Reading List

Sources to Learn About Judaism

Edited by Rabbi Appelbaum, adapted by Aaron Roller from Akiva Weisinger’s Essential Reading List from the “God Save Us From Your Opinion” Facebook Group

Bible, by God

Koren Sacks Siddur, by Our Sages, Translated by R’ Jonathan Sacks

How to Run a Traditional Jewish Household – Blu Greenberg

To Be a Jew, by Donin

Gateway to Judaism, by Becher

The Book of Our Heritage, by Kitov

The Jewish Way, by Greenberg

Jewish Literacy, by Telushkin

Jewish Wisdom, by Telushkin

Choosing to be Jewish, by Angel

Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism, by Prager



Rav Yitzchak Blau, Series on Modern Rabbinic Thought.

Useful overview of some of the more overlooked thinkers of modernity, including Rav Hutner, The Seridei Eish, the Netziv, the Tiferet Yisrael, R’ Meir Simcha HaKohen miDvinsk, and Rav Tzadok HaKohen, among others. If you haven’t heard of these people, you should. Immensely valuable for general knowledge as well as possibly expanding your philosophical horizons. Available free on VBM:


Rav Soloveitchik

Lonely Man of Faith

A good, if incomplete, insight into the way the Rav thought. There is an immense amount of depth for such a small book. I’d categorize this as what the Rav believes Judaism has to say to the modern world

Available for free on Tradition Magazine online:

Halakhic Man

If LMOF is about Judaism’s response to the modern world, HM is the Rav talking about what makes Judaism unique as a religion, and by Judaism, The Rav is very clear that he means his own Lithuanian misnagedishe heritage, though HM is sufficient proof that such a philosophy can be as inspiring and powerful as any Chassidus.

Amazon:­Man­Rabbi­Joseph­Soloveitchik/dp/0827603975/ref=sr_1_1?i e=UTF8&qid=1377705100&sr=8­1&keywords=halakhic+man

And From There You Shall Seek (U’vikashta Misham)

Though translated into English, its usually referred to by its Hebrew name. Completes the trilogy of LMOF and HM, UVM deals with the Rav’s idea of man’s relationship with God. Not as known as the other two, but the thinking is just as deep and the writing is just as good.


Emergence of Ethical Man

From the continuing release of the Rav’s archives, EoEE talks about the creation story at great length, spending a lot of time on Adam HaRishon and his sin, expanding upon the “Jewish Anthropology” he began in LMOF. Some fascinating and truly radical ideas in here. If Rav books were Beatles albums, EoEE is “Help!”.

Amazon:­Ethical­Man­Meotzar­Horav/dp/0881258733/ref=sr_1_3?s= books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377705531&sr=1­3

Religious Definitions of Man and his Social Institutions

The lectures LMOF is based on, at much longer length (obviously), recorded in 1956 with the Rav at the height of his teaching ability, before his alleged mellowing out later in life. Sources describe the Rav’s teaching style as “like a caged tiger”, and you can hear it, the intensity, the off­the cuff style, the occasional humor. Definitely worth a listen.

Available at YUTorah: Part 1: finitions_of_Man_and_his_Social_Institutions_Part_1#


Officially, The Rav’s views on dialogue with Christians, but really a fully formed ideology on the place of Judaism in a non­Jewish world.


The Rav’s view of heroism as exemplified by the follower of halakha. An inspiring read.

Rav Amital

V’Ha’aretz Natan L’bnei Adam (Jewish Values in a Changing World)

Rav Amital’s book on how to build a religious personality, emphasizing sanity, involvement with the community, and commitment to religion. Immensely valuable.

Free on vbm: http://www.vbm­

Commitment and Complexity

Rav Amital’s quotes on a wide array of subjects, ranging from religious belief to Israeli society to politics. The musings of a highly sane and religiously committed individual, unfortunately a rare combination.­Complexity­Jewish­Wisdom­Upheaval/dp/1602800308/re f=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377705904&sr=1­2&keywords=amital

Rav Kook

Lenevuchei Hador

If you have the time, its all in here. Judaism and secular society, science, development of halakha, and lots more. Does not address Zionism so much, because Rav Kook was more than just “The Zionist Rabbi”.

Letter 44

Rav Kook’s ideas on the development of religion and the purpose of Judaism


Rav Kook’s Letters, Rav Tamir Granot

Have not had time to read through all of it, but appears to be a very thorough introduction to Rav Kook’s thought


Rav Kook: Mystic in A Time of Revolution, Yehuda Mirsky

Finally, someone wrote a fairly accessible english overview of Rav Kook’s life and thought.

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein

Mah Enosh: Reflections on the Relationship between Judaism and Humanism

The title pretty much says it all, and it’s done with R’ Aharon’s typical eloquence, honesty and attention to subtlety

The Source of Faith is Faith Itself

Rav Aharon on belief in God. Will probably not help the non­believer, but I find his honesty and straightforwardness refreshing and inspiring in its own way.

Rav Hutner

Some Pachad Yitzchak

Read some of any of the multiple volumes of Pachad Yitzchak, just to gain a familiarity with the way he thought.

Letter to Student

Rav Hutner on the role failure plays in the development of a religious personality. Most inspiring thing I’ve actually read. Focuses on something typically not brought up. An absolute must read. Found at: There used to be a translation online, but that website is dead now, but you can still find it by using google’s chache ( rg/gedolim/jo/tworld/rhutner.html+&cd=3&hl=en&ct=clnk&gl=us). In terms of the Hebrew, it can be found in Pachad Yitzchak Igrot U’Ketavim, I’m fairly certain on page 151, though I’d have to check.

Rabbi Isaac Hutner: A Synoptic Interpretive Biography by Hillel Goldberg

Pretty good biography summing up Rav Hutner’s personality and impact.

Rav Eliezer Berkovitz

God, Man and History

Generally overlooked as a Modern Orthodox philosopher, either due to being more to the left or just being overshadowed by Rav Soloveitchik, Berkovitz has what to contribute as well.­Man­History­Eliezer­Berkovits/dp/9657052157

Rav Yechiel Yaakov Weinberg

Between the Yeshiva World and Modern Orthodoxy: The Life and Works of Rabbi Jehiel Jacob Weinberg, 1884­1966, Marc Shapiro

An excellent biography about one of Modern Orthodoxy’s most fascinating and important figures. Also useful as a mini­course on 20th Century Judaism.­Yeshiva­World­Modern­Orthodoxy/dp/1874774919

Rav Norman Lamm

Torah U’Madda

The most eloquent presentation of the philosophy of Modern Orthodoxy currently out there, going through all possible religious models of integration with the secular world. Well written and thorough.­Umadda­Norman­Lamm/dp/1592643094/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&i e=UTF8&qid=1378152046&sr=1­4&keywords=norman+lamm

Rav Sacks

Letter in the Scroll/Radical Then, Radical Now

Rav Sacks’s work has real value as an eloquent and well spoken statement of ideals of Judaism. Being as every philosophical presentation of Judaism is going to emphasize some things over others, I’d prefer that the world and the Jewish laity be presented with Rabbi Sacks’s notions. Besides, I found his books personally very meaningful, and are a large part of why I am still religious, even as I may have outgrown some of the statements therein.­Scroll­Understanding­Identity­Exploring/dp/0743267427/ref=sr_1 _1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1378152391&sr=1­1&keywords=letter+in+the+scroll

Rav Shagar

The Human and the Infinite

Though a thin and small book, should serve as a useful introduction to thinking of Rav Shagar, who will be completely different than any other philosophy of Judaism you may have encountered.­Infinite­Rav­Shagar/dp/B0013U7TPK/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie= UTF8&qid=1378152492&sr=1­1&keywords=shagar

Familiarity with



Yehuda HaLevi

Lurianic Kabbalah

R’ Yisrael Salanter and Mussar Movement


Bible Study and pertaining Issues

Tanach. All of it.

Dilemmas of Orthodox Bible Scholar, Bernstein

Intellectually honest essay on the difficulties and challenges facing Orthodox Bible scholars. Doesn’t propose any solutions, but a very important read for anybody religious who deals with these issues.

Moshe Greenberg: “The Biblical Grounding of Human Value”

Greenberg, Kaufmann’s student, writes about how the differences in the mythical creation of human life effect the respective legal codes of Caananite and Israelite religion.

Masters of the Word

An introduction to Parshanut, and the various methodologies and peculiarities of the different rishonim, ranging from Targumim to Chazal to Rashi to Ibn Ezra to Rashbam, a good selection of Ancient to Medieval authorities (except, curiously, Ramban). Also provides a lot of good background historical information. Though this is the only book of its kind I have read, I think it should be sufficient for everyone, even if it leans slightly Charedi (for instance, the Zohar is grouped in with Chazal), it seems to be leaning that way to pull them more towards a less dogmatic approach (he talks about sod shneim asar in the Ibn Ezra section, constantly defends the idea of peshat as its own end, and will bring opinions doubting the Zohar’s antiquity even as the chapter layout appears to have paskened). Full disclosure: The author is a relative of mine­Word­Traditional­Commentary­Centuries/dp/0881259365/ref= sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1377706779&sr=8­2&keywords=masters+of+the+word­Word­Traditional­Commentary­Thirteenth/dp/088125939X/ref= sr_1_3?ie=UTF8&qid=1377706779&sr=8­3&keywords=masters+of+the+word

Belief in God

William James, The Will to Believe

Presents belief in God as not necessarily rational, meaning “absolutely provable”, but since relatively few things are, faith is reasonable, which I think is the best you can do. Important read for various reasons, including the great paragraph where he goes through all the various things people have been sure of over the centuries.

Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, The Source of Faith is Faith Itself

(see above)

As a Driven Leaf, Milton Steinberg

Ostensibly a novel about Elisha Ben Abuya, doubles as a philosophical work, echoing James’s Will to Believe, about the impossibility of absolute certainty and the reasonability of faith­Driven­Leaf­Milton­Steinberg/dp/0874411033

Forgive Us Father in Law, For We Know Not What to Think, R. Shalom Carmy

It’s been a while since I read it, but I do remember being impressed by it, and it goes along the Jamesian lines of “make a decision, don’t wait around for absolute proof because you’re never gonna get it”

If you were God ­ Aryeh Kaplan

I think this is a very useful exercise/thought experiment on the concept of God as related to free will, even if it is overly simplified. Ideally, this should have been given to you at some point in high school.

Free at:

General Overview of Jewish Philosophy

Chaim Navon, Theology in Bereishit

Haven’t read through all of it, but seems to provide a good introduction to the various streams of Jewish thought on a variety of current topics.


The Religious World

Strictly Kosher Reading, Yoel Finkelman

Fascinating and I think, important read on Haredi Society, analyzing how they see themselves and their philosophies through the lens of the pop culture they produce. Very important to know where this community comes from, what they tell themselves, and what challenges they face­Kosher­Reading­Contemporary­Post­Modern/dp/1618110020/r ef=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1377707074&sr=8­1&keywords=strictly+kosher+reading

Rupture and Reconstruction, Dr. Haym Soloveitchik

Very important essay on the sociology of the religious world and how we got to the point that we are.

Torah U’madda, R’ Norman Lamm

(see above)


Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, Gershon Scholem

Incredibly important read, even if you are not mystically inclined. Especially if you’re not mystically inclined. Scholem’s landmark book tracks the major mystical movements in Judaism, explaining their philosophies, while also defending the study of such movements as legitimate. You cannot be an intellectually honest thinking Jew and pretend that beliefs that have affected 99.99% of Judaism never existed.­Jewish­Mysticism­Gershom­Scholem/dp/0805210423/ref=sr_1 _1?ie=UTF8&qid=1377707146&sr=8­1&keywords=major+trends+in+jewish+mysticism


Expanding The Palace of Torah by Tamar Ross

There is considerable controversy around this book, so allow me to explain why I have put it here even though some very reputable authorities have called it kefirah.

1. I think she does have some good points on the conflict between feminism and Orthodox Judaism, and it’s worth knowing her opinion.

2. In that vein, I think the philosophy she lays out, that the solution to the conflict lies by people motivated to change the system doing so, is the best possible thing to tell a woman who is bothered by the conflict, even if it may not be on the most theologically firm of grounds. From a pure practical standpoint, I think she has the correct answer.

3. Her book is thorough enough to serve as an introduction to the various more theologically acceptable approaches, which she goes through and ends up rejecting.­Palace­Torah­Orthodoxy­Feminism/dp/1584653906/ref=sr_ 1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1377707201&sr=8­1&keywords=expanding+the+palace+of+the+torah

Responses to Ross

Aryeh Frimer:

Yoel Finkelman:


Faith and The Holocaust, Tamir Granot

A very thorough survey of religious responses to the Holocaust, which at least in my opinion, is the most significant thing for a 21st century thinking Jew to know well. http://vbm­


Our Dependence on Israel’s Independence ­ Norman Lamm

Essay by R’ Lamm preaching an accepting, if somewhat cautious view of Zionism and the State of Israel. An oasis of sanity.,_Rosh_HaYeshiva_Norman

Ploughshares into Swords ­ Yitzchak Blau

Very important article on the militarization of Torah in some dati leumi circles.

Kol dodi dofek ­ The Rav

(see above)

The Moralist

Fascinating interview with Asa Kasher, author of the IDF’s code of ethics, on various questions in military ethics. Important to know to think in this manner when talking about the actions of the state of Israel.­Notes­The­moralist

Everything Rav Amital wrote on the subject:

A selection:

http://www.vbm­­rya.htm http://www.vbm­­rya.htm http://www.vbm­ http://www.vbm­­rya.htm http://www.vbm­ http://www.vbm­

Eight Acceptable Approaches to the State of Israel

We tend to assume that there is but one religiously acceptable approach to Zionism, and that pro and anti­zionism are distinctions of black and white. This is not true, as Rav Kahn illustrates.

Religion and State in Israel

A good, if unconventional argument for separating the state of Israel from religious institutions.­content/files_mf/moshekoppelreligionandstateinisraelmosaicjuly 2013.pdf

R’ Natan Slifkin

Read his stuff in his books or Provides a good rundown of source material here:

R’ Jeremy Wieder

True Story: Sometimes I listen to this just to remind myself there are intelligent people in Orthodoxy.­20­05%20When%20the%20T orah%20doesnt%20mean%20what%20it%20says.mp3

Development of Halakha

Writing this list made me realize that my knowledge in this area is insufficient, so in parentheses are things that I have decided to read but have not yet read.

Classic Texts

Rambam’s Intro to mishna Torah


Iggeret sherira gaon

Ramban, Intro to Milchamot Hashem

Modern Theories

History of halakha according to Rav Tzadok ­ R’ Yaakov Elman pdf

Introduction to Dor Revii

Thoughts on Halakhic creativity ­ R. David Bigman­halakhic­creativity

Meta­Halakha, Moshe Koppel

A good theory on halakha’s development that manages to synthesize a vast array of sources into a coherent package. Presents it in terms of mathematical theory, but I have no math background and was able to pick it up, and it works rather well. Halfway through becomes a work of religious existentialism, which isn’t necessarily bad, just unexpected. A fine work if you want a theory on halakhic development that is internally consistent.­Halakhah­Logic­Intuition­Unfolding­Jewish/dp/1568219016

Judaism as First Language, Moshe Koppel

Somewhat of a distillation of his arguments in Meta­Halakha, a great read nonetheless, putting forth a cogent theory as to how halakha works and what issues it faces in the modern world.

Rav Kook­ Chazon HaTzamchanut, Le­nevukhei HaDor


Philosophy of Halakha, Chaim Navon

Thorough, if somewhat schizophrenic at times, due to outlining multiple views, but ends up tying it together rather well, and is cognizant of the issues coming from both sides. http://vbm­

(The Origin of Torah She’baal peh ­ R’ Jeremy Wieder) h_Sheba%27al_Peh_and_the_Mesorah_of_Machlokes


Two sides of the coin here, Marc Shapiro saying that what the definition is narrower than you might expect, but R. Yitzchak Blau arguing for the necessity of defined heresy nonetheless. Both

are valuable. Shapiro’s book is obviously more extensive, but the necessary idea is in the article, so I feel reading the whole book is unnecessary.

The Last Word In Jewish Theology? Maimonides’ Thirteen Principles, Marc Shapiro _in_Jewish_Theology_Maimonidies’_Thirteen_Principles

Flexibility With a Firm Foundation: On Maintaining Jewish Dogma, R. Yitzchak Blau m_Foundation:_On_Maintaining_Jewish_Dogma

Morality and religion

Euthyphro­ Plato

Poses one of the most essential questions in religious philosophy. Is “good” good by virtue of God having commanded it? Or does God command good things, and thus “good” is good independent of God. Nafka Minas abound.

Does Judaism Recognize an Ethic Independent of Halakha ­ Rav Aharon Lichtenstein­Judaism­Recognize­an­Ethic­Independent­of­Halak hah­by­Rav­Aharon­Lichtenstein

Being Frum and Being Good ­Rav Aharon Lichtenstein http://vbm­

Natural morality ­ Rav Amital

http://vbm­­morality.htm http://vbm­­morality.htm http://vbm­­morality.htm

The two Roshei Yeshiva of Yeshivat Har Etzion legendarily differ on the relationship between morality and halakha, Rav Amital attributed with the position that morality does have an effect on halakha, even overriding it, with Rav Aharon differing. Fact is, that impression is inaccurate, as Rav Aharon, though perhaps influenced by his co­Rosh Yeshiva, does indeed grant morality a role in halakha, though certainly not to the extent Rav Amital does. Both perspectives, however, are valuable, and the wise person will seek to find a happy medium between the two.

Biblical Morality

The Origin of Nations and the Shadow of Violence: Theological Perspectives on Canaan and Amalek, Rav Shalom Carmy

R’ Carmy lays out a bunch of different approaches to the command to wipe out the seven nations and amalek, and points out the flaws inherent in all. Not as comprehensive or wide­ranging as Davies (R’ Carmy is only talking about Canaan and Amalek, not all problematic passages), but this appears to be the closest thing I’ve read. If I find something better I’ll put it here.


By Faith Alone: The story of R’ Yehuda Amital, Elyashiv Reichner

God, what an amazing human being, that’s all I can say. This is how biographies of Gedolim should be done. Take notes, Artscroll. His book “V’ha’aretz Natan L’bnei Adam” is also a great mussar sefer­Alone­Story­Yehuda­Amital/dp/159264192X/ref=sr_1_3?s=books &ie=UTF8&qid=1378159327&sr=1­3&keywords=by+faith+alone

Rav Hutner’s letter

(see above)

On Repentance, Rav Soloveitchik­Thought­Discourses­Joseph­Soloveitchik/dp/0765761408/ ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1378159263&sr=1­1&keywords=on+repentance

Religion’s Place In Society

MLK Letter from jail

Chazon hatzamchanut­ Rav Kook

To heal a fractured world, Rav Sacks Confrontation­ The Rav


Kol dodi dofek

(see above)


The Talmud, Steinsaltz Edition, A Reference Guide, R. Adin Steinzaltz

Though the rest of it is useful too, his encyclopedia of gemara concepts will make your life much easier as you go through Shas.­Talmud­Steinsaltz­Edition­Reference/dp/0679773673

The Babylonian Talmud in its Historical Context, R. Yaakov Elman

An Analysis of Darchei HaLimud (Methodologies of Talmud Study) Centering on a Cup of Tea, R. Yosef Gavriel Bechhofer

A humorous, but useful outline to the various methods of lomdus.

Patterns in Rashi, Rav Herczeg

Gives a very good basis for understanding the different methodology of Rashi and Tosafot. I haven’t read the book all the way through, but he was my shana bet Rebbe so I know more or less what’s in it.­Rashi­Yisrael­Isser­Herczeg/dp/1568712340

Yesodei Boomark


Relating to Orthodox Homosexuals: The Case for Compassion, Rabbi Uri Cohen

If you can’t get his source sheet on the topic, this will do fine, as he assembles a vast array of sources on the topic while reviewing Chaim Rapoport’s book.

Judaism and Homosexuality, An Authentic Orthodox View, Chaim Rappaport

Thorough, comprehensive, honest, and compassionate. Doing this book right was a tall order but he did it.