Thursday, January 28, 2010

Reader Question on Ancient/Modern Hebrew Script Usage


Hi Avielah, I have a question. In Ki Tisa we read about the Luchot with the Aseret Dibrot originally written michtav Elohim, the script of HaShem, and then the second version b'yad Moshe. What, if any, do you think the difference of script was - any Midrash you can guide me towards? Thank you, thank you.

Hi, L! Re your question about the first Luchot being written be-ketav Ivrit be-yad Ha-Shem, and the second set of Luchot being written be-ketav Ashurit be-yad Moshe, (or about all the Luchot and original Sifrei Torah written in ketav Ivrit and the switch happening sometime between Matan Torah and Ezra Ha-Sofer) there's lots - mostly in Hebrew:

Sanhedrin 21b-22a notes that this subject is of Tannaitic dispute and that there are three different opinions; Menachot 29b; Shabbat 104a; Teshuvot Ha-Ge'onim (responsum 358, fully quoted by Margolis Ha-Yam to Sanhedrin 21b); RaMBaM's Commentary to Mishnah, Yadaim 2:5; Ha-Mikra Ve-Ha-Mesorah by R' Reuven Margulies; Yerushalmi Megilah 1:9.

Quti'im (Samaritans) still write their Sifrei in ketav Ivrit, and Yemenite Jews up until recently wrote their Sifrei in ketav Ashurit, with only Y-H-V-H written in ketav Ivrit. Since their gradual exposure to the broader Jewish world, they've ended that practice.

There is an academic article at about the Hebrew AlefBet and it's transition, and Omnigot has an interesting page on "Paleo-Hebrew", ie ketav Ivrit.

Hope you like the juicy references - enjoy researching!
Love you :)

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Wednesday, January 13, 2010



“And All Your Children Shall Be Learned: Women and the Study of Torah in Jewish Law and History" – Shoshana Pantel Zolty
1993 Jason Aaronson

Page 145 reads:

There is also indirect mention of a... female scribe in the Genizah documents: we are told that the Jewish community of Daquq (today called Tawuq), Iraq, was headed by Azarya, ‘son of the female copyist.’ He was praised by the Hebrew poet Yehudah al-Harizi for his noble descent and character as well as his munificence.”*

* Goitein, A Mediterranean Society, vol. 2, p.184

Copyright © A. Barclay
Originally published January 2005 at Netivat Sofrut: the Diary of a Soferet
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Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Female Torah Scribes = Old News, But Still Good News


When I was certified to write Sifrei Torah back in 2003 after many years of work and study, the client for whom I was to write my first Torah scroll wanted to generate media attention to raise money for their project. Fair enough. This, however, introduced me to The Media Idol, to which so many fame junkies will worship and sacrifice. Very sad.

The Media wanted to bill me as the first soferet in history, the only female Torah scribe of all time. But I couldn't let them. That's a big claim to make, if you can't prove it. Especially when other people's money is involved. So I had to deflate their balloon a little. I had to say, well, I was the first soferet in history as far as I knew. That I might be the only female Torah scribe of all time. It wasn't as tasty a story, but at least it was true.

Sometimes The Media would still make these claims on my behalf, so I began correcting them on my blog, so the public knew I wasn't trying to deceive anyone. After all, a first is something to celebrate because it opens the door for others - it's a position of service. But how could I let the media run with a story which would get so many people excited, only to then have to retract it five, or ten, or forty years later? How embarrassing and irresponsible.

At the end of the day, I had to live with myself, so I kept emphasising the fact that perhaps women came before me whose names and work had been lost or hidden, and that I wasn't willing to take the credit they deserved. Besides, wouldn't it be better if there was some kind of precedent? Wouldn't it be good for all Jewish women - and not just me - if we had the firm foundation of a women's scribal tradition on which to stand?

Well, duh.
Besides, there's nothing wrong with being "the first in a very long time".
It has a ring of renewal to it.

This inspired me to do research on the topic, which eventually lead to the discovery of a few handfuls of women who had indeed written or repaired Torah scrolls through the generations. Yay us. You can read about it more at my old blog. I had great fun discussing these women with other male and female scribes too, as they began cropping up.

The text in Devarim Shebichtav refers to a woman who wrote a Sefer Torah generations ago, so she, or perhaps one of her predecessors whose name we will never know, deserves the credit for being the first woman to write a Torah scroll.

The translation of this excerpt into English by my husband, Mordechai Pinchas Sofer StaM, reads as follows:

[Regarding] a woman WHO WROTE a Sefer Torah, if there is a male or female orphan to marry, it is better that she give it to them than give it to a Synagogue, but this is [only] in the case where the Synagogue [already] has another Sefer Torah to read from. But if it has no other Sefer Torah, then study comes before action [i.e the Synagogue gets the Torah].’

Some of his further notes include:

This single paragraph:

a) accepts that women can write a Sefer Torah

b) that it can be sold to (one assumes other Jews) to provide funds for an orphan to marry, as opposed to being buried or stored away – which would be the case if it was declared pasul and

c) implies that such a Torah would be acceptable for use by a Synagogue

Everyone please remember: Yisra'el ve-Oraita ve-Qudesha Ha-Berikh Hu Chad Hu; Torah Orah, HalleluYah! - "Israel and the Torah and the Holy One are all ONE; Torah is Light, Praise G@D!". We're all on the same team, so we must never attempt to cover the accomplishments of others who came before us with our own claims veneered over theirs. If I had tried to obscure them, our Scribal Foremothers, I would've obscured my Self and a part of the Jewish People for the benefit of my own fragile ego.

Each one of us is on Planet Earth for a particular purpose: our Mitzvah Meyuchedet, the reason for our being that only we can complete. If we all shine with our own unique light, we'll light up Creation, and G@d willing open the way for Moshiach, bimheyra beyamenu. So don't forget Holy Rabbi Zushya, who worried that when he died and G@d would call on him, The Holy One would ask: "Why weren't you more like Avraham? Or Moshe?" when really what the Divine question was: "Why weren't you more like Zushya?"

Copyright © A. Barclay
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Thursday, January 07, 2010

The Forward's Sisterhood Blog


Thanks to Andrea for sending me this link: please see the comment I left (I don't like to take credit for what I didn't do).

"Shalom! I'm humbled that you should include me in this list. I thank you on behalf of all the people who supported my learning and work over the years.

I'd like to point out that I'm only the first female Torah scribe in living memory, not the first one ever. The text in Devarim Shebichtav refers to a woman who wrote a Sefer Torah generations ago, so she, or perhaps one of her predecessors whose name we will never know, deserves the credit you are honouring me with.

For more information on some of the female scribes in our history, please see

Blessings and thanks for the work you do!"

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Scribal Space in Our Story


I had a question after last Shabbat from an overseas client, which I found of great interest and would like to share here:

hi there. what can you tell us about the 3 spaces instead of the 9 spaces btwn last weeks parsh & this week's. we've read some commentary, wanted yours. we actually read a chassidic commentary on this, last week & wanted to see what you knew about the blending of the parshiot, as one whole. thanks for your input

Hi there, XX!
Nice to hear from you - how are you & R' X doing?

There are 2 pages of commentary on this question in The Gutnick Edition Chumash Qol Menachem, the one that Chabad uses. You can find their take on your question on pages 318-319.

As for my thought: there actually shouldn't be ANY spaces between these two Parshi'ot. We checked various Tiqunim le-Sofrim we own (including Yemenite!) and nobody leaves any spaces. So if you have a Sefer with 3 spaces, then that is a scribal error. According to the strictest rules of sofrut, this could passul the Sefer, but there are disagreements about petucht & s'tumot...

RaMBaM ruled that no space should be left in between, ie there would only be one "space" (a Yud-width). The Yemenite Tiqun Le-Sofrim also said that there should be no gap, however noted that in later generations some non-Yemenite scribes left one "space" the size of a large letter (like an Alef), which is two additional Yud-widths to the one existing Yud-width.

So although there should only be one Yud-width between these Parshi'ot, like there is between any words, some have a tradition to leave 3 Yud-widths, but that is all. If your "3 spaces" is wider than 3 Yuds, then you may have a problem with the kashrut of the scroll.

Marc and I found some commentary on this lack of space by the Ba'al Ha-Turim. He says that there is a s'tumah rather than a petuchah because the first two words of Parashat Va-yechi is juxtaposed with the final two words of Parashat Va-Yigash to show that Ya'aqov lived to see 30 myriads of his descendants.

Marc also thinks that the two Parshi'ot may well have been all one originally, since the Parashah divisions are not organic.

Hope that's helpful! Always happy to be of assistance!

Copyright © A Barclay
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