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

4.29 of 5 stars 4.29  ·  rating details  ·  899 ratings  ·  58 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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Stefanie
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
Simcha Wood
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
Ryan
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...more
Charlie Hersh
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
Melissa
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.

There...more
Kristi Gasinski
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.
Victoria
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
Pretty good overview. It touches on almost anything one could think to ask about.
Lesli
A good survey, not profound, but interesting.
Laura
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...more
John
Oct 18, 2008 John rated it 5 of 5 stars 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...more
Kerin Jacobs
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.
Susan

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...more
Julia
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
Paul
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
Peter
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).
Nanette Kastner
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.
Christina
Aug 14, 2007 Christina rated it 4 of 5 stars 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
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.
Ray
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
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.
Nancy
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.

Dave Rullo
A great primer, albiet from an Orthodox position. Telushkin touches on virtually everything you want to know and some you didn't know you wanted to know. I think this should be a textbook for conversion. Of course as I finished reading this book I stopped at the bookstore and what did I see? A new, updated edition. Should I buy the new version? I think we know I will.
Ginna Rinkov
I re-read this entire book or sections of it every year. It's written so that you can learn a little bit about the most important things in the Jewish religion from the Tanach to Ethics to History to famous people to rituals. It's fascinating and since there's only 1-3 pages on each topic, you can get a quick update on any topic
Shannon Connors
Nov 09, 2007 Shannon Connors rated it 5 of 5 stars Recommends it for: Anyone curious about Judaism who doesn't want to spend a great deal of time studying it
Shelves: jewish-stuff
I read this book cover to cover, but it makes a great reference book. The chapters range from half a page to a dozen pages long, each one giving basic info on the history and practice of Judaism. Easily accessible if you have zero knowledge of Judaism and are just curious to learn a few basic facts. Well-indexed, not preachy.
Doug
A well-set volume spanning a broad range of religious and cultural history. I had no idea that one of my favorite authors, H. Hesse, recommended Martin Buber for a Nobel Prize in Literature, or that Buber and Franz Rosenzweig collaborated on a new Bible translation from Hebrew to German, no small feat I imagine.
Don Rea
Indispensible for any goyim who need a good grasp of the basics of Jewish history and culture (and probably for many Jews whose Jewish education sports a few lacunae). Telushkin manages to present the material as a believer without getting high-handed or esoteric.
Kathleen O'Malley
This book will be on my "currently reading" list for a while. It's one of those books that is easy to read one chapter each evening, which is great, except the chapters are typically less than two pages long. So it'll take me a while.

Great reference.
Kate
It's a long book (750pp), but I learned a lot! I also have a great reference for the future...
Ginny
This will be on my "currently reading" list for some time. Fat book filled with great Jewish histories. I keep it on my nightstand and read a story from it just about every night. This one will be one I keep.
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57004
Associate of CLAL, the National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership.
Ordained at Yeshiva University and Rabbi Telushkin pursued graduate studies in Jewish history at Columbia University.
More about Joseph Telushkin...
Jewish Wisdom The Book of Jewish Values: A Day-by-Day Guide to Ethical Living Words That Hurt, Words That Heal: How to Choose Words Wisely and Well Biblical Literacy: The Most Important People, Events, and Ideas of the Hebrew Bible A Code of Jewish Ethics: Volume 1: You Shall Be Holy

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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.” 2 likes
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