Should gender matter when it comes to writing a Torah? Should it matter if the person holding the quill, carefully transcribing each letter and mark, training for years to learn the correct method is a man or a woman? Some believe that a kosher, “synagogue ready” Torah can be written by only men, but Jen Taylor Friedman disagrees. Working from an apartment in the Bronx neighborhood of Riverdale, Friedman, the first female Torah scribe, was recently profiled in The Riverdale Press.
Friedman earned the distinction two years ago and has sold two Torah scrolls since. Detractors believe she is out of bounds, and that according to Jewish law women are simply ineligible to write a Torah. While Friedman has the utmost respect for Jewish law, she believes that a in the grand scheme of things it should be “Torah first, politics second.”
She has also moved beyond writing and has started teaching other “aspiring female scribes,” including former JOI staff member Julie Seltzer. We see this as a positive step forward in terms of creating a more inclusive Jewish community because it adds an additional avenue for the expression of Jewish identity, even as we acknowledge and respect that more traditional understandings of Jewish law will not accept such a Torah as kosher. What do you think? Are there lines in terms of gender equality that cannot be crossed? This question continues to be grappled with, even in the Conservative and Orthodox movements.