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Jen Taylor Friedman
a purim story - my first megillah 
27th-Feb-2007 08:58 pm
shiny jen
This year's crop of Megillahs has been harvested and sent to the happy recipients. This makes seven Megillot since I wrote my first for Purim 2004.

In the academic year 2003-4 I was in Israel, learning at Pardes. In my spare time, I continued to study the laws of sofrut - as my learning skills improved courtesy of Pardes, I was able to make better progress with this - and eventually I felt ready to attempt the Megillah.

The Megillah is a traditional starting point for new scribes. It's not too long, and it doesn't contain any of the Names of God. Thus, it's pretty hard to make any really terrible mistakes, and the baby scribe can get through the project in a manageable sort of time.

You can study theory all you want, but if you can't get hold of materials, and you wouldn't know how to use them if you did, you're a bit stuck. Fortunately for me, since there are opinions which say a woman may write Esther, a sofer who teaches at Pardes was willing to help me write it. He would get materials for me, and show me how to use them. That was a courageous thing for him to do, because in giving me those skills he would be helping me along the road to writing sifrei Torah, tefillin and mezuzot, which is something he could not condone. Many people would say that he should not give me a tool to do something permitted if there were to be a chance of my using it for something forbidden. He gave me the tool and let me choose what to do with it, and I thank him for that.

That year, there was an earthquake in Israel. I was in Pardes' study hall that morning, writing away, but I stopped writing when the building rocked and the room started wobbling up and down. For a second we thought it was a bomb, but bombs don't make the floor ripple. Pardes has a very diverse community; you could tell the Californians, because they dived underneath their desks. The rest of us sat there gaping until the room came to a standstill. People came over to me, asking "How's the Megillah?" It was fine.

I finished the writing, and took it to the sofer. He looked at it. I waited. "It's a very good first Megillah," he said. At three years' distance, I see just what he meant. Still, it was nice enough, I was proud of it, he was satisfied. I think I was his first female student to complete a Megillah.

I took it to Rabbi Landes, the top bod at Pardes. I asked him: can we read from a Megillah I've written? He looked at me from behind his beard. Had I already written it, he asked. Yes? He would need some time to think about this. Give him a few days. He had to decide whether it was okay, in principle and in particular.

Pardes does things by the book. It's not an Orthodox institution, but it's an institution Orthodox people can be part of. That means when it does something, it does it properly. R' Landes riffled through some enormous tomes and decided that in principle, he was okay with reading from my Megillah, but - but - if I hadn't written it properly, Pardes' reading would be completely invalid. So he talked to my sofer. Was this a kosher Megillah? I wasn't in on that conversation, but the answer must have been yes, because R' Landes hunted me down and said the Pardes reading for that year would be from my Megillah.

I was over the moon. My work had been weighed in the balance and found worthy. It could be used to fulfil the mitzvah of Megillah reading for the yeshiva.

A decision like that isn't taken lightly. The Megillah reading fulfils the obligation of an awful lot of people; someone co-ordinating a reading has a responsibility to the whole congregation to make the reading kosher. Approving my Megillah meant that serious people with heavy responsibilities were satisfied with my grasp of the scribal arts to the extent that they would trust the reading - the fulfilment of everyone's obligation - to my scroll.

That was when I felt I'd graduated. For sure I still had a long way to go - still do - but I was over the bar of being minimally competent.

So I kept studying!
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