Books To Sell Orthodox Judaism

Rabbi Gil Student writes:

I recently made a list of good outreach books for a friend. Let me present it here with a little elaboration:

Anon posts: Your list contains books for people that are already reached out to – I suggest adding books that do the reaching out:

Harry Potter and Torah (shameless self-plug)

Timeout: Sports Stories as a Game Plan for Spiritual Success

Jewish Themes in Star Trek

Michael Makovi writes: Judaism by Rabbi Dr. Isidore Epstein. There are two reasons for recommending this book:
(1) As its subtitle ("A Historical Presentation") suggests, the book is almost a history book. The book is not a full-blown book of Jewish thought, nor is it a book of Jewish history, but it is half of each, and so the reader will get to know a lot about Judaism, and how to place everything he’s learned into historical context.
(2) The book is a delightful example of German/British/early-American enlightened Orthodoxy. ‘Nuf said.

Rabbi Dr. Isidore Epstein’s The Faith of Judaism. In terms of scope, basic philosophic position, etc., this book is comparable to Rabbi Berkovits’s God, Man, and History.

Rabbi Benjamin Blech’s Understanding Judaism: The Basics of Deed and Creed. The basic thesis of the book (viz. the respective places of belief and practice in Judaism) is itself sufficient to recommend it, but along the way, Rabbi Blech manages to include a spectacular amount of information relevant to the beginner. (And even for the learned; as he says, many YU rabbinical students would audit his class (which his book is based on), which was really directed at baalei teshuva.)

Everything by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. The beautiful thing about his books is that they are so accessible. With his Jewish Literacy, I’d open it to a random page and read a few pages, and within a few weeks, I had unintentionally read the whole book. I kept opening the book to random pages, and I couldn’t find anything I hadn’t read.

Everyman’s Talmud, by Rev. Abraham Cohen. Think of this book as a miniature Bialik’s Sefer ha-Aggadah. A beautiful example of German/British/early-American-style enlightened Orthodoxy, and the book which (besides Telushkin) first began my becoming a baal teshuva. (In fact, it was Cohen’s book which convinced me to keep the laws of…err…vain seed.)

Affirmations of Judaism (1927 edition) by Rabbi Dr. J. H. Hertz. A beautiful explication of Judaism, which tragically is no longer in print. But there are still many copies on Book Finder. However: you want the red 1927 edition, not the blue 1975 edition; the latter, despite having the same title and author, is an entirely different book.

NACHUM LAMM POSTS: Gil, the note you add after Kugel reminds me of a revelation I once had: Jewish Action once had a list like this. (From that list, I’d add "A Tzadik In Our Time," a book which an NCSY advisor once described to me as "making you happy to be a Jew." As it happens, Feldheim did a job on that one too in the second edition, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Anyway, the Jewish Action list included some books from Prager/Telushkin with a note along the lines of "Observant readers should beware of some passages unacceptable…" etc. etc.

Some time later I saw a mention of "This is My God" in the late unlamented Jewish Observer. And virtually the same line appeared about Wouk’s work. (An Allan Sherman pun.)

Since then I, like Nechama Liebowitz and the Rambam (not that I mean to compare myself to them), stopped caring about who wrote a book or even its purported hashkafa and more about what it said.

In that spirit, let me suggest some of R’ Meir Kahane’s books- not the real political ones, good as they are, but books like "Listen World, Listen Jew," which are quite compelling and well-written and especially needed in this troubled time.

ANON POSTS: Mayer Schiller is a published racist (one needs to just google his name to discover this fact). While one may be OK with this, I would not suggest this book as a kiruv book, lest the person you are giving it to look up the author online, and be totally turned away from Judaism.

MEIR RESPONDS: Rabbi Schiller is not a racist. Advocating segregation doesn’t make you a racist. The reason he advocates segregation is the same reason he believes chassidim should live in their own enclaves. He believes each community best preserves its traditions when living together in its own community.

ANON POSTS: What on Earth are you complaining about Rabbi Schiller? He believes whites are intellectual superior to blacks. So? That’s his opinion, and he’s entitled to it. I’m sure tens of millions agree. If that’s racist, then call me a racist too, I guess. If you think having opinions makes you racist, then it begs the question of just what is racisim, anyway.

STBO POSTS: Rabbi Schiller is plainly racist, and there is no way a reasonable person could read his voluminous writings and interviews (many available online) and conclude otherwise.

He’s also something of an intellectual, and has a proclivity for associating with political outliers, cranks and extremists, and working with racial separatists internationally. He is outspokenly anti-American.

The Road Back isn’t a bad read, but it is part and parcel of his strong hostility to modernity, the modern world and democracy.

PIERRE POSTS: R. Schiller is a VERY complex person, I would never be capable of denying that – and I have also never read or heard him malign anyone based simply on melanin content or cultural background (and I have given him plenty of opportunity and scoured the internet for material of his). You should give his talks with R. Becchofer a listen to hear his words about the nations and their contributions, and his almost-despair at the paucity of such teaching in Orthodox Jewry.

However, this cannot be said for the great number of outreach rabbis I have ‘tested’ about race or ethnicity or merely listened to when "goyim" come up – or a significant number of Orthodox synagogues I have spent any time in.

MEIR POSTS: Rabbi Schiller is not plainly a racist, and I have read some of the stuff online. Believing that Arabs, Jews, whites, blacks, Irish people etc. should live separately in order to preserve their customs and way of life does not make you a racist.

And Pierre is right — I had forgotten about this — that Rabbi Schiller maintains a very humanistic outlook, much broader than the outlook of many MO rabbis.

Highly recommended, and applicable to other archetypal figures in contemporary Jewish thought, is his piece on the role of Rav Soloveitchik;…40/ schiller.asp

His discussions at MTA with R. Bechhofer;…

In-Towner posts: If you’re going to keep a potential kiruvee away from the "racist" writings of Rabbi Schiller, then make equally sure to guard him/her from the works of some of our most eminent Rishonim. I mean, do I really need to rehash some of Rashi’s many glorious characterizations of people of color?

ANON POSTS ABOUT R. SCHILLER: I had the privilege of being in his class and would go so far to say that I might not be religious today were it not for the man. He also affected others I know for the good. I had the opportunity to hear him talk about matters of hashkafa and race for a year, rather extensively. I have heard he is no longer permitted to talk about race as he did in class by us.

My view is that, as was already mentioned, he is a complex man and an intellectual. He is also a racist. Yes, he does not look to melanin content and can provide an intellectual argument for his positions. Yes, they are all internally coherent. And he can run rings around most people who have not given 1% of the thought to the matter that he has. But he has an emotional dislike of non-whites and it was my thought (and others in the class) that ultimately this was behind much of his views. That, of course, does not seperate him from many other Orthodox Jews, who have not made any effort remotely close to come to terms about why they think a certain way.

No one is perfect. R’ Schiller is to be lauded for following his ideals even when they have led to him fundamentally changing his life or adopting highly unpopular viewpoints. To my knowledge he has harmed no one, including any member of a minority (though if his views were ever implemented they would harm a great deal of people). Even in his racism, R’ Schiller imparted the value of thinking about WHY your views are a certain way. I think this value that he taught the students led us all (or at least nearly all) to ultimately reject his personal views. R’ Schiller is an interesting example of a persion with views that society properly considers noxious but who has and continues to make valuable contributions even so.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been noted in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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