What are we reading now? What did we read on our journey to conversion?
Many people begin learning about Judaism by reading a book. In the first section, you will see "Beginner" books suggested by local rabbis. Below that are books suggested by people who have already converted. Asterisks (*) by a title indicate that they are good "starter" books.
There are 3 sections to this page:
Rabbi Suggestions for Reading
Readers' Suggestions for Jewish Novels
Readers' Suggestions from Jews by Choice
See our new section on Jewish novels! (Below Rabbi Suggestions for Reading, below)!
Want to ask questions about these books or add your own suggestions? Email us!
Rabbi Suggestions for Reading:
These are books our local rabbis suggest for those seekers interested in converting to Judaism.
For those just getting started on their learning, Rabbi Sarah Wolf Weissman of Beth Am recommends Living Judaism by Wayne Dosick.
Rabbi Mark Bloom of Temple Beth Abraham in Oakland recommends these two books for people just learning about Judaism:
To Life! by Harold Kushner for "Why consider Judaism? or what is cool and interesting about it."
How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household by Blu Greenberg for "How" and "What" Judaism is like.
Rabbi Janet Marder of Beth Am often recommends that potential converts read To Life! by Harold Kushner.
Rabbi David Wolpe: In 1993 the East Bay Jewish community offered a program titled, Why Be Jewish?. Its focus was to answer the questions that interfaith couples and those interested in conversion have about participating in Judaism. Our keynote speaker was Rabbi David Wolpe. A year later, stimulated by his experience at the conference and the responses to his talk, Rabbi Wolpe wrote a small book titled, Why Be Jewish? whose three chapters are: To Grow in Soul, To Join a People, To Seek God. This slender book is worth reading.
Readers' Suggestions for Jewish Novels:
The Singing Fire
By Lillian Nattel
The publisher says: In stunningly vivid prose, and with a touch of her trademark magical realism, Nattel brings the fin de siécle city to life -- whores and rabbis, street vendors and artists, sweatshops and Yiddish theatre. Nehama and Emilia each arrive in London alone, naïve and full of dreams of independence.
Our reviewer says: This is a story of two women, emigrating from Eastern Europe to London in the 1880s, whose lives cross briefly on their separate paths. They each suspect they're irredeemable and unworthy of love, yet they manage to find a place in the world. Beautiful descriptions without being overwrought, with interesting history and commentary on assimilation and social mobility.
Readers' Suggestions from Jews by Choice:
The Art of Jewish Living
by Dr. Ron Wolfson
From the Federation of Jewish Men's Clubs, 1990. This set includes books on Shabbat, Hanukkah, and Passover with hands-on instructions, many illustrations and anecdotes. This is an excellent resource for the whole family to read, enjoy and use as a guide to practice. They are now available from Jewish Lights Publishing, Woodstock, Vermont.
Balancing on the Mechitza: Transgender in Jewish Community
Edited by Noach Dzmura
This is a series of essays, the first of its kind, about the Jewish transgender community. Lots to think about, especially about identity. A must-read for all of us.
by Milton Steinberg
This is the basic text and has been for decades. You can get it used for a couple bucks. Should be on everyone’s bookshelf.
Becoming a Jew
by Rabbi Maurice Lamm
An excellent resource, and it has so much info, you might get overwhelmed. Rabbi Lamm breaks it down for you to understand.
Becoming Jewish: The Challenges, Rewards and Paths to Conversion
by Jennifer Hanin and Rabbi Steven Carr Reuben
In The Netherlands there are no books for people like me, who are interested in becoming a Jew. None whatsoever. So I have been reading a few books like this one, Becoming Jewish in English. What I like about this book is that it is written for absolute beginners like me. American conversion is a bit different from Dutch conversion (which I think is so much harder!), but I do find the information in this book useful. I found the glossary especially useful. What I miss in the book is a chapter about conversion for people like me, whose partner is an atheist. Another thing: I always like to read about other people’s conversion so a few more stories about the conversion process would be nice. Overall, I enjoyed this book very much, and I have read it more than once. It is a very user-friendly book that covers basically all topics about Judaism. Readers who like Anita Diamond’s books will probably like this one too.
The Book of Jewish Values
by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
A day book examining 265 Jewish values. My all time favorit book on ethics - covers the gamut of mitzvot. This is a favorite book of mine and something I always give as a bar/bat mitzvah gift.
*Choosing A Jewish Life: A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism and for their Families and Friends
by Anita Diamant
A detailed description of the conversion process that offers celebration suggestion and discusses the creation of a meaningful Jewish identity following conversion. As a prospective convert I found this book to be an excellent resource. It's a very easy read. The author's tone is warm yet pragmatic, conversational yet informative. She begins the book with a summary of her own journey in reclaiming her Jewish identity and traditions as well as her husband's conversion experience. The book covers all the topics an Intro to Judaism class should cover; importantly, it also addresses some of the more intimidating aspects of conversion: choosing a rabbi, immersion in the mikvah, appearing before a beit din, and acceptance by the community-at-large. After reading this book, I am far less intimidated by the conversion process, and I am grateful for it. I just purchased a copy for my parents to help them understand my desire to convert.
I really liked this one. Very user-friendly.
by Lydia Kukoff
One of the first books written on conversion to Judaism. Offers basic information about Judaism and covers issues that arise with parents, children, and within the Jewish community.
The Colors of Jews: Racial Politics and Radical Diasporism
By Melanie Kaye-Kantrowitz
Exposes and challenges the common assumptions about whom and what Jews are, by presenting in their own voices, Jews of color from the Iberian Peninsula, Asia, Africa, and India. Drawing from her earlier work on Jews and whiteness, Kaye/Kantrowitz delves into the largely uncharted territory of Jews of color and argues that Jews are an increasingly multiracial people.
*The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Judaism
by Benjamin Blech
Conversations with Rabbi Small
by the same author who wrote the "Monday the Rabbi..." series - Harry Kemelman
This is one of the books that I read and very much appreciated when I was studying. It's a novel, but is a beautiful overview of Judaism as the rabbi works with someone exploring what it would mean to be Jewish.
Embracing the Covenant: Converts to Judaism Talk About Why & How
by Rabbi Allan Berkowitz and Patti Moskovitz
This was written by Patti Moskowitz, a Bay Area educator who works with people as they study towards conversion. She lives in San Mateo and is currently taking students through the rabbis with whom she works. The stories in this book are from local Jews by Choice.
Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs & Rituals
by George Robinson
Please note: A rabbi contacted us to say that there are numerous errors in this book. He has contacted the publisher who is in the process making corrections for future editions and in the online version.
4 different reviews:
I've read this book twice and I use it continually as a reference volume. It was the first book my rabbi told me to read when I said I had some interest in converting to Judaism. The book is occasionally a bit thickly worded, but the upside of that is that there is a good amount of detail for those who want to know the nuts-and-bolts. All in all I would say it's been an invaluable resource to me. I have even been known to pick some random section of Essential Judaism to read before bed when I'm between books.
I absolutely loved Essential Judaism. I found it easy to ready and it basically gives an excellent overview of what Judaism is. It is great for a person who is inquiring, but it is also good for those who already have a basic understanding of Judaism. I've read it cover-to-cover; however, it is good for looking up specific topics regarding Judaism. I think it should be part of any Intro to Judaism course. It is a great resource.
Essential Judaism is a comprehensive but easily accessible overview of a pretty massive subject. He goes through the basics...the prayers, practices, and holidays of Judaism, but he also dives into the texts, philosophy, and current events. I strongly recommend this book for those pursuing/considering conversion. It covers so much and it's a pleasure to read!
We used that book in my college World Religions-Judaism class. I found it slightly more thorough and academic than other 'intro' guides; it's perfect for people starting to consider Judaism who are readers, thinkers, pretty sure they're going to convert, but I wouldn't recommend it to, say, family wanting to learn about my religion. It generated lots of class discussion split on whether Reform point of view or Orthodox Judaism heavy; I say Reform but no malice to Conservative or Orthodox. It is great at Tanakh, worship services; slightly weaker on lifecycle; not as great on chagim, too much Kabbalah.
The Everything Judaism Book - A Complete Primer
by Richard Bank
Very user friendly.
The Everything Torah Book
by Rabbi Yaakov Menken
Fast and Festive Meals for the Jewish Holidays: Complete Menus, Rituals and Party Planning Ideas for Every Holiday of the Year
by Marlene Sorosky
Everything from setting the Shabbat table to braiding Challah. Includes photos, clear directions and helpful timing tips for making a big holiday meal. Good explanation of why certain foods are significant for various holidays. Author lives in Danville, CA.
Finding a Home for the Soul
by Catherine Hall Myrowitz
A collection of interviews with people from diverse backgrounds on their search for meaning and eventual conversion to Judaism.
Finding God: Selected Responses
by Rifat Sonsino and Daniel B. Syme
If you are interested in learning what is the Jewish view of God (or even if you THINK you know what is the Jewish view of God but haven't read this book!), then Finding God: Selected Responses is an easy but fascinating read. In 13 short chapters, it covers how some of the great Jewish thinkers have thought about God over the last 2,000+ years. Once I started reading, I couldn't put it down!
Gates of Shabbat
Written for those seeking to understand the significance of Shabbat, this book breaks down the elements of Shabbat into easy-to-understand sections. The Gates of Shabbat is organized into three sections: Observing Shabbat, Readings and Meditations, and Taking the Next Step. Observing Shabbat provides essential information about Erev (evening) Shabbat and Shabbat Day, both at home and in the Synagogue. Readings and Meditations includes prose and poetry for study in home observance. Finally, Taking the Next Step includes a mitzvah definition, prayers, and songs, with sheet music.
The Handbook for Jewish Living
by Kerry Olitzky and Ronald Isaacs
The How To Handbook for Jewish Living and The Second How to Handbook for Jewish Living
by Ronald H. Isaacs, Dorcas Gelabert and Kerry M. Olitzky
Everything from how to bend during Baruch Atah Adonai, complete with illustrations, how to dance the Hora, how to wave the Lulav, how to hang a mezuzzah. The whole deal. EASY and accessible. I use these all the time when I need a quick answer - or have forgotten something I once knew and need a refresher. Good, quick reference book for those weird, nagging questions that can become huge obstacles/challenges when you're new.
How to Keep Kosher: A comprehensive Guide to Understanding Jewish Dietary Laws
by Lise Stern
How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household
by Blu Greenberg
This has been a terrific guide - even though my family is not Orthodox, it has helped me understand a broad range of customs/practices. Has recipes, step-by-step guides for lighting candles, celebrating holidays, saying blessings, keeping kosher.
The Jewish Book of Why - Volumes 1 and 2
by Dr. Ron Wolfson
I go to this for the out-in-left-field questions I have. If you read nothing more than these books, you'd have a good basic handle on why a lot of stuff is done that seems completely irrational on the surface.
The Jewish Holidays - a Guide and Commentary
by Michael Strassfeld
250 pages. Very comprehensive. Answers the "whys" behind the reason for the holiday customs.
Jewish Holidays All Year Round
by Ilene Cooper
All the major holidays with beautiful illustrations for children (or newbies). Even things like a good kugel recipe inside.
The Jewish Home: A Guide for Jewish Living
by Daniel B. Syme
Explains the "why" of major Jewish rituals from the birth of a child to the Jewish wedding, bar and bat mitzvah, Jewish divorce, confirmation, and the holidays. Ideal introduction to Jewish family living. From Union of Reform Judaism press. A good basic book.
Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know about the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History
by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
If I could recommend a book to anyone wanting to learn more about Judaism, I would choose this one. Telushkin goes through the Bible, through Jewish history, through Jewish ethics and traditions in an easily digestible style. I would look forward to my daily BART commute because I enjoyed reading this book so much.
Jewish Living: A Guide to Contemporary Reform Practice
by Mark Washofsky
Initially I had a hard time getting into this one. I think I needed to learn more about the fundamentals of Judaism first. Now I'm really enjoying it. Washofsky clearly defines Reform practice, highlighting its progressive nature while respecting and upholding the benefits of Jewish religious pluralism.
The Jewish Way
by Rabbi Irving Greenberg
Not for the beginner, but loved by some. Library Journal said of it: Diverse, non-linear material precludes its easy use as a handbook... The chapters on each major and minor holiday are crammed with facts, anecdotes, and personal reflections...
by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
Living a Jewish Life: Jewish Traditions, Customs, and Values for Today's Families
by Anita Diamant and Howard Cooper
A great place to start! Diamant and Cooper go through Jewish customs and holidays at a beginner level. They speak to anyone looking to learn more about Judaism (non-observant Jews, those seeking conversation, non-Jews with Jewish grandchildren), so it's incredibly accessible. I love this book.
Lovesong: Becoming a Jew
by Julius Lester
A must have for Jews of color! Mr. Lester's journey resonates with everyone. Lester, son of a black southern Methodist minister, writes of the eventful odyssey that culminated in his conversion to Judaism. The private journey was often at odds with his public life. As writer, radio commentator in New York and college professor at the University of Massachusetts, Lester's outspoken and unconventional views often angered blacks as well as whites, and placed him in a political and philosophical fray between blacks and Jews.
My Jewish Year - Celebrating Our Holidays
by Adam Fisher
160 pages, large type, illustrations, photos. Geared for kids - but good for beginners.
Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism
by Dennis Prager & Joseph Telushkin
On the Doorposts of Your House: Prayers and Ceremonies for the Jewish Home
by Chaim Stern
Edited by David Shneer and Caryn Aviv
Twenty-one essays by all kinds of men and women involved in Jewish life -- principals, rabbis, and those who are secular -- tell us what it means to be gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and Jewish. Consider this a place to go if you're gay and considering dipping your toe into the Jewish world.
by Abraham Joshua Heschel
This book is beautifully written. It describes time from a Jewish perspective. He writes "the Sabbath is a sanctuary in time." This encompasses what Judaism means to me. It is a sanctuary in my life that I celebrate each week. Shabbat to me was the most accessible way to start living a Jewish life in Jewish time.
Seasons of Our Joy
by Arthur Waskow
Beacon Press, Boston, MA, 1982
Describes and discusses the holidays of the Jewish calendar. Not a beginner’s book. After you have a grasp of the holidays and the Torah verses the Talmud this book a window into how the holidays were practiced when the Temple stood and how they have evolved theologically.
Second How to Handbook for Jewish Living
by Kerry Olitzky and Ronald Isaacs
Everything from how to bend during Baruch Atah Adoni- complete with illustrations, how to dance the Hora, how to wave the Lulav, how to hang a mezuzzah. The whole deal. EASY and accessible. I use these all the time when I need a quick answer - or have forgotten something I once knew and need a refresher.
The Second Jewish Book of Why
by Alfred J. Kolatch
*Settings of Silver: An Introduction to Judaism by Stephen Wylen
This was one of my "primer" books, a great way to start with explanations I could understand as a beginner. Many Jews by Choice I know say they started with this book, and that it's their favorite.
The Synagogue Survival Kit by Jordan Lee Wagner
The Tribe of Dina, A Jewish Women's Anthology
Edited by Melanie Kaye-Kantrowitz
In richly diverse essays, stories, memoirs, poems, and interviews, the contributors to this collection affirm the depth of Jewish women's participation in Jewish life and give strength to feminist struggles in the Jewish community.
This is My God
by Herman Wouk
This is Real and You Are Completely Unprepared: The Days of Awe as a Journey of Transformation
By Alan Lew
I read this book in preparation for my first High Holidays as a Jew and it is FAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAANTASTIC. I love the way he writes, so profoundly, and then brings it back to reality with comparisons like baseball (which I love!). He says something like "a year in Jewish life is like baseball. You start at home (Rosh Hoshanah) and then you spend a year going through the holidays and the year is like 'circling the bases' and at the end of the year, you're home again, but you aren't the same person as when you left." (Which is so true). I was worried the book might be too heavy, but it's not. It's amazing. And he talks very much about forgiveness and even forgiving oneself. I could go on and on and on. WOW.
To Be a Jew & To Pray as a Jew
by Rabbi Hayim Donin
Comprehensive (Orthodox perspective)
To Be a Jew: A Guide to Jewish Observance in Contemporary Life
by Rabbi Hayim Halevy Donin
What Is a Jew?
by Rabbi Morris N. Kertzer
This book is written in a Q&A format, easy to navigate and understand.
By Robert Schoen
If you have very little background in Judaism but were raised in a Western culture, American, English, French, etc., this book is a great starting point to understand Judaism. It is explained from a culturally Christian viewpoint. If you can’t find it in your local bookstore or library, you may request it through the interlibrary loan program in the USA.