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To Life: A Celebration of Jewish Being and Thinking

4.17  ·  Rating details ·  1,016 ratings  ·  68 reviews
Filled with wisdom and gentle humor, here is the essential book on Judaism's traditions and practices from the bestselling author of When Bad Things Happen to Good People. Both practical and spiritual, Kushner makes Jewish tradition relevant to a new generation as he explores its many facets. ...more
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 1st 1994 by Grand Central Publishing (first published 1993)
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Average rating 4.17  · 
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 ·  1,016 ratings  ·  68 reviews

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Patricia Joynton
Oct 25, 2012 rated it it was amazing
This is a wonderful book that makes me appreciate our heritage. Kushner, a conservative rabbi, againn writes a book that is readily accepted by me, a question mark. A few things I liked:
1) One of the most important differences in Judaism and Christianity is that we were a people before we had a religion. To Christians the faith statement is most important; to Jews the community is what defines them.
2) The laws make the actions of every day life something special. For instance the act of eating
Aug 24, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: judaism
it was sooooo good until some of those last few chapters..
Elsa Troy-Slovik
Mar 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
My now-husband gave it to me when we were dating. He is Jewish and I am without religion. It was a great read, very easy, that made me understand Judaism. We still refer to it on every major holiday, including Shabbat every week.
Dec 25, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Rabbi Kushner has succeeded in explaining with simple and clear words, what judaism means today, why udaism stil matters and what judaism means today, for jews and non jews.
I liked particularlly the last chapter, "Why you need to be a jew", when he writes;"judaism has the power to save your life. it can't keep you from dying, no religion can keep a person living forever...Bu judaism can save your life from being wasted, from being spent on the trivial."
Melvin Marsh, M.S.
Feb 12, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: judaism

This chapter is actually a great chapter. I had a huge writeup about it but I guess my program decided it was going to eat it. Basically, this book is for everyone. It also stresses the concept of "Who is a Jew" into a more broader term. It has always been more than just a religion. It's a family.


Summary of many of the bible stories. I don't think this adds a lot to the book.


The calender. I like this calendar as it is much more like the calendar that I've been working with as a W
Mar 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Thus far, this is a very easy to understand book.


Finished the book today, and I'm impressed with Rabbi Kushner's ability to make the discussion of a very complex issue such as Judaism accessible and clear. It's also a treat to read something by someone who doesn't think that people who believe in God are suffering from some form of mental illness.

I learned a great deal about Judaism in this, especially how world view and community are so heavily influenced by the experience of being Jewi
Jun 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: People who want to understand being Jewish
Recommended to Julie by: Rabbi Rosen
Shelves: jewish-reading
I'll start with I'm not much for reading books that aren't novels, but this was a quick and easy read.

Many great insights it's hard to name them all. Deeper explanation of forgiveness - freeing the person from having to be the type of person that disappoints, etc. Sin is not against god, but is a missed opportunity to act human. Thoughts are not sins, we are judged by our deeds or else thinking about helping people (versus doing something) would be a great act. Freedom is the ability to control
Karyn Wynne
Sep 11, 2010 rated it it was amazing
What a fabulous book. I think reading it while I was in Jerusalem had much to do with how much I enjoyed it, however, that being said I was looking for the answers this book had regardless of my location. It is a very "jewish" way of explaining Judaism. My recollection of services at temple were always the the sermon was full of questions and examples. There never seemed to be a RIGHT way to do things. It was the way. Your way, my way, their way....always just the way. Even as a child at Passove ...more
Apr 15, 2012 rated it liked it
Shelves: nonfiction, religion
This was a largely enjoyable read with an approachable and conversational style. In the sections of the book where my understanding of the topic was more or less in line with Kushner's, I found the passages to be quite touching. When Kushner fell into the standard ad hoc rabbinical rationalization around more complex issues is when he lost me. I agree with other reviewers who felt his sentimentality prevented any wrestling with the more concerning aspects of Israel, religious conflict, sexism, a ...more
Jan 01, 2012 rated it liked it
Harold Kushner was almost hired by a family member to become the head rabbi at his conservative synagogue but was deemed "too touchy-feely" for his congregation. However, he recommended this book as helpful to nascent Jews like myself for an introduction to modern Jewish beliefs. The book was sometimes torn between elitism towards Christianity and respect towards the spiritual practices of others. Some of the history of the religion was helpful, but lacked a reflexive and constructionist perspec ...more
Tracy Layney
Dec 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Excellent book - great insights into Judaism for Jews and non-Jews alike!
Jun 27, 2020 rated it it was amazing
What a gift this book is!
Sarah Tuttle
Apr 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
If you've ever been curious about Judaism and wanted to read something comprehensive that is light enough to not get lost in the weeds, this is the book for you. ...more
JSC Shootaboot
Apr 06, 2013 rated it liked it
"God created many things He himself may never enjoy."
"We should add more holiness to every step of our life."
"Thank those that add comfort to our lives more (than noting complaints.)"
***"How does a person allow becoming a victim?"***and (I have been a victim all my life--weakness?)
***"How do people "make" us cry?"*** (I told my then husband, "Nothing makes us cry, unless we believe what they tell us")

who we are vs who we might become (how to deal with bullies??
Jan 21, 2019 rated it liked it
I read this book because I'm Jewish, and my dad (raised observant, but agnostic throughout his adult life) gave it to me on the recommendation of a Jewish friend (who has renewed his commitment to the faith as a senior who has gone through some hard times). I usually don't read this kind of book, which I tend to lump with Tuesdays With Morrie, Chicken Soup for the Soul, How the Irish Saved Civilization-- gentle books written mainly to comfort people and educate mildly without making anyone uncom ...more
Ella M
Mar 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Very helpful. Wasn't fond of the author's... let's say... shades of Republicanism, and I will say upfront that I skipped the chapter on Israel because that wasn't what I was here for, but the book as a whole was very informative and very clarifying. ...more
Dora Fumera
Mar 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great insight in Jewish traditions and culture!
Timothy McNeil
May 17, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
For the most part, this is an easy, fun read. Kushner writes in a very conversational tone and is quick to point out (and repeatedly remind) that he cannot give definite answers on the nature of God or present Judaism as a monolithic faith in regards to ideology or practice. Unfortunately, he drifts out of his comfort zone several times to offer up ill considered philosophical and psychological posits (I write this because my schooling was in those two fields and find Kushner to be somewhat imma ...more
Aug 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: judaism
I'm not really sure what I was expecting as "a celebration of Jewish being and thinking" but I don't think a basic overview of what Judaism is was it. I honestly think he was trying to cover too much at once -- he would devote a few pages to a particular topic, say one holiday or the laws of kashrut, get juuust far enough to pique my interest, but not go in deeper than a surface-level description. I would have liked this split up into several volumes so he had the room to go more in depth on wha ...more
Jul 09, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: judaism
Rabbi Kushner writes like he's sitting down with you for a cozy conversation. While incredibly learned, he relates his learning from his studies and his personal career in an easy, sharing manner. Kushner touches on some major "technical" questions about major holidays and the role of synagogue and religious ceremonies. But he also delves wholeheartedly into why he feels Judaism is so powerful and can be so relevant for modern Jews, even the secular ones. And also tries to explain some things th ...more
3.5 stars rounded up. Rabbi Kushner wrote a bestseller back in the day wrestling with why do bad things happen to good people. I was surprised to find out he was a part of Conservative Judaism, not Orthodox (I have not read the bestseller). This is a nicely done basic introduction to Judaism. I am Jewish but not religious, and I did not find his arguments convincing about God. I did decide after reading this that I probably cannot honestly recite the Amidah any more, an experience I enjoyed but ...more
Chelsea Wegrzyniak
Apr 21, 2014 rated it really liked it
Kushner's introduction to Judaism was helpful to me as an individual beginning the conversion process because it helped me see the big picture of Judaism. Learning about Judaism as a beginner can be overwhelming, as there is so much to learn. Kushner captured the essentials of Jewish thought and life, while encouraging the reader to do or read more. My one qualm with the book was the author's tendency to preach monotheism in bits and pieces. It feels a little bit like Kushner thinks Christianity ...more
Jeannette Katzir
Oct 07, 2012 rated it liked it
Books on religion have an inherent problem for me. I want to learn about the faith BUT I don't want to be preached to. A disclaimer - I am Jewish so I have some familiarity with this religion. I would say that very good majority of this book did an excellent job explaining the different reasons for and backgrounds of the many facets to Judaism. Whether one is of that faith or not, the information provided was interesting and the author wrote in an easy, very personal method that I enjoyed. When ...more
Dec 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
The local rabbi recommended this book as a good intro to Judaism. That's what it was written as, and it works well as such.

One of the intended audiences is Christians who want to know more about Judaism (the other major audience is adult Jews who are seeking a re-introduction to their faith); as part of that audience, this answered a lot of questions I have about both religions (and, naturally, raised more). So, for me, it was a good choice and I'm glad I read it.

(Possibly relevant: my hometown
Dec 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is a great book. It's conversational style makes it an easy read, but don't be fooled -- it's chock full of information! I have read this book several times and it always inspires me to live a better life. I love the idea of making the everyday sacred through my actions; Rabbi Kushner talks about that over and over in this book.

Like another reviewer (Guy?),I love the last chapter on why you need to be Jewish. The rabbi writes that "the essence of Judaism is creating holiness in the way we r
Jan 14, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: read-nonfiction
I ended up liking it more than I expected. It was sort of evangelizing---an explanation of why you should be a Jew. It certainly was a highly personal view of what all things Judaic mean. How resting on the Sabbath isn’t restrictive, it's freeing because you don't have to worry about your everyday worries. How kosher rules allow you to enjoy food, but still be reminded that killing an animal for your own food is a serious thing. How Jews are different because the religion is based more on commun ...more
Pam Meserve
Jun 09, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: everyone interested in Faith

One of my favorite quotes.

Rabbi Harold Kushner says: "To be human is to choose to be good. To take something unholy and make it holy, something ordinary into extraordinary. To sanctify the world and live Godly life".

It's a 'good read' and a beginning educational book about Conservative Judaism. I did find though that it was a little biased against non-Jewish faiths in a few areas which kind of surprised me even if it did make me think about a few things. Another thing I did like was that it was
Nancy Ellis
May 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Fascinating, educational, totally enjoyable! Those are a few words to describe this book. I have enjoyed all Rabbi Kushner's books, but I learned more from this one than all the others. He explains the differences as well as similarities between Judaism and other religions, particularly Christianity, with one whole chapter devoted to Jews and Christians in today's world. I highlighted so many quotes, I can't possibly mention them all here, but my favorite is one I can't get out of my head, possi ...more
Mar 05, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: spite-finish
I wanted to like this book more than I did, but it was a slog to finish it. The first 75% of the book didn’t have new information for me; and I’ve read warmer and better introductions to Judaism previously. (I much preferred the writings of Dennis Prager and Anita Diamant.) The ideas that did resonate with me were the idea of taking the ordinary and making it holy, giving authentic meaning to life through ritual, and the difference between “being Jewish” and “doing Jewish.” The last four chapter ...more
Laurie Ann
Mar 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Interesting and enlightening point of view on Jews and Judaism.
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Harold S. Kushner is rabbi laureate of Temple Israel in the Boston suburb of Natick, Massachusetts. A native of Brooklyn, New York, he is the author of more than a dozen books on coping with life’s challenges, including, most recently, the best-selling Conquering Fear and Overcoming Life’s Disappointments.

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Here’s some trivia for your next vacation get-together: The concept of the summer “beach read” book goes all the way back to the Victorian...
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“But it is a historical fact that the Jews, and no one else, gave the world the Bible. It is a historical fact that the Jews introduced to the pagan world the idea of a God who demanded righteousness......Even most of the books of the New Testament were written by Jews.” 0 likes
“My position would be to see Jesus and Paul as people used by God to bring the monotheism and the moral message of Judaism to the world, and to teach the world that the God discovered and worshiped by the Jews was the only true God.” 0 likes
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