Aviel Barclay Rothschild
Aviel Barclay is an observant Jew from
Vancouver, Canada. She is now known for her historic role as the first
female soferet (certified Torah scribe) in Jewish tradition. To become
a sofer, one must study under the supervision of a well-established rabbi or sofer. Traditionally,
only men have been permitted to write copies of the Torah for use in synagogues.
Aviel Barclay, however, has managed to reverse the assumption that a
Torah scribe must be a man.
Barclay trained herself as a Hebrew calligrapher and spent years incorporating Hebrew lettering into her
artwork. Recently, she decided to search out a sofer so that she could
use her skills to script Torot. The task of finding an Orthodox scribe who would agree to certify Barclay as a soferet was extremely
difficult. Most traditional scribes and rabbis rejected the idea that
a woman was qualified to copy the Torah. According to some rabbinical
scholars, because a woman is not required to study Torah or to wear tefillin, she is
therefore also not permitted to copy the Torah.
After many rejections, Barclay found a mentor in Jerusalem,
Israel. She convinced her teacher (who chose to remain nameless) that
"there is room within the Orthodox tradition for a woman scribe."
Barclay received eighteen months of training, and was then certified
as a soferet.
Barclay's official title was not protested against
until the Kadima congregation of Seattle asked her to write its first
Sefer Torah. After her commission, some traditional members of the Jewish
community insisted that Barclay was not a legitimate scribe. According
to the Talmud, they
said, women are forbidden to copy the Torah for use in Jewish rituals.
In response, Harry Zeitlin, one of Seattle's Orthodox rabbis, argued
that although women are not obligated to wear tefillin or study Torah,
they are indeed permitted to do so. Therefore, Zeitlin concluded, while
a man might be obligated to study Torah and write a Sefer Torah, a woman
can also partake in this mitzvah.
While Barclay's act of writing the Sefer Torah can
be seen as a declaration of gender equality in Judaism,
Barclay herself did not intend it to be so. Barclay merely wanted to
participate in the mitzvah of lettering the Torah. Certain liberal rabbis
have stated, however, that Barclay's controversial move will lead to
a new generation in which many synagogues will commission soferot to
script the holy letters of the Torah.