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
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.
Judaisms: A 21st Century Introduction to Jews and Jewish Identities by Aaron J. Hahn Tapper
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
What’s In It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Jewish Narratives by Stephen Fuchs This little book is helpful for those who wonder what a collection of old stories and rules has to say to modern Jews today.
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.
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
How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household by Blu Greenberg (orthodox practices)
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
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
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)
Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert
Israel is Real by Rich Cohen
A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time by Howard M. Sachar
The Unmaking of Israel by Gershom Gorenberg