Jewish Knowledge Book Provides Broad Introduction to Judaism

Posted Monday, Feb 27th, 2023

SAN DIEGO – This work seems comprehensive, yet it is introductory.  It covers five important aspects of Judaism – its history, its teaching, its practices, its calendar, and its lifecycles – and yet no single volume could teach all there is to teach about any one of these aspects, much less all of them.

Nevertheless, the book, including many citations from Jewish scholars, as well as maps, charts, art works, and diagrams, will serve as a cherished reference in any Jewish home, so long as it is understood that the compilers of this book are from the Orthodox stream of Judaism, more specifically from the Chabad movement, and that other streams of Judaism offer different interpretations.

The table of contents help us comprehend the scope of this valuable work.  In the first section, devoted to Jewish history, we course through the Biblical accounts of the Jewish people, then go on to the medieval era, and thence to the modern state of Israel, as well as to the Jewish communities of the diaspora.

The second section, Jewish teaching, acquaints us with the 24 books of the Bible, the weekly parashah, the 613 mitzvot, and acquaints us with the prophets, the psalms, and the wisdom of Solomon.  It goes on to discuss the Talmud and Midrashic teachings, acquaints us with the halachah of business and medical ethics; basic Jewish philosophy and beliefs, Jewish mysticism, and questions of morals and character.

The third section, Jewish practice, tells of our people’s formalized prayers, tzedakah, Shabbat, the laws of kashrut, and such symbols of our faith as the mezuzah, tefillin, and tzitzit.

The fourth section covers the major and minor holidays that occur during the Jewish calendar year.

The fifth section, life cycle milestones, discusses birth and childhood, bar/ bat mitzvah, marriage, work and retirement, death and the afterlife.

Whew!  That is a lot.  The book is oversized and heavy to hold, and it took me weeks to work my way all the way through it.  I felt that it added to my knowledge in some areas, whereas in other subject areas I felt that out of the necessity of space, the book did not delve as deeply as I might have liked.  Overall, however, I felt that The Book of Jewish Knowledge makes a commendable addition to that body of literature that seeks to provide an overview of Judaism.

This is the kind of book that may help people prepare for various occasions such as Torah study, the celebration of a Jewish holiday, the marking of a life cycle event, or travel to Israel, other parts of the Middle East, or to Jewish communities in the Diaspora.

It would make an appropriate gift to your synagogue’s library or to that of a Jewish school.

Donald H Harrison is editor emeritus of San Diego Jewish World.  He may be contacted via [email protected]

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