As a kid growing up in Oakland, Ezra Barany had no doubts about his Judaism. He attended that city’s Temple Beth Abraham and Berkeley’s Congregation Beth Israel, and his parents instilled a deep sense of Jewish pride alongside an appreciation of the arts. His father, Ronald, a musician, published his own translations of the Psalms.
But it wasn’t until the age of 27, while Barany was living in Israel and immersed in learning Hebrew, that Jewish texts truly spoke to him. In Jerusalem, over the course of an Aish HaTorah Discovery Seminar designed to show scientific proof of God’s existence, Barany says a whole new reality opened up.
Sixteen years later, “The Torah Codes,” Barany’s thriller novel based on the idea that the Scriptures are indeed supernatural, is the result. First published in a Kindle edition in August 2011 (and now available in paperback), “Torah Codes” made the U.S. Amazon bestseller list for Jewish literature in December, and continiues to hover between numbers 20 and 40.
In the book, a reclusive computer programmer intercepts a message that connects his landlord to a secret society, and soon becomes embroiled in a mystery involving a dead detective, a tarot reader, and questions that lead him to Tel Aviv in search of the truth. The book also contains an appendix of essays by rabbis, physicists and other thinkers that discuss pertinent themes such as Bible codes and the Shekinah, or the female aspect of God.
One Amazon reviewer notes that it’s not so much a thriller as “a bit of well packaged theology … the force behind the book is a strain of Jewish mysticism that allows for coincidence and fate. In reading the book I learned something new about religious belief, got something to think about, and had a great time in the process.”
Writer-musician Barany says the book is ideal for those who have a hard time wrapping their logical minds around the idea that Jewish texts were written by an all-knowing being.
“I grew up feeling that the Bible and the Talmud and the Torah and Jewish law, they all provided wonderful guidelines, with interesting stories, where it was fine to kind of take what you liked and see what resonated with you, and pursue that,” says Barany, now 43. “But I have a very logical mind. I always believed that men wrote the Torah.”
In the Aish HaTorah class, Barany was faced with study after study that eventually convinced him otherwise, and he was especially entranced by the existence of “codes” within the Torah, a secret language of sorts for which the author could find no explanation other than God.
“These were truly scientific experiments, published in peer-reviewed journals, and they showed me that whoever wrote the Torah had to be someone who knew the past, present and future all at once. That it had to be God who wrote the Torah.”
“And that didn’t sit well with me!” adds Barany with a laugh. “So I wrote the book about it. The whole feeling of angst I got from the experience of trying to reconcile it — I wanted to share that with the world.”
Barany has also released a few CDs, and taught songwriting, high school physics and creative writing, among other subjects, at such schools as Hebrew Academy and Riordan High School in San Francisco. He wrote the first draft of his book in one month in 2005, as part of the National Novel Writing Month challenge.
The book draws obvious comparisons to Dan Brown’s 2003 bestseller “The Da Vinci Code,” and Barany says he’s heard praise from many people who enjoyed that book, as well. That connection aside, he says he’s not necessarily surprised by the success of “The Torah Codes” — because the finished product is a combination of many talented people’s work.
That includes his book coach — who happens to be wife, Beth. The Oakland couple have even begun working as a team to help other authors “go from inspiration to publication,” adds Barany. He’s already begun work on the book’s sequel, which should come out in January 2013.
“ ‘The Torah Codes’ asks the question ‘Does God exist?,’ and the sequel asks, ‘If God exists, then why do bad things happen to good people?’ ” He pauses. “I’m still working on the name.”
“The Torah Codes” by Ezra Barany (Dafkah Books, 382 pages, $12.99)
Ezra and Beth Barany will give a workshop on social media branding for authors, 10 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday, March 3 at Independence Plaza, 703 Atlantic Ave., Alameda www.calwritersclub.wordpress.com