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Beginners | More Advanced | Publishers & Booksellers On Line


Level:  Basic

The question most frequently asked is, "Where can I find a book on . . .".  Below is information about some of the resources used in compiling the information on this site.  With one notable exception, all of these books were purchased in regular bookstores, and should be readily available to the general public.  While the perspective of the recommended books is not our perspective, we do think that there is a great deal to learn from them, though even the Orthodox ones often recommend customs that are in contradiction to Torah requirements.

Suitable For Beginners

The Holy Scriptures, Jewish Publication Society, 1955
There can be no resource more basic than the text of the Hebrew Bible itself.  Those who cannot read Hebrew should use a translation prepared by Jews, with the Jewish understanding of the scriptures in mind (without a Christian bias).  This version, often referred to as the JPS translation, is the first and most commonly used Jewish translation into English.  The language is somewhat archaic, with a feel somewhat similar to the KJV.  We like it so well that we have two online versions of the JPS translation on this site, one in English only and one in parallel Hebrew and English verses.  The 1955 edition is essentially a reprint of the 1917 edition (now in the public domain); a later edition is available both on CD ROM (which we cannot recommend) and in print.  You should try reading in any edition of the Bible before buying it, as you may or may not like the style, even if the content is good.
The Pentateuch and Haftorahs, Soncino Press, 1985
The complete text of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, along with the haftarot that go with each parashah.  The pointed Hebrew text, along with complete cantillation (musical notation) is displayed side-by-side with the JPS English translation.  The text is extensively annotated; footnotes routinely occupy one-third of each page, compiling information from a wide variety of traditional Jewish commentaries on the Bible.  Sometimes referred to as the Soncino Chumash.
The Living Torah, Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Maznayim Publishing, 1981
The five books of the Written Torah only, in a translation in plain and readable English style, with extensive notes and diagrams that we find very helpful.  This one is also on line at the Ort Bible site.
To Be a Jew, Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin, Basic Books, 1972
Unquestionably 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 the Sabbath, 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.  The companion volume, To Pray as a Jew, is also an excellent resource, but somewhat technical for a beginner.
The Jewish Primer, Rabbi Dr. Shmuel Himelstein, Facts on File, 1989
An excellent beginner's resource on Jewish belief and observance, written in a very readable question-and-answer style.  It covers many of the same subjects that Donin does, but addresses Reform, Conservative, and Reconstructionist practice as well as Orthodox.  It provides far less detail on the intricacies of observance than Donin's work does.
Basic Judaism, Milton Steinberg, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1947
A concise discussion of Jewish belief, presenting and contrasting the traditional and modern perspectives.  It discusses Torah, God, life, the Jewish people and our relation to the other nations, Jewish practice, Jewish law, and the World to Come.  One of the best things about this book is that it shows that all Jewish movements have more in common with each other than any has with any other religion.
Heritage:  Civilization and the Jews, Abba Eban, Summit Books, 1984
From the PBS series of the same name.  The history of the Jewish people from the time of Abraham to the present, relying on both biblical evidence and modern archaeological finds, with extensive illustrations.
The Artscroll Siddur (Siddur Kol Yaakov), Mesorah Publications, 1985
It is 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.).  The Artscroll series has an extensive line of similar Jewish books, all of which share these fine qualities.

For More Advanced Study

The Essential Talmud, Adin Steinsaltz, Basic Books, 1976
Adin Steinsaltz is widely considered to be one of the greatest Talmudic minds of our century.  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, the Sabbath, holidays, marriage and divorce, women, civil and criminal law, animal sacrifice, kashrut, ritual purity, ethics, and Jewish mysticism.
Everyman's Talmud, A. Cohen, Schocken Books, 1949
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.  It is one of the few books that seriously addresses the folklore contained in the Talmud (although Steinsaltz talks about mysticism, and points out that it was taught to a select few).  Cohen talks extensively about demonology, angelology, magic, and dreams.
The Concise Book of Mitzvoth, The Chafetz Chayim, Feldheim Pubs, 1990
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, 1988
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.

Publishers and Booksellers On Line

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.

A 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.
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.
Jason Aronson Publishers
Their prices are a bit high, but they have an unusually broad selection of Judaic materials.  They specialize in secondary sources, not primary reference material.
KTAV Publishing House

For additional sources, see the list of Jewish book publishers on YahooNOTE: Exercise extreme caution when searching for Jewish materials on Yahoo!  They have a long history of failing to distinguish between real Judaism and Christian missionary activity targeted at Jews!

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