Women Writing STAM: Part 2

Maseches Sofrim

The previous post in this series quoted two gemaros – one in maseches Gitin and one in maseches Menachos – which list women among those who are ineligible to write Sifrei Torah, tefilin, and mezuzos.

There is another version of this list in the Gemara, at the end of the first chapter in maseches Sofrim:1

ספר תורה שכתבו צדוקי או ומסור או גר או עבד או שוטה או קטן אל יקרא בו

A Sefer Torah written by a Sadducee, or an informant, or a ger [i.e. a ger toshav – a non-Jewish resident alien], or a slave, or a mentally deficient person, or a minor should not be used for [public Torah] reading.

Here we have a list of people ineligible to write Sifrei Torah, and it does not mention women.


Advocates of women writing STAM build a case to support their position, based on this beraisa: Even though the beraisa taught by Rav Hamnuna in Gitin (or Rav Chinina in Menachos) excludes women from writing all STAM, the drasha used as proof only mentions tefilin and mezuzos – not Sifrei Torah. On the other hand, this beraisa in Sofrim is only talking about Sifrei Torah, and it does not list women among the people who are ineligible to write. Maybe there is ambiguity in the Gemara, which can leave room to allow women to write Sifrei Torah.

This is a weak argument, for a wide variety of reasons. The first problem is that there are several versions of the text in maseches Sofrim. In some of the manuscript editions, women are listed among those who are ineligible. Even in the version printed in our Gemara, the Vilna Gaon’s marginal notes edit the list to add in women. So the absence of women from our printed edition of maseches Sofrim is not necessarily significant.

Additionally, it may be noteworthy that the proof-text of Rav Hamnuna’s beraisa – וקשרתם וכתבתם – doesn’t mention Sifrei Torah, but the classic commentaries were aware of the issue and presented possible resolutions:

  • The Ran says that it is a kal vechomer:2 Since a Sefer Torah has more kedusha than tefilin and mezuzos, it can also only be written by people who are included in the mitzva of tying tefilin.

  • The Rosh says that it’s a gezera shava 3 between our pasuk – וכתבתם על מזוזת ביתך ובשעריך – and כתב זאת זכרון בספר (at the end of parshas Bishalach): Both pesukim talk about “writing” – one is about mezuzos and the other is about the Torah.

  • The Ritva says there’s a hekesh (juxtaposition) at the end of parshas Bo – והיה לך לאות על ידך ולזכרון בין עיניך למען תהיה תורת ה׳ בפיך: One pasuk references both tefilin and the Torah.

Each approach has its own strengths and weaknesses, but none of the mefarshim see this issue as a problem that would somehow exclude Sifrei Torah from the ruling of the beraisa as taught by Rav Hamnuna.

Finally, even if we accept the premise that there may be a disagreement between Tana’im, whenever we are unsure how to resolve a conflict in the Gemara, we look to the Rishonim to see how they ruled.

There are some Rishonim who discuss our beraisa in Maseches Sofrim, but only in reference to other aspects of the beraisa. None of the Rishonim address the absence of women from the list of those forbidden to write Sifrei Torah. This strongly suggests that either the Rishonim had a different version of maseches Sofrim (which did include women in the list), or they did not consider this beraisa in maseches Sofrim to be authoritative.

In contrast, the full text of Rav Hamnuna’s beraisa – which clearly prohibits women from writing all STAM – is cited as the definitive halacha in the commentaries of the Ba’al Halachos Gedolos, the Or Zaru’ah, the Rif, the Ran, the Rosh, the Mordechai, and the Me’iri. The Rambam codifies it in the Mishna Torah:4

ספר תורה תפלין ומזוזות שכתבן אפיקורוס ישרפו. כתבן כותי או ישראל מומר או מוסר ביד אנס או עבד או אשה או קטן הרי אלו פסולין ויגנזו, שנאמר: וקשרתם וכתבתם – כל שמזהר על הקשירה ומאמין בה הוא שכותב

A Sefer Torah, [or] tefilin, [or] mezuzos written by a heretic must be burned. If written by a Samaritan, a Jew who converts to another faith, an informant to tyrants, a slave, a woman, or a minor; they are invalid and must be buried; because it says [in the Torah], “וקשרתם, וכתבתם” – [which implies that] only a person who is obligated [by the Torah] to put on tefilin – and believes in [that obligation] – is eligible to write [STAM].5

This halacha in the Rambam is echoed in the codes of the Shulchan Aruch, the Aruch Hashulchan, the Shulchan Aruch Harav, the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch, the Levush, the Mishna Berura, the Chayei Adam, and the Kaf Hachaim.

The above would seem to be a unanimous declaration by all of the Rishonim and Achronim that we can safely ignore the beraisa in Maseches Sofrim; that the halacha follows the beraisa taught by Rav Hamnuna (aka Rav Chinina); and that women can’t write Sifrei Torah, or tefilin, or mezuzos. This should be the end of the discussion, but there is one major halachic code which has not been mentioned yet, and that is the Tur – which will be the topic of the next post.

-= 8 =-

  1. Maseches Sofrim is one of the masechtos ketanos (minor tractates), which are 14 masechtos that were not canonized as part of Shisha Sidrei Mishna. Some of the other small masechtos are Semachos (dealing with mourning), Gerim (converts & resident aliens), and Avadim (indentured servants). The masechtos ketanos are printed at the end of Seder Nezikin in the standard 20 volume Shas. ↩

  2. A fortiori. ↩

  3. A drasha connecting two instances of the same root word. ↩

  4. Laws of tefilin, mezuza, and Sefer Torah 1:13. ↩

  5. Note that the Rambam is combining the beraisa of Rav Hamnuna (listing the people who may not write STAM) with the previous statement in the Gemara from Rav Nachman (telling us what to do with an invalid Sefer Torah). ↩