Jen has always loved arts and crafts and being independent. In high school, she didn’t want to paint the subjects her art teacher assigned so she focused on math and science—topics she also enjoyed. Studying math taught Jen to use logic and think critically about problems, skills one also needs to study Torah.
In college, Jen studied mathematics and also began to learn Jewish law and traditional Jewish texts. She enjoyed calligraphy as a hobby because all she needed were pens and paper, which were easy to carry. One day, she met a man named Mordechai Pinchas, a scribe who writes Torahs and other Jewish texts. She realized that by becoming a soferet, a female scribe, she could combine all of her interests—math, Jewish law, and art—in the perfect job. Studying and writing Jewish texts is “more like engineering than like art,” Jen says.
In 2004, after three years of studying the laws and techniques of writing sacred texts, Jen wrote her first Megillat Esther, the scroll that many Jews read on Purim. When she was finished, and the scroll had been checked by another scribe, the head of her school declared that they would read from it at the Purim celebration.
Jen began writing her first Torah in 2006 for the United Hebrew Congregation of St. Louis, Missouri. She finished in 2007. Now she is working on her third Torah. At the same time, Jen continues to write other texts, including mezuzot or megillot. She also sells handmade crafts and tools for scribing and teaches other women how to become scribes.
As a woman, Jen did not have the same opportunities as men to learn to be a scribe. “Generally people learn by apprenticeship,” says Jen, “but it is hard to find a competent sofer who will take a woman as his apprentice.” Instead, Jen had to teach herself the skills she needed and the laws she had to follow. When Jen finished her Torah in 2007, she became the first known woman to ever write a Torah by herself.
Jen continues to be a trailblazer for female scribes by giving lessons, writing books, and inspiring others who want to write sacred texts.
Many people ask Jen if she was trying to make a statement or prove a political point by becoming a soferet. Jen’s answer is no. “What I want to do," she says, "Is make a decent living in a job I'm happy doing which uses the skills God gave me to the fullest extent possible.”
She gives a similar reason for creating “Tefillin Barbie.” Jen noticed that in 2006, the Halloween Hip Barbie had a long denim skirt just like the skirts her Orthodox Jewish friends wear. One afternoon, on a whim, she decided to use the doll to make “Tefillin Barbie” to represent herself and her friends. If Barbie can be anything, can’t she be an observant Jew, too?