Rabbi Chaim Tzvi Tanny’s very first book, Three Thirty A.M., (Xlibris), is full of whimsy and rhyme, its limericks on life and thoughts on Judaism abounding, its comical drawings floating Chagall-like on its 206 pages.
The title, Rabbi Tanny explained in a recent interview, derives from those wee hours in the morning when he lay sleepless but full of thought in his Cote des Neiges/Snowdon area home.
He and his wife of 32 years, Pesha Leah, have 11 children.
“It’s about insomnia,” Rabbi Tanny explained. “It was a very intense insomnia that lasted for about a year, but it allowed me to do this.”
Rabbi Tanny, by any measure, leaves the definite impression of being a unique character. He is 58, relatively tall, and slim, with a scraggly unkempt beard that betrays the look of someone who might have indeed had trouble falling asleep and, when he finally did, kept his clothes on.
Growing up in a Conservative Jewish home in TMR with two brothers (one now deceased, the other a lawyer), Rabbi Tanny was exposed to a Polish father and “very literate” British mother who inculcated rigorous rules about English usage and grammar in the home, an influence that marked Rabbi Tanny’s respect and admiration for literature, poetry and language.
(Rabbi Tanny’s son, Binyamin, is a cantor in Australia and also the author of a book, Freiing Out).
But while Rabbi Tanny’s sensibility was by nature somewhat bohemian, he came more and more under the influence of Jewish Orthodoxy as he studied Rashi, travelled to Israel, sampled kibbutz life as a hippyish young man, and found himself in a Chabad area – a moment he said, that proved to be “life-altering.”
Rabbi Tanny spent a year living in Kfar Chabad in Israel, and eventually earned an Orthodox smichah in Brooklyn, but ended up working for the last decades in his father Philip’s shmatte business, where he remains.
In some ways, Rabbi Tanny explained, his book is a tribute to his late mother, Faiga, who died a little more than a year ago.
At the very least, it becomes apparent upon reading Three Thirty A.M. that the book is a tribute to his mother’s love of language as well as an appreciation of the humorous foibles of life and almost kabbalistic wonders of Jewish existence.
On pages 148 through 151, for example, Rabbi Tanny, à la Edward Lear, waxes humorously “limerickal” about dentists, accompanied by clever and comical drawing by one of his illustrators, Rachel Franklin.
“Our Libyan dentist developed a skill,” starts one, “He thought he would have a new thrill/ He said, ‘Do what you’re told/ I’m digging for gold!’/ And switched on his pneumatic tooth drill.”
Further along in the book, Rabbi Tanny devotes a limerick to a controversy last year that involved the removal of a Christmas nativity scene and Chanukah menorah from the grounds of TMR City Hall.
His limerick concludes: “This marked the fall/ of TMR hall/ It’s what all free men had feared.”
Rabbi Tanny’s book intersperses his entertaining limericks with tongue-in-cheek illustrations and musings on Jewish religious life and philosophy, the Talmud, as well as numerology and other matters Jewish, such as the “fascinating” 1:400 ratio of Jews to gentiles in the world as being analogous with the sun being 400 times the size of the moon.
“The Jewish nation has been compared to the moon,” Rabbi Tanny writes, “which waxes and wanes during the month, so too our nation… has miraculously survived through the belief in one God, observing His eternal 613 commandments.”
Ultimately, says Rabbi Tanny, his inaugural book is intended “to inspire,” and as a loving gesture to his late mother.
“My mother was raised by a serious Polish-born father with some humour and a humorous British lady with some seriousness,” Rabbi Tanny writes in his preface. “She emulated the best of her parents and passed on these qualities to her sons, especially this one, as is evident in the prose.”
Rabbi Tanny’s book is available at local book stores, by calling 1-888-795-4274, ext. 7879, or through the following websites: xlibris.com, barnesandnoble.com, amazon.com.