How long does it take to write a Megillah?
A Megillah takes me between 55 and 60 hours. So, if I work full-time on nothing but a Megillah, I can finish in a week. Normally I am doing more than one job at once, so it generally takes longer.
How long does it take to write a Torah?
A Torah takes about a year to produce.
Can you get a Torah for under $20,000?
Yes, you can, but not from me. This is why: the writing fee has to cover living expenses for the time it takes to write the sefer. If a scribe is going to write a Torah for a very low fee, they have to do it very fast, so as not to starve. I prefer not to approach a Torah at that speed; it generally results in writing of lesser quality. Alternatively, you can probably buy a very nice second-hand Torah in that price range. A nice second-hand Torah is likely to be nicer than a cheap new Torah.
How did you learn?
I studied various halachic books which taught me about the rules for forming the letters. Some of these books have pictures demonstrating how to form the letters, as well as exhaustive instruction, and thus I learned to make the letters. The rest is mostly practice. I also learned with a sofer in Jerusalem and a sofer in New York State, who taught me practical techniques, as well as picking up various pieces of information here and there.
That’s not how people normally learn, is it?
No; generally people learn by apprenticeship. But in those days it was hard to find a competent sofer who would take a woman as his apprentice.
How long did it take you to learn?
I started to study the script and halakhot in 2001. I wrote my first Megillah for Purim 2004. It could probably have been quicker, but it had to fit around my degree and my office job.
Can you teach me to be a sofer?
There are two aspects to creating kitvei kodesh (holy books): calligraphy and halakha. Calligraphy is 5% things you can be taught and 95% practice. I can show you how to handle a quill, but probably so too can many other people in more convenient locations. There are also web sites and books from which you can learn calligraphy. The halakha is mostly a matter of sitting down and applying yourself to learning it; minimally you need to learn the Mishnah Berurah, hilkhot tefillin 32 and 36, and Mishnat Soferim, which is available in English; and the Keset ha-Sofer, which is
not available in English now available in English, courtesy of me :). I can help you with the halakha part. I teach by Skype and in person.
I don’t really care about the halakhic part, can you teach me to be a sofer anyway?
No. Sofrut without halakha is just calligraphy. I can teach you calligraphy.
How do I know that what you write is kosher?
You have to trust me. This is the way with any sofer. There are many invisible ways to make a piece of writing non-kosher, and the buyer has to trust that the sofer has been honest enough to write it in a correct, kosher way. For this reason, the tradition requires that a sofer be scrupulous in their observance.
Did you go to art school?
No. My undergraduate degree is in mathematics, my graduate study is in Talmud. I took a pottery course for GCSE; that doesn’t really count so much.
Where are you from?
My ancestral seat is in Southampton, UK (about an hour’s drive south of London).