Nov. 11, 2005
Local scribe on Vision
The Torah being written by Aviel Barclay is a first.
There are few people in the world who have the gumption and the
determination to follow their dreams, let alone if those dreams
conflict with societal norms or religious doctrine. This month,
VisionTV will air Soferet: A Special Scribe, a documentary
about Vancouverite Aviel Barclay, who has chosen to become a Torah
scribe (soferet), despite the fact that most Jewish authorities
believe that rabbinic law forbids a woman from writing a Torah scroll
for ritual use.
"I was told by one [sofer, male scribe] that I would
better serve the Jewish people by getting married and having children,"
says Barclay in the documentary. She then laughs confidently, adding
that she told the sofer that she wants to do that, too.
Barclay's husband, Joel Rothschild, is one of the many people interviewed
in Soferet. He underscores Barclay's assertion that she is
obligated to be a scribe. She "believes she has been given
this work to do by God," he says.
Such conviction and self-assuredness seems to have directed much
of Barclay's life. Born Alison Barclay in Prince George, in 1968,
and raised as a Christian, Barclay converted to Orthodox Judaism
in adulthood. In the film, she explains that she never felt at home
in church. When her father died suddenly, when she was 16, Barclay
stepped back from religion entirely for a couple of years. After
her right hand was crushed in a cycling accident, she had to undergo
much therapy to write again. During the rehabilitation process,
Barclay began to read about Judaism and found that this was where
she belonged living as a Jew.
During the conversion process, Barclay started doing Hebrew calligraphy
reviving an interest in Hebrew letters that she had had since
childhood. It was then, she says, that it dawned on her that she
was to be a soferet; that she would write a Torah scroll.
Soferet includes a brief history of Barclay's life, including
an interview with her mother. It touches upon some of Barclay's
struggles in finding a willing scribe to teach her the art. Many
rabbis are also featured, such as Or Shalom's Rabbi Hillel Goelman
and Shaarey Tefilah's Rabbi Shachar Ornstein. Other clergy are interviewed
as well, and the documentary cogently explains the central role
played by the Torah in Judaism and sensitively presents the controversies
surrounding whether a woman can be a soferet.
Seattle's Kadima congregation has decided to push traditional boundaries
and has commissioned Barclay to write a sefer Torah. According to
the synagogue's website, the Women's Torah Project was started in
2003 and will see Barclay and fellow Judaic artist Shoshana Gugenheim
become the first women to scribe a Torah scroll. For more information
on the project, visit kadima.org.
For more information on Barclay's ritual and mystical art, which
includes ketubot (marriage contracts), amulets and other
work, visit www.soferet.com.
Soferet: A Special Scribe airs on VisionTV on Wednesday,
Nov. 16, at 7 p.m., and repeats on Thursday, Nov. 17, at 8 p.m.