Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Make Yourself Small and Quiet like the Alef: Parshat Va-yiqra


Sefer Va-Yiqra parshat Va-Yiqra/Leviticus 1:1 reads:

וַיִּקְרָא, אֶל-מֹשֶׁה; וַיְדַבֵּר יְהוָה אֵלָיו, מֵאֹהֶל מוֹעֵד לֵאמֹר.

“Va-yiqra el-Moshe va-y’dabeyr Y-H-V-H eylav mey-ohel mo’eyd leymor.”
“And He called to Moshe and G@d spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting, saying:...”

Why is the letter Alef (א) at the end of the word “Va-yiqra” always written smaller than the surrounding letters?

“…called…” - according to an ancient scribal regulation, the last letter of the word “Va-yiqra” is in miniature. The RaMCHaL, Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzato in his book Derekh Ha-Shem writes that the Sacred Text was originally written in a continuous row of letters, without any division between the words. This is why Moshe did could not ascertain the future even though he had written the entire Torah. When the last letter of a word was the same as the first letter of the next, as is here the case, one character would often serve for both.

When at a later time both letters were written out, one of them was in smaller size to show that it did not originally occur in the Text - an illustration of the profound reverence with which the Sefer Torah was guarded by the Sofrim/Scribes.

This is a nice theory, however one does not have to look far in a Sefer Torah to see that many pairs of words end and begin with the same letter, yet nowhere else are there tiny ending-letters. So much for Luzzato.

Still others search for a deeper meaning. Why is this particular letter of this particular word written so? The use of the word “call” indicates that G@D wished to speak to Moshe, and purposefully called him. G@D’s prophesy to Bil’am (Be-midbar/Numbers 23:16), however, is introduced by “va-yiqar”, without a letter Alef, a word that has two connotations: “by chance” (מִקְרִי - miq’rey) and "having fallen into spiritual contamination" (מִקְרֶה - miq'reh) as in 1 Shmu'el/I Samuel 20:26. This implies that, while G@D had a reason to speak to Bil’am, He did not do so with enthusiasm. The small Alef used in this word makes it appear like the word used for Bil’am.

The Ba’al Ha-Turim, Rabbi Ya'akov ben Asher, tells us that when G@D was dictating the Torah to Moshe Rabbeynu on Mount Sinai, G@D chose the word “Va-yiqra” to indicate that G@D had specifically selected Moshe to lead us and to show what an intimate relationship the two of them possessed. Moshe Rabbeynu, being “The Most Modest Man in All The World” as the Torah tells us (that’s quite a thing to be able to boast about - I wonder how he dealt with writing that down?), was reluctant to enscribe this, preferring instead to write “Vayiqar” - which means “He happened by” - they just ran into each other - to suggest a coincidence in his relationship to G@D rather than his chosen-ness. Chosen-ness is a heavy yoke to bear. So the Holy One and Moshe struck a compromise. That is why the Alef is so small, to express the humility of Moshe Rabbeynu in this sacred, intimate relationship.

This smallness, ironically, backfires as it draws our attention to the letter and word, which is the opposite of Moshe’s intention. So he didn't get what he wanted after all...

Also, it actually serves to give prominence to the letter as if it were a separate word, ie: “Va-yiqar Alef…”. The shoresh/root of “Alef” means, among other things, “to tame or restrain” (אִלֵּף - ileyf), or to be trained or prepared (אֻלַּף - ulaf), thus implying that no one should learn always to be “small” and humble.

Rav Bunam of P’schish’cha taught that no one was better qualified to teach this lesson than Moshe Rabbeynu because he was not only the greatest of all prophets, but also the humblest person who ever lived.

Va-yiqar Alef also means "and The One called...". Alef's numerical value is 1, symbolizing the unique oneness of G@d. This is why Alef comes first in the Hebrew alefbet, and why all the other letters turn to face away in awe.

The Chernobler Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Nachum, wrote in Sefer Me'or Eynayim that the reason for the diminished letter Alef is to reveal to us that The Holy Blessed One, who is the Aluf (אַלּוּף - commander or champion) of the universe, is concealed within every Jewish soul, and He calls out to our hearts to return to Him. This letter Alef is the spiritual force within us, the qol d'mamah dakah, "still, small voice", or rather, the "voice of subtle silence" of G@d that we hear within. This is the voice of your conscience.


Further Reading:
Ari Elon’s book בא אל הקודש
Rabbi Michael L. Munk's Wisdom of the Hebrew Alphabet: The Sacred Letters as a Guide to Jewish Thought and Deed
Dovid Leitner's Understanding the Alef-Beis: Insights into the Hebrew Letters and the Methods for Interpreting Them

Based on entry originally posted March 2005 at Netivat Sofrut: Diary of the Soferet
Subsequently published February 2006 at Netivat Sofrut: Diary of the Soferet
Further posted March 2006 at RadicalTorah.org
Most recently published March 2009 on Facebook
Copyright A. Barclay

Thursday, March 12, 2009

S/He Ain't Heavy, S/He's my G@d - Enlarged Letters Nun and Reysh in Parshat Ki Tisa


In this week's Torah portion - Sh'mot parshat Ki Tisa – there are two letters which must be written very large in proportion to the rest, otherwise that particular Sefer Torah is considered pasul – unfit for public use - according to most authorities. Rabbi Chayim Dovid Halevy z"l, the former Sephardi Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv, writes that each case of an enlarged letter anywhere in TaNa"Kh (the Hebrew Bible) indicates to us an instance of G@d making an extra effort of chesed – kindness - for the sake of the universe.

There is a third enlarged letter appearing in this Parshah only to be found in scrolls written by Jewish Mystics schooled in traditional Kabbalah. As this letter is not universally accepted, I'll write more about it later.

The first is the very large letter Nun found in Sh'mot/Exodus 34:7, and is part of the liturgy we chant during the Yamim Nora'im, the Days of Awe and one of the 13 attributes of G@d: "Notzeyr chesed la'alafim nosey avon vafesha v'chata'ah v'naqeyh y'naqeh poqeyd avon avot al-banim v'al-b'ney vanim al-shileyshim v'al-ribey'im:"

נֹצֵר חֶסֶד לָאֲלָפִים, נֹשֵׂא עָוֹן וָפֶשַׁע וְחַטָּאָה; וְנַקֵּה, לֹא יְנַקֶּה--פֹּקֵד עֲוֹן אָבוֹת עַל-בָּנִים וְעַל-בְּנֵי בָנִים, עַל-שִׁלֵּשִׁים וְעַל-רִבֵּעִים.

"Maintaining mercy to the thousandth (generation), forgiving iniquity, rebellion & sin, yet not clearing, clearing (the guilty), calling-to-account the iniquity of the fathers upon the children and upon children's children, to the third and fourth (generation)!:"

The enlarged Nun at the beginning of the word natzar/maintaining (נָצַר) - is to remind us that the letter Nun also begins another word, "ne'eman" (נֶאֱמָן), which means "faithful". This is to assure us that we can rely on G@D's chesed/kindnesses.

Ne'eman,"faithful", is spelled with a Nun Kefuf, bent (נ), at the beginning and a Nun Sofit, straight (ן), at the end. The bent Nun denotes reliability while the straight Nun stands for continuity. Sometimes our souls, our neshamahs, are withdrawn and resigned, in a state of contraction like the resting Nun, while at other times it is active and exuberant like the erect Nun. When someone is inactive and immobile, his/her soul lies fallow, but when this person feels vibrant and motivated, his/her neshamah draws itself up to its full height.

The letter Nun has a gematrial value of 50. There are fifty Gates of Binah (בִּינָה - understanding, sense or wisdom) in our tradition. The same gates which we pass through as we count the Omer between the second day of Pesach and Shavu'ot, invoking the presence of each S'firah as we walk the Tree of Life. Each Gate refers to the nature of each of the fifty references to our Exodus in the Sefer Torah, fifty queries into the nature of Creation which G@d poses Iyov (Job), the cycle of fifty years culminating in the Yovel - Jubilee year, and to the Fifty thousand Jubilees of the World to Come.

Traditionally, Moshiach has four names: Menachem, Shiloh, Yenon and Chaninah. The initials of these four names spells the word "Moshiach" (מָשִׁיחַ). Our Sages teach us that one of these names, Yenon (which means "shall rule"), is associated with the letter Nun. The Messiah is "nistar" – a hidden secret revealed to us by this large letter in its bowed position, the humbled vessel of true insight.

Among many other things, the letter Nun symbolizes downfall with simultaneous salvation, fruitfulness, and faithfulness leading to Moshiach.

This represents the selflessness inherent in "Previous World consciousness", the rectified state of the World to Come & The Shekhinah, G@D's sheltering, Divine Feminine Presence.


The second standard enlarged letter in Parshat Ki Tisa is the letter Reysh (ר) ending the word "acheyR" in "Ki lo tishtachaveh l'eyl acheyR ki Y-H-V-H qana sh'mo QEyl qana hu."

כִּי לֹא תִשְׁתַּחֲוֶה, לְאֵל אַחֵר: כִּי יְהוָה קַנָּא שְׁמוֹ, אֵל קַנָּא הוּא.

"For: you will not bow down to any other god! For Ha-Shem, Jealous-One is His name, a jealous G@D is He!"

Since if a scribe is not careful in his/her work, the letters Dalet & Reysh could be confused, this enlargement is to distinguish "echad" (אֶחָד - "one") from "acheyr" (אַחֵר - "another") in order that by error one should not utter the blasphemy "lo tishtachaveh le-qeyl echad" - "you are not to bow down to the One G@D". Hence one reason for the enlarged Dalet in the Sh'ma. But that's for another article.

The letter Reysh's gematrial value is 200, which also stands for the word "qadmon" (קַדְמוֹן) – primeval archetype. Reysh symbolizes this super-conscious state of mind.

We are the archetypal Reysh, seeking to do teshuvah, return to G@D, the Quf (ק). In its place in the Alefbet, the returning Reysh faces away from but leans towards G@d. This letter represents process - the "art of clarification". This art is the "beginning of the end", ie the three last letters of the Alefbet – Reysh, Shin (שׁ) and Tav (ת) - are the beginning of the end, middle of the end, and end of the end.

Just as the Tzadi (צ) connects to the Quf in its full spelling of tzadiq (צַדִּיק) or tzodeqet (upright man or woman), so the Reysh guides us to the Shin and on to the Tav.

All the ascending levels of revealed wisdom leading us back to their Divine Source in the ShalhevetYah, the holy flame of non-consuming love of G@d for the people Israel.

Ameyn Selah!

Based on article originally posted on March 16th, 2006 by Soferet Avielah Barclay at Radical Torah
Copyright A. Barclay

Monday, March 09, 2009

DELIGHT - Megillah - JOFA - 2006 - ענג

12 Sh'vat

I was very glad to get my copy of the JOFA Journal today in the mail & so happy to see that my former rabbi & constant friend, R' Ross Singer, had his article on women being permitted to write Megilot (Scrolls of) Esther published in the Winter 2006 issue. If you go here & click on the top link, Leadership, you can download your very own pdf! BTW, I always wanted to be that lady on page 5 when I grew up...
& yea, I am the female congregant mentioned in the piece.

So kol ha-kavod to the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, who has done much work in the service of Jewish women everywhere, helping us to not so much "think outside the box", as it were, but turn that box into more of a bag, as I like to say :)

The other TOTALLY cool thing is that they really did their own research on this & in the little box on the bottom left of page 4 names some of the women we know practiced sofrut - were copyists Jewish holy books & possibly wrote Sifrei Torah - & who appear throughout this blog. 3 cheers for an establishment of the existence of a historic soferet tradition!
(doing the wave...)

The original article (researched in 2002), much longer & full of Halakhic consideration, appears below:

"In the preface to his book, Women Jewish Lay and Modernity, Rabbi Joel Wolowelsky charts a new course for exploring the inclusion of women in religious ritual and practice. He states, “given the overall friction between ideology and halakhah, Orthodox leaders have been suspicious of arguable constructive suggestions for increased women’s participation in religious activities on the grounds that accepting them could legitimize feminism in the eyes of the halakhic community. It is now time to move past this fear of feminism. We are fast approaching a post-feminist age in which accepting specific proposals originally promoted by feminists no longer carries the implication that we accept feminist ideology as a whole... It is time for a lekhatehilah encouragement of increased women’s involvement in a wide spectrum of religious activities.” (pg. x-xii) Rabbi Wolowelsky welcomes his readers to “suggest additional areas to explore,’ with the proviso that these “should be explored in classical term, with reference to classic texts and recognized authorities.” (pg. xii) In the spirit of this approach, the following essay will explore the issue of women writing Megillot Esther for ritual use on Purim.

I. Talmud regards Women as Pesulot for the writing of Tefilin.

The key text from which to begin this discussion is a beraita that appears in Mesekhet Gittin (45b). We read, “Rav Hamnuna son of Rava from Pashronia taught a Sefer Torah, Tefilin, and Mezuzot written by an informer, an idolater, a slave, a woman, a minor, a Samaritan or an apostate are invalid, as it says ‘you shall bind them (tefilin) you shall write them (mezuzot)’ -- those who fall under the Mitzvah of binding them are those who fall under the category of writing them.” This passage serves as the source for the unequivocal halakhah that women are pesulot to write tefilin. This position is unchallenged in the classical rabbinic literature.

II. The position of the Rishonim and Ahronim on women writing Sifrei Torah and Mezuzot.

While the pesul to write tefilin is not contested, there is a debate regarding the kashrut of women to write Sifrei Torah and mezuzot. A close examination of Rav Hamnuna’s beraita shows some ambiguity. The beraita does not make any distinction between tefilin and Sifrei Torah and Mezuzah. Yet, the reasoning of “those who are in the category of binding are in the category of writing” seems to apply only to Tefilin. Strikingly, in the Tur’s list of those who are pasul to write Tefilin, he includes women. Yet, when he lists those who are pesulot to write Sifre Torah , he omits women. One could infer from this that the Tur reads the beraitta’s exclusion of women as limited to Tefilin. Indeed, the Drisha suggests that not only the Tur, but the Rif and the Rosh all hold that this is the Halakah On the other hand, the Rambam does not omit women from his listing of those who are pasul to write Sifrei Torah and Mezuzot. The Shulhan Arukh explicitly states that women are invalid to write Sifre Torah.

This mahloket between the Shulchan Arukh and the Drishah has implications for the question of women writing Megilat Esther. According to the Derisha’s understanding, women’s exclusion is limited to Tefilin, therefore they would be considered valid for Sifre Torah and Mezuzot, and all the more so for Megilat Esther which is of a lesser status and in which they have an obligation to hear the ritual reading. For the Shulhan Arukh who states that women are pesulot to write Sifre Torah it is more complicated. It must be determined whether the strictures of writing a Sefer Torah apply to Megilat Esther. If they do, then according to the Shulhan Arukh women will be pesulot. If not, it will be possible to consider women kesherot to write the Megillah.

III. The Mahloket Rabeinu Tam and the Maggid Mishneh on the pesulim for Megilat Esther

The question as to whether the pasul stated in Rav Hamnuna’s beraita applies to Megilat Esther is not explicitly addressed in the Classical Rabbinic literature or in the Rishonim. However a related issue brought up by the Rishonim is exceedingly relevant to this matter. One of the requirements of a Sefer Torah is that its parchment must be dressed or worked lishmah. The Rishonim differ as to whether this requirement extends also to Megilat Esther. Rabbeinu Tam holds that the skin of the parchment must be dressed lishmah. He reasons that since the Megilah is called a Sefer, all the laws of a Sefer Torah apply to it except those that the tradition explicitly informs us are different. Given that the Classical Rabbinic literature never explicitly states that women may write a valid Megilat Esther, it is logical to presume that Rabbeinu Tam’s position would be that women are pesulot for writing the Megilah. However, the Rambam (Hilkhot Megilah 2:9) writes that one need not dress the leather of parchment lishmah. The Magid Mishneh commenting on this passage writes that “this is obvious for dressing was not mentioned with regard to it, and it (Megilah) is only like a sefer Torah with regard to those things in which(it megillah) was compared to it (Sefer Torah).” Here we find the Maggid Mishneh taking a position diametrically opposed to the view of Rabbeinu Tam. While Rabbeinu Tam suggests that Megillah is treated like a Sefer Torah unless Hazal instruct us otherwise, the Maggid Mishneh suggests that the Megillah is treated like a Sefer Torah only when Hazal explicitly tell us so. The Maggid Mishneh’s logic would lead one to conclude that women are valid to write Megilat Esther because Hazal never mentioned explicitly that they are Pasul. The Sdei Hemed cites the Radvaz as having the same understanding of the Rambam.

The Birkei Yosef uses this Maggid Mishneh to demonstrate that women are indeed valid to write the Megillah. He begins his line of reasoning by noting the Tosafot‘s discussion of the validity of women to prepare tzitzit and lulav. Tosafot conclude that the applicability of the derashah in Rav Hamnunah’s beraita is limited to Sefer Torah, Tefilin and Mezuzot only. This suggests that women may be kesharot to write other holy texts. Nevertheless, the Birkei Yosef suggests that this is an insufficient proof, since many regulations of the writing of the Megillah are identical to the requirements of writing of a Sefer Torah. He then notes the Maggid Mishneh’s position as one that would indeed allow women to write the Megillah. He observes that the Shulchan Arukh quotes both Rabbeinu Tam’s position on ibbud lishmah and the Rambam’s. The Rambam’s is brought first, stam while Rabbeinu Tam’s is brought as a yesh omrim. This the Birkei Yosef states is indicative that the Shulhan Arukh is deciding in favour of the Rambam. Therefore based on the Maggid Mishneh’s understanding of the Rambam, the Birkei Yosef concludes that the Shulchan Arukh is Paskening that women are kesherot to write Megilat Esther. He bolsters this by noting that the Pri Chadash validates bedeiavad a Megillah written with the left hand even though a Sefer Torah written that way is invalid.

In his shiurei Berakhah, the Hida brings another proof to bolster his claim that women are valid to write the Megillah. The gemara states that it is forbidden to read the megillah from a scroll that contains other sacred writings in public. From this it is deduced that in private one may read the Megillah from such a scroll. Since women are valid to write sacred writings other than Sifrei Torah as deduced in Tosafot, one must conclude that women are valid to write megilat Eshter. If not the gemara could not have allowed one to read privately from such a scroll, for it may have been written by a woman.

IV. Women’s obligation to read/hear the Megillah validates them to write it.

The Pri Megadim also holds that Rav Hamnunah’s beraita cannot be used as a source to invalidate women from writing the Megilah. This beraita excludes women from writing because they are not obligated in the Mitzvah of Tefilin. The Pri Megadim reasons that since women are obligated (minimally to hear ) in the Mitzvah of keriat Hamegillah they are valid to write it. This approach is echoed by the Sdei Hemed who quotes from Masekhet Sofrim. Masekhet Sofrim states the following rule: all who are eligible to fulfill the community’s obligation to read a sacred text are valid to write that text. Given that women are obligated in the Mitzvah of Megillah, one can draw the conclusion that women are valid to write the Megilah. However it is not so simple. The Ba’al Halakhot Gedolot (Behag) holds that women are obligated only to hear the Megillah read to them, but are invalid to read the Megillah for men. According to the Behag, the rule enunciated in Masekhet Sofrim would not validate women to write Megilat Esther. Indeed, the Ma’aseh Rokeach invalidates women using this very reasoning. Nevertheless, the Sdei Hemed finds reason to validate women to write the Megillah from another source. The Mishnah in Gittin (22b) states that women are valid to write gittin. The Sdei Hemed (eliyahu tzvi) reasons that their validity flows from the fact that the laws of gittin are applicable to women. Based on this reasoning, it is sufficient for women merely to be obligated in hearing the Megillah to render them valid to write it.

The Avnei Nezer raises a serious objection to this approach articulated by the Pri Megadim. According to the Pri Megadim women are valid to write sacred texts for which they have halakhic obligations. Yet, while women are obligated in the mitzvah of Mezuzah the beraita invalidates them from writing mezzuzot. The Arukh Hashulhan answers this difficulty. He explains that the pasul extends to Mezzuzot since they appear in the same paragraph with Tefilin, whereas Megillah is obviously not mentioned in that paragraph of the Torah.

V. The Megillah itself suggests that women are valid to write it.

Megillat Esther (Ch.9:29) states, “Then Esther the queen, the daughter of Avihail, and Mordekhay the Jew, wrote with all emphasis, to confirm this second letter of Purim.” The Targum renders this verse as saying “Esther the daughter of Avihail and Mordekhai the Jew wrote all this Megillah.” Rabbi David Oppenheim deduces from the Targum’s suggestion that Esther herself wrote the Megillah that women must be valid for writing the Megilah. A woman wrote the very first one! R. Oppenheim notes that this verse is used in the gemara (Megilah 19a) to derive halakhot. There the gemara asks “from where do we know that the Megilah requires parchment and ink? For it says (in one context) ‘and Esther the queen wrote,’ (and in another context) it is written ‘and I write on the scroll (parchment) and with ink.’” Using the rabbinic hermeneutical device of gezerah shavah the gemara deduces that the scroll of Esther must be on parchment and ink. R. Oppenheim reasons that if the gemara learns the halakhic details of parchment and ink from this verse, certainly we can learn that women are valid from the fact that it says Esther wrote.”

While R. Oppenheim uses Esther 9:29 as a proof that women are kesherot to write the Megillah, R. Meir Pearles reads that verse as a support for his position that women are pesulot. In his Megilat Sefer, R. Pearles argues that the Megillah has all the strictures of a Sefer Torah. In taking this position, he alludes to a Talmudic passage from Masekhet Megilah (16b). There Rabbi Tanhum and some say Rabbi Asi states that passage “words of peace and truth” in the Megillah teach us that the Megillah requires marking lines (shirtut) like “the truth of Torah.” R. Pearles argues that just as the Megillah requires shirtut so to all laws of Sifrei Torah apply to Megillat Esther. To strengthen his position he takes note that Esther 9:29 explicitly mentions that Mordecai also wrote the Megilah. R. Pearles suggests that had Mordekhai not assisted Esther, then the Megillah that they wrote would not have been valid. Based upon this reading he suggests that women are valid if the write with the assistance of a man. He finds support for this approach in the halakhot pertaining to sewing the parchments of the Megillat together. While the Sefer Torah needs to be sewn together only with animal tendons, the Megilah is kosher if it has three sections sewn together with tendons and the rest sewn together with linen. R. Pearles understands this halakhah to teach us that the writing of the Megilah is to be done basically as the writing of a Sefer Torah is done. However for the writing of the Megillah, the regulations need not be adhered to as strictly as for the Torah. The Megillah needs to be sewn with tendons, but not in its entirety, so too the Megillah needs to be written by a man, but not in its entirety. Esther’s contribution mentioned in Esther 9:29 does not invalidate the Megillah.

Rabbi Eliezer Waldenberg finds R. Pearles’ arguments unconvincing. He notes that the Megilat Sefer starts by suggesting that Megilat Esther has the same halakhot as a Sefer Torah. He then backtracks and suggests that megilat Esther does not quite have the same halakhic requirements as a Sefer Torah and may be written by a woman as long as she has help from a man. R. Waldenberg argues that wither the Megillah has the same requirements as a Sefer Torah or it does not. If it does not, then we must allow for the possibility that women are valid. R. Waldenberg finds R. Pearles’ reading of Esther 9:29 excessively casuistic.

V. An explicit mention of women being pesulot is absent in the codes.

Above we mentioned the Avnei Nezer’s objection to the Pri Megadim’s claim that women are valid to write Megillat Esther. Later the Avnei Nezer had second thoughts about his position. This change of mind was based on the fact that the Rambam omitted any mention of women being pesulot in his list of those who are pasul to write the Megilah. This Shulhan Arukh similarly omits women from his list of those who are pasul to write the megillah. Based on this other Ahronim also conclude that there is not pesul for women to write the megillah.

VI. Conclusion

A number of Ahronim write that women are invalid to write the Megillah. These include: the Maaseh Rokeah, R. Meir Pearles, R. Akiva Eiger, R Yosef Messas, Lishkat Hasofer , and the Shaarey Teshuvah. Nevertheless there is a strong trend in Halakhah to validate women to write Megillot. The Drishah would validate women to write all sacred texts save Tefilin. While the Shulhan Arukh disagrees with the Drishah, he omits women from his list of those who are pesulim to write the Megillah. A large number of major ahronim indeed rule either l’halakhah or l’ma’aseh that women are keshairot. These Ahronim include R. David Oppenheim, the Chida, the Pri Megadim, the Teshuvah Me’ahavah, the Sdei Hemed, the Arukh Hashulhan, the Avnei Nezer, the Beit Oved, and the Tzitz Eliezer. Given the number, stature, and compelling reasoning of these Ahronim, it seems that the weight of the halakhic discussion inclines toward permitting women to write megillot Esther for communal ritual use provided that they are competent in the requisite Halakhot."

This appeared in issue 42 of the Edah Journal in 2004 as well, followed by no less than 52 sources in his list of notes. He is truly the world authority on this subject. It's so great that his work is getting more attention & that both Jewish women & men are being duly educated about ways in which we can safely expand our practice while keeping our traditions intact.

Way to go, R' Ross!

Originally published at Netivat Sofrut February 2006.
Copyright A. Barclay

Sunday, March 08, 2009

MEGILAT ESTHER (2004) - מגילת אסתר


Studying Mishneh Brurah Tav-Reysh-Tzadi-Alef with R' Ross Singer, my rabbi at Sha'arey Tefilah.

We've been studying the laws of writing and reading a Megilat Esther, partially for his own learning - he knows all about the reading part, just not the sofrut part - and partially for mine - as I know the sofrut part and not the laws pertaining to public kria.

We're going to have a public leyning of the brand new Megilat Esther I've written, by the men for the community the evening Purim comes in, then the next morning another public reading by the men for everybody, followed by the women reading for everybody! It's all very exciting for us to be practising our chanting for the first time! I've been honoured with reading Chapter 10, plus the after-blessing, B"H.

It's been both fun and fascinating. The speed and vocabulary of my Hebrew and Aramaic are both improving. One of the things we learned this week was that the Rama states, "It is our minhag (custom) to crown the letters (put tagin on them)". So there's a reliable Ashkenazi source supporting my crowning of letters, even though I'd already learned to do that from my Sofer and that if all the crowns in a Megilat Esther are omitted, it's still kosher. Also, the cheleq or piece of qlaf at the beginning & end of the Megilah, there's a maklokhet (difference of opinions) on that - "...but not to leave the cheleq basofah" - we're (Ashkenazim) careful to leave only the cheleq at the beginning, not at the end. Then in goes on to say that, "...the GRA (Vilna Ga'on) kvetches about this..." in other words, he disagrees and rules that a cheleq, or extra parchment not to be written on, must be left at both the beginning and the end of the Megilah. The Megilah qlaf I (ok - my Sofer) purchased has both, so that's good.

We also learned about the large Vav in "Va-yezata", the last of Haman's (BOO!) executed sons to be named in the amud (column). The Vav must be written "longer" says Mishneh Brurah, not "larger" as I have stated. Also, when the Megilah is leyned (chanted) on Purim, Mishneh Brurah states that one must lengthen the *sound* of that Vav as well - pronouncing it like "VVVVVVVVVVVayezata".
But it doesn't tell us why...

I *love* learning Torah!!!

Based on article originally published January 2004 at Netivat Sofrut
Copyright A. Barclay

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Enlarged Letter Tzadi Sofit in Parshat Tetzaveh


I've been pondering an odd letter in this week's Parshah, Tetzaveh. In Torah scrolls written by Mequbalim (Kabbalists), a possible large Tzadi Sofit appears in the word tzitz (צִּיץ), Aharon the High Priest's forehead plate, Sh'mot/Exodus 28:36.

וְעָשִׂיתָ צִּיץ, זָהָב טָהוֹר; וּפִתַּחְתָּ עָלָיו פִּתּוּחֵי חֹתָם, קֹדֶשׁ לַיהוָה

And you'll make a plate of pure gold, and engrave upon it, as the engravings of a signet/seal: HOLY TO THE L@RD.

Mishnat Avraham includes this letter in his list of enlarged ones saying only that it's a big secret. He gives no other explanation for it being enlarged.

The Machzor Vitri also includes this letter in his list of enlarged letters, but fails to mention why it may be so.

Minchat Shai says that in some Torahs the last Tzadi is large in Ashkenazi nusach but not in Sefardi at all.

The Ba'al Ha-Turim doesn't mention it.

What do you know about this letter? Aharon had to wear this plate at all times on his forehead while he performed Temple service for G@d. How did it help him, or what does it symbolize? Why the final Tzadi?

Let's look at the word "צִּיץ":
Since the letter Tzadi is a pictogram - hence its name - of a tzadiq (righteous person) bent in devotional prayer, arms raised in supplication and reception. And since the letter Yud (hand) represents the Primordial Force of Creation, the vertiable "hand of G@d". And since the letter Tzadi sofit, the final form of Tzadi, is in the shape of the tzadiq (or tzodeqet, if you are female) leaping with joy after these prayers are answered, no matter what answer...

...I'd say that Aharon's job as Kohen Gadol, as High Priest, and the job of each of us is to do just this: pray, then don't just accept G@d's answer, RECEIVE it. We all must aspire to be that upright person, leaping with joy in The Holy One.

AND, my husband (also a sofer st"m) adds his chiddush: "... that since any large letter is considered a 'doubling' for emphasis and given your idea of the tsaddik then perhaps the large tsadi on Aaron's forehead donates him as twice the tsaddik than everyone else, hence his installation as Kohen Gadol and labelling as such."

I like the idea of Aharon being chosen as first Kohen Gadol because he had the unique ability to leap into deveykut (cleaving to the Divine) regardless. He teaches us that over and over in his life story. He was the tree which surrendered to G@d's pruning like no other.

Rav Chayim David HaLevy, z"l, former Chief Sefardi Rabbi of Tel Aviv, noted that each time a letter appeared enlarged in Scripture, it indicated that G@d had done a deed of great benevolence, lovingkindness, etc.*

So it was HaShem who *made* Aharon the great leaping joyful tzadiq he was, perfect for the job...

Also, you'll notice that this is the only Parshah since Moshe Rabbeynu's birth where he doesn't appear in the text. This Parshah *so* totally belongs to Aharon!

*R’ HaLevy’s 9-Volume series of She’elot and Teshuvot (Jewish legal responsa) entitled "Aseh L’khah Rav" (In the Manner of the Rav), in Vol. 5 he begins the book with a section entitled “Quntres Torah Min Hashamaim" (Booklet of Heavenly Torah). In that section beginning on page 58 you will find the piece on the big and small letters.

Based on article originally published March 09 on Facebook.
Copyright A. Barclay

Monday, March 02, 2009

Orthodox Women Chanting Megilat Esther for Men OK for Sephardim -בסדר לספרדים: נשים אוֹרְתּוֹדוֹקְסִי מזמרות את מגילת אסתר

This article to be foud at http://www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/1067910.html

Top Sephardi rabbi rules women may chant Scroll of Esther for men
By Yair Ettinger
Tags: scroll of esther, israel news

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 last week in a landmark decision liable to outrage many of his Ashkenazi counterparts.

Esther is traditionally read in synagogue on the holiday of Purim, which this year falls next week. And while some rabbis have long permitted women to read the megillah, or scroll, for other women, most do not allow women to read on behalf of men.

In his weekly Torah class on Saturday night, however, Yosef discussed the rules of reading the megillah and ruled that not only may women read it in front of men, but the men will thereby have fulfilled their obligation to hear the scroll read.
"It is permissible for a woman to fulfill this obligation on behalf of men," he said, because the obligation to hear the megillah falls equally on men and women.

Yosef said that most rabbis forbid women to read the megillah on the grounds that men are forbidden to listen to women sing, because a woman's singing voice can stimulate sexual arousal. However, he said, he does not agree that a woman chanting a sacred text is the kind of singing that stimulates sexual arousal. The analogy rabbis have drawn between singing and chanting sacred texts has "no value," he declared.

Yosef said women should not read for men if there are men capable of doing the reading. But in a "small community" where there are no men capable of chanting the text properly, it is permissible to bring a woman to read, he ruled.

Yosef also said that women could write a kosher Scroll of Esther - another task that most rabbis say can be done only by men. He said that ancient megillahs written by women have been found in Yemen, and it would be permissible for women to do so today as well, "to earn a living for their household," since women "were part of the miracle" that the megillah describes.

However, he admitted wryly, it is an open question "whether anyone would buy it."

In both cases, Yosef's rulings were specific to Megillat Esther and do not necessarily apply to other sacred texts, such as the Torah.