Basic Jewish Book List – 5779 Update!

Image: A wall of books surrounding a blue doorway. (pixabay/ninocare)

Every year I take a hard look at the list of books I recommend to the Intro to the Jewish Experience students. This year’s list omits some oldies and adds a few new books. No one needs to own ALL of these – I offer this list as a browsing list for your next step in growing your interest in specific Jewish topics.

*Books with an asterisk are those I strongly recommend to my Intro students. If I weren’t so concerned about their budgets, I’d require them.

General Introductory Texts on Judaism

*Settings of Silver by Stephen Wylen. (The only text I require for Intro to the Jewish Experience)

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 (A college text, a little more challenging but a truly wonderful book.)

Jewish Bibles

*Every Jewish home should have a Tanakh, a Jewish Bible. Most Reform and Conservative synagogues use a JPS Tanakh. (JPS is the Jewish Publication Society.) 

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 (in many Reform synagogues)

Etz Chaim: Torah and Commentary, ed. JPS (in many Conservative synagogues)

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

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

About the Bible

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.

Who Wrote the Bible?, by Richard Elliot Friedman is a basic, readable explanation of the “documentary hypothesis,” the idea that the Torah is a blend of several different voices.

*Haggadah

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 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. Some households write their own haggadot; that’s a project that’s best done after you’ve been to a few seders.

Jewish Holidays

Seasons of our Joy by Arthur Waskow. 

Guide to the Jewish Seasons editor Peter Knobel. 

*The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel (Specifically has to do with Shabbat.)

Keeping Passover by Ira Steingroot 

The Days of Awe by S.Y. Agnon (High Holy Days)

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

Jewish Home

The Jewish Home: A Guide for Jewish Living (New Edition) by Daniel B. Syme

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

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

 

Jewish Lifecycle

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

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 (A guide for mourners)

Jewish Parenting

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

Conversion to Judaism

Choosing a Jewish Life by Anita Diamant (conversion)

Choosing Judaism by Lydia Kukoff (conversion)

Jewish Thought

*Judaism’s 10 Best Ideas: A Brief Book for Seekers by Rabbi Arthur Green

*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

Your choice of history book will depend on how you feel about history. Choose the one that works for you. *Do read at least one of these!

The Story of the Jews by Stan Mack (graphic novel format but quite good, an excellent choice if you are ambivalent about fat volumes.)

Wanderings: Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews by Chaim Potok Potok is a story teller. 

My People: Abba Eban’s History of the Jews by Abba Eban Eban was Israel’s first representative to the United Nations, and he was a major player in the foundation of the State of Israel.

A History of the Jews by Paul Johnson An outsider history of the Jews, very well done. Strikes a balance between scholarship and storytelling.

A Short History of the Jewish People by Raymond Scheindlin A shorter history, good if you want “just the facts, ma’am” history.

Israel

Israel: A History by Martin Gilbert A detailed history of Israel from 1862-1997. Predominantly Zionist in its point of view.

Israel is Real by Rich Cohen Very readable. There are a few minor errors, but it is remarkably clear-eyed about the complexity of Israel and its emotional connection for American Jews.

A History of Israel: From the Rise of Zionism to Our Time by Howard M. Sachar A scholarly approach, staunchly Zionist.

The Accidental Empire: Israel and the Birth of the Settlements 1967-1977 by Gershom Gorenberg. Gorenberg is an Israeli journalist. If you are curious about the roots of the current situation and the occupation of the West Bank, this is a good choice.

The Israel-Arab Reader: A Documentary History of the Middle East Conflict, 7th Edition by Walter Laqueur A reader of primary documents. Better if you already know a little bit of the history of Modern Israel.

My Promised Land: The Triumph and the Tragedy of Israel by Ari Shavit. The writer is controversial, but the book is excellent and centrist in stance.

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Introduction to the Jewish Experience

Image: Me, lighting Shabbat candles. You’ll learn how to do this, and what it all means. (Photo by Linda Burnett.)

I teach a course called Intro to the Jewish Experience, a class that begins with Basic Judaism. It’s designed to equip students to participate in Jewish community, whether that’s the local synagogue or the local Jewish Film Festival.

For info on where and how to sign up, check out A Course in Basic Judaism!, which I posted last week. There is an online section of the class, which you may attend “live” or via recording, and a completely separate but parallel regular class that will meet at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley, CA.

The class has three separate terms. Students are welcome to take them in any order. Each will also work nicely as a stand-alone course. Here are the topics covered, with the caveat that depending on the interests of class members and on opportunities for interesting visitors, there may be changes:

Fall Term: Jewish Holidays and Lifecycle Events (Oct – Dec)

  1. The Sabbath – Basic Concepts
  2. God, Covenant, & Mitzvah
  3. Spring Holiday Cycle: Purim, Passover, & Shavuot
  4. Fall Holiday Cycle: Elul, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, & Sukkot
  5. National Holiday Cycle: Chanukah, Tu B’Shevat, the Yoms, & Tisha B’Av.
  6. Death & Mourning as a Jew
  7. Bar/Bat Mitzvah & Jewish Weddings
  8. Welcoming New Jews: Bris, Brit Bat, & Conversion to Judaism

Winter Term: Israel & Texts (Jan – Mar)

  1. The Sabbath – looking at a text of Shabbat
  2. Ancient Israel – History & Archaeology
  3. Torah, Tanakh, and Midrash – Stories about Ancient Israel
  4. Rabbinic Judaism (70 CE – 800 CE) – History of the Rabbis
  5. Rabbinic Texts – What is the Talmud? – with text study
  6. Codes, Responsa and Law – How does “Jewish Law” really work?
  7. Anti-Semitism
  8. Zionism & Modern Israel

Spring Term: Traditions of Judaism (Apr – May)

We begin with the things that all Jews share, and then look at the great diversity in the Jewish world:

  1. The Sabbath: Havdalah 
  2. Synagogue, Siddur, and Service
  3. Sephardic Judaism: History & Culture
  4. Ashkanazi Judaism: History & Culture
  5. Mizrahim: Histories & Culture
  6. North American Judaism and Movements of Judaism
  7. Jews of Color
  8. Jews & Food, Jewish Social Action

As you can see, each term begins with the Sabbath. That will tell you how central I believe the day is to understanding Judaism. In the fall, we look at it as the biggest holiday in the Jewish year. In winter, we learn how to do Jewish text study by studying the Kiddush together. In the spring, it is the first of the three things the Jewish world has in common.

If this sounds like it might be for you, you can find more information and registration links here:

Online Class:

Class meets on Sunday from 3:30-5pm Pacific Time, starting on October 22. To register, visit the course page in the Lehrhaus Judaica online catalog.

Class in the San Francisco East Bay:

Classes will meet at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley on Wednesdays starting October 10 from 7:30 – 9pm. For more information and to register, visit the course’s page in the Lehrhaus Judaica online catalog.
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Financial assistance is available for students who need it. Contacts are available in our online catalogue at Lehrhaus.org.

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Course in Basic Judaism!

Image: My first “Intro to the Jewish Experience” class, in 2009. Photo by Scott Wexelberg.

Right after the High Holy Days, I start my “Intro to the Jewish Experience” series over again.

Intro to the Jewish Experience is a course in Basic Judaism offered by Lehrhaus Judaica and taught by Rabbi Ruth Adar – me.
Who takes this class? People who for whatever reason never got a basic Jewish education and want one. They may be born-Jewish, they may be considering conversion, they may be marrying into a Jewish family, or maybe they’ve taken a job at a Jewish institution. This class will give a good foundation in the basics, and also some insights about how Jewish communities actually work.
My goal is to equip all my students for whatever Jewish connections they want in their lives.
Class in the San Francisco East Bay:
Classes will meet at Congregation Beth El in Berkeley on Wednesdays starting October 10 from 7:30 – 9pm. For more information and to register, visit the course’s page in the Lehrhaus Judaica online catalog.
Online Class:
If Wednesday evenings are not convenient, we offer the same course online on Sunday afternoons from 3:30-5pm Pacific Time, starting on October 22. To register, visit the course page in the Lehrhaus Judaica online catalog.
The course takes place in three terms, which may be taken in any order:
  • In the Fall (Oct – Dec) Jewish Holidays & Lifecycle Events.
  • In Winter (Jan – March)  Israel & Texts. (History of Judaism and Jewish Texts)
  • In Spring, (April – May) we learn about the the diversity in world Judaism and the similarities that hold us together, in a class we call Traditions of Judaism.

Information about the class is available at the class website, Jewish Experience Online.

 

Online Classes Starting Soon!

Image: A laptop sits on a desk at home beside a notebook.

Lehrhaus Judaica is a non-denominational center for Jewish learning, and in recent years, we’ve grown our online offerings.  This winter we’re offering a variety of classes online. Click on the class name to go to the catalog, where you can see a video about the class, get a fuller description, dates and times, tuition figures, and links for registration.

I’m happy to answer questions about the classes; feel free to leave them in the comments section. However, most of the answers you want will be in the catalog, to which I’ve supplied links.

Israel & Texts: A class for those who want to learn more about Jewish texts in the context of Jewish history and the land of Israel.  I’ve written at length about the class here. No Hebrew required.

Beginning Prayer Book / Biblical Hebrew: An introduction to Hebrew basics, taught by Dr. Jehon Grist, whom I can recommend heartily because I learned from him, myself.

Intermediate Prayer Book / Biblical Hebrew: This course will take you from “beginner” status into actually reading Biblical texts. Also taught by Dr. Grist.

Advanced Biblical Hebrew 3: The Book of Esther: Join a group of advanced Hebrew students working on translation of the Book of Esther. Quoting from Dr. Grist’s description of the class: “We will translate and analyze selected passages from this amazing story, visiting both the ancient Persian Empire and additional versions of the text to discover how Esther’s tale developed and what its meaning is for us today.”

Traditions of Judaism: An 8-week spring course on the various expressions of Judaism: Movements, Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi, American Judaism, etc. I’m the teacher for this one.

Israel at 70: An Ancient and Modern Adventure: This is the recommended pre-tour course for the Lehrhaus/Tiyul Jewish Journeys trip to Israel with an optional extension to Petra, but is also open to those who want to learn more about our original homeland. Dr. Grist, an accomplished archaeologist with deep roots in the land will lead this course.

The Book of Esther(Tuesday evenings) Dr. Jehon Grist and I are studying Esther together. He comes at it as an academic, a translator, and as an archaeologist. I come at it from a rabbinic perspective. Then each of us teaches a course on the book! This link is to my version of the class, available both at Temple Sinai in Oakland or online.

The Book of Esther – (Wednesday evenings) The same as above, but with Dr. Jehon Grist teaching. Our project is to look at the scroll of Esther with new eyes and perhaps get some new insights before Purim. We’ll have one meeting post-Purim to share how our study has influenced our experience of the holiday. Dr. Grist will teach the class at Congregation Bnai Israel in Berkeley, CA, as well as online.

The Jews of Italy: A Journey of 2,000 Years – A web-based course on the history of Judaism in Italy, taught by Dr. Jehon Grist. Whether you’re planning a trip to Italy or simply interested in exploring the topic digitally, we’ll help you discover the people, places and key events that make this one of the most compelling stories of the Jews in Europe.

Traditions of Continuity and Diversity: The Rise of Rabbinic Judaism and Classical Christianity –  Judaism and Christianity have a long and sometimes uncomfortable relationship. The goal in this class is to provide a firm historical basis to begin anew a more fruitful discussion and true dialogue based on mutual respect and appreciation. This course will presume no previous historical knowledge of this era and will use audio-visual, textual, and lecture and discussion formats to carry us through the material. Jews, Christians, and anyone else interested in the topic are encouraged to attend. The class will be taught by the Rev. Bruce R. Bramlett. He is an Episcopal priest and theological scholar. He has spent his academic career exploring and understanding the long, complex , and often tragic history of the Jewish-Christian encounter throughout the west.

 

Israel and Texts: An Online Class!

Image: Lehrhaus Judaica Logo

Have you ever wished you had a stronger Jewish education? Wondered what people are talking about when they cite “the Talmud” or “Jewish Law”? Have you ever wished you knew more about your heritage and could discuss it with others?

I teach a class called “Israel and Texts” which traces the development of Jewish texts, from the Biblical sources of ancient times, through the emergence of Rabbinic Judaism after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE, and on through the development of the Talmud and the great law codes of the 16th century.  We will learn about how “Jewish Law” works, and how it is a living process, still unfolding in the 21st century.

We will discover the ways that Jews engage with texts and do text study ourselves. We will look at the many ways in which Jewish texts are rooted in the land of Israel.

Class will begin on Sunday, January 21, 2018 at 3:30pm Pacific Time and meet for 90 minutes.  Our text will be Settings of Silver: An Introduction to Judaism by Stephen M. Wylen, with supplementary texts provided. Tuition for the class is $90; you can register using the Lehrhaus Judaica online catalog. No Hebrew is required. All you need is Internet access and a computer or tablet. We will use the Zoom platform for teaching, with supplementary material distributed via Dropbox and Facebook. A private Facebook group provides a forum for discussion and questions.

The class is 8 sessions, and is offered both as a stand-alone class and as a term of our Introduction to the Jewish Experience classes.

I hope you’ll join me to learn about Israel and Texts!

Online Basic Judaism Class Open NOW!

Image: Logo of Lehrhaus, Judaica, a school for Adult Jewish Learning.

This coming Sunday October 22 is the first class meeting for Intro to the Jewish Experience, 5778. If you want to get a basic Jewish education, here is your chance to get it in the comfort of your bunny slippers. Classes meet on Sunday afternoons at 3:30 Pacific Time, or at your leisure via class recordings.

  • In the Fall term, Oct-Dec, we cover Jewish Holidays and Lifecycle Events.
  • In the Winter term, Jan – Mar, we study Israel and Jewish Texts: Torah, Bible, Talmud, and the many connections between the land, the documents, and the history. We also will take a look at anti-Semitism, both its history and its present-day manifestations.
  • In the Spring term, Apr – June, we look at the many Traditions of Judaism: Ashkenazi, Sephardic, Mizrahi, and American Judaism.

The class is designed for anyone who would like to feel more comfortable in a Jewish environment or deepen their knowledge of Judaism. The Fall Term is basic, but Winter and Spring will have fresh information and challenges for anyone whose Jewish education stopped after high school.

You can sign up for the entire series for $225, or for one of the three terms that interests you, for $90 per term.  Register at http://catalog.lehrhaus.org/series/2017/fall/I100-OL/

This class will be taught via the Zoom teleconferencing platform and should be accessible from most computers and tablets. The class also includes access to a private Facebook page where students can network and have ongoing discussions.

For those who live in the San Francisco Bay Area, there will be an in-person class that mirrors the online class. It will meet on Wednesday evenings at 7:30pm at Temple Sinai in Oakland. You can register for the Wednesday evening class here.

I will be your instructor. For more information about me, see About the Coffee Shop Rabbi.

Oakland Pride March, 2016
Rabbi Ruth Adar (center) with friends from Temple Sinai, Oakland, including “Intro” graduates and Rabbi Jacqueline Mates-Muchin. Oakland Pride March, 2016.

Dates for Intro to the Jewish Experience, 5778/2017-8

Image: Intro class at Temple Sinai, Oakland, CA.

The dates for my “Intro to the Jewish Experience” class have been set for the upcoming year!  Here are the dates for online classes:

Fall Term: Jewish Lifecycle & Holidays – Sundays, October 22 – December 10, 2017

A very basic introduction to Jewish lifecycle events and the yearly cycle of holidays.

Winter Term: Israel & Texts – Sundays, January 21 – March 11, 2018

An introduction to Jewish sacred texts and to the land of Israel through those texts. We will briefly study Torah, Bible, Midrash, Mishnah, Gemara (Talmud), and the process of Responsa.

Spring Term: Traditions of Judaism – Sundays, April 8 – June 3, 2018

This class examines the vast diversity of the Jewish world: Sephardic, Ashkenazic, Mizrahi, Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal, American Judaism, as well as Jewish food customs and culture.

The terms may be taken in any order. Tuition is $225 for the full series, or $90 per term.  Classes meet from 3:30pm – 5pm Pacific Time online.

Terms are structured as follows:

Register through the Lehrhaus Judaica website.

This class parallels a class offered on Wednesday evenings at Temple Sinai in Oakland, CA. For more info about that traditional class and to register for it, check the Lehrhaus online catalog.