Transmitting Tradition: The Women’s Torah Project

By Ruth Ellen Gruber

One of the themes I am exploring in this project is the transmission of tradition. My great-grandmother and great-great-grandmother whose tombs I found and photographed in the Jewish cemetery in Radauti, Romania were buried under gravestones marked with candlesticks, denoting the signal role of  women in Jewish tradition and practice of lighting and blessing the candles on Shabbos.

Both of these ancestors of mine — Ettel and Chaya Dwoira — were probably religious (or fairly religious…) women who observed the tenets and traditions. In my generation and younger, however I know that few of us carry out anything more onerous than eating lox and bagel, holding or attending a Seder, making sure that children are bar/bas mitzvah and going to synagogue occasionally. Almost all the marriages of our generation of cousins have been “out,” to non-Jews.

One of my cousins, however, has been involved in a project that takes traditions  and refashions them from a feminist (or at least a female) viewpoint. It is the Women’s Torah Project in Seattle which aimed at ushering in  “a new era for Judaism and feminism” by commissioning “the first ever Sefer Torah to be scribed by women.”

The project was completed on October 15, 2010 to some fanfare.

It is not only the first Torah written and embellished by an international community of women, it is the first Torah literally sewn together in community. Dozens of people had the opportunity to fill in letters, sew the parchment panels together, and tie the scroll to the rollers. Many others watched or helped the six scribes put the 62 panels in order, under the exultant wings of Shekinah.

The completion of the Torah garnered a lot of press,including THIS PIECE in the Forward and THIS in the Seattle Times. The Project produced this video: