Congregation Agudas Achim Commissions First Torah in Texas Written By a Female Scribe
Congregation Agudas Achim is in the process of making history, as it has commissioned the first full Torah in Texas to be written by a soferet, a female Torah scribe.
The last time CAA commissioned a Torah was in 1997, when the congregation had about 200 member families.
Rabbi Neil Blumofe said, “It really helped to galvanize the community and anchor our community in the Jewish values of learning and education.”
Karen Frost, member of the steering committee for 10,000 Faces of Torah, the project’s campaign, explained that writing a Torah was an important part of the Jewish spiritual journey for those who participated in 1997.
“Getting to put your hand on the scribe’s hands and creating the Hebrew letter or the Hebrew word, it’s just really meaningful,” Frost said, adding that the significance of the experience continues every Saturday, when the Torah is opened and read, and participants know that they helped create it.
Now with a membership of more than 700 families, CAA leadership decided it was time to give the next generation the opportunity to experience writing a Torah.
Cynthia Winer, 10,000 Faces of Torah steering committee member, noted that writing a Torah is the 613th mitzvah, the last commandment.
Blumofe said, “As the Austin Jewish community has transformed so much in the last 20 years, I think there’s a renewed e‑ort and importance of underscoring our community with the values that we appreciate. Certainly Torah learning is one of them.”
Blumofe explained that along with traditional learning, a priority of egalitarianism is very important, as Judaism struggles to find its place in the American landscape and Conservative Judaism looks to dene what it is in the 21st century.
The soferet who is writing the Torah, Jen Taylor Friedman, is one of only 10 women trained as a Torah scribe. She will be in Austin for the project four times: early December, late February, mid-April and the dedication day, Simchat Torah, October 13, 2017.
Choosing one of the few sofrot to write the congregation’s newest Torah, “helps to dene and promote the values that Agudas Achim stands for: equal access for men and women to be part of our tradition, that we’re an open tent and that we welcome anyone who seriously wants to engage our tradition,” Blumofe said.
“Just like we have open access for who can lead our congregation in service and in prayer, we also want to underpin that same level of aspiration for our young women and men in modern soferet writing on our newest Torah,” he added.
Frost explained that Friedman believes that writing the Torah is a meaningful and spiritual experience for everyone, and she can accommodate any concerns, such as physical tremors and anxiety.
“To quote Jen, ‘You can’t mess this up,’” Frost said.
Winer is really excited that the congregation chose a soferet.
“That it’s being written by a woman is very personal to me,” she said.
CAA’s 10,000 Faces of Torah campaign is bringing together several ways of honoring the Torah, including weekly Torah study at members’ homes and at the synagogue throughout 5777.
10,000 Faces of Torah o‑ers several levels of participation for the Torah project: the Torah level at $55,000; the Book level at $26,000; the Roller and Adornment level at $20,000; the Special Readings level, which includes the Shema, Song of the Sea, Ha’azinu, Priestly Blessing, Ten Commandments and Creation of Shabbat, at $10,000; the Parasha at $5,400; the Chapter level at $1,800; the Aliyah level at $540; the Pasuk, sentence, level at $360; and the Mitzvah level, which is an amount chosen by each donor.
Frost, along with co-chairs Lindsey and Evan Gremont, Joe Steinberg and Winer, plan to launch a children’s word and letter campaign in 2017.
The $55,000 cost of the Torah itself has been underwritten by a donor, and the multigenerational element of the campaign is allowing CAA to create an endowment fund – the first in the congregation’s 100-year history.
“The money raised will contribute to the sacred space of the synagogue going forward,” said Frost, adding that the committee’s goal is 100 percent member family participation to raise $750,000.
Participating in the 10,000 Faces of Torah campaign is not exclusive to CAA membership or the Austin Jewish community. Anyone in the Central Texas spiritual community and beyond, who would like the meaningful experience of putting their hand on the soferet’s to write a Hebrew letter, word or phrase, are welcome, Frost noted.
Blumofe said, “In the climate in which we all live, I think this is a very important piece of not only connecting Austin Jews together, but certainly the larger community, Jewish and non-Jewish, as well as a sign of connection with our brothers and sisters in Israel, where Jewish pluralism is at forefront of how people are looking to express their Judaism in Israel as well. It’s a statement saying this is who we are, and we are proud and joyous of who we are and we invite everyone to join us, to live simultaneously in a world of beautiful freedoms and of traditional Jewish practice.”
He added, "It's something to include the entire community, both the Austin Jewish community and the larger Austin community. In recognizing the beauty and importance of bringing this particular Torah to our community, a Torah written by a woman, which I think reelects the values of all who consider religion to be a positive force for good."