I am an egalitarian male. I have a mezuzah and pair of tefillin written by a female scribe, who is perfectly kosher within my beliefs, but obviously wouldn't be kosher in Orthodox beliefs. When I get the mezuzah and tefillin checked, do I have an ethical obligation to disclose the fact they were written by a woman to the (presumably) male scribe doing the checking?
In what Rabbi Jacob Neusner calls “the Judaism of the Dual, i.e. Written and Oral Torah,” there is a discrete religious construction of reality. This is the religion that Orthodox official religion [as opposed to the folkways of popular street religion] sees as Torah, the actual commanded word of God. While there is an egalitarian thrust to this religion encoded in the Dual Torah library, the official religion of the Orthodox Jewish library is not unisex. Gender is distinct and morality is conditioned by this distinctiveness. Thus, the Orthodox view of Jewish law is that we read the Oral Torah canon as we see it plainly, or according to peshat, WYSIWYG. How the questioner knows that God cares about mezuzah and Torah scrolls but not gender distinctiveness is lost upon me. Egalitarianism in liberal Judaism is based on “ethics,” at least according to Reform Judaism’s Pittsburgh Platform . The Torah does not write “do not lie.” The Torah teaches that one not even look like one is lying, i.e. “distance yourself from falsehood.” [Exodus 23:7]
1. An egalitarian liberal Jew who exercises the existential right to select what in the Jewish Tradition is divine and binding does so, if I understand correctly, on ethical grounds, that to their view an ethical God does not discriminate or choose between the genders.
2. The egalitarian liberal Jew claims the right to alter the original Dual Torah definitions on the basis of “pluralism.” One who is pluralist must ethically concede the right of others to alternative ethic systems, including the right of the Orthodox to live according to their conscience.
3. Thus, in the spirit of a commitment to truth and to pluralism, an egalitarian liberal Jew, moved by morals and animated by ethics, would be, by her or his own system, ethically obliged to not try to mislead another person and be committed to truth, the seal of God [bShabbat 55a], and disclose that the female written document is what it is.
Second, Jewish law is strictly honest and not legally formalized magic. Writing the words correctly is not all that Judaism requires.
1. bYevamot 14b finds that the Schools of Shammai and Hillel had radically different views regarding what is a proper marriage. The upshot of the debate is that in interpreting the law, each School regarded the offspring of the other School to be illegitimate. Nevertheless, the Schools remained cordial and collegial and did not demonize dissent. This is Jewish ethics at work, as each School would hold to its position and not try to trick the other by withholding information. I recommend that the questioner, who reads the normative Tradition selectively, herself or himself commit oneself to cordial and collegial dissent. And I also recommend that Orthodox Jews adopt this Oral Torah position as well.
2. Tractate Soferim 1:10 rules that a Torah scroll written by a heretic, one who denies that God is the ultimate Author of all of the Torah’s rules, looks like a Torah but is not really a Torah; as it may not be used liturgically.
3. bGittin 45b rules that such a Torah must be burnt because it is not a Torah at all. Torah is not merely brute information; there are values and attitudes as well that are advocated. A Torah transcribed by some one for whom the Torah is not God’s word [Isaiah 2:3] is Jewishly not a Torah at all. Significantly, a Jewish divorce writ can, on its surface, appear to be proper but if the names recorded thereon are not written for the specific individuals named, the on the surface writ of divorce is a nullity. [bGittin 16a and 20a]
You have no obligation to disclose that your tefillin or mezuzah were written by a woman. When you give scrolls to a scribe for checking, you are asking for his or her expert opinion as to the validity of the form and content of the writing, as well as for an examination of the physical condition of the scroll and tefillin boxes – nothing more.
If you were selling or lending your tefillin to someone else, you would in that case have an ethical obligation to inform them that the scribe was a woman; since they will be using the tefillin to fulfill their personal mitzvah obligation, they have a right to know. But in the present case, the scribe is not asked to assess the overall validity of the tefillin, but only to verify that the physical objects themselves are suitable for use; the identity of the original scribe is irrelevant in that case.
We have learned in our tradition that the commandment of the mezuzah is found in Deuteronomy (6.4ff; 11.13ff). The text deals with affixing a mezuzah on the doorpost. We learn from later sources questions regarding the nature of the text and the way in which the text is written. Based upon your inquiry, the question arises that if a woman wrote the text, is there a question as to its state of kashrut.
We learn that the text itself must always be handwritten, be free of errors and be inscribed on parchment (Misnah Menachot 3.7) This is further explained in the Shulkan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 285, with the writing on each line beginning with a specific text and making sure it was done correctly. There is a text in the Talmud (Gittin 45b) that mandates that the sofer writing the text must be a man. This conclusion is not based on anything other than the concept of fulfilling mitzvot as an obligation. The contention here is that an acquired obligation, either voluntarily undertaken or assumed as a matter of cultural identity, is identical in nature to an obligation with which one was born. With this approach, one may say that a woman who commits herself to observance of the mitvah of tefillin has a Torah based obligation (an obligation grounded in biblical, as distinct from rabbinic, law) just as does a normal adult male, and may therefore function as a scribe just as a man, since women's halakhic exclusion from ritual writing stems entirely from their exemption from donning tefillin. The validity of this premise is questioned by many.
As I learned from Jen Taylor Friedman from Machon Pardes and the Drisha Institute, she writes, “By its terms, the principle that one not obligated to fulfill a mitzvah cannot perform that mitzvah on behalf of one who is so obligated should pose no barrier to a non-obligated person writing tefillin fit for use, for the mitzvah is to wear the tefillin and not to write them (or, in the case of mezuzah, to attach it, not to write it). After all, women are exempt from hearing the shofar blown and may not blow it for a man, yet a woman may take a horn and make a shofar, and it is generally the case that one exempt from a commandment may make the used in fulfilling it.” I acknowledge that this issue is argued further in the text, but as a Reform rabbi who treats all of our members as equal partners in following the commandments, I accept sacred scrolls written by a soferet (a female scribe). Now the question arises, if you choose to have your mezuzah and/or your tefillin checked, do you need to disclose that the documents were created by a soferet?
When checking either ritual objects; the two basic categories that are being checked are: Damage that may have occurred due to water, heat or other outside causes and problems in the way the Mezuzah/Tefillin was written such as spelling mistakes, touching letters, improper spacing, or poor materials. What is NOT CHECKED is the status of the sofer/sofert who wrote the parchment nor should it be grounds for declaring if the parchment is either kasher (fit) or tamei (unfit). Therefore, I do not believe it is necessary to declare the gender of the scribe as it has no bearing on the parchment’s state.
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