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December 06, 2007 - Image 35

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2007-12-06

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Writing History

Woman Torah scribe pens a new scroll during Shir Tikvah's 25th anniversary year.


Joshua Kristal

Shelli Liebman Dorfman

The request for her first Torah came
unexpectedly last year.
"Someone in Missouri was looking for
a sofer to write a Torah," she said. "They
Googled 'Jewish scribe' and my name
popped up. They were considering several
scribes and were checking around for
price quotes and references:'
Liking what they saw, they commis-
sioned Taylor Friedman to write the first
Torah known to be written by a woman.

Senior Writer

en Taylor Friedman can liter-
ally sit down, take a turkey
quill in her hand and write "the
whole megillah." And the New York-based
scribe actually has — seven times. But a
megillah is a mere week's work for Taylor
Friedman. Give her a year, and she can
produce a Torah.
Taylor Friedman, the only known female
Torah scribe in the world, is now in the
midst of a project involving the local
Jewish community: writing a Torah for
Congregation Shir Tikvah in Troy.
Taylor Friedman will address the con-
gregation during Shabbat services at 10
a.m., Saturday, Dec. 8, and will speak on
"One Woman's Torah: The Journey of a
Female Torah Scribe" at 10 a.m. Sunday,
Dec. 9, also at Shir Tikvah.
The commission of the Torah is
the highlight of the Reform-Renewal
synagogue's Torah Alive! project, a year-
long campaign held in conjunction with
the celebration of the 25th anniversary
of Shir Tikvah. The project will include
Torah study relating to the writing of the
scroll, the opportunity to fulfill the mitz-
vah of writing a letter in the new Torah
and a fundraising component to ensure
the financial future of the congregation.
The new Sefer Torah will be dedicated in
December 2008.
"Shir Tikvah is a unique community,
and Torah Alive! reflects the inclusiveness,
spirituality and emphasis on participation
that define our shul," said Erica Peresman,
the synagogue's first vice president
and Torah Alive! co-chair along with
the immediate past president, Michael
"Once it became clear that we needed a
new Torah scroll, this was the only way for
us to acquire it — through a project that
not only allows every Shir Tikvah member
to experience the power of writing on
the parchment, but that also provides a
springboard for learning about Torah in
a whole new way, and that incorporates
a campaign to ensure the future of our
unique community.
"In one sense, it's amazing that our
little congregation undertook such a sig-
nificant project, but in another sense, it's
completely consistent with our history
and values."


Will You Write Our Torah?

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Jen Taylor Friedman at work in her New York apartment

The Road To Scribing

Born in England, 28-year-old Taylor
Friedman moved to the United States in
Never actually setting out to become a
soferet (woman scribe), a blending of her
studies in mathematics, Talmud, calligra-
phy, Halachah (Jewish law) and Hebrew
led her to a profession for which she
receives enjoyment and accolades.
Taylor Friedman studied and practiced
the script, learned the rules for form-
ing the letters and was taught practical

techniques from established soferim in
England, Israel and New York.
The process of the writing, says Neil
Yerman, a New York-based sofer and art-
ist retained by the synagogue as Torah
project coordinator, involves forming each
individual letter starting from left to right,
checking each word, singing each word
and each letter out loud.
Taylor Friedman began her work as a
scribe by writing a few ketubot for friends
and, by 2004, had written her first Megillat

This fall, about the time Taylor Friedman's
first Torah was complete and dedicated at
the Reform United Hebrew Congregation
of St. Louis, she received her second corn-
mission — from Shir Tikvah.
Yerman, the New York scribe, recom-
mended Taylor Friedman.
"We checked out her work, and it was
outstanding," Shir Tikvah Rabbi Arnie
Sleutelberg said.
Yerman, who works with Conservative,
Reform and unaffiliated congregations
and writes and restores Torahs, is already
making regular visits to Shir Tikvah. He's
teaching — along with Sleutelberg and
Shir Tikvah's director of lifelong learning
Rabbi Aaron Starr — about the process of
writing a Torah scroll and its meaning.
In a unique component to the Torah
project, the congregation is working
with Yerman to write the Song of the
Sea section of Exodus. Using what Rabbi
Sleutelberg described as a "two-on-a-quill"
technique, Yerman guides the hands of
those who want to write a letter, with both
holding the quill.
After the Torah is completed by Taylor
Friedman, the Song of the Sea section will
be removed from it and framed for view-
ing in the synagogue. It will be replaced
with the section written by the congrega-
tion, so the letters they wrote will be a
permanent part of the Torah.
Already more than 150 congregants
have participated, with opportunities for
the community also planned.
Yerman, and hopefully Taylor Friedman,
will be at the dedication ceremony in
December 2008 when the final letters of
the Torah will be written.
"We liked the idea of engaging a man
and a woman for the project, and under-
stood many congregations would not

Writing History on page A36

December 6 a 2007


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