The text for Intro is Settings of Silver, by Rabbi Stephen Wylen. You can purchase this text locally at Afikomen Books on Claremont Blvd. While it is an excellent book, some students may want to look at other sources. Here are some I recommend.
Scheindlin, Raymond. A Short History of the Jewish People: From Legendary Times to Modern Statehood. This is the text used by most Introduction to Judaism classes around North America. It is brief and fairly complete, and very readable. Used copies are easily available online and sometimes in local used bookstores.
Barnavi, Eli. A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People from the Time of the Patriarchs to the Present. This is an excellent historical resource, especially if you are drawn to pictures, time lines and graphics. I would be tempted to require it as a text, but it is a very expensive book.
Ben-Sasson, Hayim. A History of the Jewish People. If you want a history with a lot of meat to it, but still readable, this is a good choice. It’s a solid “fat” book with lots of information and more on the scholarly side than most of the rest I am recommending here.
Potok, Chaim. Wanderings: Chaim Potok’s History of the Jews. This is probably the book I’d ask everyone to read, but it’s out of print. Potok is a master novelist, and this very readable history is a good introduction to Jewish history. It’s available as a used paperback.
My People: Abba Eban’s History of the Jews, Vol I and II is a new edition of a classic history of the Jewish people in the words of the Israeli statesman, Abba Eban. It has been reframed as a Jewish History Text for grades 6-8, and does an excellent job of putting Jewish history in the context of world history, while keeping the whole thing manageable and readable. I recommend this text very highly (but be sure to get and read both volumes if you choose it.)
Stan Mack, The Story of the Jews . This history is written in graphic novel format and as far as it goes, it is quite good. There are a few historical inaccuracies in it (for example, the specifics of Hitler’s rise to power are incorrect). On the plus side, it does a good job of describing a lot of the Jewish story and putting things into a chronological framework.
I ask that you acquire a copy of the JPS Tanakh, the Jewish Bible. There are many excellent Bible translations on the market, but it is helpful for study if we’re all using this same one. This translation is in use at many of our area synagogues. Again, if your budget does not allow for a new one, used copies are not hard to find. Since we meet in the library at Temple Sinai, there are also a few copies there that you can use.
If you already own a Jewish Bible, but it’s not a Jewish Publication Society bible, then bring yours to class and ask me about it; it might be fine. The King James Bible, however, while it is beautiful literature, is not a Jewish Bible and is not suitable for this class. If you are curious about Bibles, versions and translations, we’ll talk about all those things iin class beginning January 11.
Other good books I recommend for a basic home Jewish library:
A home library should have a book on the Jewish holidays. There are several wonderful ones on the market, and any of them are fine to own:
- Strassfeld, Michael, Jewish Holidays: A Guide and Commentary. Harper Collins, 1993.
- Greenberg, Irving, The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays. Touchstone Press, 1993.
- Waskow, Arthur, Seasons of Our Joy. Beacon Press, 1991.
It can be very helpful to have a reference book on hand for those “what does that word mean?” questions.
- Jewish Literacy, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, is one of the best.
I recommend any of the following books about Shabbat. The first two are good for learning how to keep Shabbat in a liberal Jewish household. Dr. Heschel’s book is essential if you really want to “get” Shabbat.
- Shapiro, Mark Dov, Gates of Shabbat: A Guide for Observing Shabbat. This is a Reform introduction to keeping Shabbat, with the basic information you need plus readings, meditations, and ideas for “next steps.” If you want to enrich your home life with Shabbat, this is a good place to begin.
- Perelson, Ruth, An Invitation to Shabbat: A Beginner’s Guide to Weekly Celebration. It includes step-by-step guides to blessings, to observance, and a CD to introduce Shabbat melodies and the blessings. Another good “beginner” book.
- Heschel, Abraham Joshua, The Sabbath. This is the classic work on Shabbat by one of the great voices of 20th century Judaism. It is a tiny book, written in language that verges on poetry. If you know how to “do Shabbat” but want to deepen your understanding and practice of Shabbat, there is no better book.
- Zion, Noam, and Fields-Meyer, Shawn, A Day Apart: Shabbat at Home is another good introduction to Shabbat, this one to a more classically Orthodox observance of the day.
I will update this book list with new additions as time goes on. If you would like for me to recommend books on a particular subject, please either leave a comment on the blog or email me at rabbiadar -at- gmail -dot- com.