Recommended Books and Publishers

Level: Basic

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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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 Society
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 always 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 from what, in a literal translation, is a very erotic love poem.
The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, edited by Dr. J.H. Hertz, Soncino Press
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 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 most Orthodox 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 Conservative 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 cantillation (musical notation), both Hebrew text and English translation, 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 his 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 Yiddish 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 has been in and out of print in recent years but it was available the last time I checked. 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.
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. For those unfamiliar with fake books: a fake book has only the melody line, chords, and lyrics, rather than a complete piano arrangement.
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 Haggadah (Paperback), 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, as expressed in that most traditional of Jewish sources, the Talmud.
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 Reform begins.
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 Press
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 each matter.
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 reciting them.

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.
Artscroll/Mesorah Publications
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.
Obviously, is not specifically a Jewish bookseller, but they have an excellent selection of Jewish books. Unfortunately, it can be hard to find good, genuinely Jewish stuff there. I have found that the top titles in their Jewish Religion and Spirituality section are often not very Jewish, or even not Jewish at all. As I look at it today, their top six bestsellers are not Jewish at all, but several of the subsections have good stuff.

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