Jen Taylor Friedman writing Torah.|
First Woman Known to Have Scribed a Torah Reflects on Her Judaism.
-- Adena Potok
The first woman known to have scribed an entire Sefer Torah shared her work on Sunday, September 9 at the Drisha Institute in midtown Manhattan, before the scroll was transported to its home at United Hebrew Congregation
in Saint Louis, Missouri.
The scroll, or Sefer Torah, which is handwritten in Hebrew according to a very explicit set of instructions, contains the first five books of Moses and is the central religious text of Judaism. Typically, Torahs are scribed by men,
but not this time.
Jen Taylor Friedman, 27, a calligrapher trained in the scribal art and one of a handful of known female Torah scribes worldwide, has been writing the Sefer Torah for United Hebrew Congregation as part of their
Torah Alive! project since June 2006.
"The Torah is at the root of what shapes my days. The laws I live by are derived from the words in this scroll.
Having written every one of them, I have a closer relationship with what’s at the heart of my Judaism,"
says Taylor Friedman.
"For any scribe, finishing your first Torah is something like getting your Ph.D.
It is something you've worked a long time for, and worked very hard on.
From a personal Jewish perspective, it is a mitzvah for every Jew to write a Torah scroll of his or her own."
United Hebrew, the first congregation west of the Mississippi River, is a Reform St. Louis synagogue that has a rich history as an advocate for equality.
"Just as we have male and female rabbis, our congregants have seen that yet another role that was and still mostly
is traditionally open to men is now being opened slowly to women,"
says Brigitte Rosenberg, associate rabbi of United Hebrew Congregation.
The completed book of Shemot (Exodus).
"Our congregants, especially our children, had the opportunity to meet with a woman who is a trailblazer."
Taylor Friedman is clear that her involvement in the United Hebrew Torah Alive!
project was not primarily an act of feminism.
"I wrote a Torah because I wanted to write a Torah, not because I wanted to make a big feminist statement,"
Taylor Friedman says. "The first-woman aspect is an enjoyable component instead of the central achievement."
Rather, she views her involvement in United Hebrew Congregation’s Torah Alive! project as encouraging communal empowerment.
"When communities in the more liberal part of the Jewish spectrum are able to write their own Torah scrolls,
they take a small but significant step towards greater empowerment. They are able to enter into a deeper
relationship with the Torah on their own terms. Contributing to that is powerfully motivating for me."
United Hebrew commissioned a new Sefer Torah to replace a scroll that has become worn and faded and is believed to be nearly 200 years old, older than the congregation itself.
Members of the congregation have had the opportunity to participate in writing the new Torah scroll, which is the 613th commandment. Guided by teaching scribe and New Yorker Neil Yerman, they wrote the first passages of Genesis. These will replace columns scribed by Taylor Friedman when the Torah scroll is dedicated on Oct. 3, which is Simchat Torah, the Jewish holiday that celebrates Torah.
"The participation in our Congregation's Torah Alive! project has been amazing,"
says Temple President Ron Gieseke, who will join Taylor Friedman for the New York event.
Future home to United Hebrew Congregation's new Torah.
"The project brought generations of families and members together to fulfill the 613th Commandment --
writing a new Torah for generations to come. At the centerpiece of the writing was our scribe, Jen Taylor Friedman.
We are thankful for her diligence, quality of work and wit. As the Congregation looks forward to receiving the
in early October, we are especially proud that Jen is the first female scribe to have completed an entire Torah.
United Hebrew has been blessed by Jen and our new Torah."
Devorah Zlochower, an Orthodox Jewish feminist, and Rosh Beit Midrash of the Drisha Institute, joined Taylor Friedman in discussing women and Torah. Located on the fifth floor of 37 West 65th Street, the Drisha Institute is the world’s first center for women’s advanced study of classical Jewish texts.
More information on Jen Taylor Friedman and her vocation as a Soferet and Jewish
available on her
Tichtov Esther Website.
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