Friday, January 7, 2011

Can women be Torah scribes? This one is.

BBC has an interview with a woman who appears to be the first female Torah scribe in centuries. The story is interesting, more for the questions it raises than the actual writing.

I find it very significant that this woman is a convert to Judaism. First because it underscores again the importance of converts and "outsider influences" to the development and advancement of our tradition (although I suppose those that disapprove of her endeavors would see it as proof that "outsider influence" is toxic).

More importantly, I suspect that very few women that were raised Jewish would be able or willing to take this step. If for no other reason, there's frequently a disconnect between the type of young Jewish women that want to redefine gender roles and push boundaries, and the type of young Jewish women that want to live observant, Orthodox lives.

Not to say there are no female Orthodox radicals; but in the same way a woman marries a man and accepts his obvious faults without trying to change them (love you honey!), most women (and men too, for that matter) that choose to live an Orthodox lifestyle will be more willing to accept the faults and inequalities than take such radical steps to change them. Or will want to see change, but by working through the proper channels to get acceptance of rabbis and Halacha.

Oh, and by the way, whether you were born to an Orthodox family and chose to stay, or found it later in life and chose to join, you only can live an Orthodox life by choice.

The usual justification I hear for discrimination against women in tradition Judaism is: it's not that women are forbidden from participating in these ways, it's that they're exempted from performing the mitzvah in question because women are more closely connected to God and the divine; men, by contrast, are required to perform it, so a woman performing the mitzvah removes an opportunity for a man who needs to do it.

Flimsy, but at least understandable (if not agreeable). I feel like this does not fit into that rationale, though. There is not a requirement for men to work as professional Torah scribes; the only instance I know of where someone is required to scribe a Torah is if they want to become King of Israel. For everyone else, it's an option. Or a profession. So...why can't a woman do it?

If the concern is that women are, on a monthly basis, "unclean", that's easily enough dealt with. Only scribe 3 weeks out of the month. Sure, it might slow down production, but that's an efficiency issue, not a reason to forbid.

I can't see any valid reason a woman shouldn't be a Torah scribe. I wish Avielah Barclay well in her endeavors, and if I am ever in the position to purchase or recommend purchase of a scroll, I will be sure her work is one of the options considered.

1 comment:

  1. Outstanding. Both cantorial work and scribal work thrills my heart, and to see women *DOING* this just inspires me that much more.