Andrew Ramer: Judaism Unbound Episode 173 - Fragments of The Brooklyn Talmud

Andrew Ramer, an ordained Maggid (storyteller) and author of Fragments of the Brooklyn Talmud, among other works, joins Dan and Lex for a conversation about ecological crisis, the blurry line between future and past, and Judaism in the 22nd and 23rd century. So nothing major, really. [1]

(0:01 - 16:24): To begin the episode, Ramer gives an overview of the world of Fragments of the Brooklyn Talmud. In particular, he talks through the dystopian future that manifests in the book, [2] resulting from worldwide ecological crisis, along with some of the ways that Jewish ritual and practice shifts to meet that new reality. [3] Lex asks him about the role that the element of surprise plays in his stories, and he answers by reflecting on the ways in which he seeks to disrupt Ashkenormativy (Ashkenazi normativity) in his work. He reflects on ways in which, had history unfolded differently, the predominant forms of Judaism in our lives could look incredibly different.

(16:25 - 31:45): Ramer reflects on the ways in which he blurs the past, present, and future in his books. He looks at the Zohar as an example of a text that, like his own, blurs disparate eras of Jewish time, from entirely different millennia, into one document. [4] He considers how this may compare to the ways in which fiction — even when we know, consciously, that it is fiction — can affect us in ways that feel very “real.” Shifting gears slightly, he argues that simultaneously maintaining ancient rituals and — just as importantly — allowing their meaning to drastically change, is an important path forward for the Jewish future. To prove his point, he remembers an experience from his childhood, where he and his mother went around their house hammering nails into the wall, not with a hammer, but with the heel from her shoe.

(31:46 - 43:59): This episode is the last in a seven-week series leading up to the holiday of Shavuot. [5] Ramer talks about his love for this holiday, and his idea of making it seven days long instead of just two. He then looks at the word “queer,” and the ways in which his identity as a gay man influences his writing. To close the episode, he turns to the story of the Exodus narrative. He names that it may be entirely made-up — a story! [6] He also names directly what had been implicit: that while the dystopian future at the core of Fragments of the Brooklyn Talmud is possible, he hopes that it (the ecological crisis and catastrophe that serves as its premise) will remain entirely fictional.

[1] Learn more about Andrew Ramer by visiting Purchase a copy of Fragments of the Brooklyn Talmud (either hard-copy or Kindle) by clicking here.

[2] Ramer cites Benay Lappe, a “frequent flyer” guest on Judaism Unbound. Listen into her appearances on our podcast at any or all of the following links: Episode 3: Exodus - Benay Lappe, Episode 36: What Jewish Looks Like Today - Benay Lappe, Episode 56: A Traditionally Radical Yeshiva - Benay Lappe

[3] In exploring a new kind of havdalah (a ritual for the end of Shabbat/beginning of a new week), Ramer mentions his experience at a retreat led by Jay Michaelson. Listen in to an episode of Judaism Unbound in which he was our featured guest by checking out Episode 38: Evolving Dharma - Jay Michaelson.

[4] For more on the Zohar, check out Episode 161: The Zohar - Daniel Matt.

[5] Experiment with your observance of Shavuot by checking out Shavuot Unbound and/or our Shavuot Zine, created by Rena Yehuda Newman, our 2019 Judaism Unbound/New Voices Magazine Fellow.

[6] For two deep-dives into questions of the Exodus and its historicity, see Episode 83: The Exodus - Richard Elliott Friedman and/or Holidays Unbound Episode 3: Did the Exodus Really Happen? - Steven Weitzman, Richard Elliott Friedman