Today is Shavuot, the day God, according to Jewish tradition, gave the Torah to his people assembled at Mount Sinai. Now this was a long time ago and according to common wisdom, Judaism has not changed much… Well, think again. There is a rather active modern Jewish community on the ætherweb and in the world outside the ætherweb which has taken Judaism into the 21st century.
One of their most recognisable websites is PunkThora and it is on PunkTorah where you can find the Torah mixed with Steampunk:
(click the headline)
I strongly recommend you go and read it. It is quite different from everything Steampunk related I have read so far but the anthropologist in me rejoices.
I contacted PunkTorah about an interview regarding their ongoing Steampunk project to which they graciously agreed. So today, I am happy to share this interview with you, my readers.
I had the pleasure of interviewing both Patrick Aleph, the executive director of PunkTorah and Rivkah Wood, a.k.a. Raven, mind behind Steampunk Torah.
So, let’s get on with the interview.
Traveler: Patrick, please give us a quick introduction to PunkTorah.
PunkTorah is a 501(c)(3) non-profit dedicated to independent Jewish spirituality and culture. Our projects include the PunkTorah blog, NewKosher.org, our Jewish food and party website, and OneShul, the world’s first online independent synagogue. Our newest project is The G-d Project, a social media site and online evolving documentary highlighting the diversity of Jewish spiritual community.
PunkTorah supports indie projects that connect Jewish spirituality, contemporary culture and community together. We love Raven’s Steampunk work. As a personal fan of the Steampunk genre, I am thrilled to see someone take the spirit of that fantasy era and connect it to Torah Judaism.
We are always looking for new writers and have started a small publishing and record label outfit to support indie Jewish artists doing creative work. We’d welcome your readers whose work is aligned with our vision of a better Jewish world to submit their projects for potential release.
Traveler: Have you received any negative comments regarding the steampunkification of the Torah?
Patrick Aleph: No, we have received only positive comments.
Traveler: Rivkah, do you imagine a specific time period for your steampunk Torah stories? Are they set in a steampunked version of the iron age or rather neo-victorian?
Rivkah Wood (Raven):
It’s neo-Victorian, although modern technology doesn’t exist in this world; it’s more fantasy-steampunk than science fiction-steampunk … there will be mystical elements, so it’s of the magic school rather than heavily science-based.
Traveler: Could you tell us about your approach concerning tese passages of the Torah. In other words, what exactly is „Midrash?“
Rivkah Wood :
Midrash is basically creative exploration/interpretation of the „white spaces“ in Torah. (which is also what Christians call Old Testament.) It is a way of illuminating the text by imagining and expressing things that might have been.
My Midrashim are rather different, in that I’m taking a d’var Torah first (an interpretation of Torah on another level; in my case I am taking readings of Torah on the mystic level, which takes nothing literally) and I’m using that entire interpretation of the Torah portion in creating my fictional world. These midrashim are also different in that one character is journeying through the entire Torah…so they’re not just isolated stories, as is usual.
The heroine is basically going through a journey that, in her world, mirrors the journey one can take through the year with Torah.
Traveler: Why did you choose Steampunk or how did you come up with the idea of using a Steampunk theme?
How did I come up with Steampunk? I’ve been a devotee of it for quite some time. I grew up obsessed with Sherlock Holmes and Victorian London, so it was just a small step from there to Steampunk.
I decided that the „white spaces“ (the spaces between the words, basically) in Torah are timeless, because the study of Torah is a rabbinic tradition, meaning every generation has an obligation to interpret it according to the times in which they live, so it can apply to us all.
I wanted to contribute somehow to PunkTorah, as I really love the site and what they do (check it out! They have services that are inclusive of all) and Patrick said they had plenty of D’vrei Torah. So I said, what about a weekly midrashic exploration? Then I settled on Steampunk. Patrick was very kind and said „yes!“ very enthusiastically to everything. He has not said no to a single idea of mine or piece I have written; if you’ve ever worked in the writing world, that is so extremely rare as to be shocking! I appreciate it so much.
So, that’s how Steampunk Torah was born.
Traveler: Are you a scholar regarding Judaism or are you studying to become one?
I am planning to pursue a path to the Rabbiniate (in other words, become a Rabbi one day, manymany years from now) and it’s important to me to give the disenfranchised, or those who feel excluded, a voice…call it a personal crusade. The purpose of this project, really, is to engage Jewish teens in exploration of the journey that Torah embodies; to enable them to see that living a Jewish life is not only cool, it can be an exciting lifelong adventure. I would like to help Jewish teens break free of the mindset that their religion is where they are limited, hampered in their desire to find out who they are, or judged; I hope to open their eyes to the possibility that deepening in Jewish life and thought can actually set them free to fully become who they are.
Rivkah, Patrick, I thank you for your time and leave you with the Rivkah’s final remark:
If you have any more questions, feel free to ask! I plan to develop this project further; the weekly format is a new kind of challenge, as I cannot go back and edit, as one would when writing a novel- and the „chapters“ have to be written fairly fast. I have decided that at the end of the year, when the story has gone through the entire Torah cycle, I am going to rewrite, go back and add the things I have edited out, and basically deepen the text. So feedback of all sorts would be very helpful. You can help a lot by spreading the word!
So please, spread the word and if there is anything you would like to ask Rivkah, drop me a line, I pass it on!