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Torah

Ink of our Own: Women Who Scribe

Torah Scribe and Educator Julie Seltzer takes participants on a behind-the-scenes tour of how Torahs are written, and discusses the Jewish law that has long kept women from being scribes.

And It Will Touch Your Heart

At the museum in that first week, between introductions and protocol and photo shoots, I finally took out my Tikkun, the book used to copy the Torah from, word for word, line for line, eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. I opened up to page two. Here were the first words of my Torah. My Torah – as if these words were mine.

והוא ימשל בך . And he will rule over you.

Near(ly) a Woman

Every year in the Hebrew month of Shevat, Jews around the world read Parshat Yitro, the Torah portion that contains the Ten Commandments. But the “Big Ten” are only part of this portion – Parshat Yitro also contains a visit from Moses’ father-in-law, a feast, and a set of instructions from G-d transferred with questionable integrity by Moses to the Israelites. Before becoming a Bat Mitzvah at age 12, I spent months studying this portion and its various commentaries. One line was particularly alarming to me: “Be ready for the third day: do not go near a woman.”

The Importance of Self-Love

“Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Leviticus 19:34 provides the Jewish people with this inspirational and often-repeated Torah verse that seems to pop up in my own life endlessly. In Temple, in Jewish Studies classes, at home when my mother reminds me to be the bigger person—this verse follows me wherever I go. For a long time, I appreciated it and used it as a motivation to do good. But then I reached a point in my life when treating others as I treated myself wouldn’t have been the kindest path. 

Whose Bat Mitzvah Is It Anyway?

Becoming a bat mitzvah was the most spiritual event of my life thus far. Being surrounded by my friends, family, and community as I claimed my place as a Jewish adult was exactly as awe-inspiring and invigorating as I’d been promised it would be. The only dark spot of my day came just after services, during the celebratory brunch, when my uncle informed me that my interpretation of the Torah was wrong.

A Valorous Woman

We’ve all seen—and heard of—the impossible standards to which women are held: be skinny, beautiful, athletic, and put together, but also be “natural” and be “yourself.” Don’t change yourself for a man, but don’t scare him off by being too honest or “real” from the get-go either. Be smart and informed, but don’t let your intelligence outshine his, or else his masculinity might be threatened. Be a perfect mother and wife, but make sure you’re also highly accomplished at work.

Figuring It Out

So how in the world was the rigid, traditional, millenniums-old practice of Judaism in any way connected to feminism, a movement that aims to restructure societies’ ideals and question tradition? How could I identify as both a believing Jew and as a feminist, not to mention lumping them together into one phrase? The more I repeated them to myself, the more the words ‘Jewish’ and ‘feminist’ sounded incorrect side by side, like “candied broccoli” or “kind bigot.”

Torah Reading Between the Lines

A few Saturday mornings a month, my Dad and I go to synagogue to read Torah. We drive there, even though my synagogue is within walking distance; my Dad often has errands to run, or I have a dance class I need to make, two activities that cannot be accomplished efficiently through walking. We pull into the parking lot, pry open the synagogue’s heavy wooden doors, and take our seats at the very back of the sanctuary. Within thirty minutes, as the Torah is being lifted in the air for the ritual of hagbah, we are out of there.

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How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Torah." (Viewed on April 25, 2018) <https://jwa.org/tags/torah>.

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