Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals

Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals

4.0 7
by George Robinson

ISBN-10: 0671034812

ISBN-13: 9780671034818

Pub. Date: 09/28/2001

Publisher: Atria Books

What happens at a synagogue service? What are the rules for keeping kosher? How do I light the Hanukah candles? What is in the Hebrew Bible? What do the Jewish holidays signify? What should I be teaching my children about being Jewish?
A landmark reference, here is an indispensable one-volume guide to the religious traditions, everyday practices,

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What happens at a synagogue service? What are the rules for keeping kosher? How do I light the Hanukah candles? What is in the Hebrew Bible? What do the Jewish holidays signify? What should I be teaching my children about being Jewish?
A landmark reference, here is an indispensable one-volume guide to the religious traditions, everyday practices, philosophical beliefs, and historical foundations of Judaism — everything you need to know about being Jewish. In Essential Judaism, George Robinson has created the accessible compendium that he sought when he rediscovered his Jewish roots as an adult. Robinson illuminates the Jewish life cycle at every stage, and lays out many fascinating aspects of Judaism — the Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, the evolution of Hasidism, and much more — while keeping a firm focus on the different paths to living a good Jewish life in today's world.

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Table of Contents



A note to the reader


Chapter 1

Service of the Heart:

Prayer and Ritual

The Jewish Idea of Prayer

The Names of God

The Role of the Rabbi

The Blessings of Daily Life

An Assortment of Blessings

The Daily Services

Before the Morning Service

Tallit and Tzitzit


Shakharit/The Morning Service

The Basic Structure of the Service

Covering the Head


The Sh'ma

The Amidah

Minkhah/The Afternoon Service

Ma'ariv/The Evening Service

The Shabbat Services

Kabbalat Shabbat/Welcoming the Sabbath and Ma'ariv


Minkhah and Havdalah

Festival Services

The Synagogue

Liturgical Music

Home Rituals


The Evolution of the Prayer Book

The Rise of Denominations

Reform Judaism

Conservative Judaism


Modern Orthodox

Ba'al Teshuvah


Jewish Renewal Movement

Gay and Lesbian Synagogues

Women's Prayer Groups

Shul Etiquette

The Chosen People?

Chapter 2

Rejoice in Your Festivals:

The Jewish Year

Sacred Time — The Jewish Calendar

Rosh Khodesh

The Jewish Calendar

The Festivals


The Thirty-nine Categories of Forbidden Work

Special Sabbaths

The High Holy Days

Elul, a Month of Teshuvah

Rosh Hashanah

Days of Repentance

Yom Kippur


The Sukkah

Building the Sukkah

The Four Species

Hoshanah Rabbah/The Great Hosannah

Shemini Atzeret



Historical Roots

Home Observance

Tu b'Shevat



Exile and Home

The Bread of Affliction

The Seder

The Meaning of the Seder

The Four Questions

Counting the Omer


Yom ha-Shoah, Yom ha-Atzma'ut, Yom ha-Zikaron, and Yom Yerushalayim

Minor Fast Days

Tisha b'Av

Special Readings for the Festivals

Chapter 3

Birth to Death:

A Jewish Life Cycle





Brit Milah

Brit Habat — the Baby-Naming Ceremony

Pidyon Ha-Ben

Parent and Child

Jewish Education

Bar/Bat Mitzvah


Engagement and Marriage

The Jewish View of Marriage

The Ketubah


Before the Ceremony

The Wedding Ceremony

Levirate Marriage


Prohibited Marriages


Conversion to Judaism

The Noahide Laws

Who Is a Jew?

Should Judaism Proselytize?

Leaving the Fold



Ethical Wills

Death and Mourning

Defiance and Acceptance


Right to Die? Euthanasia and Assisted Suicide

Preparations for Burial



Unveiling and Yahrzeit

The Afterlife

Chapter 4

613 Ways:

Living a Jewish Life

The Mitzvot

Gematria: Making the Letters Add Up

Pikuakh Nefesh: To Save a Life

Who's Counting?

The 613 Mitzvot (According to Maimonides)

Why Observe?

Mind, Body, and Soul

Halakhah: Mitzvot into Law

Joseph Caro and the Shulkhan Arukh

Opponents of Halakhah

The Sadducees and the Karaites

Reform Judaism

Conservative Judaism


Reactions Within Orthodoxy

The Mitzvot in Daily Life

Gemilut Khasadim/Acts of Lovingkindness

The Evil Tongue: Lashon Hara

Tzedakah/Doing Justice

The Ladder of Charity

Ethics and Justice

Laws Governing Loans

Capital Punishment

"An Eye for an Eye"

Tikkun Olam/Repairing the World


The Mikveh

Kashrut/Dietary Laws

Kosher and Treif

Meat and Dairy

Buying Kosher

Kosher Wine

Taking Khallah

Match But Don't Mix: Sha'atnez

Chapter 5

In the Beginning:

The Hebrew Bible

The Tanakh

The Books of the Hebrew Bible

The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha

What Is in the Hebrew Bible?

The Torah

The Parashiyot and the Haftarot






Biblical Measurements

Making the Text Sing: Cantillation

Torah Comes First

The Nevi'im/The Prophets



I and II Samuel

I and II Kings




The Twelve Minor Prophets

The Role of the Prophets

The Ketuvim/The Writings

Tehillim/The Psalms

Reading the Psalms



Shir ha-Shirim/Song of Songs






Ezra and Nehemiah

I and II Chronicles

Reading the Book

Some Key Bible Commentators





Who Wrote the Hebrew Bible?

Chapter 6

The Rabbis Said:

The Talmud and Other

Rabbinical Writings

Roots of Rabbinic Judaism

From the Pairs to the Tannaim

Thirteen Ways of Looking at the Torah

"O You Scribes and Pharisees!"

Tragedy, Dispersion, and the Writing of the Mishnah

What Is in the Mishnah?

What's in the Mishnah and the Talmud: Primary Subject

Matter of the Tractates and Where They Appear

How the Mishnah Works

An Example from the Mishnah

Tosefta and Baraita

Gemara: The Task Continues

A Time Line of Talmudic Scholars

Yavneh: The First Great Academy

Some Key Figures in Rabbinic Judaism

Halakhah and Aggadah

How the Gemara Works

Palestinian Talmud versus Babylonian Talmud

The Later Commentators

Proliferation and Persecution

A Page of Talmud

Modern Talmudic Scholarship

How to Study Talmud

Daf Yomi


Some Important Midrashic Texts

Chapter 7

Jewish Mysticism:

Emanations of the Eternal

What Is Mysticism?

The Chariot and the Chambers: Ancient Jewish Mysticism

The Mysteries of Creation: Sefer Yetzirah

Ten Sefirot Twice Over: Early Kabbalah and the Ashkenazi Hasidim

Kabbalah in Spain

Splendor: The Zohar

The Tree of Life

The Star of David

The Lion Speaks: Lurianic Kabbalah

The False Messiah: Shabbateanism

Hasidic Mysticism

Some Other Key Figures in Jewish Mysticism

Kabbalah in the Twentieth Century

Rabbi Kook

Gershom Scholem and the Study of Mysticism

Zalman Schachter-Shalomi and the Jewish Renewal Movement


The Lasting Influence of Jewish Mysticism

How to Study Kabbalah

Chapter 8

The Philosophers:

The Continuing Evolution

of Jewish Thought

Rabbis versus Philosophers

Philo Judaeus (20 B.C.E.-50 C.E.)

From the Writings of Philo

Saadiah Gaon (882 C.E.-942 C.E.)

From the Writings of Saadiah Gaon

Maimonides (c. 1135 C.E.-1204 C.E.)

13 Principles of the Jewish Faith

From the Writings of Maimonides

Judah HaLevi (1075 C.E.-1141 C.E.)

From the Writings of Judah HaLevi

Baruch Spinoza (1632 C.E.-1677 C.E.)

From the Writings of Baruch Spinoza

Moses Mendelssohn (1729 C.E.-1786 C.E.)

From the Writings of Moses Mendelssohn

Franz Rosenzweig (1886 C.E.-1929 C.E.)

Rosenzweig and Buber Translate Torah

From the Writings of Franz Rosenzweig

Martin Buber (1878 C.E.-1965 C.E.)

From the Writings of Martin Buber

Abraham Joshua Heschel (1907 C.E.-1972 C.E.)

From the Writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel

Joseph Soloveitchik (1903 C.E.-1993 C.E.)

From the Writings of Joseph Soloveitchik

Emmanuel Levinas (1906 C.E.-1995 C.E.)

From the Writings of Emmanuel Levinas

Chapter 9

Beyond the Rabbis:

How Judaism Got

Where It Is Today

The Jews in the East

Sworn Enemies: Hasidim and Mitnagdim

"Why Do They Dress Like That?"

Enlightenment and Emancipation

The Jewish Question

Sworn Enemies: Reform and Orthodox

Sworn Enemies: The Rabbis and the Haskalah

Yiddish: The "Mother Tongue"


The Zionists

Eliezer Ben-Yehuda

Herzl and His Successors

The Evolution of Anti-Semitism

Sifting Through the Ashes

Exiles' Return

Feminism Remakes Jewish Theology

The Temptations of Assimilation

Appendix 1

Some Key Documents of

Contemporary Jewish Belief

Reform Judaism

The Pittsburgh Platform, 1885

The Columbus Platform, 1937

A Centenary Perspective, 1976

The Doral Country Club Resolution, 1997?100th

Anniversary of the Zionist Movement

Conservative Judaism

On Changes in Judaism — Zecharias Frankel

The Ideal Conservative Jew: Eight Behavioral Expectations — Rabbi Jerome M. Epstein


Who Is a Reconstructionist Jew?


The Orthodox Jewish Congregational Union of America

Founding Program of Agudat Israel (May 1912)


The Basel Program — Passed by the First Zionist Congress


The Balfour Declaration

Declaration of Israel's Independence, 1948

Appendix 2

A Time Line of Major Events

Appendix 3

Where the Jews Are Today

Appendix 4

Jewish Holidays, 1999-2006

Appendix 5

How Do I Know It's Kosher?

An Orthodox Union Kosher Primer


Sources and Resources:

A Bibliography


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Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 7 reviews.
didanford More than 1 year ago
I converted to Judaism over 20 years ago when my daughters were going through their religious training. I was not Jewish but my wife so our daughters were Jewish. I converted to support them and to be able to answer some of their questions. Now,they are both married with children and I wanted to get back to where I was. I have studied a lot of various religions and really believe that Judaism is where I want to be. This book was exactly what I was looking for; a good overall primer on Judaism. I would highly recommend it to any one thinking of converting, or anyone just wanting to know more about Judaism.
Guest More than 1 year ago
George Robinson's Essences of Judaism book was absolutely amazing. We read this book in conjunction to other books, and I noticed how Robinson fully elaborated on the themes that the secondary novels only touched on. I liked the book so much so that now my grandmother is reading the book, and she seems just as satisified with it as I was/am. I am a religion major, and I can honestly say that this book will serve as my reference for anything dealing with Judaism, and that I will always be thankful to Robinson for helping me learn more about the Jewish faith.
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