About this Guide
This guide will help anyone who is interested in the academic study of Judaism. It includes topics such as:
- How to find books in the library.
- How to find articles on Judaism.
- How to find authoritative web sites.
- The top reference works on Jewish life and religion.
- A guide to some basic Jewish terms.
- Basic books in Jewish studies.
Judaism: A Very Short Introduction
Call Number: General Libraries STACKS BM45 .S666 1996
A good introduction to the many aspects of Judaism. As the title says, short and sweet. Also available online.
Settings of Silver: An Introduction to Judaism
Call Number: BM155.2 .W95 1989
Good introduction to the faith, practices, and history of Judaism, from a Reform rabbi. Updated edition published in 2000.
What Is a Jew?
Call Number: BM650 .K45
Classic treatment of the traditions, beliefs, and practices of Judaism, in a question-and-answer format. Intended in part as a guide for non-Jews. Evenhanded Reform perspective. Updated in 1996.
Call Number: BM560 .ST34
Concise treatment from a Reconstructionist viewpoint.
To Be a Jew: a Guide to Jewish Observance in Contemporary Life
Call Number: General Libraries STACKS BM700 .D58
Classic Orthodox guide to Jewish philosophy, daily life, and calendar.
Living a Jewish Life: Jewish Traditions, Customs, and Values for Today's Families
Call Number: General Libraries STACKS BM700 .D48 1996
Approaches Jewish thought not through theology but practice. Updated 2007.
A Dictionary of the Jewish-Christian Dialogue
Call Number: REFERENCE BM50 .D53 1984
Not a dictionary so much as a collection of thirty-nine topics, with each explained by two scholars, one Jewish and one Christian, showing how the ideas are related but differ at certain points. An excellent starting point for Christians, who all too often assume that all there is to know about Judaism can be found in the Old Testament. For a more conventional dictionary on the subject, see A Dictionary of Jewish-Christian Relations (General Libraries STACKS BM535 .D487 2005, also available online).
The New Rabbi: A Congregation Searches for Its Leader
This witty, observant journalistic account follows the ups and downs of a Conservative congregation's search for a new rabbi (which proves to have similar dynamics to Christian clergy search processes). It also provides an entertaining way to learn more about Judaism. Get the paperback edition, which has an afterward on how it all turned out.
Top Reference Books
The Oxford Dictionary of the Jewish Religion
Call Number: REFERENCE BM50 .O94 1997
A revision of the older Encyclopedia of Judaism, perhaps the best one-volume reference on Jewish religion. Concise articles by outstanding scholars. Cross-references to alternate spellings and related articles. Great bibliographies. A good entry-level choice.
The New Encyclopedia of Judaism
Call Number: REFERENCE BM50 .E63 2002
Another good one-volume reference, more accessible and less scholarly than Oxford Dictionary of Jewish Religion. Short articles; glossary; maps; charts; excerpts; illustrations. No individual bibliographies, but a nice annotated bibliography at the end.
Call Number: REFERENCE DS102.8 .E52
Monumental, exhaustive multivolume overview of Jewish life and knowledge. The 2nd edition, which often appends new information to the old articles rather than rewriting them, is available online. Maps, tables, illustrations, color photos, bibliographies, archaeological plans, chronologies, the works. Also thematic outline and index. Superb.
The Encyclopedia of Judaism
Call Number: REFERENCE BM50 .E63 1999
Highly authoritative reference on the Jewish religion in all its diversity from ancient times to the present, with a particular concentration on the rabbinic period. Indexes, bibliographies, and cross-references leave something to be desired, but this is a major work.
The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions
Call Number: GENERAL STACKS BM50 .E49 2004
Guide to Jewish life and ritual covers the various stages of life, Sabbath observance, festivals, synagogue traditions, daily observances (mitzvot), symbols, superstitions, and conversion. Includes list of weekly and holiday Torah readings, bibliography, index.
The JPS Dictionary of Jewish Words
Call Number: REFERENCE BM50 .E47 2001
Most commonly used Jewish words and terms, derived from Yiddish, Hebrew, Aramaic, and English, covering Jewish holidays and events, culture, history, worship, the Bible, and other sacred texts. Pronunciation guides, cross-references, index. Handy and accessible. See also the more extensive Dictionary of Jewish Terms (REFERENCE BM50 .E485 2008).
The Encyclopedia of Jewish Symbols
Call Number: REFERENCE BM50 .F74 1992
Definitions and descriptions for ceremonial objects, images, personalities, places, concepts, motifs, and events in Jewish life. Arranged alphabetically, with B&W illustrations. Includes glossary, listing of symbols by category and concept, time line of Jewish history, and index.
Back to the Sources: Reading the Classic Jewish Texts
Call Number: REFERENCE BM496.5 .B33 1984
Outstanding introduction to classic Jewish texts: Tanakh, Talmud, Prayer Book, medieval Biblical commentaries, legal codes, philosophical works. What they are and how to read them. Includes detailed examples, plus extensive bibliographic essays. This is the place to start getting hands-on experience. From the same editor: The Schocken Guide to Jewish Books (General STACKS DS102.95 .S36 1992), which covers a broader selection of Jewish literature, but in lesser depth.
Historical Atlas of the Jewish People
Call Number: REFERENCE DS116 .A54 2003
Atlas of the Jewish people, history, and culture from antiquity to the present. Text, maps, photographs, diagrams and other artwork, arranged chronologically and systematically. Glossary, index.
Jewish Year Book
Call Number: REFERENCE DS135 .EN3 A3 1975
Annual publication for over a hundred years; an authoritative record of events and trends in Jewish life in the United States. Covers major themes, anniversaries, Jewish life (especially in U.S. and Israel). Lists of national Jewish organizations, federations, and periodicals; obituaries; Jewish calendars. American and British editions. Archives available online.
Brief Glossary of Jewish Terms
- Aggadah (or Haggadah) refers to non-legal discussions and is found in the Talmud and the midrashim. About one-third of the Talmud is aggadah, interspersed between the legal discussions of the rabbis and including history, philosophy, theology, ethics, and folklore. Most midrashic material is aggadic.
- Gemara is the commentary on the Mishnah that was codified c. 200-500 C.E. In addition to legal matters, it includes large sections of midrash, aggadah, stories about rabbis, medical advice, science, etc.
- Halakhah designates all legal discussions.
- Ketuvim is the third and final part of the Hebrew Bible, the “Writings,” including the poetic books (Psalms, Proverbs and Job), the “Hamesh Megillot” (“Five Scrolls”: Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther), and Daniel, Ezra-Nehemiah and Chronicles.
- Masorah designates the body of traditions that are printed in the margins of the Hebrew Bible to guide the reader.
- Midrash (“exposition”) is a rabbinic commentary on the Bible that explains legal points (primarily, midrash halakah) or brings out lessons by story, parable, or legend (primarily, midrash aggadah). The midrashim were written from the Mishnaic period to the 13th century.
- Midrash ha-Gadol
- Midrash ha-Gadol or “the Great Midrash” was a 13th century anthology of midrashim, drawn from rabbinic literature and compiled by R. David ben Aaron of Aden, Yemen. It expounded the Pentateuch according to a system of weekly readings.
- Midrash Rabbah
- Midrash Rabbah is an anthology of midrashim on the Bible, divided by book (hence, Genesis Rabba, Leviticus Rabba, etc.) The anthology covers the Torah (Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy) and the five “megillot” (or “scrolls”: Canticles, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther).
- Midrash Tehillim
- Midrash Tehillim is the midrash on Psalms that was compiled over several centuries. It omits Psalms 123 and 131 and was issued by Solomon Buber in 1891.
- Mishnah is the oral law that was codified c. 200 C.E, which tradition maintains was given to Moses on Sinai. It is organized into six “orders”: agriculture, holidays, women, torts, the sanctuary, and purity.
- Nevi’im is the second part of the Hebrew Bible, the “Prophets,” which includes the Former Prophets (the narrative books of Joshua through Kings) and the Latter Prophets (Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and the Minor Prophets).
- Septuagint (abbreviation: LXX)
- Septuagint designates the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible and the Deuterocanonicals/Apocrypha.
- The Talmud is the authoritative body of Jewish law and tradition from about 200 B.C.E to 500 C.E. There is the Jerusalem or Palestinian Talmud and the Babylonian Talmud. The talmudic period divides into that of the Mishnah and that of the Gemara. Rabbis of the former period are called “tannaim” and those of the latter, “amoraim.”
- Tanakh is an acronym for the Hebrew Bible in its three parts: Torah (“Law”), Nevi’im (“Prophets”), and Ketuvim (“Writings”).
- Targum means “translation” and has been the traditional name for the Aramaic translations of the Hebrew Bible, which began to be issued several centuries before the Common Era; The Babylonian targums are usually more literal, while the Palestinian targums are often more paraphrastic and expansive. No targums exist for Daniel or Ezra-Nehemiah
- Tefilla or Siddur
- Tefilla or Siddur is the liturgy of rabbinic Judaism for daily, Sabbath, and holiday use.
- Torah(“teaching”) refers to the first section of the Hebrew Bible, the five books of Moses: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; it can also refer to Jewish law in general.
- Tosefta (“addition”) is that collection of tannaitic teachings that supplements the Mishnah. It is four times as long as the Mishnah but divided into the same sections.