Basic Judaism

Question:  Can you recommend a basic book on the Jewish religion, something that a non-Jewish person could understand?

Answer:  There are many excellent books available, such as the “… for Dummies” or “Idiots Guide” series.  I would recommend beginning with Jewish Literacy, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.

Question:  What 10 books do you think should be in every Jewish library?

Answer: My Basic Jewish Bookshelf______ list:

1.  A Siddur.  I recommend Siddur Sim Shalom, edited by Jules Harlow, Rabbinical Assembly.  There is also an updated two volume edition (Shabbat and weekdays), and a commentary on the Shabbat edition by Reuven Hammer.

2.  A translation of the Hebrew Bible.  I recommend the Tanakh, published by JPS. For a complete translation with commentary, see the “Jewish Study Bible” by Oxford Press.  “The Five Books of Moses,” translated by Everett Fox is excellent, by does not yet include the whole Bible.

3.  A Humash.  I recommend Etz Hayyim, published by the United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism and the Rabbinical Assembly.

4.  A Mahzor for Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur.  I recommend the one edited by Jules Harlow, published by the Rabbinical Assembly.

5.  A book on general Judaism.  I recommend Jewish Literacy, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin.

6.  A book on Jewish theology.  I recommend Sacred Fragments, by Neil Gillman.

7.  A book on Jewish prayer.  I recommend To Pray as a Jew, by Hayim Halevy Donin.

8.  A book on classical Jewish texts.  I recommend Back to the Sources, edited by Barry Holtz.

9.  A book on Jewish History.  I recommend History of the Jewish People, Max Margolis and Alexander Marx.

10.  A book on Jewish practice.  I recommend A Guide to Jewish Religious Practice, by Isaac
Klein.Question:  Can you recommend a more extensive Jewish reading list?


Here is the reading list from my introduction to Judaism course:

Required reading list

The Book of Jewish Practice, Rabbi Louis Jacobs; Behrman House

The Book of Jewish Belief, Rabbi Louis Jacobs; Behrman House

It’s a Mitzvah, Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson; Behrman House

Conservative Judaism, Rabbi Neil Gillman; Behrman House

The Jewish Holidays, Rabbi Michael Strassfeld; Harper and Row

Shabbat:  The Family Guide to Preparing for and Celebrating the Sabbath, 2nd edition, Dr. Ron Wolfson

Understanding Jewish History (two volumes), Sol Scharfstein, Ktav

“This is My Beloved, This is My Friend:”  A Rabbinic Letter on Intimate Relations, Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, Rabbinical Assembly

Tanakh, Jewish Publication Society.  Any other readable translation of the Hebrew Bible is also acceptable, but my preference is for a Jewish translation.

Siddur Sim Shalom (or any other traditional Siddur)

Any traditional Passover Haggadah

Reading list – for further enrichment

Jewish Thought

Sacred Fragments, Rabbi Neil Gillman

The Death of Death, Rabbi Neil Gillman

A Jewish Theology, Rabbi Louis Jacobs

Healer of Shattered Hearts, Rabbi David Wolpe

Judaism as a Civilization, Rabbi Mordechai Kaplan

God and the Big Bang, by Rabbi Daniel Matt

Jewish History

Jewish People, Jewish Thought, Robert Seltzer

Wanderings, Chaim Potok

A History of the Jewish People, Solomon Grayzel

History of the Jewish People, Max Margolis and Alexander Marx

A History of the Jewish People, edited by H. H. Ben-Sasson

Jews, God, and History, Max Dimont

Jewish Literacy, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

A History of the Jewish Experience, Leo Trepp

A History of Zionism, Walter Laqueur


To Pray as a Jew, Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin

Service of the Heart, Evelyn Garfiel

Entering Jewish Prayer, Reuven Hammer

General Judaica, Jewish calendar, life cycle, mitzvot

The Passover Seder, The Art of Jewish Living series, Dr. Ron Wolfson

A Time to Mourn, A Time to Comfort, Dr. Ron Wolfson

The Jewish Dietary Laws, James M. Lebeau

The Sabbath, Abraham Joshua Heschel

Jewish Literacy, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

Jewish Wisdom, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin

The First Jewish Book of Why, Alfred Kolatch

The Second Jewish Book of Why, Alfred Kolatch

The First Jewish Catalog, Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

The Second Jewish Catalog, Rabbi Michael Strassfeld

The Complete Book of Jewish Observance, Leo Trepp


The Five Books of Moses, translated by Everett Fox, Schocken

Etz Hayim, Rabbinical Assembly and United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism

The JPS Bible Commentary series (includes all five books of Torah, Jonah, and Esther)

The Book of Job, translated by Raymond P. Scheindlin

The Book of J, Harold Bloom

Question:  Can you recommend a good list of Jewish educational web sites?

There are many wonderful sites, and they are always changing.  Here are a few that have been around for a while:

l e a r n @ j t s HOME —


About Judaism —

Judaism – Home Page —

Soc.Culture.Judaism newsgroups —

Mechon-Mamre —

The J Site – Jewish Education & Entertainment —

The Pedagogic Center — – The Judaism site ƒ —

Jewish Community Online –

Jewish Law – Examining Halacha, Jewish Issues aƒ – http://WWW.JLAW.COM/

OU.ORG – Your Gateway To The Jewish Internet – ƒ –

Jewish Family and Life Media — Jewz.comQuestion:  What is the meaning and significance of the Torah to the Jewish faith.

Answer:  The word ‘Torah’ means instruction.  Torah, to Jews, represents the mitzvot (commandments), traditions, customs, and stories which instruct our lives and connect us with God.Question:  Is Judaism based on Torah and how is it or isn’t it?

Yes, Judaism is based on Torah.  Your question reminds me of a famous story of a man who came to the sage Hillel and asked him to explain Judaism while standing on one foot.  Hillel answered, “ ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’ (Leviticus 19 ) — all the rest is commentary, now go and study!”

Hillel believed that ‘love your neighbor’ is the most basic mitzvah in the Torah.  The point of the Torah is to make is us sensitive to God, humanity, and all other creation. I can’t answer your question completely — to do so would take a book!  I’d like to suggest that you contact a local synagogue and see if they offer an introduction to Judaism class, which will help you on your quest to learn more about Judaism.