Tzemah Yoreh is a humanist rabbi based in New York City. Author of several works on secular Judaism and Judaic practices, he’s a prolific writer and exceptional academic.
Anyone who knows anything about me knows that I love Judaic studies. Concerns about social and religious assimilation in Ancient Rome during the first century was my focus in my last year of university. To say I was excited to get his inquiry was an understatement. It just took reading his description to know I wanted to take this on. That he got my name from one of my favorite clients, Beth Jusino, made it even better. And the fact that it had its own unique challenges as a manuscript? Let’s go!
Why Abraham Murdered Isaac is a non-fiction book that investigates the differences between what Tzemah has identified as the ancient Original Bible, and the one widely read today, or the Traditional Bible. He focuses on the five books of Genesis and their main characters, comparing excerpts to show how the modern stories have changed from their ancient counter parts.
Our design had to one: look fantastic (of course), and two: make the distinction between original and traditional text distinct and quick to identify (especially as they would often appear within merged passages to identify what had been changed between the two versions).
We started everything with a phone call. Tzemah was very open to allowing me my full range of design creativity, as long as those Original and Traditional passages were kept distinct. And I was up for the challenge.
After a few days and some brainstorming on paper, I had my three concepts to send. Idea 1 was the most complex, utilizing woodcuts and illustrations from traditional Bibles to feature each main character at the start of their chapter. Otherwise I kept the design details suggestive of details you might find in near Eastern architecture.
Idea 2 was inspired directly by the cover: the black horizontal bars were bold (like the claims made within the book), while the clouds suggested a spiritual clarity one may gain via knowing the truth of an otherwise complicated or frequently misinterpreted text.
The third and final idea utilized a traditional feel, again, but I wanted this to suggested a hand-drawn feel, as if someone came and illuminated the book interior personally. Judaism as a religion is very home-based and community driven; feeling as if someone had taken the time to hand decorate this book could add to the ambience of the subject matter.
Case Study: Why Abraham Murdered Isaac
“My editor highly recommended I work Colleen and I have not looked back for even a moment. She was very enthusiastic about my book from the beginning, which is what you always want, but you don't often get. Colleen was wonderfully precise and as fast as I had any right to hope for. When it came to the numerous minute adjustments I needed, she went above and beyond. I love the way my book looks and look forward to my next project with her! Thank you, Colleen!” — Tzemah Yoreh
I cleaned up the formatting on the rest of the manuscript, then laid it out within my print design program, styling each title, element, and paragraph. The personality of the text really began to show as words and design paired themselves via my work. Something was a little off, though, and I knew it–sending it to Tzemah as the first pass confirmed. Some of the special formatting on paragraphs where Traditional/Original text needed to remain distinct were lost as the file imported from the word processor document to the design program.
An annoyance with technology, to be sure, but we knew we had to keep an eye on that when when we started. It just took Tzemah a single pass to tell me what needed to be corrected, and I implemented them right away.