סופרת סת״ם | Torah Scribe, 2000-present
I began my studies in scribal arts in Jerusalem in 2000 and began my first scroll in 2006, for the Women's Torah Project, what would become the first Torah scroll written by a collective of women in the history of Judaism. My interest in becoming a Torah scribe was sparked dually by my love for the text of the Torah and my love for the materials of the Torah - word, ink, quill, parchment, sinew. But my passion was sealed when first discovering in 1993 that no woman, to our knowledge, had ever written a Torah scroll. This core principle is laid out in Talmud Bavli | תלמוד בבלי מסכת גיטין דף מה עמוד ב A Torah scroll, tefillin, or mezuzot that a min (heretic), a masor (traitor), an idol worshipper, a slave (non-Jewish), a woman, or a minor, a kuti, or a Jewish mumar (son of a kohen who married a woman who is forbidden to him), are invalid, as it says: And you shall bind.. and you shall write. All that are related to binding are also related to writing, and all that are not related to binding are not related to writing. (meaning that all who are obligated to bind the tefillin are also obligated to write the tefillin and mezuzot and sifrei Torah.)
I made it my work to not only become a Torah scribe but to open the doors for other women to do the same. It as during this period that I began to speak about my work as an artist in the framework of social practice. When I was commissioned to write the sefer Torah for The Women's Torah Project, I agreed under the condition that as other women would began to emerge as Torah scribes, for I knew that we had reached a tipping point, they would be invited to join in writing this historic scroll. We were six women from three countries who scribed this scroll together. This film by Sasha Edge Perry tells some of that story.
My second scroll was commissioned by City Shul in Toronto and again I requested that we scribe this collectively, one woman for each of the five Books of Moses. For this scroll I wanted to expand, once again, the opportunity to partake in the making of a scroll. I sent an open invitation for a historic event in Jerusalem in which, as a mixed public community, we would bind this completed scroll for the Toronto community. For most in the room with was the first time they had ever had such an opportunity or even touched a Torah scroll. Many came only to watch, curious, but opposed to or uncertain about the idea of women writing a scroll. We held a panel discussion with three of the five scribes living, at the time, in Israel while our teacher and mentor came to offer a workshop. All of this in a Reform synagogue in the heart of West Jerusalem.
Today my primary focus as a scribe, informed by my socially engaged art practice, is the production of parchment for the writing of these sacred texts. My years of research has shown that the animals, whose skins are used for the making of parchment, have been raised in inhumane, industrial practices common to the agri-businesses throughout the United States. I am leading an effort to form a cottage industry for the production of high animal welfare parchment using the skins of animals raised in backyards or pasture raised on small farms throughout Israel and the US. On a trip to Israel in the summer of 2017, I traced the making of parchment from pasture to storefront. The narratives and images collected in that research are being collected into a publication in graphic narrative form that addresses the industry as it is today and offers solutions for a new model of sourcing skins for parchment.