My Basic Jewish Book List

I just updated the list of recommended books I give to my beginning students. I thought I’d share the update with you.

I can recommend all of these books. As far as I know, all are currently in print. Many are available inexpensively as used books. Obviously, which you choose will depend on availability and your curiosity.

General Introductory Texts on Judaism

Settings of Silver by Stephen Wylen. (The 1st text I use for Intro to the Jewish Experience)

Judaism’s 10 Best Ideas: A Brief Book for Seekers by Rabbi Arthur Green (The other text I use for Intro to the Jewish Experience)

Basic Judaism by Milton Steinberg. A classic text, first published in the 1950’s but still good.

What is a Jew? by Morris N. Kertzner. Another good basic text.

Living a Jewish Life by Anita Diamant. 

Jewish Literacy by Joseph Telushkin.

Living Judaism by Wayne Dosick.

Jewish Bibles

I don’t require you buy one for this class, but every Jewish home should have a Tanakh, a Jewish Bible. Most Reform and Conservative synagogues use a JPS Tanakh in some form.

If you are curious as to how the Jewish Bible is different from the Christian Bible, read Beginners’ Guide to the Jewish Bible. For a discussion of the various translations of the Tanakh available, read Which Bible is Best, Rabbi?

If you would like to own a commentary on the Torah, a book with footnotes that explain things in the text, some of the most popular are:

The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. Gunther Plaut

Etz Chaim: Torah and Commentary, ed. Jewish Publication Society

The Torah: A Women’s Commentary, ed. Tamara Eskenazi and Rabbi Andrea Weiss

A Torah Commentary for our Times, ed. Harvey J. Fields


Every Jewish home should have at least one copy of the Haggadah, the script by which we lead the seder every year at Passover.  There are many to choose from, from some rather uninspiring (but free!) free haggadot to very expensive art books. Some of the best fall in between those two extremes. The best way to find one is to go to a bookstore during the month before Passover and browse them until you find the one that speaks to you.

Jewish Holidays

Seasons of our Joy by Arthur Waskow. 

Guide to the Jewish Seasons editor Peter Knobel.

The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel

Keeping Passover by Ira Steingroot

The Days of Awe by S.Y. Agnon

This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation by Alan Lew

Jewish Home

How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household by Blu Greenberg (orthodox practices) 

On the Doorposts of Your House, CCAR Press (also in .pdf format)

Jewish Lifecycle

Gates of Mitzvah: A Guide to the Jewish Life Cycle by Simeon Maslin

Jewish Spiritual Parenting: Wisdom, Activities, Rituals and Prayers for Raising Children with Spiritual Balance and Emotional Wholeness by Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Michelle November, MSSW

How to Raise a Jewish Child by Anita Diamant

The New Jewish Baby Book by Anita Diamant

Putting God on the Guest List: How to Reclaim the Spiritual Meaning of Your Child’s Bar or Bat Mitzvah by Salkin, Lebeau, and Eisenberg

The New Jewish Wedding by Anita Diamant

A Time to Mourn, A Time to Comfort: A Guide to Jewish Bereavement by Dr. Ron Wolfson and David J. Wolpe

Mourning and Mitzvah by Anne Brener

Choosing a Jewish Life by Anita Diamant (conversion)

Choosing Judaism by Lydia Kukoff

Jewish Thought

Finding God: Selected Responses by Rifat Sonsino and Daniel Syme. Clear and simple approach to the question, What do Jews think about God?

The Book of Jewish Values by Joseph Telushkin

Jewish History

Wanderings: Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews by Chaim Potok

My People: Abba Eban’s History of the Jews by Abba Eban

A History of the Jews by Paul Johnson

A Short History of the Jewish People by Raymond Scheindlin

The Story of the Jews by Stan Mack (graphic novel format but quite good)


My Promised Land: The Triumph and Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit

Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert 

Israel is Real by Rich Cohen

Published by


Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi based in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, mom, poodle groomer, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at as the Coffee Shop Rabbi.

10 thoughts on “My Basic Jewish Book List”

  1. “The Five Books of Moses,” Robert Alter. Everything by Richard Elliott Friedman. “The Joys of Yiddish” and “The Education of Hyman Kaplan” by Leo Rosten. “God in Search of Man” by Heschel.


    1. Unless you are reading as part of an academic program, I think it’s just fine to follow your interests. No one can learn it all, not even the people who begin studying at age 5. Jewish learning is such a huge area of interest that you can’t really go wrong by reading what’s interesting to you, as long as you choose good books on those topics.


  2. Great list! I have many of these. I especially love the accessibility of the Anita Diamant books. I hadn’t realized she had one about raising a Jewish child – good to know!


Comments or Questions? Speak up!

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s