The Austin Chronicle

Snapshot: Texas’ First Female-Written Torah

Congregation Agudas Achim’s dedication ceremony

By David Brendan Hall, February 16, 2018, Arts

For most Jewish congregations, a Torah – Hebrew for "instruction," the scroll containing Judaism's central stories, laws, and poetry – is expected to last 200-300 years, so it's fairly uncommon to write another within a shorter span of 20 years as Northwest Austin's Congregation Agudas Achim elected to do. As only slightly more than a decade has passed since women were allowed to begin holding leadership positions at many synagogues, it was an even less ordinary choice to hire a soferet (female scribe) to tackle the task; British-bred, Montreal-based Jen Taylor Friedman's completion of CAA's new scroll marked the first female-written Torah in Texas.

"These days in Austin, the very first question you ask when you meet someone is 'Where are you from?,' and the answers show that [this city] is very different from 20 years ago, so the opportunity to [write a new Torah] in a regalvanized community is really important," reflects Senior Rabbi Neil Blumofe. "This magnifies the egalitarian values we currently practice and gives people a chance to re-engage with their sense of ownership as a member of the community."

Entirely handwritten with ink and quill pen on hand-stitched cow skin parchment, the scroll took about 18 months to finish with the help of more than 600 participants, some from other congregations and a few non-Jewish – hence the project's name: 10,000 Faces of Torah. Below: documentation by "Snapshot" of the new Torah's completion and Sunday's dedication ceremony.

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