Recommended Reading

This suggested reading list has evolved in response to the demand from young women and men leaving seminary and yeshiva for a guide to how to continue their Jewish reading and learning once they leave the ‘bubble’ of Yeshiva/Seminary life.

There are thousands of wonderful sefarim on the market and my list is not intended to be comprehensive or definitive. It also unavoidably reflects my own particular tastes. These are the books that have had and continue to have a significant impact on me, and which I feel could be useful for a broad range of students. The list is aimed at an intelligent (although not necessarily ‘intellectual’ ) student who is interested in seeing a range of perspectives and approaches. Inevitably, given the broad range of halachic and hashkafic approaches within the contemporary orthodox world, not every book will appeal to every reader. Some will be too ‘academic’ for some people and some will be too ‘frummy’ for others. Individuals can, and should, seek the advice of their own religious mentors as to what material will best suit them personally. I also recommend that you do your own on-line research about the authors I have listed. Many of them have written and audio shiurim on line and you can get your own feel for their style and substance.

There are around 180 books on the list. Don’t be overwhelmed!! You don’t have to read them all! I have divided the list into 30 categories. Look into the areas you’re most interested in and try some out.

This list is limited to books, rather than digital and on-line resources. Many students today are more likely to look on-line before opening a sefer. For a detailed list of on-line sites and resources click here – I hope to keep this updated fairly regularly.

I have purposely limited the recommendations to secondary sources, mostly in English.  I have also included a few Hebrew sefarim which should be accessible (at least to some degree) by many yeshiva/seminary leavers. I have not listed the great sets of high quality sefarim being published by Koren/Maggid such as those by Rabbi Sacks, on the thought of Rav Soloveitchik, the new works on Tanach and Halacha and many more. I am assuming that most of the people reading this list are familiar with them and you can find details on their website.

Students MUST also look to the primary sources – Tanach, Gemara, Midrash, Rishonim, Acharonim and their respective commentaries – where they are able. I have not included these classics (such as the Sefer HaChinuch or the Kuzari etc) in my list but HUNDREDS of these primary sources are now available in English translation and I strongly advise that you read them.

I have chosen only a few books under each heading. There are thousands more. If there is an area or issue that specifically interests you, please feel free to be in touch with me and I will try to make other suggestions. Most of the books on this list are available from good Jewish book stores or from online stores – both Jewish (eg. Artscroll, Feldheim, Koren etc.) and Amazon. If you click the link on the title it will take you to Amazon.com and I will receive a small commission 😉

As for recommended bookstores – in Jerusalem, Manny’s Book Store in Mea Shearim has a wide range of English titles, but for a broader and more eclectic range which crosses many hashkafic boundaries try Pomeranz Bookseller near Ben Yehuda.  Don’t forget the numerous second-hand book shops in Yerushalayim which often carry kodesh books too (and occasionally real gems!).  A great bookstore in Teaneck is The Judaica House. Good annual book sales are the YU Seforim Sale at Yeshiva University in February, the Mosad HaRav Kook & Mercaz HaRav book sale in Kiryat Moshe in Nisan (mostly Hebrew sefarim), and the sales at the Yemei Iyun BaTanach at Yeshivat Har Etzion in Alon Shevut at the beginning of Av.

If you have comments, thoughts and ideas of books that you think I should read and/or should be added to the list, please email me!

All the books below have live links to Amazon, where possible. My comments on the books are underneath in italics.  Enjoy!!!

1. CHUMASH AND COMMENTARIES

  • The Living TorahR’ Aryeh Kaplan
    An interesting English translation of the Chumash, with helpful historical and contextual notes, maps and charts.
  • Rav S. R. Hirsch on Chumash
    Available in an older and also a more recently published English translation.  Read it slowly and carefully to build a picture of Rav Hirsch’s worldview.
  • Frameworks – R’ Mattis Weinberg
    A very out-of-the-box thinker drawing unconventional conclusions from a massive range of sources.  Like nothing you’ve seen before!
  • Between the Lines of the Bible (2 Volumes) – R’ Yitzchak Etshalom
    One of the few English speaking representatives of the ‘Gush’ school of Parshanut.  See also R’ Menachem Leibtag’s website – www.tanach.org
  • The Philosophy of Hebrew Scripture – Yoram Hazony
    Hazony is a leading voice in the growing school of Torah observant and top academic thinkers in Israel. This mind-opening work on the seismic shift in philosophical thinking introduced by the Chumash will change the way you relate to the text. A book that not only educates and inspires, but also makes you proud to be Jewish!
  • Redeeming Relevance – R’ Francis Nataf
    A fresh look with at most of the key themes in Chumash.  R’ Nataf is an original thinker with passion and vision and is able to re-frame the Chumash in a though-provoking way.

2. TANACH AND COMMENTARIES

Most of the exciting new ideas in Tanach are emerging from the ‘New School’ of Tanach study based in Yeshivat Har Etzion (‘Gush’) and its sister college, Michlelet Herzog.  Much of this material is now emerging in English, for example R’ Menachem Leibtag and writers such as Yael Ziegler.

3. SHABBAT

  • The Sabbath – Dayan Dr. Isidore Grunfeld
  • Sabbath: Day of Eternity – R’ Aryeh Kaplan
    Read EVERYTHING you can by R’ Aryeh Kaplan. You can pick up many of his works together in The Aryeh Kaplan Anthology.
  • The Sabbath – R’ Abraham J. Heschel
    A controversial figure who was closely associated with the Conservative movement and JTS for much of his life.  Some of R’ Heschel’s views on other issues are outside the ‘comfort zone’ of most Orthodox thinkers today, but this specific sefer on the meaning of Shabbat is a classic and a must-read.

4. CHAGIM AND THE HOLIDAYS

5. PRAYER

6. MIDRASH

7. CONTEMPORARY HALACHIC ISSUES

8. HALACHA

8.1 General
Peninei Halakha – Rav Eliezer Melamed
An important and senior posek in the Religious Zionist world in Israel.

8.2 Hilchot Shabbat

 8.3 Hilchot Chagim

8.4 Hilchot Berachot

8.5 Monetary Halacha

8.6 Hilchot Bein Adam Lechavero

8.7 Hilchot Tefilla

8.8 Hilchot Kashrut

8.9 Hilchot Shemitta

  • Shemitta – R’ Yosef Zvi Rimon
    One of the leading poskim in the Religious Zionist world.

8.10 Other

  • From Sinai to Ethiopia – R’ Sharon Shalom
    A detailed comparison of the traditional practices of the Ethopian community with the normative halachic system.

 9. JEWISH THOUGHT AND HASHKAFA

  • The Nineteen Letters – R’ Shimshon Refael Hirsch
  • Chorev – R’ Shimshon Refael Hirsch
    A MUST!!!  Not the easiest of quick-reads but so worth tackling. Perhaps look at the 19 Letters first and then graduate to Chorev.
  • Introduction to Horeb – R’ I.Grunfield
    Effectively a book in itself.  Often printed in the front of English editions of Chorev.
  • The Lonely Man of Faith – R’ Yosef Ber Soloveitchik
  • Handbook of Jewish Thought (2 vols) – R’ Aryeh Kaplan
  • The Aryeh Kaplan Anthology (2 vols) – R’ Aryeh Kaplan
  • Living Inspired  – R’ Akiva Tatz
  • Worldmask – R’ Akiva Tatz
  • Letters to a Buddhist Jew – R’ Akiva Tatz
  • Permission to BelievePermission to Receive – R’ Lawrence Keleman
    Two short books setting out a basic outline of some of the classic philosophical and traditional proofs for the existence of God and the Authenticity of the Torah. There is MUCH more to say and R’ Keleman’s books are fairly simplified.  Read them as a starting primer and then research the individual topics in more depth. 
  • Essential Essays on Judaism – R’ Eliezer Berkovits
  • The Eye of the Storm – R’ Aharon Feldman
    A collection of thought-through essays outlining the Charedi hashkafic position on many contemporary issues.  Quite fiery in places!
  • Hashgachah Pratis – R’ Aryeh Leibowitz
    A good analysis of some of the key questions surrounding Divine Providence.
  • The Paths of Providence: Does G-d Control Everything? – Chaim Gross
    An excellent and comprehensive work on all of the key issues surrounding Divine Providence – nicely written in a very readable way.
  • Rupture and Reconstruction –  R’ Haym Soloveitchik
    Really a long article and available free online.  An important insight into how 20C Orthodox Judaism emerged.
  • The Choice to Be – R’ Jeremy Kagan
    An excellent contemporary presentation of classic hashkafic themes from the Maharal and other mystical sources on the issue of free choice.  Much of this hashkafa is the backbone of modern Jewish teaching on these issues.
  • Torah U’Madda – R’ Norman Lamm
    An analysis of the fundamental defining doctrine on Modern Orthodoxy and the synthesis between Kodesh and Chol.  A critical read for someone trying to work out what the Modern Orthodox world stands for.
  • Maimonides Confrontation with Mysticism – Menachem Kellner
    Kellner deals with around 10 key hashkafic issues, showing how the Rambam’s perspective differed from that of the proto-kabbalists of the day.  Highly recommended. Kellner was until recently an academic in Haifa University with a specialism in the Rambam.  He combines a fairly traditional personal approach (coming from an observant background) with a sharp academic analysis and a very readable writing style.  He has many other books too, most of which I would recommend.
  • Science in the Beit Midrash – Menachem Kellner
    On the Rambam’s philosophy and hashkafa.
  • Torah in the Observatory – Menachem Kellner On the Ralbag – Gersonides.
  • The Limits of Orthodox Theology – Marc Shapiro
    A controversial book.  Shapiro analyses positions in the history of Jewish thought on the 13 Ikarim of the Rambam. The book is designed to show that many authorities disputed the Rambam’s conception of the Ikarim. Given that these Ikarim are central to many people’s definition of Orthodoxy today, the book was bound to raise a storm, and it did! Read with care.
  • Must a Jew Believe Anything? –  Menachem Kellner
    Like Shapiro’s book, Kellner analyses the 13 Ikarim, asking if they are as simply defined as we sometimes think.
  • The Rebbe, The Messiah and the Scandal of Orthodox Indifference – R’ David Berger – A sharp critique of the post-Rebbe messianism of the Chabad movement.
  • The Messiah Problem – R’ Chaim Rappaport
    An intelligent and spirited response to R’ Berger’s book from a major talmid chacham connected with Chabad.
  • Orthodox Forum Publications
    The Orthodox Form produces a book every year or so containing excellent articles on contemporary hashkafic issues, especially those affecting the Modern Orthodox world. 
  • Faith Without Fear – R’ Michael Harris
    An overview of the issues defining and challenging Modern Orthodoxy in the early 21st century. A good synopsis of what MO hashkafa should (but may not always) be.
  • Seeking His Presence – R’ Chaim Sabato
    Some of the thought of R’ Aharon Lichtenstein is now available in book form (see also following).  It is important reading for those who value a passionate middle ground.  Much more is available on https://www.etzion.org.il/
  • By His Light – R’ Aharon Lichtenstein
  • Leaves of Faith  – R’ Aharon Lichtenstein (2 vol)
  • Faith Shattered And Restored – R’ Shagar
    One of the few books in English translation of the works of Rav Shagar.  If you are interested in an excursus into Post-Modernist thought as understood through the prism of Chasidut, this is a great starting point!
  • Reason To Believe – R’ Chaim Jachter
    One of the most important books out on Emunah issues in the modern world.  An important read after Rabbi Keleman’s books,  R’ Jachter updates the arguments, brings a more critical and analytical  perspective and also brings source from the leading thinkers in the non-Charedi world – Rav Lichtenstein, Rav Soloveitchik etc.
  1. JEWISH PHILOSOPHY

  1. HOLOCAUST ISSUES

12. RAV SOLOVEITCHIK

Read his books in this order and look on-line on YUTorah.org and also www.hashkafacircle.com to find guidance in how to learn them.

13. RAV KOOK

Far more has been published in English on Rav Kook over the last 3 years.  Look out for translations and commentaries by R. Betzalel Naor and Chanan Morrison.  A vast literature on R. Kook is available in Hebrew, especially by R. Shlomo Aviner.

  1. DEATH AND MOURNING

15. ORAL LAW AND HALACHIC PROCESS

This particular topic is a special interest of mine.  I have categorised the books by level.  I am producing a separate detailed reading list dedicated to this topic alone.  Please contact me if you would like a copy.

15.1 Introductory

15.2 Advanced

  • The Dynamics of Dispute – R’ Zvi Lampel
    A detailed look at the origins of machloket, with a clear perspective from within the yeshiva world.
  • The Open Canon – Avi Sagi
    Written using a more academic method and style but based on classic sources  – a very comprehensive look at ‘Elu v’elu’.
  • How Do We Know This? – Jay M Harris
    Written as a fully academic study by a Harvard academic – a fascinating insight into the workings of halachic Drash and approaches to Drash throughout history.  Only for the more academically inclined.
  • Meta-Halakhah –  Moshe Kopel
  • Not In Heaven – R’ Eliezer Berkovitz
    A controversial figure in the mid-late 20C Orthodox world.  Most of the book is a superb analysis of Oral Law.  The end sections on R’ Berkovits vision of halachic development often strain at (and beyond?) the fringes of Orthodox thought.
  • סיני ללשכת הגזית – שלמה קסירר ושלמה גליקסברג
  • מסורת התורה שבעל-פה – ר’ שלמה זלמן הבלין
  • ההלכה כוחה ותפקידה –ר’  אליעזר ברקוביץ
  • והלכה כבית הלל –  ר’ יובל שרלו
  • נטע בתוכינו –  ר’ שמואל אריאל

15.3 Classic Sources available in English translation

16. ISRAEL AND ZIONISM

  • Kol Dodi Dofek (Eng translation) – R’ Yosef Ber Soloveitchik
  • Israel – A History – Martin Gilbert
  • Like Dreamers – Yossi Klein HaLevi
    A fantastic insight into Israeli history and politics since 1967 through the life stories of the Paratroopers that took Har HaBayit during the 6 Day War.  An important read if you want to understand Left/Right/Religious/Secular issues in Israel today.
  • Rebels in the Holy Land  – Sam Finkel
    A fantastic work, with great maps and photos, charting the First Aliyah, the early creation of the New Yishuv and the Shemitta crises of the late 19C.
  • Messianism, Zionism and Jewish Religious Radicalism – Aviezer Ravitsky
    A clear analysis of the contemporary religious positions on Zionism – pro-, neutral and anti-.
  • God, Guns and Israel – Jill Hamilton
    A fantastic and stimulating account of the lead up and reaction to the Balfour Declaration, focusing on the religious positivity of non-Jewish world leaders which lead to the State of Israel
  • The Balfour Declaration – Elliot Jager
  • The Virtues of Nationalism – Yoram Hazony
    A must-read if you want a new perspective on how to understand world politics in the 21st Century.  Like all Hazony’s books – a life-changing read.
  1. BIOGRAPHY
  1. MAGAZINES AND JOURNALS

  1. JEWISH HISTORY

  1. MARRIAGE

  1. MYSTICISM

  • Endless Light –  R’ David Aaron
    An unconventional thinking with a strong leaning towards the mystical and kabbalistic and new way of integrating these ideas into real life.
  • The Torah as God’s Mind  – R’ Nathan Lopes-Cardozo
  1. WOMEN AND JUDAISM

  1. TORAH AND SCIENCE

  • The Great Partnership – R’ Lord Jonathan Sacks
    Perhaps the most important book on the list!  A MUST read for a thinking Jew in the modern world.
  • In The Beginning – Nathan Aviezer
    Aviezer and Schroeder are religiously observant scientists with interest perspectives and a strong ‘kiruv’ focus.  They often disagree about the science as well as the Jewish conclusions!
  • Fossils and Faith –  Nathan Aviezer
  • The Science of G-d – Gerald Schroeder
  • The Science in Torah – R’ Yehuda Levi
  • Torah and Science –  R’ Yehuda Levi
  • The Science of Torah –  R’ Natan Slifkin
    Rabbi Slifkin stirred up a major controversy around 8 years ago with these sefarim.  Some major Torah leaders sought to put the books in cherem.  Others rallied around R’ Slifkin.  Yet others felt that the controversy made it harder to bring a much needed and reasoned critique against R’ Slifkin’s positions.
  • The Challenge of Creation – R’ Natan Slifkin
  • Torah Chazal Science – R’ Moshe Meiselman[10]
    R’ Meiselman has written a response (although not in name) to R’ Slifkin’s sefarim.  Both approaches should be read and considered.  As in all such works, a good science background (or someone to advise you who knows their science) is always recommended to check that the science data is up-to-date and correctly represented.
  • Challenge – Cyril Domb / R’ Aryeh Carmell
    This, and its sequel, Encounter, are old classics.  The science discussed has often been superseded BUT read them for the methodology as to how a thinking modern observant Jews tackles apparent and real conflicts between science and religion.
  • Encounter – H. Schimmel / Aryeh Carmell
  1. GEMARA AND TALMUDIC METHODOLOGY

  1. BIBLICAL CRITICISM AND ACADEMIC APPROACHES TO TEXTS

This topic has had something of a revival recently.  Clearly it is not new and there are classic responses to the 19C schools of Wissenschaft Des Judentums.  There is some good online discussion of this (and some very bad!!).  Look for the material coming from Har Etzion, in particular R’ Menachem Leibtag and R’ Amnon Bazak.

  • The Documentary Hypothesis –  R’ Umberto Cassuto
    A classic (1930s) refutation of the Documentary Hypothesis.
  • A Journey Through Torah  – Ben Zion Katz
    A modern analysis of flaws and circular argumentation in the recent incarnations of the Documentary Hypothesis.
  • BeEinei Elohim VeAdam (Heb) – ed. Yehudah Brandes
  • Ad HaYom HaZeh (Heb) –  R’ Amnon Bazak
  • Inconsistency in the Torah – R’ Joshua Berman
    R’ Josh Berman is one of the main authors on the rare (but important) meeting of orthodox thought and academic biblical studies.  Definitely not for everyone, but people who are already interested in/bothered by this area will gain from his writings.

  1. CALENDAR

  1. SEXUALITY

  • Judaism and Homosexuality –  R’ Chaim Rappaport
    By far the best book out there on Jewish perspectives on these issues.  R’ Rappaport is a major talmid chacham and the book is fantastically sourced and researched.  It is also written with a quest for authenticity at the same time as sensitivity.
  • Talking about Intimacy and Sexuality –  Dr. Yocheved Debow
    A very good book, aimed at adolescents and those counselling them.  There is very little written on these issues from an authentic Jewish perspective.
  1. SOCIAL JUSTICE AND ETHICS

  • Defending the Human Spirit –  R’ Warren Goldstein
    Very impressive book by the Chief Rabbi of South Africa. This is his PhD thesis.  Hear and read his other material where you can.
  1. CHASIDUT

  1. CHINUCH AND CHILDREN