Ancient scroll sheds light on role of religious feminists in Jewish history

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Most researchers may think that feminism among religious Jewish women was not invented until the 20th century, but an ancient scroll by Esther reveals that the roots of the phenomenon can be traced back at least a few centuries earlier.

The 18th-century decorative scroll of parchment was inked in 1767 by 14-year-old Luna Ambron, the daughter of a wealthy Jewish family in Rome, and contains the story of the holiday of Purim in Hebrew, commemorating the rescue of the Jewish people from annihilation in the Achaemenid Persian Empire.

The rare document sheds light on the place of women in the life of Jewish religious communities in Italy at the time.

The scroll, which is now being auctioned off by the Kedem auction house in Jerusalem, is written in Sephardic-Italian script on two parchment membranes comprising 21 columns with 19 rows per column. The first membrane is adorned with a decorative straight edge with the first column preceded by a large colorful floral illustration and the initial word “Vayehi” is written in large ornamental letters. The scroll is mounted on a wooden scroll with a tiered finial.

The auctioneers say the rare scroll belongs to a handful of known manuscripts written by women from this period and is one of two Esther scrolls from this period known to have survived until today, the second also being from Italy.

Since the time of the Talmud – the main source of Jewish religious law – ritual articles made by women were not considered kosher and therefore banned from use, including those inside tefillin, mezuzah and the Torah itself.

However, some scholars have found it appropriate for women to write the Parchment of Esther since they have been instructed to read it just like the men.

The author’s name was inscribed on the document in a colophon under the liturgical text: “With the help of Gd, the writing of these blessings with the scroll was completed on 10 Adar I 1767…[by] the modest and pleasant daughter, Luna, daughter of the honorable and wealthy Yehuda Ambron, in the 14th year of her life… May we deserve to see miracles and wonders quickly in our time… ”

Kedem founder and director Meron Eren says documents as old as the Scroll of Esther take their beauty from their ability to teach us Jewish history as well as Jewish law.

“Even though it was written over 250 years ago, the message of the scroll is still relevant today,” Eren said.


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