JOFA conference – on writing. Part 1

Fun times at JOFA yesterday.

That’s the intermittently-annual conference of the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance, for those not au fait with Modern Orthodox slang. I admit I was rather surprised when they asked me to present, given that I don’t identify as Orthodox, but I said as much and they were still interested, so I guess whatever I am, it’s closely-related enough that they figured the conference attendees would be interested.

I very much like opportunities to talk about my work that aren’t the standard Look At The Torah Scroll or My Life Story that constitutes 90% of the public presentation I do. Last month I was in Boston, at Tufts University, talking to undergraduates, and that was great fun – undergrads tend to be deliciously interested in thorny issues, and they’ve often just discovered the joy of tussling with a problem, puppy-like, so undergrads are one of my favourite groups to work with.

Then, as now, I was using presenting as a forum to tackle the following question: classical halakha says there’s basically no way to argue that what I do is okay. My present justification is based on emunat hakhamim – community leaders whose learning and integrity I respect seem to think it’s okay, and since egalitarian practice is in large part a matter of communal acceptance, that’s something upon which to rely.

However. When I contract to write a sefer Torah, and we specify that the sefer is to be written in full accordance with normative Ashkenazi halakha with the exception of the gender of the scribe, it’s kind of analogous to someone who provides meat, which has been selected and slaughtered in full accordance with normative Ashkenazi halakha with the exception of the species of animal. That is to say, sometimes I feel rather like unto one who performs ritual slaughter on pigs.

All this leaves me wide open to the question “So why write sifrei kodesh?”

The workshop I was presenting at JOFA attempted to give an experiential perspective on that question. I wanted to convey the manner in which writing out verses of the Torah gives you a very particular and close relationship to them.

Session blurb: If one writes a sefer Torah, say the Sages, it is as if he had himself received it on Mount Sinai. How can the simple act of writing take someone to such heights? By transcribing small amounts of text, we will explore how writing Torah can be experientially very different from reading or learning or leyning; how the pace of transcription can give one fascinatingly different perspectives on the text, and how the act of transcription can cause one to process it differently.

I’ll continue in Part 2 shortly.


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