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:
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: http://www.traditiononline.org/news/article.cfm?id=105067
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.
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!”.
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:
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.
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.vbmtorah.org/values.html
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. http://www.amazon.com/CommitmentComplexityJewishWisdomUpheaval/dp/1602800308/re f=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1377705904&sr=12&keywords=amital
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”.
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. http://www.heritage.org.il/innernet/archives/faith.htm
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 (http://webcache.googleusercontent.com/search?q=cache:7FLojIGQSx4J:www.tzemachdovid.o 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. http://www.amazon.com/GodManHistoryEliezerBerkovits/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. http://www.amazon.com/BetweenYeshivaWorldModernOrthodoxy/dp/1874774919
Rav Norman Lamm
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. http://www.amazon.com/TorahUmaddaNormanLamm/dp/1592643094/ref=sr_1_4?s=books&i e=UTF8&qid=1378152046&sr=14&keywords=norman+lamm
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. http://www.amazon.com/LetterScrollUnderstandingIdentityExploring/dp/0743267427/ref=sr_1 _1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1378152391&sr=11&keywords=letter+in+the+scroll
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. http://www.amazon.com/HumanInfiniteRavShagar/dp/B0013U7TPK/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie= UTF8&qid=1378152492&sr=11&keywords=shagar
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. https://docs.google.com/file/d/0B1YfEmt1mVAiMWEtOFVYdFlSN0k/edit?usp=sharing
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 mine http://www.amazon.com/MastersWordTraditionalCommentaryCenturies/dp/0881259365/ref= sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1377706779&sr=82&keywords=masters+of+the+word http://www.amazon.com/MastersWordTraditionalCommentaryThirteenth/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. http://educ.jmu.edu/~omearawm/ph101willtobelieve.html
Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, The Source of Faith is Faith Itself
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 faith http://www.amazon.com/AsDrivenLeafMiltonSteinberg/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: http://www.aish.com/sp/ph/48970646.html
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 face http://www.amazon.com/StrictlyKosherReadingContemporaryPostModern/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
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. http://www.amazon.com/TrendsJewishMysticismGershomScholem/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. http://www.amazon.com/ExpandingPalaceTorahOrthodoxyFeminism/dp/1584653906/ref=sr_ 1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1377707201&sr=81&keywords=expanding+the+palace+of+the+torah
Responses to Ross
Aryeh Frimer: http://www.lookstein.org/articles/treasure_frimer.pdf
Yoel Finkelman: http://www.edah.org/backend/JournalArticle/4_2_Finkelman.pdf
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://vbmtorah.org/shoah.html
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. http://www.yutorah.org/lectures/lecture.cfm/745435/Lamm,_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
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.
Everything Rav Amital wrote on the subject:
http://www.vbmtorah.org/yyerush/atz72rya.htm http://www.vbmtorah.org/yyerush/yh65rya.htm http://www.vbmtorah.org/yyerush/atz59.htm http://www.vbmtorah.org/yyerush/atz66rya.htm http://www.vbmtorah.org/yyerush/ryakingdom.htm http://www.vbmtorah.org/yyerush/atz62rya.htm
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. http://www.yesodei.org/obm/?p=2868
Religion and State in Israel
A good, if unconventional argument for separating the state of Israel from religious institutions.
R’ Natan Slifkin
Read his stuff in his books or http://www.rationalistjudaism.com Provides a good rundown of source material here: http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/sources.html
R’ Jeremy Wieder
True Story: Sometimes I listen to this just to remind myself there are intelligent people in Orthodoxy. http://www.zootorah.com/controversy/Rav%20Wieder%20112005%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.
Rambam’s Intro to mishna Torah
Iggeret sherira gaon
Ramban, Intro to Milchamot Hashem
History of halakha according to Rav Tzadok R’ Yaakov Elman
Introduction to Dor Revii
Thoughts on Halakhic creativity R. David Bigman
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. http://www.amazon.com/MetaHalakhahLogicIntuitionUnfoldingJewish/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. http://azure.org.il/article.php?id=588
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://vbmtorah.org/philhalak.htm
(The Origin of Torah She’baal peh R’ Jeremy Wieder)
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
Flexibility With a Firm Foundation: On Maintaining Jewish Dogma, R. Yitzchak Blau
Morality and religion
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 Lichtenstein
Being Frum and Being Good Rav Aharon Lichtenstein http://vbmtorah.org/archive/develop/06develop.htm
Natural morality Rav Amital
http://vbmtorah.org/archive/values/02amorality.htm http://vbmtorah.org/archive/values/02bmorality.htm http://vbmtorah.org/archive/values/02cmorality.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.
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 sefer http://www.amazon.com/FaithAloneStoryYehudaAmital/dp/159264192X/ref=sr_1_3?s=books &ie=UTF8&qid=1378159327&sr=13&keywords=by+faith+alone
Rav Hutner’s letter
On Repentance, Rav Soloveitchik
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
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. http://www.amazon.com/TheTalmudSteinsaltzEditionReference/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. http://www.aishdas.org/rygb/derachim.htm
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. http://www.amazon.com/PatternsRashiYisraelIsserHerczeg/dp/1568712340
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. http://www.traditiononline.org/news/_pdfs/Cohen%20Review.pdf
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.