Recommended Books and Publishers
The question I am most frequently asked is, "Where can I find a book on..."
Below is information about some of the resources I have used in compiling the
information on this site.
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website. Any proceeds exceeding those out-of-pocket expenses are donated to
Jewish charities, including Hillel
organizations at various colleges I have been affiliated with.
There can be no resource more important than a text of the Bible itself.
Although it is best to read it in the original Hebrew, or at least refer to the
original Hebrew to appreciate its nuances, all of the texts below contain
English translations. These English translations, unlike most of the
translations you will find, are prepared by Jews using the Jewish understanding
of the meaning of the scriptures, without the Christian slant you will find in
many non-Jewish translations. Note: "Tanakh" (also spelled "Tanach") is a
Hebrew acronym that refers to the complete Jewish Bible, what non-Jews call the
"Old Testament." "Chumash," on the other hand, includes only the parts of the
Bible that are included in formal Torah readings during services: the Torah
(Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) along with selected
corresponding readings from the prophets.
- Tanakh: A New Translation of the Holy Scriptures, Jewish Publication
- Often referred to as the JPS translation, this is an updated version of the
first and most commonly used Jewish translation into English. Unlike the
original JPS translation, this one is written in easy-to-read modern English.
This book contains only English, no Hebrew text.
- The Stone Tanach, Mesorah Publications
- First published in 1996, the Stone Tanach quickly became a standard
reference in the Orthodox Jewish community. The
pointed Hebrew text, along with complete
cantillation (musical notation) for the
Torah and Haftarah
readings, is displayed alongside a very readable modern English translation
that effectively conveys the traditional Jewish understanding of the text. The
Stone Tanach also contains a number of useful charts and illustrations, and is
very well indexed. The one down side: the commentary is less extensive than I
would like. Also, be aware that the English is not a strictly literal,
word-for-word translation; the primary goal was to provide a readable English
translation that conveyed the nuances of the Hebrew idiom. Most notably, the
Song of Songs is translated allegorically, removing any trace of eroticism.
- The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, edited by Dr. J.H. Hertz, Soncino
- Sometimes referred to as the Soncino Chumash or the Hertz, this book
contains the complete text of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and
Deuteronomy, along with the haftarot
(corresponding readings from the prophets) that go with each
parshah (weekly Torah reading). Like the Stone
Tanach, the Soncino has pointed,
cantillated Hebrew text along side a Jewish
translation of the text, but unlike the Stone, this book does not contain the
complete Jewish Bible; it is just a chumash. The
primary advantage of this text is its extensive commentary: footnotes routinely
occupy one-third of each page, compiling information from a wide variety of
traditional Jewish commentaries on the Bible, as well as relevant
archaeological findings, and there are lengthy discussions of major topics at
the end of each book. Of course, the book is very old, so many of the "recent"
archaeological and scientific discoveries discussed in the footnotes were from
the 1920s. Nevertheless, until 10 or 20 years ago, this was the book used by
synagogues, and by many non-Orthodox
synagogues. It has largely been replaced by the Stone Tanakh (above) in
Orthodox synagogues and the Etz Hayim (below) in Conservative synagogues. The
main down side of this publication: the English translation is the original
1917 JPS translation, which appears to be based on the Christian KJV
translation. It is somewhat archaic and occasionally includes some of the
Christian bias that is found in the KJV. Editor Hertz responds to the Christian
bias in his annotations, but why not just fix the translation?
- Etz Hayim, Jewish Publication Society
- This book, first published in 2003, has rapidly overtaken the Hertz as the
chumash of choice for
synagogues. Like the Hertz, it is only a
chumash, containing only the Torah (Genesis,
Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy) along with the
Haftarot (corresponding readings from the
prophets), with both Hebrew and English, and extensive commentaries. The
commentaries in this chumash often lean toward the fashionable
skeptical/critical approach, highlighting supposed contradictions and errors in
the Torah without giving much consideration to well-established traditional
responses to these apparent problems. However, the commentaries also include a
wealth of information about recent archaeological findings ("recent" in this
case being 1990s, rather than the "recent" 1920s of the Hertz) that shed light
on what we see in the Torah, making this chumash a worthwhile read even if you
prefer a more traditional interpretation of the material.
Suitable for Beginners
- To Be a Jew, Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, Basic Books
- The best resource on Orthodox Jewish belief
and practice that is readily available to the general public. Donin begins with
an extensive discussion of Judaism's underlying beliefs and ethical structure,
then proceeds to discuss Shabbat,
kashrut, family life, holidays, marriage,
divorce, death and mourning, and many other important aspects of Jewish
practice. Donin provides complete details on Orthodox customs as well as the
elements necessary to fulfill the various commandments related to each of the
subjects he discusses. Some find his presentation rather dry and technical. The
companion volume, To Pray as a Jew
is also an excellent resource, but somewhat technical for a beginner.
- Basic Judaism, Milton Steinberg, Harvest Books
- A concise discussion of Jewish belief, presenting and contrasting the
traditional and modern perspectives. It discusses
Torah, G-d, life, the
Jewish people and our relation to the other nations, Jewish practice, Jewish
law, and the World to Come. One of the things I like most about this book is
that it shows the commonality underlying the various Jewish movements, and the
fact that all Jewish movements have more in common with each other than any has
with any other religion.
- The New Joys of Yiddish, Leo Rosten
- The original edition was the first Jewish book I ever owned, and it holds a
special place in my heart. Rosten described this work as a lexicon of the
Yiddish language, but it was vastly more than
that. It was an extraordinary collection of
Ashkenazic Jewish wit, wisdom and culture
that managed to capture the Jewish soul better than any other book I have ever
seen. The book used common Yiddish words as a jumping off point for presenting
a Jewish joke or story, or just for discussing a Jewish custom or practice. It
was not written from a traditional perspective, but was generally respectful of
the traditional perspective.
The original edition is no longer in print -- much of what it said has become
remarkably dated in the 50 or so years since it was written. This new edition
has gotten mixed reviews because, instead of simply updating the dated slang
and references, the new edition adds a lot of politically-correct footnotes.
Fortunately, this edition keeps Rosten's text largely intact (even the dirty
jokes); so buy the book for Rosten's text, and ignore the footnotes as much as
possible. I finally got a chance to look over this revised edition, so pardon
me while I rant a bit with some examples of what the revision has done: After
Rosten's original text defines "shlock house" using the dated expression "gyp
joint," the reviser goes off on a lengthy rant about what a terrible term "gyp
joint" is, because the term "gyp" comes from "Gypsy" and the Gypsies have been
horribly oppressed, all of which is true, but none of which provides any
insight into the meaning of the term "shlock house." After Rosten mentions a
Lil Abner character with a Yiddish-sounding name, a footnote gives the history
of the "Shmoo" character and Al Capp's life story, but doesn't even identify Al
Capp as Jewish and adds nothing to the meaning of the word "shmo." Sometimes,
the footnotes show disdain or contempt for the traditional perspective. For
example, in the discussion of the term "rebbe"
(rabbi), a footnote says that Rosten's use of the
masculine pronoun ("he") is correct, because the Orthodox don't have female
rabbis and separate men and women, again: true, but it does't add anything to
the meaning of the word "rebbe."
- Jewish Cookery, Leah W. Leonard, Crown Publishers
- This is another classic that is, sadly, apparently out of print. It
provides traditional Ashkenazic recipes for
holidays and all year round. All of the recipes are
kosher. There is a special section for
Passover recipes. The book contains a brief
discussion of holiday food customs and the laws of
kashrut. You may be able to find it used at
various booksellers. Check on
- The Jewish Fake Book, Velvel Pasternak, Tara Publications
- This is an excellent collection of Jewish music, including Shabbat and
holiday songs, liturgical songs, Yiddish and
Israeli folk songs, Klezmer music, wedding music
and even some Sephardic tunes. Many of the
MIDI sound files on this site were created with the assistance of the
arrangements in this book. For those unfamiliar with fake books: a fake book
has only the melody line, chords, and lyrics, rather than a complete piano
- The Complete Artscroll Siddur, Artscroll
- An Orthodox daily prayer book, with
beautiful, easy-to-read Hebrew text, plain English translations, detailed
commentary, and extensive explanation of what to do (it even tells you when to
sit down, stand up, bow, etc.) They have a pocket-sized version of this siddur
(6x4 instead of 8x6)
Artscroll also has a siddur with an interlinear translation
combining large print Hebrew with an English translation of each Hebrew word
directly under the word. This takes a bit of getting used to, reading the
English right to left, but it can be very useful if you're trying to understand
the meaning of the Hebrew words in the prayers. You can see some sample pages
on the publisher's
website (click the View Pages link). The Artscroll series has an extensive
line of similar Jewish books, all of which share these fine qualities. I highly
recommend their excellent Passover
which I have been using since it was first published.
For More Advanced Study
- The Essential Talmud, Adin Steinsaltz, Basic Books
- Adin Steinsaltz is widely considered to be one of the greatest
Talmudic minds of modern times. His commentaries
on the Talmud are gaining wide acceptance as standard study materials. In this
relatively short book, Steinsaltz gives an overview of the Talmud, discussing
its history, structure, content, and methodology. He gives brief summaries of
significant Jewish law on matters like prayer, Shabbat, holidays, marriage and
divorce, women, civil and criminal law, animal sacrifice, kashrut, ritual
purity, ethics, and Jewish mysticism.
- Everyman's Talmud, Abraham Cohen, BN Publishing
- A comprehensive summary of the Talmud's
teachings about religion, ethics, folklore and jurisprudence. For the most
part, Cohen allows the Talmud to speak for itself, quoting extensively and
providing limited commentary. I am particularly fond of this book because it is
one of the few books I have seen that seriously addresses the folklore
contained in the Talmud (although Steinsaltz talks about mysticism, he mostly
discusses the fact that it was taught to a select few). Cohen talks extensively
about demonology, angelology, magic and dreams.
- Women and Jewish Law, Rachel Biale, Schocken Books
- An in-depth examination of certain areas of Jewish law that pertain to
women including marriage, divorce, sexuality, rape, abortion exemption from
certain commandments and other subjects. Biale starts with the original
biblical and talmudic texts and works her way up to present day commentaries.
My only concern about this book is that it is sometimes hard to tell from her
presentation where Orthodoxy ends and
- The Concise Book of Mitzvoth, The Chafetz Chayim, Feldheim Pubs
- A list of all of the commandments that can be observed today, with a brief
explanation of the source and meaning of the commandment. Printed with English
and pointed Hebrew side by side.
- The Mishnah - a New Translation, Jacob Neusner, Yale University
- Yes, the entire mishnah is available in a
single (albeit very large) volume, in English. Neusner provides absolutely no
commentary or explanation, but does break each passage down into phrases, which
helps the reader figure out who said what and what the final decision was on
- To Pray as a Jew, Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, Basic Books
- An in-depth examination of the form and content of Jewish prayer,
explaining the significance and history of prayers and the procedures for
Publishers and Booksellers Online
Note: The links below will take you to several Jewish publishers and
booksellers with sites on the Web. Many of these sources sell materials that
are not Orthodox. Sites are listed in alphabetical order.
- An mail order service offering a wide variety of Judaic materials.
- Without a doubt the finest publisher of Orthodox Jewish materials. Their
materials are suitable for readers at all levels, because they are designed for
"baalei t'shuvot," Jews who were not raised observant but became observant
later in life.
- Feldheim Publishers
- One of the oldest publishers of Jewish books in the U.S. There is a lot of
good material here, covering all movements of Judaism.
- KTAV Publishing House
- This is another of the oldest Jewish book publishers in the US. Your
grandfather probably learned Hebrew from one of their books. KTAV specializes
in Jewish religious objects, scholarly books and textbooks for Hebrew schools.
- Of course, Amazon.com is not specifically a Jewish bookseller, but they
have an excellent selection of Jewish books. Unfortunately, I have found that
the top titles in their
Religion and Spirituality section are often not very Jewish.
© Copyright 5756-5771 (1996-2011), Tracey R Rich
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