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Monday, February 9, 2009

Genesis - The Book with Seventy Faces

The Jewish Book Council has awarded the National Jewish Book Award for Jewish Family Literature to Genesis – the Book with Seventy Faces (Pitspopany, March 2008) by Esther Takac. Esther is a psychologist and children's author. She is the author of Loni and the Moon, a children's book placed on the Victorian Premier's Reading List. She has studied Jewish texts for many years and presents workshops on Genesis. Genesis – the Book with Seventy Faces, is a remarkable book that appeals to parents, teachers, and students. I am happy to welcome Esther to my blog.

Tell me about you book, Genesis – the Book with Seventy Faces.

Genesis – the Book with Seventy Faces, is a storybook and guide to Genesis for the whole family. It is written in multiple layers and so invites kids and parents to read together and explore the richness and contemporary relevance of these stories and the commentaries written about them. Each page includes a retelling of the biblical story (with the corresponding chapter and verse references given) and layers of commentary drawn from traditional and modern interpretations, Midrash, Kabbalah and legend. Readers are encouraged to discuss the moral and philosophical issues raised, and so the book offers a way for families to connect around the Genesis text, showing how these stories reflect our own struggles and dilemmas. There is more source material and historical background provided for teenagers and adults in margin boxes, and each page has beautiful illustrations (I am very lucky to have worked with a talented illustrator and designer.) The book offers readers an insight into the rich and multi-layered approach of Judaism to texts, whilst allowing them to distinguish between Torah on the one hand and commentary on the other. References to all commentaries are given in the endnotes.

What was your inspiration for the book?

My inspiration for this book came from my own children. I wanted them to be exposed to the depth, poetry and contemporary relevance I had discovered in the Genesis stories and commentaries. Through this book I wanted to give my children and children everywhere a taste of the richness of the Jewish tradition. So they would understand that the Torah really does have seventy faces – it is like a pass-the-parcel game: each time you unwrap a layer of paper, there is another layer with more secrets and meanings ready to be unwrapped. I wanted these stories, with their sense of mystery and wonder, their telling of things sacred, to seep into the minds and imaginations of our children, a rich resource to draw upon as they grow up.

Was research involved?

An enormous amount of research was involved! When I started the project I had no idea how much work I was getting myself into! To write the book I studied the Genesis Torah text, and then I read the widest range of commentaries on the text I could find – traditional Rabbinic commentary, Midrash, Jewish legend, Kabbalah, contemporary commentary from a range of approaches (literary, psychological, legal, feminist). My study at home was filled with volumes of books as I studied the different approaches to the stories and drew out the themes and issues to be focused on.

What was the most interesting part of the process of writing the book?

The process of writing the book was a fascinating one. It was my pleasure and privilege to spend many hours reading the works of our traditional and contemporary scholars, many of whose insights on Genesis, and life in general, I found to be full of wisdom, moving and inspiring. It was also very interesting to think about ways of conveying these different approaches, the concept of multiple meanings or seventy faces, to the reader, in ways that invite the reader to actively engage and struggle with the issues raised.

Are you planning to write more books about Torah?

I love having a creative project to work on. I have a number of possible ideas bubbling, one of which involves a Torah text, but I don’t know yet where the bubbles will go…

Esther, congratulations on the success of Genesis – the Book with Seventy Faces. Thanks for visiting with me!

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