I had a phone call a couple of days ago from someone who was in a bookshop, trying to decide what to buy (thanks Vivi). Which led me to think about which books would make a basic Jewish library, and which every Jewish home should have. Of course, for me now Rabbeinu Yonah on Pirkei Avos is top of the list. But what else should every home have?
I'm thinking only of English books at the moment. Here is my list. What else would you add?
Essential Jewish Library
Basic Introductory Books about Judaism:
To Be a Jew: A Guide to Jewish Observance in Contemporary Life by Hayim Halevy Donin
Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism by Dennis Prager
This Is My God by Herman Wouk
Basic Jewish (Synagogue) Survival
Siddur. Every Jewish home should have at least one siddur (prayerbook). There are many good English/Hebrew siddurim around. The first thing you have to know is which ‘nusach’ you need. The three main choices are Ashkenaz (Jews of European origin), Sefard (Used by Chasidim – not to be confused with Sefardi, which is the next category), and Edot Hamizrach, or Sefardi (for Jews of Spanish/ North African/ Middle Eastern descent). If you don’t know what you use have a look what your Synagogue uses. If you don’t have a Synagogue ask your friends.
The The Complete Artscroll Siddur (Artscroll Mesorah Series)has become the standard in many parts of the world. They have many different varieties: Ashkenazi and Sefard, Hebrew/English, interlinear, Hebrew only etc.
However, I am in love with the new ‘Singer’ Hebrew Daily Prayer Bookproduced by the United Synagogues and the Chief Rabbi.
There is also the Metzuda, which is a linear translation.
Chumash: The Chumash is the Five Books of Moses (Torah) divided up into weekly portions, and also contains the Haftorah (reading from the prophets) for each week. Although the Tanach (next on list) contains the same things (and more), it is probably worth having a Chumash to make things simpler when you go to Synagogue, or want to read the parsha at home.
There are several good chumashim available including:
The Living Torah :(English edition),A new Translation Based On Traditional Jewish Sources and
The Chumash: The Stone Edition (Artscroll Series)
Tanach: This is an abbreviation for all three parts of the Jewish scriptures – Torah (five books of Moses), Nevi’im (prophets) and Ketuvim (writings).
The best English translation of Tanach is the Tanach: The Stone Edition: The Torah/Prophets/Writings : (The Artscroll Ser.), available in a couple of sizes, colors and formats.
Haggadah: This is the book that you will need for your Pesach Seder. You probably have an old Maxwell House Haggadah sitting around. A good Haggadah will revolutionize your Seder. I try to use a different one every year, so that each year has new insights and is different than the last year (why is this night different…). There are so many to choose from that I can’t recommend any in particular. There is one which is different than most of the others, called ‘A Different Night’. It will certainly get you to think.
Probably Artscroll is the only sensible choice now
Complete Artscroll Machzor Pesach
(though there are other good machzorim that have come out recently - I'm just waiting for a chance to look at them)
Other basic Jewish books:
In theory the Mishnah and Talmud should be on this list. They are basic Jewish texts which every home should have. However the standard Hebrew Mishna with commentaries is 13 volumes (though there are many 3 or 6 volumes Mishnayos with less commentaries), and the Talmud is usually 20 volumes of Aramaic text. There are English translations of both available, of varying quality, but they take up lots of shelf space and unless you are going to a class to study them they won’t really be all that helpful.
The Shulchan Aruch should also be in every home. Again, the problem is one of space and utility. The standard Hebrew Shulchan Aruch with commentaries is 7 volumes and there are other halachic books which will probably be more user friendly and practical.
Mishnah Brura is only 6 volumes in Hebrew, and a vital reference text. There is an English translation from Feldheim, but unless you particularly want to learn Mishna Brura I would not necessarily suggest it, unless you want help when you get stuck on the Hebrew, but there are better Halachic books available in English).
If you can read (and understand) Hebrew, or want to improve it, I would suggest getting a copy of the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch. It is one small volume in Hebrew, and is written in fairly simple Hebrew. As for English translations, same as above.
For practical English Halachic books I would recommend:
Shemirath Shabbath 3 Volume Set (3 volumes) or
The 39 melochos =: Sefer 39 melakhot (4 vols - Feldheim)
Laws of Kashrus
The Halachos of Brochos
GUARD YOUR TONGUE a Practical Guide to the Laws of Loshon Hora
Book of Our Heritage by Eliyahu Kitov
Halochos of Chanukah, Rabbi Shimon D. Eider, Feldheim Publishing
Halochos of Pesach, Rabbi Shimon D. Eider, Feldheim Publishing
Women and Judaism:
Jewish Woman in Jewish Law by Moshe Meiselman
To Be a Jewish Woman by Lisa Aiken
Made in Heaven A Jewish Wedding Guide by Aryeh Kaplan
Death and Mourning:
(all of the following are very good. I wouldn't suggest you buy all of them though)
Jewish Way in Death and Mourning by Maurice Lamm
Mourning in Halachah-the Laws and Customs of the Year of Mourning by Goldberg, Chaim Binyamin; Mesorah Publications Ltd.
Concern for the Living: A Compendium of Laws, Traditions and Customs on Mourning, Their Origin and Rationale by Press, Chaim; Targum Press
Death and Bereavement – A Halakhic Guide by Weiss, Abner; Ktav Publishers, Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations
A Matter Of Interest, Rabbi Mordechai Kanner, Targum/Feldheim
Handbook Of Jewish Thought (2 vol.), Rabbi Aryeh Kaplan, Moznaim Publishing
Moreh Nevuchim (Guide for the Perplexed) by Rambam