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Female Torah Scribes

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.



5 Comments

  1. 1/ Not to be too Budhhist about it, but if someone writes a Torah but no one reads it, does it make a sound?

    2/ Friedman thinks that the rule that women shouldn’t write a Torah is ‘politics’. Any other rule about writing a Torah that is also ‘politics’? What about a Gentile who wants to write a Torah? Is the ban on them writing a Torah also ‘politics’?

    3/ Even if someone buys what she is writing, dare I say it, will it pay? We know that female rabbis, even in the most progressive denominations get paid less than male rabbis. Won’t it be the same for female scribes?

    Comment by Dave — May 17, 2009 @ 12:25 pm

  2. Is it okay for a European American to study Chinese history and culture? Is it okay for an African American to study European religious history? If so, it should be okay for anyone - Jew or Otherwise - to become a Torah scribe if it is done in a respectful manner that honors the tradition instead of co-opting it for another purpose. It is a question of materials and techniques, is it not? Like any other art form, even with girl-cooties.

    Comment by Sara — May 19, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

  3. Don’t know what girl cooties are. I think writing a Torah is not like any other art form, simply materials and techinique. One is writing the word of GD. I think that alone lends itself to be more than an art form. I see no reason why a woman couldn’t be a scribe but that doesn’t diminish the level of holiness needed as well as the materials and techinique.

    ell

    Comment by Ell — May 20, 2009 @ 6:12 am

  4. As a female Jewish calligrapher who does ketubot and other Judaic art forms requiring Hebrew lettering, I can vouch that it is not just about “materials and techniques”….it is painstakingly delicate work and writing a Torah should be allowed for any Jewish female who is able to maintain the level of “holiness” (conscious awareness) that it requires. And doesn’t it say in the Torah itself that we should each “write a Torah”??? (That’s a rhetorical question; the rabbis would say that it is required only of males, anyway….)

    Comment by Sandy — September 2, 2009 @ 6:25 pm

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