Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Soferet at Contemporary Jewish Museum

I had the great pleasure this week to visit the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco for the first time. What finally prompted me to make the trip was As It Is Written: Project 304,805. This exhibit features soferet Julie Seltzer, a professionally trained scribe, who will write a Sefer Torah in public over the next year or so. Ms. Seltzer's involvement takes on special significance since she is one of only a handful of women engaged in this type of work; schools that provide formal training do not admit women.

Ms. Seltzer works in public with a video camera projecting a live close-up as she writes. Though her desk is roped off and visitors are asked not to disrupt her work, she talks with visitors and answers questions during breaks from writing. An interview on a video loop, also available on the project's Web site, provides interesting background about her and her work.

While the opportunity to watch a scribe at work is the centerpiece, the exhibit places Ms. Seltzer's work within a wider context to help visitors understand the role of the Torah in Jewish life and history. Featured items include technical information about scribal arts, a timeline of Torah history, a Holocaust Torah, art pieces inspired by current Torah portions, and a Torah ark from India.

This is a beautifully conceived and curated exhibit and well-worth the trip.