But I do want to stop for a minute and ask readers to consider buying my book, The Family Torah, a project I’ve poured my heart into for the last few months (wrapping up a few years’ work of originally writing these as free parsha summaries each week).
Based on talking to people endlessly about the book at the Torah Home Education Conference yesterday, here are a few quick answers to the most basic questions:
- What’s the main idea of the book?
The Family Torah tells the story of the Torah in plain English in a way that can be easily read aloud.
- How did you choose what to include?
I included everything!
Well, not quite. Going through the Torah parsha by parsha, I tried to include every major component of the narrative, while at the same time cutting things down for brevity where the Torah text is repetitious, or for kid-friendliness when the content is of an adult nature. The Family Torah’s narrative is based mainly in “pshat” – the plain text of the Torah – with a sprinkling of midrash (the traditional stories behind the stories). More on that in a minute. I also tried to include “mashalim,” little metaphors kids in particular could relate to, to help make the ideas behind the parsha more real to them. These also add an element of humour that I hope will make reading it together more fun. Oh, and then I threw in art, because my husband, Teddy (Akiva) MacLeod, is a super-talented artist and created a wonderful parsha cartoon last year from which most of the illustrations were taken.
- What language is the book in?
It’s written in clear, plain English.
I have a degree in philosophy (heavy on essays and other writing!) and a background in freelance writing and editing in English. However, some Hebrew words appear in transliterated form where they are helpful to know and / or untranslatable. For instance, I use words like “Mishkan,” “korban” and “kohen” instead of the English “tabernacle,” “sacrifice” and “priest,” partly because these have such different meanings in English. In some cases, to aid in pronunciation, I include bracketed Hebrew text, but it’s not meant to be read aloud. I also included a glossary of all Hebrew words at the back of The Family Torah.
- How is this book different from The Little Midrash Says, My First Parsha Reader, Morah, Morah, etc?
I own lots of those books and love them! But yes, The Family Torah is different.
Midrash, in particular, adds a valuable dimension to the text of the Torah. However, while many books draw mainly on midrashic traditions, I wanted this book to be very clearly grounded in the “pshat” of the parsha. I do introduce midrashim where they can clarify the text of the Torah, and every time I do that, I use a phrase like “some people think” or “some people say” to clearly differentiate what is pshat and what is midrash. Also, most kids’ books pick and choose which incidents or narratives from the Torah to include. For the most part, there is nothing major left out in The Family Torah. I believe there is something relevant to every kid in every single parsha of the entire year.
- What age is it appropriate for?
My younger kids are 5 and 8; I wrote it mostly for them.
It would probably work to read aloud to kids anywhere between 4 and 10. For younger kids, you can split up the reading into 2-3 sessions a week so they don’t get restless. A parent can read the parsha from The Family Torah and find two or three meaningful elements to share quickly with a younger child. Of course, older kids may be able to just take it and read it themselves, but I really hope this book will be part of an oral storytelling experience; perhaps there are younger children they can read it to as well.
Think about it: Torah itself is meant to be read aloud in shul, and mothers have been telling their kids the story of the Torah for millennia. I hope this book will help modern families to carry on this tradition. So much of what our kids learn is based on solo activities (independent reading or worksheets) and so little these days is centred around home and family.
Ultimately, I hoped to create a cuddle-up-and-read kind of book that will give kids the happiest memories possible of learning Torah in a warm, happy environment. I really hope I’ve succeeded.