the laws of Megillah reading. So, less of the sensationalism.

What is interesting is that suddenly people felt the need to make a big deal out of it. For some reason, the idea that women might read for men has become interesting enough to make headlines. Why should this be?

It's possible that it's part of "Who Owns Judaism?" - it made the news because the ultra-Orthodox said it. Basically all Jewish movements, from centre-right Orthodoxy and leftwards, look to the ultra-Orthodox for authenticity. So it doesn't matter that other flavours of Jew have had women reading Megillah for simply ages; it's only news when the ultra-Orthodox talk about it. Perhaps that's what's going on; if so, it's a great pity.

A tangent: It's a pity for what it shows about how other Jewish movements think about Judaism, perpetually looking over their shoulders measuring themselves against the ultra-Orthodox. Other kinds of Jews don't want to be ultra-Orthodox for a great many reasons, but there is the unfortunate tendency to assume, deep down, that it is basically laziness - that if we were just a bit more prepared to deal with discomfort, we too could be like that. This results in an unspoken but evident assumption that only ultra-Orthodox Judaism is the "real" Judaism, that only the ultra-Orthodox do it "properly," and the necessary corollary that if we're in another movement, there's no point committing to it with our whole heart, if it's just inauthentic toy Judaism.

Moderate Americans don't secretly feel that only hard-line Republicans are the "real Americans," do they? (I really hope they don't, anyway). With notable exceptions, Americans seem to manage the idea that first and foremost you're an American, and you can have political affiliations, and that different political groups are more or less equally valid. Democrats don't go around more or less identifying as Republicans who can't be bothered to do it properly, but an awful lot of liberal Jewish movements have an undertone of being lapsed Orthodox. Either this is a great shame and the liberal movements need a lot more self-confidence, or it is evidence that ultra-Orthodoxy is the only true Judaism. Speaking for the liberal movements (what hutzpah) it's our choice. End tangent.

It's also possible that women-reading-Megillah made the news this particular year because the concept of women participating in things has risen in the public consciousness enough that it's now something people are ready to think about.

Over the past - I don't know, decade? couple of decades? - women's participation in this sort of thing has been increasing. It's now easier for Orthodox women to learn how to read Megillah, and it's a good deal more acceptable these days for women to have women's Megillah readings, for instance. As long as women participating was strictly a non-Orthodox thing, the Orthodox world could comfortably ignore it, writing off the non-Orthodox practices as not really Judaism, but perhaps once it's made its way into the left wing of the Orthodox world it's harder for the right wing to ignore? In other words, perhaps this is creeping feminism crossing a threshold?

So the idea that women might participate in ritual a little more, in the form of a comment about women reading megillah, may have crept into the Sephardi real-world setup. Having crept into the ultra-Sephardi world doesn't mean it's crept into the ultra-Ashkenazi world - doesn't mean it hasn't at all, just evidently less so - which means that the looking-over-their-shoulders-at-the-ultra-Orthodox Jews can't feel authentic about involving women yet. But that's okay, because they ought to be acting on conviction anyway.

In any case, such events are pieces of evidence that even ultra-Orthodoxy is influenced by ideas percolating in the rest of the world, which itself is evidence that exchange of ideas goes both ways, into ultra-Orthodoxy as well as out of it. That is, there is not one true Judaism and a host of lesser Judaisms, but many symbiotic Judaisms.

R' Yosef, being Sephardi, might possibly agree.

But possibly not.

On to part 2
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Dec. 14th, 2008 11:22 pm)
So last weekend I was in Berkeley. There were persimmons on trees, and a cute bunny in the garden next door going hoppity-hop!

Basically, I was there to be Inspirational. Jewish Milestones is a group that, hm, let's say, it recognises that quite a lot of people want to be Jewish off their own bats and don't want to join a shul so that the rabbi can be Jewish for them. Further, it recognises that sometimes people need a bit of help with that cos not everyone has a full set of Jewish Skillz. So it helps Being-Jews find Action-Jews and make Judaism, and to that end, it also has a stock of Jewish Stuff - which didn't include a Torah, which is a bit of a handicap when e.g. doing services.

Then it got a Torah, and that is rather a big deal, so there was a Hooray-We-Have-A-Torah event, and I got to play the role of Yay-Torahs-Are-Super.

So you can read about that in this nice newspaper article, here.

I also...

did a lot of stuff, actually... )Talking with the Milestones staff about what they do and the general Berkeley Jewish Scene, was both really nice and really interesting.

There's a story about Rabbi Meir, who in addition to being a sage, was also a scribe. He came to a little community one Purim, and they didn't have a Megillah, so he sat down and wrote them one so they could have a Megillah reading. Strikes me the Milestones peeps are like that.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Sep. 9th, 2008 03:33 am)
Gosh. One of those rare days when perfect klaf, perfect ink, and a perfect pen all combine, and words just sort of pour onto the page until bedtime.

Although in this kind of weather (that is to say, HOT HOT HOT GLOBAL WARMING PLZ NO), the flat sheets I write on get nostalgic for the days when they used to be cows, and they try and go cow-shaped in a bid to renew the dear old days.

Come to think of it, good thing that's all they do. I mean, imagine if they mooed.

Oh, yes, and, images you've seen here feature in this slideshow, and also the Women of Reform Judaism calendar is out, featuring me, I can't remember if I've already said that :)
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( May. 8th, 2008 09:39 pm)
This year's My Very Own Jewish Calendar is out - Barbie and me feature in November. So you should all go and buy one, unless you want to wait for the Women of Reform Judaism one, which has me and not Barbie. :)
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Mar. 27th, 2008 12:01 pm)
Latest press: Hatam Soferet post Should All Barbies Wear Tefillin? appears in the Spring 2008 issue of CJ: Kolot - Voices of Conservative and Masorti Judaism.*

* (note snappy title)
Jewish Women's Archive - Go & Learn

Tefillin Barbie: Considering gender and ritual garb

Do women in your community wear tefillin and tallit when they pray? Do you? For many, the relationship between gender and ritual garb is still evolving, as women and men consider their personal and communal associations with these objects and practices. This edition of Go & Learn uses the provocative image of "Tefillin Barbie" – created in 2006 by soferet (ritual scribe) Jen Taylor Friedman – to explore issues of gender, ritual, and body image.

We have created 3 lesson plans based on "Tefillin Barbie."

* For youth:
Tefillin Barbie: Body image and gender roles in Judaism (PDF)
* For family/congregational education:
Barbie wears Tefillin, do you? Exploring ritual garb (PDF)
* For adults:
Barbie lays Tefillin: Discussing women and Jewish ritual (PDF)

The rest of it's rather impressive, as well. I'm entirely charmed by the JWA's choosing to use my work as a springboard for discussing some really fundamental issues.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Dec. 11th, 2007 04:57 pm)
Spent the weekend in Detroit, with Congregation Shir Tikvah, who will be the owners of my current (second) Torah scroll. Properly thoughtful posts on that to follow; in a word, Shir Tikvah is what it says it is: innovative, yet traditional, friendly and inclusive. And it has incredible attention to detail; that struck me over and over again. As I say, proper post to follow.

For now, a little bit of yay-bouncing - regular readers may remember Tefillin Barbie's making the front cover of New Voices magazine, and me saying it was rather unlikely I'd do the same, Barbie being much more photogenic; well, I made the cover of the Detroit Jewish News. So hah, Barbie! It's a very nice article, as well, props to journalist Shelli Dorfman.
Session with photographer today for upcoming article in the Detroit Jewish News - which is pretty classy of the Detroit Jewish News, frankly - bit of a change from the usual daily fare of writing Torah and learning Torah. I still find it odd being photographed; it's continually rather surprising that people find me that interesting. Intellectually, yes, I understand, but it's not an intellectual reaction.

My sister's got that happy ability to come out beautifully in a photo on the first shot; I'm always the one with her eyes closed and looking like a cross between a potato and the living dead. And the Detroit Jewish News wanted a rather ambitious pose involving a large sheet of parchment, which needed some fairly specific lighting conditions; I was at Drisha today, and Drisha doesn't have amazing light sources, so overall it was pretty hard work for the poor photographer, but he managed not to slide into the litany of "Open your eyes...okay now smile...no, not like that a real smile...no, not like that..." which must have taken some doing, all things considered. Jolly good show.

Overall, another experience to add to the list of Things I Never Expected When I Got Into All This - implausibly examining a sheet of Torah on a roof in midtown Manhattan, clutching at flapping parchment with frozen fingers, praying it wouldn't get whipped out of my hands and blown across the city, with a chappie behind a lens leaping about trying to make all this appear serene and inspirational. And to think I could have been an accountant.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Nov. 14th, 2007 09:41 pm)
Interview today with "Too Jewish" with Rabbi Sam Cohon and Friends (although I didn't get to talk to his Friends). It will apparently air on December 2nd, if you're interested to listen to it.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Nov. 8th, 2007 09:03 am)
I'm in the Forward 50, the paper's list of people who, this year, are "doing and saying things that are making a difference in the way American Jews, for better or worse, view the world and themselves."


I'm on a list with Chancellor Eisen, Ruth Messinger, and Mayor Bloomberg. My goodness. Two other interesting points: I'm joint youngest - there are two other 27-year-olds on the list. And the gender breakdown is 17 women and 33 men.

hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Nov. 7th, 2007 11:00 am)
I was supposed to do a phone interview at 8:00 Arizona time, which they said was 11:00 Eastern Standard time. A bit before 11am EST, I turn the phone on, and they've been trying to get hold of me for an hour.

Turns out Arizona doesn't do daylight savings, so when we put the clocks back, they stayed in the same place, and 8am for them is 10am for me. I have an inbox full of irritated "where-are-you" messages, which is decidedly galling, since I really don't think I should be expected to guess that Arizona doesn't change its clocks with the rest of the country.
The JPost article contains this piece:

The Talmud places women among a list of people - including informers, slaves and star-worshipers - considered unfit to write a Torah scroll.

The reasoning is the halachic principle that one who is not directed to perform a commandment cannot significantly help others perform that commandment. Since women are not obligated to put on tefillin, they are forbidden to write the passages placed inside tefillin, for example.

But Friedman found her own way out of that halachic problem: five years ago, she began to put on tefillin.

This is absolutely not how it works. I didn't start laying tefillin so as to become a soferet, and there's an awful lot more to it than just deciding to put on tefillin. So for all those people who are saying "that's bullshit" - yes, you're right, it's bullshit. I can't help it if the JPost missed the point.

When I was trying to explain the issues, I thought the article would probably get it wrong, because it's a lot more complicated than that. And it did. Oh well.
hatam_soferet: (Default)
( Sep. 29th, 2007 08:35 pm)
Me in the Philadelphia Jewish Voice and in News from the Union, the Union of Reform Judaism's email newsletter.