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.

Judaisms: A 21st Century Introduction to Jews and Jewish Identities by Aaron J. Hahn Tapper

Jewish Bibles

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.

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)


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

The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict, 7th Edition by Walter Laqueur


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Rabbi Ruth Adar is a teaching rabbi in San Leandro, CA. She has many hats: rabbi, granny, and ham radio operator K6RAV. She blogs at and teaches at Jewish Gateways in Albany, CA.

19 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!

  3. I would like to see (and I definitely think it should be there) “What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves n Biblical Narratives on this list.” I also believe “ToraHighlights” will add beauty and much food for thought to the home of all who seek wisdom in Scripture.

  4. Great post with great recommendations. It might be fun to add the gastronomic Judaism component of Jewish life with some cookbooks. When I was in my early twenties, some relatives gave me a cookbook by Joan Nathan. I think it was called, “A Jewish Holiday Kitchen.” I loved cooking from it, and it helped with keeping committed to leading a Jewish life.

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