Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Friday, May 8, 2009

Female Torah Scribes

Jen Taylor Friedman, a Jewish woman in the Bronx, has mastered the skills of a Torah scribe and already completed two scrolls, according to the Riverdale Press:

Many consider Ms. Friedman, 29, an important feminist figure, holding her up as a pioneering example to young Jewish women. Other Jews, primarily in the Orthodox community, believe she is out of bounds, doing work meant only for men or — in the case of Tefillin Barbie — simply inappropriate.

Ms. Friedman sold her first two Torahs to synagogues in St. Louis and Michigan.

Now, as she undertakes a third Torah, she is still adjusting to her role as lightning rod in the Jewish community. She’s been named to the Forward’s list of 50 influential Jews and, just last week, to Jewish Week’s list of 30 influential Jews under 30

What that story does not say is that opposition to women scribes stems, at least in part, from the traditional purification rituals required of Torah scribes. Many believe that women cannot maintain the purity necessary to complete a scroll, a task that usually takes nearly a year. The issue, then, is not about skill and ability, but rather about the sanctity of a Torah scroll itself. However, the positive attention being shown Ms. Friedman also employs the legitimizing function of an iconic scripture, in this case to legitimize efforts for gender equality by putting a scribe among a select group of "influential Jews."

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