Tags: purim

shiny jen

Little fat kings

The story behind this image, and lots of adorable pictures of little kings, are all over at http://www.hasoferet.com/blog/?p=883.

I didn't cross-post, because the formatting went all whack, and I didn't feel like reformatting the whole thing for DW/LJ. You'll just have to click over, my loves. It's well worth it, I think.

This entry also appears at http://hatam-soferet.dreamwidth.org/648404.html. comment count unavailable people have commented there, and you're welcome to join them. I've disabled LJ comments for the time being because of excessive spam.

A megillah case


This Purim, I was commissioned to write a megillah for the Abramson Center for Jewish Life, and not just create a megillah, but also a case for it to live in. The Center’s rabbi asked if I could make a design that drew on the Center’s existing artwork, and that’s what you see above.

The Abramson Center has stained-glass windows by the artist Mordechai Rosenstein. I used elements from the Book of Numbers window, pictured here.

Why Numbers? Well, the book of Esther is quite interested in numbers, have you ever noticed? Listen up when you hear it this year – you’ll see. Also, in Numbers, the Israelites complain about המן, which is part of the Purim narrative also.

More seriously, the Shabbat before Purim is known as Shabbat Zachor, because it is on this Shabbat that we remember what Amalek did to the Israelites in the wilderness. The Amalek story is also brought up in the Book of Numbers, in Balaam’s oracle: Amalek was the first among the nations, but its end is utter destruction – and the future of Amalek is (albeit obscurely) what the Purim story is about.

So it is appropriate that the Megillah case draws its colouring and background elements, these energetic stripes of oranges, green, and purple, with white accents, from the Book of Numbers window.

The letters are inspired by another Mordechai Rosenstein piece at the Abramson Center, pictured here, where they spell out והדרת פני זקן – honour the elderly.

What are the letters on the Megillah case spelling out?

The Numbers window depicts an amphora, and on Purim an amphora means one thing – wine. The rabbinic dictum is that one should drink עד דלא ידע – until he can no longer distinguish between “Blessed be Mordechai” and “Cursed be Haman.”

The Megillah case takes the words ברוך מרדכי and ארור המן, and adds the pairing “Blessed be Esther” and “Cursed be Zeresh” from the piyut Shoshanat Yaakov – and then mixes all the letters up, all over the case, until it’s all jumbled and scrambled and עד דלא ידע indeed.

The word translated “honour,” above, has the Hebrew root הדר, which we know in another context, הידר מצוה – hidur mitzvah, beautifying or honouring a mitzvah. This Megillah and its case were donated in memory of Eugene Winston, by Ira, Flaura, Andrew, and Zachary Winston, and they will have the satisfaction every year of knowing that the Center’s Megillah reading is beautified in Eugene’s honour. We wish them joy.


Mirrored from hasoferet.com.


Since it’s only a week to Purim…

The original stone tablets were written by the finger of God, etzba Elohim.

Nowadays we write their less cumbersome representations, the Torah-scrolls, with quills, but what most people today don’t know is that ideally you don’t use a quill to write sifrei kodesh.

You’re supposed to use the index finger of your dominant hand — why the index finger? because Jewish tradition holds that there is a vein in the index finger leading directly to the heart; this is why in the wedding ceremony we put the ring on the index finger — you grow the nail, and then you shape it into a nib and write with that.

As well as representing the etzba Elohim, this also brings the scribe closer to the mitzvah. The Torah-scroll represents the marriage contract between God and the Jewish people; now, Jewish law states that one may contract a marriage by emissary, but it is obvious to all that it is better to attend one’s own wedding in person, since there is something rather glaringly inappropriate about contracting this closest of bonds by means of an intermediate agent. Similarly, writing a Torah-scroll with a quill, an intermediate agent, is permitted, but it is much better, if one can, to perform the act in person.

Most scribes today aren’t particular about this method of beautifying the mitzvah, and indeed it is hard to observe.

One reason quills are a decent technological substitute for fingernails is because they have very similar mechanical properties, both being made largely from keratin, rendering them tough but flexible, easily shaped but holding that shape. We’ve seen before in these pages that quills need frequent sharpening if they are to write well, and the same is true of fingernails. We’re used to cutting our fingernails, because they grow faster than we wear them down, but if you use your fingernail to write on parchment, it will wear down faster than your body can replace it, and you will run out of pen.

Since the invention of acrylic nail-tips, which are attached to the shortened nail, some scribes have been experimenting with using these prosthetic fingernails as writing tools. Interestingly, it’s following this line of thought that plastic nibs have recently been developed. Like nail-tips, these nibs are attached to one’s regular writing instrument and are designed to be longer-lasting than the original.

I’ve said before that plastic nibs definitely have their place, but they just aren’t capable of the subtlety of the keratin-based originals. Acrylic nibs are ingenious, but they really aren’t ideal. It follows that the careful scribe is forced to observe prolonged rest periods in which the fingernail must re-grow. One may, if pressed for time, use the other fingers of the hand, but this often results in reduced writing quality, given the lesser dexerity of the fourth and fifth fingers, so the truly careful scribe will plan his work such that he does not need to do this. This generally means he writes Torah one day a week and does some other job the rest of the time while his nail is re-growing.

This is why it takes such a long time to write a sefer Torah. If fingernails didn’t wear down with use, it would be possible to write a sefer Torah in an hour or so.

For consider this. We know that Moshe Rabbeinu died on Shabbat afternoon (R. Yosé in Seder ‘Olam Rabba 11), and we also know that Moshe Rabbeinu wrote thirteen Torah-scrolls on the last day of his life (R. Yannai in Devarim Rabba Vayyelekh §9).

Now, writing on Shabbat is a Biblically-forbidden activity, which Moshe Rabbeinu would not have done. But writing with one’s non-dominant hand is only prohibited on a Rabbinical level, at a much later date, which means that in Moshe Rabbeinu’s time it would have been permitted. So, we know that Moshe Rabbeinu wrote thirteen Torah-scrolls with his non-dominant hand in one day. (Clearly, had he been using his dominant hand, he would have been able to write far more Torah-scrolls, perhaps as many as forty.)

We also know that Moshe Rabbeinu had an unusually fast rate of keratin production, because his face had horns, which are, like fingernails, made from keratin. Normal people don’t produce keratin fast enough that they have horns; the best most of us can manage is hair and nails. But Moshe Rabbeinu was special. That’s why his Torah-writing wasn’t hampered by his fingernails wearing down, and how it is that he was able to produce thirteen sifrei Torah on one Shabbat.

Interestingly, the cantillation phrase traditionally used for the words etzba Elohim is a very rare one (occurs only once in Torah) called karnei Moshe – “the horns of Moses” – and this is why.

Wasn’t that educational?

Mirrored from hasoferet.com.

shiny jen

Look what's on sale at Sotheby's!

A Highly Important Decorated Esther Scroll, Venice: 1654 Scribe: Estellina daughter of Menahem

Estellina daughter of Menachem!

*Jen waves at Estellina across the centuries*

If you've got a very good imagination, you might be able to picture how happy I was when this Sotheby's catalogue arrived in my email (thanks, Lipman and PR). You don't need any imagination at all to understand why, though.

The other deeply pleasing dimension of this particular scroll is that there are no known complete decorated Esther scrolls predating this one. There are fragments, but no complete ones.

Here's a section from the catalogue text (page 272):
The present scroll is extraordinary on several accounts, first and foremost in its pride of place as the earliest complete decorated megillah. As attested to by the dated colophon at the conclusion of the text, the scroll was completed on Tuesday, 3 Adar, 5324 [= 15 February, 1564] in the city of Venice. The colophon however reveals an even more remarkable feature the individual who wrote this scroll was a woman, Estellina daughter of the Katzin Menahem, son of the Rosh Katzin Jekutiel. Estellina was clearly a member of a wealthy and eminent family indicated not only by the titles accorded to her father and grandfather (both Katzin and Rosh Katzin denote distinguished official positions within the Jewish community) but also by the presence of a coat of arms painted onto the scroll directly after her colophon. Prominently displayed in an elaborate gold frame festooned with flowing ribbons and occupying an entire column, the coat of arms consists of a gold crown above another image that is difficult to decipher, as the paint has been abraded.

As well as being "[t]he earliest complete decorated Esther Scroll," the cataloge describes it as "[t]he only known Esther Scroll to have been written by a woman in the pre-modern era."

I'm writing to Sotheby's to ask if I might be allowed to see it in person, even though there's no chance of my buying it ($600,000 to $800,000, says the catalogue. Hollow laughter). Given that I'm among the first of her successors, and all that.

I wonder who taught Estellina halakha. I wonder if her mother was cross with her for writing a Megillah instead of doing ladylike things such as embroidery. I wonder if she read from it.

I'm so glad to have met her!

Originally posted at Dreamwidth. Re-enabling comments over here because dreamwidth fail at LJ integration. Pity, because they have principles.
shiny jen

Finding God in the Megillah

The Megillah never explicitly references God, and since it's a biblical book, people at various times have found this a tad problematic.

I mentioned last week that the practice of starting each column with the word HaMelekh - The King - is perhaps a nod heavenwards, as it were, given the allegorical representation of God as King.

Another custom you sometimes see is the enlarging of certain letters such that the four-letter Name of God stands out, thus:

ותאמר אסתר אם על המלך טוב יבוא המלך והמן היום אל המשתה אשר עשיתי לו

This is the only place you get it in consecutive words (chapter 5). I've never looked for it happening in different places - non-consecutive words, or line heads, or column heads - I don't have access to that many manuscripts. Anyone want to pitch in with info?

I strongly suspect that what came first was some scribe noticing "Hey, cool..." and subsequently us getting all serious about it. Compare some of the liturgical poems wherein the name of the poet is spelled out by the first letters of the verses - that's either arrogant beyond belief, or it's playful (or something else that I don't know about but Gabriel does and if that's so I'd be obliged if he'd say so in the comments), and I don't know about you but I'd rather assume it was playful.

Making letters big is different from tweaking the column heads - big and small letters carry more significance, generally, than column heads. So tweaking the text so that the column heads are all HaMelekh - or HaMalka - is fine so long as you don't mangle the columns, but making letters big and small is more dicey - easy enough, but significant enough that one shouldn't do it unless one has a tradition of doing it. So spelling out yud-hey-vav-hey in enlarged letters is one thing, but doing, say, חמה ויתאפק המן for someone called Hava would be Pretty Darn Dodgy. There's fun, and then there's taking it too far, you know? Spelling one's name in a poem is less dodgy than spelling it out in a sacred scroll. Anyway, point being, we have fun with letters and words and layout, within the bounds of good taste, and I bet the fun came first and the Serious Interpretations after, with the yud-hey-vav-hey and the HaMelekh both.

Talking of fun. Another large letter in the Megillah. You see the similarity here? A happy accident.

shiny jen

a hamalka megillah...

I had the best time this evening. You know HaMelekh megillot, right? Esther scrolls which tweak the layout such that each column starts with the word HaMelekh, which means The King.

So R' Katz at CSAIR mentioned that he'd been thinking about a HaMalka (The Queen) megillah and fiddling about with it and only getting partway...

...and I, being a Total Nerd with Mad Leet Computer Tikkun Skillz, decided to give it a shot. And I did it. HaMalka megillah, looking pretty sweet.

Of course, the thing about HaMelekh is that King is allegorical for God, and since there isn't any God in the Megillah, the HaMelekh is a compensatory move. HaMalka obviously takes away from that, so if you are doing HaMalka you have to read it as riffing on the HaMelekh/God theme, rather than as a Stomping Feminist theme.

I suspect most people would assume it was a Stomping Feminist thing ("You changed HaMelekh? Don't you realise that HaMelekh refers to God?! Sheesh, you indulge your ridiculous ignorant feminism and just make yourself look stupid..."). One would get tired of explaining that no, one is very well aware of HaMelekh, and HaMalka retains the concept of sovereignty with its hints of God but adds a feminine aspect, as to say "My relationship with God is informed by my being female, and I can engage with ritual on that basis, and it is kosher and it is joyous."

You see I think people might not understand that. It makes me wonder whether alternating Melekh and Malka on the column heads would be a better move, but on the whole I think the feminine riff is worth it.
shiny jen

charity auction - cutie tea boxes

Combination of me being in a Box Painting Phase and being fed up with cardboard boxes of teabags getting crushed in the cupboard: me painting tea boxes, and doing an extra set because why not. Clicky pictures for biggers.

So these are dear little wooden boxes, shiny green/blue/purple on the outside with classy cream accents if I do say it myself. Gloss black on the inside. Each box contains 10 teabags - of course you don't have to use them for teabags, but they're quite cute that way. Black-Tea-And-Mint, Blueberry, and Blackcurrant-Ginseng-And-Vanilla, if you were wondering. Green, blue, and purple, see.

Each box has a window in the lid. Behind the window I wrote the flavour of the tea inside, but you can take that out and replace it with something else if you feel like it, as per picture, or just have the window look right through to the contents of the box.

Charity auction is for the set of three.

Since we're between Purim and Pesach, the charities I'm choosing are Save Darfur, City Harvest, National Coalition for the Homeless, and Free the Slaves. Auction ends Friday March 20th. Winner donates auction amount to one of these (or equivalent, I am quite reasonable) and forwards me the receipt; when I get the receipt from your donation, I send you your boxes.

I've got a few others I'll probably put up in the same way sometime before Pesach, depending how this one goes.

bidding at eBay

shiny jen

Why Latkes Win over Hamentaschen

or, Why I Like Hanukah More Than Purim.

Because parading your wife in public as a sex object isn't funny.
Because getting mad when your wife doesn't want to comply isn't funny.
Because governmental fearmongering with wild speculations about women isn't funny.
Because turfing out your wife in a fit of pique isn't funny.
Because government legitimising intimidation in domestic relationships isn't funny.
Because abduction isn't funny.
Because fetishising virgins isn't funny.
Because rape isn't funny.
Because imprisonment in a harem isn't funny.
Because your husband being allowed to kill you isn't funny.

Don't tell me I'm wrong in reacting to the text in a way that disturbs you.

Don't tell me I'm reading it wrong.
Don't tell me what the Midrash says.
Don't tell me to lighten up.
Don't tell me it's all just a joke.
Don't tell me it's parody.
Don't tell me that if I read it like you read it I wouldn't get upset.

Comments will be screened. Comments failing to understand the above will not be passed.

ETA: For instance, "Did you not notice that none of these things you complain of are supposed to be good or wise?" is telling me I'm reading it wrong. FAIL. Yes, I did notice. Pipe down and think.
shiny jen

handwriting over time

Purim's sort of my soffering anniversary. Five years since Megillah 1, now.

I'm putting in some pictures of my writing in the years between. This is almost certainly only of interest to calligraphy geeks, so I'm putting it under a cut. Collapse )

my handwriting
Spring 09, another megillah. This is me trying a completely different writing style. You can do that on a megillah, they're short, so if you don't like it you're not stuck for a whole year doing it.

(Oh look, there's a mistake right in the thumbnail. I *would* do that, wouldn't I. Oh well.)

It's a lot more nineteenth-century than my usual. It's quite pretty, but I think not the easiest ever to read?