Jewish Literacy Revised Ed: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History

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Overview

What does it mean to be a Jew? How does one begin to answer so extensive a question?

In this insightful and completely updated tome, esteemed rabbi and bestselling author Joseph Telushkin helps answer the question of what it means to be a Jew, in the largest sense. Widely recognized as one of the most respected and indispensable reference books on Jewish life, culture, tradition, and religion, Jewish Literacy covers every essential aspect of the Jewish people and Judaism. In 352 short and engaging chapters, Rabbi Telushkin discusses everything from the Jewish Bible and Talmud to Jewish notions of ethics to antisemitism and the Holocaust; from the history of Jews around the world to Zionism and the politics of a Jewish state; from the significance of religious traditions and holidays to how they are practiced in daily life. Whether you want to know more about Judaism in general or have specific questions you'd like answered, Jewish Literacy is sure to contain the information you need.

Rabbi Telushkin's expert knowledge of Judaism makes the updated and revised edition of Jewish Literacy an invaluable reference. A comprehensive yet thoroughly accessible resource for anyone interested in learning the fundamentals of Judaism, Jewish Literacy is a must for every Jewish home.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061374982
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 6/17/2008
  • Edition description: Revised Edition
  • Pages: 800
  • Sales rank: 78,725
  • Product dimensions: 6.48 (w) x 9.52 (h) x 2.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Joseph Telushkin is a rabbi, scholar, and the bestselling author of eighteen books, among them A Code of Jewish Ethics and Hillel. His book Jewish Literacy is the widest-selling work on the topic of Judaism. He lives with his wife, Dvorah, in New York City, and lectures regularly throughout the United States.

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Read an Excerpt

Jewish Literacy Revised Ed
The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History

Chapter One

Tanakh Torah

Nevi'im/Prophets
Ketuvim/Writings

Ta- NaKh--rhymes with Bach-is an acronym for the three categories of books that make up the Hebrew Bible: Torah, Neviim (Prophets), and Ketuvim (Writings). Observant Jews do not commonly refer to the Hebrew Bible as the Old Testamentthat is a Christian usage.

The first five books of the Hebrew Bible comprise the Torah, and are regarded as Judaism's central document. Along with the stories about the *Patriarchs and *Moses and the Exodus from Egypt, they contain *613 commandments, the backbone of all later Jewish law. In Hebrew the five books are also called Chumash, from the Hebrew word chamesh (five). According to Jewish tradition, the books were dictated to Moses by God sometime around 1220 B.C.E., shortly after the Exodus from Egypt.

In Hebrew each book of the Torah is named after its first or second word, while the English names summarize the contents of the book. Thus, the first book of the Torah is called Genesis in English, because its opening chapters tell the story of the creation of the world. In this one instance, the Hebrew name is very similar, since the Torah's opening word, Brei'sheet, means "In the beginning." In Hebrew the Torah's second book is called Sh'mot, or Names, because its opening verse reads "Ay-leh shemot b'nai yisrael--And these are the names of the children of Israel." In English the book is called Exodus, because it tells the story of the liberation of theJewish slaves from Egypt. Leon Uris wisely chose to call his novel Exodus rather than Names.

The Torah's third book, Leviticus (Va-Yikra in Hebrew), delineates many of the laws concerning animal sacrifices and other *Ternple rituals, which were supervised by the Israelite tribe of *Levites. The fourth book, Numbers (Ba-Midbar in Hebrew), is named for the census of Israelites that is carried out early in the book. It also tells the story of *Korakh's rebellion against Moses' leadership. The final book of the Torah is Deuteronomy (Devarim in Hebrew). Virtually the entire book consists of Moses' farewell address to the Israelites as they prepare to cross over to the Promised Land. He knows that he will not be permitted to enter it, but before he dies, he imparts his last thoughts to the nation he has founded.

The second category of biblical books is the Nevi'im, twenty-one books that trace Jewish history and the history of monotheism from the time of Moses' death and the Israelites' entrance into Canaan, around 1200 B.C.E., to the period after the Babylonians destroyed the First Temple and the ensuing exile of Jews from Jerusalem to Babylon (586 B.C.E.).

The early books of the Nevi'im (Joshua; Judges; I and 11 Samuel; I and 11 Kings) are written in a narrative style and remain among the most dramatic and vivid histories that any civilization has produced. These books are sometimes referred to as the "Early Prophets."

The later books, written in poetic form, are what we commonly think of when referring to the prophetic books of the Bible. They primarily consist of condemnations of Israelite betrayals of monotheism's ideals, and of calls for ethical behavior. Here you find nonstop ruminations about evil, suffering, and sin. In English the primary meaning of "prophet" is one who predicts the future; however, the corresponding Hebrew word, navi, means "spokesman for God."

The final books of the Tanakh are known as Ketuvim, and have little in common. Some are historical; the Books of *Ezra and *Nehemiah, for example, tell the story of the Jews' return to Israel following Babylonian exile, while I and 11 Chronicles provide an overview of Jewish history. Ketuvim also contain *Psalms, 150 poems, some transporting in their beauty, about man's relationship to God.

Another book, Job, grapples with the most fundamental challenge to religion: Why does a God Who is good allow so much evil in the world? (see The Trial of Job and Theodicy). In Ketuvim are also found the Five Scrolls, which include perhaps the best-known biblical book aside from the Torah, *Esther.

The Hebrew Bible has been the most influential book in human history; both Judaism and Christianity consider it to be one of their major religious texts. Several of its central ideas-that there is One God over all mankind, and one universal standard of morality; that people are obligated to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, and the stranger; that people should refrain from work one day a week, and dedicate themselves to making that day holy; and that the Jews have been chosen by God to spread His message to the world-have transformed both how men and women have lived, and how they have understood their existence. Even the last of the ideas just enumerated, Jewish chosenness, has powerfully affected non-Jews. Indeed, the idea was so compelling that Christianity appropriated it, contending that the special covenant between God and a people had passed from the Jews (Old Israel) to the Church (New Israel). Islam, in turn, similarly insisted that *Moharnmed and his followers had become God's new messengers (see Chosen People).

The Bible influences the thought patterns of nonreligious, as well as religious, people. The idea that human beings are responsible for each other, crystallized by *Cain's infamous question: "Am I my brother's keeper?" (Genesis 4:9), has become part of the backbone of Western civilization. Our values in every area of life, even if we have never seen the inside of a synagogue or a church, are suffused with biblical concepts and images.

Jewish Literacy Revised Ed
The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History
. Copyright © by Joseph Telushkin. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
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  • Posted May 7, 2010

    Jewish Literacy

    Purchased this book to assist me in my conversion to Judaism process. I am involved with a group who are also interested in converting. The book is used as a supplement to our weekly classes.
    I find the book very helpful in understanding Jewish history, beliefs and current issues.
    It is well-arranged and well-detailed for my purpose.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 27, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Both Comprehensive and Readable

    This is a wonderful reference book that covers much of what is important about Judaism in a succinct, clear, and fair manner. From a strong summary of the different books of the Torah to descriptions of major Jewish historical figures to a list of the major Jewish holidays, this book probably has at least some information about almost anything you would want to know about Judaism. And considering that Telushkin is writing about a community that tends to have strong and varied opinions, I think he does a good job of being reasonably balanced and fair in his presentation of the material. This book definitely has a place in our permanent library, and I think it belongs in every Jewish home. It also inspired me to go back and read some of the primary sources Telushkin did such an excellent job of summarizing.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted December 14, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I'm very happy I got this book

    It's very well written and easily understandbable. I am not Jewish but I wanted to learn more about the religion and their practices. It is well worth the money.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted July 21, 2014

    I am a Christian with a desire to know and understand the bedroc

    I am a Christian with a desire to know and understand the bedrock of our Christian faith. Jesus Christ, Himself, is of the Hebrew world and for me, to know my Lord Jesus also means to know the world from which He came. This book is a great source of such information.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 9, 2014

    Hey, more info on hews here!!!!!!

    Jewish people were burned,sophicated,imprisend,humiliated,and toorterd by germans shortly after the great deppression. All jews hair was shavedoff and women wore forced to undress in front of men for buckets of freezing water to be pourn over their heads for showers. If they did not they were shot or beaten to death. In most ghettos before becpmig slaves were places jews would stay in overcrowded houses or sleeping in yards which were locked up behind gates and armed by soldiers. Then they would go to concentration camps where they were taught how to behave by being and torcherd and imprisoned by gates and gaurds. And most of the time got daireah from no water and everyone shared a ditch for a bahroom. Women were locked in one area and men in the other. They had to sleep in shelve like beds on walls. In the death camps most went to the most feared death camp Aushwitz. When the got there most children and there mothers were sent to sophicate in gas chambers. A chamber in wich people are locked in and gas pebbles were pourn in so they would sophicate, then their bodies burned in smoke stacks. So was th process for eldrlys and people whom could not work. You were torcherd worse but everything else was probably the same besides people commiting suicide. If you survived the camps and was alive you would be live for deporation in which americans freed the jews. Here is the process. You would be in a train car and most likely 250 people in a 100 capacity car . You would be in for at least a week. Sweating an hungry the doors would open and you would run out and smile. Then german planes would shoot at you. You would run and hode. If you were lucky you would live in time for the american arrival. You would leave for the U.S. Another thing is a red cross truck would come handing out food. Once everyone crowded at the windows the shooting would begin shots in lungs eyes and fountains of blood from backs. Most were killed. Some injured. Little alive. If you made it you would be deported to america. If not you would be deported to Heaven. Thank you all who read this. Pray for sinners. Pray for Satan. Pray for those who diethis way. But be happy it is over. Be happy this tragedy in gone.

    0 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 30, 2012

    A must have!

    Trustworthy author and Rabbi brings us yet another wonderful book! Even the most observant Jew would benefit from adding this to the collection. Telushkin should be among the library of anyone, regardless of faith, because of the incredible insight he shares...

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 13, 2012

    HEY READ THIS

    Hey guys whats up? I am a christian and i know for a fact that judism isnt for real!!! First of all WHO WROTE MOST OF YOUR BOOK? All of the disciples of who? Jesus Christ! Read John 3:16... for God so loved the world that whosoever beleiveth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life! Do you feel alone in life? I dont because someone is always on my side AND he loves me SOOOO much he let a bunch of guys kill his only son!!! Cool stuff huh?

    0 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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