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Showing posts from January, 2010

Brought to You by the Letter "Peh"

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Thoughts from scribe-in-residence Julie Seltzer on what she's writing, her process, and the experience of writing a Torah on public view.

One of the questions I am often asked is, “Do you have a favorite letter?” The 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet (or 27, if you count the five letters that take a different form when they appear at the end of a word) feel in some ways like children. How can one have a favorite? But even with children the Torah reports to us certain leanings at certain times (“Now Isaac loved Esau, because he had a taste for game; and Rebekah loved Jacob.” Genesis 25:28). Similarly, different letters bring unique joy, new connection, and insight at different times. Past “favorites” have included the Bet, the Gimmel, and the Chet. My current leanings are toward the letter Peh, and I’ll explain why. [These Hebrew letters spelled out, by the way, are all valid Scrabble words, FYI.]

Public Prayer

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Thoughts from scribe-in-residence Julie Seltzer on what she's writing, her process, and the experience of writing a Torah on public view.
Imagine you’re in a room, praying. You’re not the only one there – in fact, at times there are many others in the room too. They’re not praying. They’re watching you pray. As you pray (or do your very best), you have an awareness of their presence. You wonder: What are they looking at? Do they want to learn something specific? Are they looking with a critical eye? Do they want you to stop what you’re doing and pay attention to them? Then they begin talking about you: Look at how she sways back and forth. Can you see which prayer book she’s using? Look at her outfit – I wonder if she always wears such bright colors. They speak in soft voices, thinking you’re so engrossed in your activity that you can’t hear them talking about you. But the heightened level of awareness that you’ve reached bleeds into an awareness of them, too.

Not Kosher

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Thoughts from scribe-in-residence Julie Seltzer on what she's writing, her process, and the experience of writing a Torah on public view. 
Question: Have you encountered any obstacles in this work because you’re a woman?

Answer: No. The inverse seems to be true. While it is the case that my work will not be accepted by all sectors of the Jewish community, in some cases it is specifically sought after, simply because I am a woman. Feminists of the previous generation paved the way, and I just stepped into that opening.

And while this is definitely true, I am now becoming more and more aware of subtle sexism – the kind that impacts everyone, not just women who are working in traditionally male fields. And it has nothing to do with halacha (Jewish law). According to traditional halacha, the Torah that I write will not be valid for ritual use. Sometimes people harp on this at the sessions, looking down at those who won’t accept it. But the fact that this Torah will not be kosher accordin…