The Comic Torah is 54 two-page spreads; 108 pages of Biblical word balloons. It touches all the high points of the Torah, from the creation of the world to (spoiler alert) the death of Moses, and plenty of low points, too. Who remembers finding fun in Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy? Comic Torah creators Aaron Freeman & Sharon Rosenzweig found the fun in those forgotten corners of the Pentateuch. They had no choice, having sworn to live a life focused on studying the weekly Torah portion, extracting its meaning, and tacking on a punchline.
So brace yourself for more sacrificial beasts than you can shake a stick at (if that's your idea of a good time — and if you're Jacob, it is), along with the grand characters you know and love from Genesis and the high-concept special effects of Exodus.
It all begins with the beginning.....
Waitaminute. Gods? How did representatives of leading pantheons find their way into The Comic Torah?
That's what we asked when we first read this.
And Aaron replied: It's in the text. The Hebrew original of "In the beginning..." is Bereshit bara elohim — and "elohim," while translated God, literally means gods. In the plural.
The Comic Torah is literally correct, if theologically problematic.
This wasn't the last time The Comic Torah sent us back to the original, only to discover that, by golly, the Torah was as Aaron and Sharon had drawn it — not as we remembered it.
The Comic Torah is really a romance: The story of YHWH (the vowel-free four letter name of God letters mistranslated as "Jehovah") and the humans she comes to love. We meet the first in the third portion, Lech Lecha:
Foreskin? Did someone say foreskin? The Comic Torah is definitely not kid stuff — as we are repeatedly reminded by our seven year old, who loves it very much, but would be happier without the occasional nudity. And who asks us awkward questions like "What does rape mean?" as she pores over the book.
So you've been warned.
Some episodes of The Comic Torah reference traditional Jewish Biblical interpretations in ways that are not always obvious to outsiders. For example, the ancient Rabbis taught that Isaac married Rebecca when she was three years old. (I was once at a Jewish teen weekend, where the preachy rabbi brought up Rebecca as a role model: If she could be so kind to camels when she was only three years old, what the !@#$%& was our excuse for our sorry teenage existence!? I wasn't convinced then and it seems ridiculous in hindsight, but it happened. Some people take the ancient Rabbis very seriously.)
Other times, The Comic Torah's instinct for the text's inner meaning is uncanny. The same ancient sages who saw Rebecca as being three years old decided that Isaac was offered by his father when he was 37. Which sort of makes you wonder about the boy. At least, it makes The Comic Torah wonder, as you see in the panels above.
And then, a year or so after The Comic Torah opened our eyes to this aspect of Isaac, we received a manuscript from Rabbi Dr. Ora Horn Prouser, dean of the Academy for Jewish Religion, a rabbinical school. Her book looks at biblical characters through the lens of learning disabilities in an attempt to promote inclusion in the greater community. Her chapter on Isaac suggests that he may be an example of a person with developmental delays who still lives a fully engaged and rewarding life.
So stay tuned for her book, Esau's Blessing, forthcoming from Ben Yehuda Press. But if you want the idea illustrated in full glorious color, order The Comic Torah today.
Another point worth belaboring in these panels are the identities of the angels. Yes, that's Sharon and Aaron. (In real life, books serve them as only metaphorical wings).
Recognize Moses? Yes, the love story between God and Moses — carried out through four-fifths of the Torah — is at the heart of The Comic Torah. And in The Comic Torah, the roles of God and Moses are played by Sharon and Aaron.
The dirty secret of the Jewish reading of the Torah is that the Jews read through the whole Torah every year. In a traditional synagogue, every Saturday morning service features about 45 minutes of chanting from the Torah scroll. The portion is the same in all synagogues around the world; there's a calendar. This year, Genesis begins on October 17, and then, working their way through, the last chapters of Deuteronomy are read in 2010 on October 1. And then Genesis begins again, and so on....
To make this cycle possible, the Torah is divided into 54 portions. (That's enough to cover the longest Hebrew year, which, due to the vagaries of the Jewish lunar/solar calendar, contains 13 months.) The Comic Torah has one spread for each of these 54 portions.
So where most of the Torah will never find its way into a church lectionary, The Comic Torah has ten portions of Leviticus. Here's the first:
Numbers at least offers the occasional plot line
And here's a sample from Deuteronomy, where all the captions come directly from the sacred text:
That wraps up our quickee tour of The Comic Torah. You can check them all out from the Archives page.
If you like what you've seen, why settle for reading it online when you can have a book to keep, have and hold — and even read on Shabbos (if you're one of those who stays offline on the Sabbath).
Available in hardcover and paperback!