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December 06, 2007 - Image 36

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

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Writing History from page A36

select Jen because she is a woman, and we
wanted to support her," Sleutelberg said.
"Also, she is a great match for our congre-
gation and we will be proud to have her
Torah in use at Shir Tikvah."
The Torah was commissioned "because
we need a Sefer Torah that is in really
good shape for weekly readings," he said.
The synagogue now has three other Sefer
Torahs, which Sleutelberg said "came to us
used and are very old and need to be used
less frequently"
The project is also "a wonderful way
to add a spiritual component to our 25th
year:' he said. "(And) it is a great oppor-
tunity for in-depth Torah study related to
the writing of the scroll."

Neil Yerman, a New York scribe, is
assisting Shir Tikvah's project.

Rabbi Levi Kagan at the completion and dedication of a new Torah at Congregation
T'chiyah in Oak Park earlier this year.

But Is It Kosher?

Some may embrace the idea of a woman
Torah scribe, yet there are those who
adhere to the interpretation that a Torah
should be written by a man.
"Ever since Moshe Rabeinu [Moses]
wrote the first Torah, they have always
been written by men:' said longtime sofer,
Rabbi Levi Kagan of Oak Park.
"In the Shema, it says those who are
obligated to wear tefillin can write them.
Women are not obligated to wear them.
And whoever cannot write tefillin can't
write anything else, like a mezuzah — and
not a Torah. It would be disgraceful,
appalling for a woman to write a Torah."
He maintains, however, that many
women are extremely knowledgeable
about the process and can well serve as
advisers or consultants.
Adds Rabbi Elimelech Silberberg of the
Sara and Morris Tugman Bais Chabad
Torah Center of West Bloomfield, "A wom-
an's obligation to study Torah is based on
her need to observe the commandments,
whereas a man's obligation to study Torah
is based on a specific commandment to
study Torah that is totally independent
of his obligation to perform mitzvot.
According to the normative opinion in the
Shulchan Aruch (Code of Jewish Law), a
Torah must be written by someone who
has an obligation to study purely for the
sake of the mitzvah of Torah study."
Taylor Friedman fully understands these
concerns, and is careful to ensure that
those who commission her work are aware
as well. On her Web site blog (geniza.
net) she writes: "According to normative
Orthodox Halachah as it is currently for-
mulated, if I write tefillin or mezuzot, they
will be pasul (unfit for use)."
But because she says she has accepted
upon herself the obligation of wearing
tefillin, those who hold that that makes
her as obligated as a man would be okay
with her writing.
"If you hold that my writing is consis-
tent with your belief system, I will write


December 6 2007

to become a soferet "for some grandiose
political reason."
"The political stuff is basically a side
effect:' she wrote on her Web site. "I dis-
covered that I had all these skills, which
meant that being a scribe is a good job
for me, and the politics come out of that.
Torah first, politics second."
Sleutelberg puts the writing of the new
Torah for Shir Tikvah in a category he calls
mountain-top experiences in the career
of a rabbi:' including rabbinic ordination,
building a house of prayer, mentoring a
young rabbi and serving a congregation
for a generation.
"How awed I am to be one of Shir
Tikvah's rabbis as we embark on our 25th
year as a congregation, my 20th as a rabbi,
and the year we together write our own
new Torah scroll:' he said.
"When each of us gets our turn to take
the feather quill in our hand and write a
letter on the parchment, a sense of con-
nectedness to thousands of years of tradi-
tion will be palpable. I am thrilled to walk
this path together, as we enable those who
follow us for hundreds of years to engage
with the Torah we shall write."


Rabbi Sleutelberg

Rabbi Silberberg

for you, provided you understand that on
certain opinions it will not be kosher, and
provided you appreciate that:' she wrote.
"For example, giving a mezuzah by me to
an Orthodox Jew without telling them I
wrote it would be really, really mean."
Kagan, who is Orthodox, was certified
as a sofer by an Israeli rabbi, but says cer-
tification — which is gained through test-
ing of laws pertaining to the work — is
not necessary.
Although Taylor Friedman, who belongs
to both Conservative and Orthodox syna-
gogues, doesn't hold an official certifica-
tion, she says her teacher, a certified sofer
in Jerusalem, was satisfied with her skills.
She has found acceptance of her work
within the Conservative movement.
"In egalitarian Conservative Judaism,
women can be obligated to the mitz-
vot, too',' said Rabbi Eric Yanoff of
Congregation Shaarey Zedek of Oakland
County. "And according to the Talmud
and traditional legal codes, someone who
is obligated to use these sacred articles
— including tefillin and the Torah scroll
— is eligible to partake in the mitzvah of
writing them."
Says Sleutelberg, "As we understand the
world of sofrut, one is a Sefer Torah sofer
(or soferet) after having completed a Sefer
Torah. Jen is certified on that basis by hav-
ing written an entire scroll for a congre-
gation in St. Louis. We are an egalitarian

Rabbi Yanoff

congregation. We selected the best scribe
we could find who fit the philosophy of
our congregation. We're delighted that she
happens to be a woman, the only female
Torah scribe in the world ever."
Taylor Friedman knows other women
scribes, but none have written a Torah.
"I know a couple of women who do bits
of Torahs, and at least one who started an
entire one, but it fizzled out:' she said. "A
few work in restoration."

There's Even More To Jen

In addition to the Torah, Taylor Friedman,
who works out of her apartment, writes
tefillin, megillot, mezuzot and ketubot. She
also teaches scribing classes and created a
Jewish loan society for tefillin that, unlike
most others, lends to women.
Her work doesn't always go smoothly, as
she refers to her "bad quill days" and occa-
sional stiff hand.
She also is the designer of "Tefillin
Barbie," a transformed Mattel doll that
wears a tallit, tefillin and holds a siddur
and a volume of Talmud. She says the doll
garnered reactions ranging from "seri-
ously disturbing" to "a witty comment on
contemporary American Jewish life."
Last month, the New York-based
Forward included Taylor Friedman in their
annual Forward 50 list of people making a
difference in American Jewish life.
She maintains that she didn't decide

To make a reservation to hear Jen
Taylor Friedman speak on "One
Woman's Torah: The Journey of a
Female Torah Scribe" at 10 a.m.,
Sunday, Dec. 9, call Rabbi Aaron
Starr at (248) 649-4418 or e-mail
rabbiaaron@shirtikvah.org . The
program, co-sponsored by the
synagogue's Sisterhood and Lifelong
Learning Committee, and underwrit-
ten by Torah Alive! sponsors, will
take place at Congregation Shir
Tikvah, 3900 Northfield Parkway,
Troy. No charge. The community also
is welcome at the 10 a.m., Saturday,
Dec. 8, Shabbat service at Shir
Tikvah, where Taylor Friedman will
give a d'var Torah.

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