“Torah Told Different: Stories for a Pan/Poly/Post-Denominational World” by Andrew Ramer— Opening the Torah

Ramer, Andrew. “Torah Told Different: Stories for a Pan/Poly/Post-Denominational World”, Resource Publications, 2016.

Opening the Torah

Amos Lassen

Andrew Ramer brings us a different Torah than the one we read weekly in temples and synagogues all over the world. This is a Torah of midrash— interpretive stories that have come about after the writing and codification of the Five Books of Moses. We might say that his midrash is a reinvention of Jewish history as well as a reinvention of Ramer’s own family, of the Talmud, and of the Hebrew Bible and ultimately challenges us to ask to answer what it means to be a Jew today. Here we are presented with an alternative reality that allows us to seriously explore Jewish tradition.

We find here that Ramer’s world is one in which a third Temple stood in Jerusalem, and where, in the year 404 CE, Rabbi Judith the Wise canonized a fourth and final section of the Jewish Bible. Using quotations from the Damascus Talmud, the Wisdom of Ben Sirach and the Visions of Rachel the Dreamer (and his grandmother, Rosanna), Ramer brings together the wisdom the Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim are joined by Zichronot – Remembrances. The stories of our fathers are joined by stories of mothers, daughters, angels and even aliens from the planet Quingi.

It is always fun to hear a new story but the real purpose here is to allow us to hear the stories of those who have been omitted from history. In this way we can “imagine the richness of wisdom that our tradition”. Each of Ramer’s tales of “Torah Told Different” give us the opportunity to stop and think about not only the history of the Jewish people but also about what can happen to it in the future.

We are taught (through tradition) that there are two Torahs: the stories we read from the scroll itself, and those we do not yet know how to read and that is written in the white spaces between in the scroll. If we add Ramer’s pseudepigrahic writings from a 3rd Talmud and a 4th section of the Torah called Zichronot (Remembrances), we will then have three. Pseudepigrapha is in fact a rather traditional way of presenting new ideas within a tradition but I am sure there are those who will not look at Ramer’s writings and additions favorably.

In effect, Ramer has created an entire alternate history (complete with a Third Temple and the ordination of women rabbis in the 3rd Century). What he gives to us seems to be so real and such a part of tradition that it is easy to assume that is all there and that there really is a book called Remembrances and a Damascus Talmud.

One of our traditional beliefs is that the souls of all Jews, past, present and future, were at Mt. Sinai when Moses received the Torah. Further this means that each Jew received his or her own personal revelation of Torah. I have always loved this because it legitimizes what I have to say about the Torah and gives each of us the right to write our own Torah. It is from here that Ramer takes his cue to begin this new interpretation. Likewise, each of us becomes, therefore, part of the Torah are allowed to write our own Torah.

Ramer gives us a Judaism with diversity of genders and sexualities and we can finally sing and dance with God instead of struggling. We see and understand that there is a new and different way to understand the relationship between God and human. Yes this is radical but it is based on our tradition and lore. In this “new” Torah, we have new truths that aid us in living in a new world. By combining personal memoir, introspection, text study and invention, we get something brand new that is exciting to read and even more exciting to execute. Ramer is not a new storyteller— he has been telling stories in his books for many years now and he has enhanced lives and aggravated others who write him off. Here he adds a different kind of midrash that is based upon Biblical texts that come out of his own imagination. By reinventing Jewish history, he gives himself the opportunity to tell new stories. With his concept of a “usable Past”, he creates a counter-history. He does not eschew the profundity of the past, he simply adds to it. He says that in imagining what might have happened in the past gives us the opportunity to look at a parallel reality. Ramer created Judith the Wise because he feels that there are women’s voices that need to be heard. In studying Torah, I continually face the question of what is truth and what is history. Now with Ramer’s stories and explanations, I no longer have to do so.