Women Writing a Sefer Torah

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January 1, 2000
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Shoshana Gugenheim

Every Israelite is commanded to write for themselves a scroll of the Torah for their own use, as it says: “Now therefore write for yourself this Song.” (Deuteronomy 31:19)

I remember when I consciously became part of collective memory. I recall the moment when my ancestral memory and my present memory were wed, when the day’s struggle was informed by wrestling with the past. I was standing at Sinai. I was there with every Jew who has or ever will live. Together we received the Torah.

My remembering began with the Torah — the physical, living Torah scroll that holds our collective memory, and the precious letters that, arranged in just the right combination, reveal the stories within it. I recall the breathlessness, the desire that washed over me when I first held the Torah as an adult, when I read the words that tumbled then like bricks from my clumsy tongue. “Yes! This is familiar. It is a part of me,” I whispered to myself until my words melted into those of the text and our stories became one and the same.

But somewhere in that re-membering, I noticed that I was forgotten. Although I was standing at Sinai, receiving the Torah, I was somehow forbidden to experience Her in what I saw then, and see today, as the most intimate way of engaging with the text, the scribing of a sefer Torah (the actual scroll). I envision drawing close to God through the words of Torah, and not just through the sounds of the words, but also through the very shapes and textures of each letter. As an artist, this, the re-telling of the story in writing, will be my way to deepen my covenant with God, to be re-membered.

My vision imagines fifty-four women from around the world, one representing each parsha (weekly Torah portion), collectively writing a sefer Torah. No woman in the 3,000-year history of the Jews has ever written a Torah. How unfortunate, for this is the 613th commandment (as designated in Sefer HaHinuch). My vision is about art, community, feminism, spirituality, tolerance, tradition and Torah. It is about acknowledging the centrality of women’s voices in the texts of our lives. It recognizes that also by the hands of women, we inherit our Jewishness.

Imagine 54 women, from communities around the world, studying the tradition of sofrut, the art of writing sacred text, engaging with text, being supported by their communities as they collectively write a sefer Torah. Imagine other women participating in the construction of the eitzei chayim, the wooden rollers on which the scroll is placed, and still others sewing a global quilt with which to wrap the Scroll. Some women will write just one letter, halachically fulfilling the mitzvah. Imagine young girls and boys watching their mothers write a sefer Torah. Imagine Simchat Torah, when we dance with this Torah. Imagine the communities of men and women who support these women scribes.

While Jewish practice may differ from one community to the next, from one individual to another, each community has within it and is unified by the sefer Torah. It is the universal thread that weaves together every community of Jews. While all else about our individual communities may change and diverge, the Torah — every letter and every detail of its creation — remains the same. This uniquely sanctified tradition crosses all boundaries of intolerance within our community, all customs, languages, rituals and geographies, and binds us together as klal Yisrael. Let us honor its unifying presence in the community of Jews as we embrace women in their fulfillment of this, our collective commandment.

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Shoshana Gugenheim, has a Master's degree in Creative Arts in Learning, and is completing another in Judaic Studies at Hebrew College. For more information about the Women's Torah Project, or to share ideas, resources and monetary donations, please contact Shoshana at womenwrite@hotmail.com.

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