Soferet: A Special Scribe

Soferet: A Special Scribe is a documentary about Aviel Barclay, a Vancouver artist and calligrapher who is the first woman to scribe a Torah scroll. A tradition, thousands of years old that began half a world away, is being challenged by this young woman.

This is a tale that asks us to think deeply about the relation between tradition and change, and the difficulties of following one’s own destiny. Aviel’s journey takes us into a world of ancient practices, hallowed rituals and the making of beautiful religious art. Beneath that compelling and visually stunning tale is a story that raises many issues of great urgency for our times.

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Produced, Directed & Written by

Donna & Daniel Zuckerbrot

Michèle Hozer

Director of Photography
Andrew Binnington

Aaron Davis
John Lang

Assistant Editor
Hilda Rasula

Sound Recordists
Viorel Ghiocel
Steven Jones
Jason O’Neill
Shimshon Yanai

Location Manager (Israel)
David Gamlieli

Online Editor
Michèle Hozer

Robert Ablack

Sound Editor
Dustin Harris
Jakob Thiesen

Re-recording Mixer
Kevin Tokar

Legal Affairs
Richard Hanet

Stock Footage/Archival Visuals
Bill Aron
Aviel Barclay
Karryn Barclay
Tamsin Charles
Archive Films/Getty Images
Jupiter Images
Keith Levit

With Special Thanks To:
Aviel Barclay
Karryn Barclay
Rabbi Tirzah Ben-David
Tamsin Charles
Susan Davis
Rabbi Fern Feldman
Rabbi Hillel Goelman
Yitzhak Goldstein
Wendy Graff
Rabbi Shmuel Granatstein
Rabbi Neal Loevinger
Lawrence Marcuson
Yehuda Miklaf
Anna Milner
Michal Mivasair
Sophie Mivasair
Rabbi Schachar Orenstein
Shalom Paul
Izzy Pludwinski
Rabbi Victor Reinstein
Joel Rothschild
Leon Schiff
Yitzhak Steiner
Rabbi Yosef Wosk
Rabbi Yehaskel

Congregation Shaarey Tefilah
Community of Kadima
Or Shalom Spiritual Community
Temple Israel
Congregation Tifereth Abraham
Beth Tikvah Congregation
The Israel Museum, Jerusalem
Vaad Mishmeres STaM

Executive Producers
Donna Zuckerbrot
Daniel Zuckerbrot

Executive Producer, Vision TV
Alberta Nokes

Executive Producer for Faith & Values Media
William Spencer Reilly

Produced in association with VisionTV and Faith & Values Media with the participation of the Canadian Television Fund, the Canadian Film or Video Production Tax Credits and the Ontario film & Television Tax Credits.

Canadian Jewish News

Review by Joseph Serge
Thought-provoking film profiles female sofer The ancient Jewish sages say that everybody is commanded to write a Torah. But does everybody mean men and women? Traditionally, only men have written Torah scrolls, but one Canadian Orthodox woman is seeking to change that. Soferet: A Special Scribe, airing on Vision TV Nov. 16 at 10 p.m. and again Nov. 17 at 11 p.m., tells the story of Vancouver’s Aviel Barclay, said to be the world’s first female Jewish ritual scribe, who is helping to transcribe a Torah for a small congregation in Seattle, Wash. Barclay’s desire to write the sacred text stems not from a rebellious, feminist nature, but rather from her soul. She’s doing it for spiritual reasons and believes she’s been called to the task by God. In fact, she wishes the precedent had been set before her and has no desire to be in the vanguard of this particular revolution. Barclay was born Alison Barclay in Prince George, B.C., and was raised as a Christian. She first saw the Hebrew alphabet in Fiddler On The Roof when she was a young girl. “It looked like fire to me,” she relates. “I was drawn to it.” Amazingly, she taught herself the Hebrew alphabet at age 10, around the same time she became interested in calligraphy. As an adult, she found herself drawn to Judaism and chose to convert and enter the Orthodox community. She rediscovered her interest in calligraphy and desired to become a soferet. But there were many obstacles in her path. Needing a mentor, she advertised for one, but no one was willing to take her on, until one day a scribe in Jerusalem contacted her to help her with her calligraphy. Meanwhile, a sympathetic rabbi combed available halachic sources for a ruling that would allow a female Torah scribe. Her quest is highly controversial. Many Jewish authorities believe rabbinic law forbids a woman from writing a Torah scroll for ritual use. But others interpret the law differently. At the same time, Barclay has no intention of causing a furor and wishes to respect the community she’s chosen to live in. Directed by Donna and Daniel Zuckerbrot, Soferet is a thought-provoking documentary that is well-worth watching.