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Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know about the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History

4.29  ·  Rating Details  ·  1,444 Ratings  ·  71 Reviews
All the answers are here. "Jewish Literacy, " written by an esteemed rabbi, is a compendium of 346 short chapters on the essential trends, concepts, and personalities of Jewish history, religion, and culture.
Hardcover, 784 pages
Published April 26th 1991 by William Morrow & Company
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Petar X
Jun 04, 2016 Petar X marked it as aiming-to-read
The most important thing to know about Jewish literacy is that as a dispersed people assimilating to a greater or lesser degree in every country they ever lived in, it was important to to become literate in order to, at the very least, record the recipes. Cuisine is the culture we can all share without being political.

I'm only half-joking.

Simcha Wood
May 30, 2011 Simcha Wood rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rabbi Telushkin's Jewish Literacy is intended to serve as a general introduction to Judaism and Jewish culture and history. It performs more than admirably as such an introduction. Telushkin's prose is simple and elegant and capable of delivering large amounts of information with little wasted verbiage. His style is engaging as well as informative. This is no dry Judaism 101 textbook. Telushkin clearly has a love for this work and it comes through in his writing. He has an academic's grasp of th ...more
Dec 03, 2013 Stefanie rated it it was ok
I appreciate the usefulness of an encyclopedia of Judaism, but I can't get over the inflammatory statements (such as, 'Muslims like to build temples on the destroyed temples of other religions' or categorizing all antizionist jews as self-hating, and categorizing all antizionist gentiles as antisemitic). I felt the term antisemitic was thrown around fairly easily while at the same time making wild generalizations about non-Jewish groups. I am irreligious so I prefer an objective POV for these so ...more
Mar 24, 2015 Edward rated it really liked it
A good overview of Jewish ideas, history, and theological principles written by a member of the Jewish community. Arranged in short articles, the information is easy to digest regardless of background and makes for rapid reading despite its 750-page length.

The author seems to come from a fairly conservative (in the context of Judaism, not necessarily politics) mindset, but makes a sincere effort to represent the many sects, opinions, and divisions within his religion. For non-Jews, this may be t
Sep 09, 2009 Ryan rated it it was amazing
Really interesting for the first 600 pages. Har har.

Exactly what I was looking for in terms of a book on a religion - it's essentially a narrative encyclopedia about Judaism. Goes through the Bible, religious texts, historical periods, and then contemporary practice and custom (the last bit I skimmed through). It picks out events, people, ideas, and places that you should know about to have some sort of literacy when thinking about Judaism (and by extension, good parts of Christianity, Islam, a
Feb 18, 2010 Laura rated it it was amazing
Rabbi Telushkin's books are always welcomed on my nightstand, as his writing style is unassuming, eloquent, yet basic. This book serves almost as an anthology to all things Jewish, which is great for non-Jews to learn "why they do that?" for a variety of holidays, events, customs, tenets, etc.

Considering Christianity is founded on many principles of Judaism, I think this book should be explored more by Christians than those of our own faith. This book certainly is written to assume that the audi
Oct 18, 2008 John rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: All Chrisitans and Jews
This is such an enjoyable and educational book! It is full of wise stories and insights about the Bible and Jewish life that will profit everyone who reads it. The Rabbbi is a gifted writer and exteemly knowledgeable.
The book is devided into a page or two chapters that are easy and pleasant reading. Every page brings new information or a slant on things I had never considered.
There are Christians who avoid what they call the OT believing it has little to do with them. But, we are Judeo Chrisit
Aug 05, 2010 Susan rated it it was amazing

This is an amazing book. In the past I'd used it for study but only read assigned pages. I'd also used it for reference. Since whatever I read was so interesting and educational, I finally decided to read it cover to cover. I learned SO much. It's not for in-depth knowledge with its chapters of 2-3 pages or less. But enough to know at least a little bit about almost every Jewish topic of import regarding history, theology, tradition, modern Jewish issues, important Jews and Jewish scholars, the
Charlie Hersh
Jun 24, 2013 Charlie Hersh rated it liked it
The book was extremely thorough and educational, and works both as a collection of individual encyclopedic entries and as a whole cohesive narrative. However, it only gets three stars because of the distracting and persistent Islamaphobia that came up every time the author mentions "Mohammed" or laments the permanence of the mosque at the Dome on the Rock, lest there be "an international Islamic jihad (holy war)." He also misunderstands many themes and elements of the Qur'an, which is problemati ...more
Mar 17, 2009 Peter rated it it was amazing
Written by a rabbi for Jews hoping to understand more about their own cultural, historical, and religious background, but accessible to anyone, and I found it a fascinating read for a layman with a mostly Christian-inflected upbringing. Full of little nuggets that are often underplayed in a Christian education, like the deep roots of the supposedly Christian Golden Rule in Jewish writings (Leviticus) and teachings (Rabbi Hillel).
Kristi Magy
Aug 15, 2011 Kristi Magy rated it really liked it
Shelves: judaica
This book isn't an absorbing read, but it is exactly as advertised. This book is, cover-to-cover, an overview of all of the important elements of Judaism. I found it an invaluable resource in my journey through conversion to Judaism, and found the references within it even more helpful. Telushkin has written or collaborated on other books about Judaism, and I would recommend those as reference and resource books as well.
Aug 12, 2010 Victoria rated it really liked it
The short chapters on Jewish essentials make this a quick and easy book to read. Chapters are backed by scholarly references and historic anecdotes. It is best used as a reference guide.
Bradley Farless
Nov 17, 2013 Bradley Farless rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jewish-studies
Pretty good overview. It touches on almost anything one could think to ask about.
Jan 03, 2016 Frank rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Amazing and totally a staple for me on my path!
Oct 27, 2010 Lesli rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction, religion
A good survey, not profound, but interesting.
Mar 03, 2015 Melissa rated it really liked it
Joseph Telushkin did an excellent job of sharing "the most important things about Judaism" in 750 pages. Because he is trying to cover everything from the material of the Torah, to relious observances, to Israeli independence, to WWII, all topics are covered lightly.

The chapters are very readable, with anecdotes through-out. There were several places that I noticed a very distict bias coming through. This isn't surprising considering the very controversial nature of parts of Jewish history.

Yong Lee
Oct 03, 2015 Yong Lee rated it really liked it
This book has been sitting around at the office for a long time. I had no idea where it came from and kind of curious who owned it. It turned out it was given to a colleague about to marry into a Jewish family. Curiosity finally won the day. I brought it home and read it. I was surprised how much I enjoyed it and how much I learned. A great introduction.
Steven Schwarzman
Jan 20, 2015 Steven Schwarzman rated it it was amazing
I've used Rabbi Telushkin's Jewish Literacy for my Introduction to Judaism courses. Its bite-sized chapters that sum up pretty much everything you need to know about Judaism form a solid basis for further learning.

It's good for people considering conversion to Judaism, and also good for Jews who would like to begin deepening their knowledge of Judaism.
Kerin Jacobs
Feb 09, 2014 Kerin Jacobs rated it liked it
Excellent historical summarizations. Unfortunately, extremely biased on many of the religious topics toward a preference for Conservatism, rather than an open-minded overview of the various viewpoints and philosophies.
Frances Pearson
Jul 16, 2015 Frances Pearson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

I am brand new to Judaism and this is a book for our conversion class. It is so very informative and in depth. I have learned a tremendous amount.
May 28, 2014 Chuck rated it it was ok
Shelves: religion
Nice reference although it is too opinionated for my taste. Of course no one is completely neutral but I am hoping to find something more matter-of-fact.
Feb 13, 2011 Julie rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion
I'm not one to rate books. I definitely wouldn't recommend this book to everyone. It's not a fun read. It's not absorbing. I would recommend it for one reason: It is what it claims to be. The book is, for the most part, without bias. The beginning is a clear, understandable summary of the Hebrew Bible. It moves on to discuss history and tradition. I began to study Judaism just over a year ago and this book was instrumental in enabling me to move quickly through "the basics". I highly recommend i ...more
Alison Whiteman
Jul 14, 2014 Alison Whiteman rated it it was amazing
I read this about ten years ago while taking a class in Judaism 101. I often refer to this book.
Feb 25, 2009 Paul rated it really liked it
I'm finished! Other than the Bible, this is the longest (670 pages) book I've ever read. But it didn't seem tedious at all, as the format is chapters that are only 1-2 pages long. This was a great bed-time book for me to get up to speed on a huge variety of Jewish issues. You don't have to have mental energy for a regular length chapter or any complex paragraphs. It has short blurbs on famous people, events, or cultural realities. Overall, a great way to feel the ethos of the Jewish world that w ...more
Nanette Kastner
Sep 01, 2012 Nanette Kastner rated it really liked it
Shelves: religious
Interesting reading about history and culture from a Jewish perspective. I like to look at things from another person's point of view - the different take on not taking the Lords name in vain was new to me, as well as some of the different Jewish sects and the background on the Talmud. There were a lot of words that I haven't ever heard and I wouldn't know how to pronounce them, so a lot of it won't stick with me.
Aug 14, 2007 Christina rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone interested in Judaism
This is a very informative book that is handy to have around if any Jewish people mention someone in rabbinical history and you don't know who it is. It's also good for correcting misconceptions people have about Jewish law and understanding the debate of Zionism. I haven't read it straight through, but Vince seems to be doing that and is pretty into it. It has good "clif's notes" of lots of religious text.
Daniel Bryant
Jul 11, 2012 Daniel Bryant rated it really liked it
Really an excellent overview of everything from torah mi sinai to moshe maimonides to the rebirth of israel with a pretty balanced viewpoint— telushkin is strictly in the modern orthodox camp, making it a good read for pretty much anyone except the nuts in new square who'll throw a molotov cocktail at your back porch after you went to the wrong minyan on a tuesday... in that case hide it under your bed.
Apr 10, 2009 Ray rated it really liked it
I enjoy jumping hither and thither in this book. It's educational and entertaining, a rare mix to be sure. This sits on the opposite side of Abraham Joshua Heschel's "God In Search of Man," which I'm reading concurrently with this one. Now THAT thing gives me a headache. Oy!
John Rasmussen
Dec 06, 2013 John Rasmussen rated it it was amazing
A fantastic compilation of very interesting items. I discovered many things that I did not know about Jewish culture and beliefs. One item of note, by definition of who is Jewish, I am. I knew that there was a Jewish line in my ancestry, but I discovered that since it passed through the maternal line to my mother, that I am considered to be Jewish.

Great insight to the Jewish people.
Nov 22, 2010 Nancy rated it it was amazing
I read this book for an assignment several years ago. It literally covers all aspects of being Jewish, from kosher food, to the Bible, to history, charity, and the smallest, least-known traditions. The author is himself an Orthodox rabbi and the chapters are very short and succinct, no more than probably two pages at the most. It is almost encyclopedic in nature but never boring or dry.

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Joseph Telushkin (born 1948) is an American rabbi, lecturer, and best selling author. His more than 15 books include several volumes about Jewish ethics, Jewish Literacy, as well as "Rebbe", a New York Times best seller released in June 2014

Telushkin was raised in Brooklyn, New York, the son of Solomon and Hellen Telushkin. He attended Yeshiva of Flatbush where met his future co-author Dennis Prag
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“One year, on Yom Kippur eve, Salanter did not show up in synagogue for services. The congregation was extremely worried; they could only imagine that their rabbi had suddenly taken sick or been in an accident. In any case, they would not start the service without him. During the wait, a young woman in the congregation became agitated. She had left her infant child at home asleep in its crib; she was certain she would only be away a short while. Now, because of the delay, she slipped out to make sure that the infant was all right. When she reached her house, she found her child being rocked in the arms of Rabbi Salanter. He had heard the baby crying while walking to the synagogue and, realizing that the mother must have gone off to services, had gone into the house to calm him.” 3 likes
“Spinoza was a pantheist: He believed that God was within nature, not a separate Being with an independent will. “In Spinoza’s system,” Jewish philosopher Louis Jacobs has written, “God and Nature are treated as different names for the same thing. God is not ‘outside’ or apart from Nature. He did not create Nature but is Nature.” This doctrine set Spinoza at loggerheads with both Judaism and Christianity. It was absurd in his view to credit God with attributes such as will or intellect; that was like demanding that Sirius bark, just because people refer to it as the Dog Star. Spinoza tried to posit a system of ethics based on reason, not supernatural revelation.” 2 likes
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