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Rabbi Leff’s Book Recommendations

Most of the recommendations include a link to the book on Amazon’s web site.  Even the ones without a specific link are generally available on Amazon or from other major book sellers.



Torah: If you’ve never read through the entire Torah, reading the parsha every week in English translation will only take you 15 to 20 minutes a week, and in one year you will have read the whole thing.  If you do this, you will also find that it makes Simchat Torah, the holiday when we celebrate completing reading of the Torah every year much more personally meaningful.  I recommend the Etz Hayim which includes the Hebrew and a very helpful commentary.



Tanakh (The complete Hebrew Bible, including the Prophets and Writings): I also recommend reading the rest of Tanach.  If you read a chapter a day (no more than five minutes a day) you complete the Tanach in 2 years. The translation of Torah and Tanakh I recommend is the one from the Jewish Publication Society.


General Judaica



To Life! : A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking, by Harold Kushner.  An excellent introduction to the essence of Judaism.  Recommended first book for students in my Introduction to Judaism Course





Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People and Its History, by Joseph Telushkin.  Every adult Jew should read this book.  It will give you an excellent general Jewish education, including history, ethics, religious practices, etc.








How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household by Blu Greenberg.  The basics of what you need to know about how to keep the Sabbath, keep kosher, etc.  While Blu Greenberg is Orthodox, over 90% of what she has to say applies equally to Conservative Jews.  There are a few places where Conservative Judaism might be a little bit more liberal, e.g., the use of electricity on Shabbat.  Great for anyone who wants to move in the direction of increasing home observance.




As a Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg.  A historical novel about the only rabbi of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish high court, of 2,000 years ago who became an apostate (gave up Judaism).  A fascinating story, based on what we know of Elisha ben Abuya from the Talmud and Midrash.  One of my favorites.











The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel.  An amazing collection of insights about the essence of Shabbat.







The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays, by Irving Greenberg.  In thoughtful and engaging prose, Rabbi Greenberg explains and interprets the origin, background, ceremonial rituals, and religious significance of all the Jewish holidays, showing how they are related to Judaism's central themes and giving detailed instructions for observing them.



Halacha (Jewish Law)

Matters of Life and Death : A Jewish Approach to Modern Medical Ethics by Elliot N. Dorff.  Judaism has a lot of important things to say about modern medical ethics.  Rabbi Dorff provides a clear explanation of how we apply ancient Jewish principles to modern ethical dilemmas.









Halakhic Process: A Systemic Analysis (Moreshet Series, Vol 13)

by Joel Roth.  The authoritative guide to the Conservative approach to determining halacha.  Clicking on the above link will bring you to Amazon, although you may find it for a better price through the Jewish Theological Seminary (www.jtsa.edu)

Rabbinic Thought

Everyman's Talmud : The Major Teachings of the Rabbinic Sages, by Abraham Cohen and Jacob Neusner.  An excellent book to learn some of the key teachings of the Talmud.  Organized by subject, it makes it easy to find what the rabbis had to say about many different subjects.








Maimonides Reader, by Isadore Twerski.  Maimonides (Rambam) was one of the greatest of the rabbis.  In addition to being a great rabbinics scholar and author of the Mishnah Torah and Guide for the Perplexed, he was a philosopher and a physician.  Rambam was one of the greatest intellectuals Judaism has produced.  Anyone who leans toward an intellectual approach to life will especially appreciate the teachings of Rambam.  He emphasizes God’s incorporeality (does not have a body) and that the Torah should be taken metaphorically, not literally.




Siddur: Every Jewish home should have at least one siddur.  Siddur Sim Shalom, which we use at Bet Shalom, is the basic Conservative siddur.  The Artscroll Siddur is useful for the footnotes.  A linear translation, like the Metsudah Siddur is useful for learning the Hebrew.  See United Synagogue book service: http://uscj.org/booksvc/


To Pray As a Jew : A Guide to the Prayer Book and the Synagogue Service

by Hayim Halevy Donin.  Gives an excellent background to all of the prayers, and also includes the practical advice like when to stand, when to sit, how to put on the tallit and tefillin, etc.  Very useful.








Jewish Liturgy as a Spiritual System: A Prayer-by-Prayer Explanation of the Nature and Meaning of Jewish Worship by Arnold S. Rosenberg.  An excellent description of the structure of the different prayer services and the spiritual goal of different prayers and psalms.  Very worthwhile.  Click on title to order.


The Thirteen Petalled Rose by Adin Steinsaltz. An excellent compilation of many of the fundamental concepts of Kabbalah, rendered far more poetically and spiritually than Scholem.






The Jew in the Lotus: A Poet's Rediscovery of Jewish Identity in Buddhist India by Rodger Kamenetz.  The book is about a group of Jews who go to Dharamsala to visit the Dalai Lama.  It’s not a book about Kabbalah, but it includes a very good description, by Rabbi Zalman Shacter Shalomi, of the basic ideas of Kabbalah.






Kabbalah by Gershom Scholem.  Encyclopedic in its detail, includes great information on the history of Kabbalah as well as descriptions of the central teachings of Kabbalah.  A little on academic (dry) side.








God & the Big Bang: Discovering Harmony Between Science & Spirituality

by Daniel Chanan Matt.  Fascinating comparison between what Kabbalah and Science have to say about the creation of the universe.







The Essential Kabbalah : The Heart of Jewish Mysticism by Daniel Chanan Matt.  Full of “pearls of wisdom” from Jewish mysticism.  Great to use to find a fascinating idea to meditate on.  Contains detailed footnotes if you find things you want to explore in greater detail.







The Zohar: Pritzker Edition.  Translated by Daniel Matt.  Far and away the best translation of the Zohar available.  Only the first few volumes are available.


Wisdom of the Zohar, by Isaiah Tishby.  The most comprehensive translation of the Zohar currently available; organized by subject.


Jewish Meditation, Meditation and the Bible, Meditation and Kabbalah, all by Aryeh Kaplan.  Jewish Meditation is definitely the one to start with—has some excellent techniques for integrating meditation into a Jewish spiritual practice.


Knowing God: Jewish Journeys to the Unknowable by Elliot N. Dorff.  Excellent collection of Jewish ideas about God, as well as the personal explorations of God of one of my favorite professors, Rabbi Elliot Dorff of the UJ.  Click on the title to order from Amazon.


Conservative Judaism

Conservative Judaism: Our Ancestors to Our Descendants by Elliot Dorff.  Includes the history of the Conservative movement as well as discussion of Conservative approaches to Jewish law and theology.  Available through the United Synagogue book service.