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Ha-Soferet

This educated woman, living sometime between c. 1,000 and 928 B.C.E., may possibly be the earliest record of a female scribal tradition in Judaism.

HaSoferet, or Soferet, appears both in the Books of Ezra and Nechemiyah, as well as the apocryphal/deuterocanonical 1 Esdras. Her descendants are listed as some of those who returned to the Land of Israel from the Babylonian exile with Zerubbabel in the 10th century B.C.E.

According to Rashi, Ibn Ezra and the like, her occupation, and hence her name, was that of a scribe. She was a faithful servant of King Solomon as his copyist and she was not Jewish. Neither were her descendants. They were part of the ger toshav community, Gentiles who lived among us in the Land and who never converted. All they had to do was keep the Seven Noachide Laws (see RAMBAM, Melachim 6:1).

Ezra 2:55 states:
בְּנֵי עַבְדֵי שְׁלֹמֹה: בְּנֵי-סֹטַי בְּנֵי-הַסֹּפֶרֶת, בְּנֵי פְרוּדָא.
B’nei av’dey Sh’lomoh b’nei-Sotai b’nei-HaSoferet b’nei-Peruda:
“The descendants of Solomon’s slaves: The children of Sotai, the children of Ha-Soferet, the children of Peruda.”

Nechemyah 7:57 records:
בְּנֵי עַבְדֵי שְׁלֹמֹה: בְּנֵי סוֹטַי בְּנֵי-סֹפֶרֶת, בְּנֵי פְרִידָא.
B’nei av’dey Sh’lomoh b’nei-Sotai b’nei-Soferet b’nei-Perida.
“The descendants of Solomon’s slaves: the children of Sotai, the children of Soferet, the children of Perida.”

Savina Teubal, z”l, writes at great length in Sarah the Priestess: the First Matriarch of the Book of Genesis that female scribes were relatively common in that part of the world…

“The Scribe” (feminine) or “scribe” (feminine), from Hebrew spr, “to count, relate, account”, related to seper, “document, book” (Ezra 2:55; Nechemiyah 7:57).

Meaning literally “the female scribe” or “female scribe” (respectively), Hassophereth or Sophereth is the head of a family or guild whose descendants returned to Jerusalem from Babylonia during the Persian period (c. 538-400 B.C.E.), after the Babylonian exile. There is no reason to suppose that the reference is to a male guild; indeed, a relevant grammatical, and perhaps vocational, parallel is the female herald (mebasseret) in Isaiah 40:9. Thus we can presume a guild whose ancestor was a female scribe, especially since the presence of female scribes in Babylonia (whence this group came) is well attested. Scribes were skilled professionals whose duties may have included record keeping and related administrative tasks.

by Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, pages 91-92 of Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament by Carol Meyers, general editor and Toni Craven and Ross S. Kraemer associate editors

For further reading from Dr Tamara Cohn Eskenazi, see Out of the Shadows: Biblical Women in the Postexilic Era

Sources:

“Who’s Who in Tanakh: The complete biographical dictionary from Aaron to Zurishaddai” by David Mandel

“Ferdman’s Dictionary of the Bible” by David Noel Freedman, Editor-in Chief, Allen C. Myers, Associate Editor, and Astrid B. Beck, Managing Editor

“Women in Scripture: A Dictionary of Named and Unnamed Women in the Hebrew Bible, the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, and the New Testament” by Carol Meyers, general editor and Toni Craven and Ross S. Kraemer associate editors

מקראות גדולות

Hebrew courtesy Mechon-Mamre

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