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Torah Scribe Julie Seltzer Started Work on a Sefer Torah

October 8, 2009
Julie Seltzer
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As It Is Written: Project 304, 805. Scribe Julie Seltzer. Photo by Bruce Damonte; Courtesy of the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.

In the fall of 2009, the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco launched the project “As It Is Written,” which allowed visitors to watch the painstaking process of writing the 304,805 Hebrew letters of the Torah, the first time a Torah has been created in a public space. To boot, the project was undertaken by one of a handful of soferot -- female Torah scribes.

The scribe who undertook this labor of love is Julie Seltzer, one of about 10 women in the world who write the Torah and the other restricted documents containing quotations from Hebrew Scriptures, including those for the tefillin (small leather boxes housing Scriptural passages) and mezuzot, which are affixed to door frames. According to a New York Times article: “Age-old Jewish law declares that only men be trained for such work, and that a Torah that has been created by a woman is unsuitable for use in worship, strictures that are still upheld in Orthodox communities and congregations. But Ms. Seltzer, who is 34, and a few others are widening an ancient tradition in a modern age.”

In her bio for the Women’s Torah Project, Seltzer describes her decision to become a soferot: “I was walking down the streets of Baka in late 2007 when I literally stopped in my tracks as the revelation struck: I was going to learn sofrut. As much as I had engaged in Torah study, leyned on shabbes, and argued esoterica from the Talmud, I’d never given a second thought to who wrote Torah scrolls – or any other scrolls for that matter.” Seltzer has previously worked in theater, Jewish education, and as a baker notable for her specially-shaped challot inspired by the weekly parsha.

Seltzer was trained by Jen Taylor Friedman, who in 2007 became the first woman to scribe a Torah. The project began on October 8, 2009 and concluded on March 29, 2011. The finished Torah will be loaned to struggling Jewish communities to use for up to five years at a time.

See also: This Week in History for October 16, 2010; This Week In History for October 6, 2003 for story about Aviel Barclay, first woman certified as soferet.

Sources: A Torah Scribe Pushes the Parchment Ceiling, New York Times; Hasoferet.com; Womenstorah.com/JulieSeltzer

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Jewish Women's Archive. "This Week in History - Torah Scribe Julie Seltzer Started Work on a Sefer Torah." (Viewed on April 20, 2014) <http://jwa.org/thisweek/oct/08/2009/julie-seltzer>.