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
½ years. The translation of Torah and Tanakh I recommend is the one
from the Jewish Publication Society.
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
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
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)
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:
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
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: 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.