Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Torah in Rhyme

היום שמונה ועשרים יום שהם ארבעה שבועות בעמר
Today is twenty-eight days, which is four weeks of the omer
מלכות שבנצח
A day of nobility in a week of perseverance

I have long felt that the Torah is one long epic poem. As someone who chants from the scrolls regularly, I am sensitive to the lyrical nature of the writings. So when I read somewhere--possibly from Rabbi Rachel Barenblat's blog, The Velveteen Rabbi, although I can't find the reference right now--that someone had translated the entire Torah into rhyme, I was intrigued, and ordered the book. It came today, and I am glad I followed my instinct.

This is not a book geared for children, although I can already see that there are times it is a bit Dr. Seuss-like. It's all there--the good, the bad, the ugly. Seth Brown has left nothing out. He explains in his introduction:
"So, there's this sacred text. This very large, very old, very sacred text. And I had the dual goals of making it as appealing as possible (for maximum enjoyment) while changing it as little as possible (for maximum sacredness). 
Now, either one of these things alone seems simple enough. To change it as little as possible, you just leave it as is, and read one of the fine standard translations already on the market. . . Or to make it as appealing as possible, you might cut out all the genealogies and legal codes, keep only the most action-packed stories, and make a movie out of it. 
To do both, thought, is a little trickier. If the Torah were a friend of mine (and at this point, we've spent enough time together that it's not too much of a stretch), I'd say, 'Hey Torah, put your best foot forward, but be yourself.' Because when you have a sacred text, it's not really kosher to go cutting out large parts of it just because you don't enjoy ark-building instructions as much as giant floods."

One thing I already like about the book is the summary, in verse as well, that he has for each chapter. I think this will be great to show my b'nei mitzvah students as they prepare to study their parshiot. While I don't expect them to write in rhyme, I think it's a good example of one way to give the context of the text in your own voice.

I won't give my opinion of Brown's treatment of the text and his translation until I have spent more time with the book. Looks like this may be my Shabbat companion for a while :)

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