UNSCROLLED by Roger  Bennett


54 Writers and Artists Wrestle with the Torah
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Some young writers and artists offer, to varying effect, their original takes on traditional study of the Hebrew Bible.

The Torah, the Jewish Holy Scripture, is composed of The Five Books of Moses. It is divided into 54 segments from Genesis through Deuteronomy; for millennia, it has been read in sequence and studied assiduously each week of the Jewish calendar. That continuing scholarship is fundamental to the religion in all its forms. Bennett, the co-founder of the Jewish organization Reboot, enlists 54 writers, most with day jobs in the media/showbiz world, for comment on each particular portion. "Consider this...as a book of unorthodox Divrei Torah," he writes, "offered up in the spirit of the rabbinical assertion that there are infinite interpretations of the Torah and that everyone who stood at Mount Sinai saw a 'different face' of the text." Unfortunately, the exercise in casual exegesis doesn’t equal the sum of its parts. The amateur theologians, undeniably talented in other venues, demonstrate that biblical hermeneutics is a special calling, one not usually using sophomoric shtick, no matter how sincere. Each portion begins with a summary of the original narrative—most entertaining, perhaps, for newcomers to the Old Testament—followed by contributions of short stories, dramas, comedies, graphic novellas, poems, monologues, photos, memoirs, riffs, takes and bits. The humor often comes in the format of a script for a show unlikely to be seen anywhere. Certainly, there are a few short stories that might stand alone and some heartfelt kernels in all the chaff. But what may be aimed at a market for lightweight gift books contains scant insight and less teaching. Among others, some of the big-name contributors include Aimee Bender, Rebecca Dana, Joshua Foer, Adam Mansbach, Sloane Crosley, Sam Lipsyte, Ben Greenman, A.J. Jacobs and Dana Shapiro.

Sketchy Bible study with a self-indulgent, frisky class.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-0-7611-6919-2
Page count: 384pp
Publisher: Workman
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2013


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