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Converting to Judaism reading list

Updated on March 7, 2011

Converting to Judaism requires much study

In our cosmopolitan age, many people feel free to explore spiritual traditions other than those of their own inheritance. Conversion to Judaism is on the rise, as well as return to traditional Judaism by many of Jewish birth and heritage.

Judaism is a religion focused on practice, and to be just an ordinary Jew requires vast amounts of knowledge. Just to begin with, one has to master some level of Hebrew, to understand and read the Torah and prayers, and to understand the names of ritual objects, Jewish holidays and Jewish months.

Jews are called "people of the Book", because Judaism is based in the book of Torah. Torah is the Written Law, which is accompanied by Oral Law - an guide to interpreting the Written Law. Oral Law has been first passed down orally, but long ago was written down and became what is now known as Talmud. Talmudic study is an euphemism for difficult, nuanced and involved study. Foliants of Talmud are large and contain text in Hebrew and Aramaic, and in some new editions, translations to English.

A person starting on the conversion to Judaism path has to go through a long program of Jewish learning. There are many books in English that can greatly aid in this journey. This article summarizes a must-read list of books for Jewish conversion or return to Judaism.

1. Torah - Five Books of Moses

In English and Hebrew

The Torah is comprised of five books of Moses, known in English as Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy, and in Hebrew as Bereshit, Shemot, Vaikra, Bamidbar, and Devarim.

It is the most important book in the Jewish conversion reading list. You cannot convert without reading the book that started it all, and deciding to sign up for the deal described there!

It is important to have a book with both Hebrew and English text for study for conversion. Many such books also include some popular commentaries.

Recommended Torah book: Artscroll Chumash - .

The Chumash: The Stone Edition, Full Size (ArtScroll)   (English and Hebrew Edition) The Torah: Haftaros and Five Megillos with a Commentary Anthologized from the Rabbinic Writings
The Chumash: The Stone Edition, Full Size (ArtScroll) (English and Hebrew Edition) The Torah: Haftaros and Five Megillos with a Commentary Anthologized from the Rabbinic Writings

Artscroll Chumash (a Hebrew word for five books of Moses) is a classic. It includes beautiful Hebrew text with English translation, and commentaries.


2. Tanach - Torah, Prophets and Writings

all the Jewish Holy Books

Jewish Holy books are comprised of Torah - the five books of Moses, and the later books of Prophets, and the books of Writings.

Tanach is an acrostic formed by the first letters of three Hebrew words for Torah, Prophets (Neviim in Hebrew), and Writings (Ketuvim in Hebrew).

Books of writings include books of Psalms, Proverbs, Job, Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, Esther, Daniel, Nechemia, and Chronicles.

Stone Edition Tanach by Artscroll - .

Tanach: The Torah, Prophets, Writings : Stone Edition, Burgundy
Tanach: The Torah, Prophets, Writings : Stone Edition, Burgundy

This full size edition of Tanach is a very popular one by Artscroll. It is sturdy and leather-bound, designed for heavy use and study.

It includes the text of all the Jewish Holy books in Hebrew with English translations, and commentaries.

This book includes the introduction and is very easy for the beginner.


3. The Siddur - a prayerbook

A comprehensive jewish siddur is another must have book

Jewish life includes prayer. There are three daily Jewish prayer services - Shacharit (morning service), Mincha (afternoon service), and Maariv (evening service).

In addition, there is an extra service on Shabbat and Holidays (Mussaf), and a fifth service on the holiday of Yom Kippur (Neila).

There are separate prayerbooks for each of the Jewish High Holidays (Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur), called Machzor.

This prayerbook is all you need for all other days of the year, including Shabbat and other holidays.

Rabbinical Council of America Siddur - .

The Rabbinical Council of America Edition of the Artscroll Siddur
The Rabbinical Council of America Edition of the Artscroll Siddur

This edition of the Siddur is designed for daily use. It is comprehensive and includes daily services for Shabbat, holidays (except the High Holidays) and weekdays. It also includes many common blessings, some psalms and prayers to say on different occasions, such as a traveler's prayer, a full text of grace after meals (Birkat Ha-Mazon), prayers for the circumcision ceremony, the full marriage service, prayers of bereavement, and many others. It includes the full text of book of psalms. It also has Torah readings and prayers for many Holidays.

This siddur (prayerbook) is all you need for most days of the year, and it is a wonderful one for study. It includes a preface, and laws of prayer.


4. Machzor - Jewish High Holiday prayer book

Machzor for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

High Holiday services are different enough to necessitate their own prayerbook, used once a year.

On Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, there are four prayer services - there is a holiday Mussaf prayer service, in addition to the daily morning, afternoon and evening service.

On Yom Kippur, there are five prayer services - a holiday Mussaf service, and a Neila (closing) prayer service, in addition to the regular three daily services.

There are many additional poems and prayers in each of those services in each of the High Holiday days. A whole prayerbook, Machzor, is read in one day. There is a separate Machzor for Rosh Hashanah and for Yom Kippur.

The Complete Artscroll Machzor - For Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur

The Complete Artscroll Machzor: Rosh Hashanah - Ashkenaz
The Complete Artscroll Machzor: Rosh Hashanah - Ashkenaz

A popular edition of Rosh Hashanah prayerbook (Machzor), in Hebrew with English translation and commentaries.

The Complete Artscroll Machzor: Yom Kippur (Artscroll Mesorah) (English and Hebrew Edition)
The Complete Artscroll Machzor: Yom Kippur (Artscroll Mesorah) (English and Hebrew Edition)

A Yom Kippur Machzor (prayerbook) - five complete Yom Kippur prayer services, in Hebrew with English translation, commentaries, and directions.


5. Haggadah

Haggadah - the order of the Passover Seder

Haggadah is the most popular Jewish holy book. It contains the complete order of the Passover Seder, starting with opening blessings, continuing with the commanded retelling of the Passover story, and concluding with the blessing after the meal, traditional "Next Year in Jerusalem", and traditional Passover songs.

There are many Haggadah editions - from beautifully illustrated works of art, to utliitarian booklets. Every Jewish household has a handful of Haggadahs - if you ever host a Passover Seder, each guest needs his own. Many Haggadahs contain additional commentaries and insights about Passover seder and the meaning of each symbol and action performed on that night. On the night of Passover every Jew in every country of the world sits down with the same book and relieves the same story.

Family Haggadah by Artscroll - .

Family Haggadah: Hagadah Shel Pesah (Artscroll Mesorah Series) (English and Hebrew Edition)
Family Haggadah: Hagadah Shel Pesah (Artscroll Mesorah Series) (English and Hebrew Edition)

This edition of Haggadah is inexpensive and simple, perfect for buying in multiples for your Passover Seder meal. It contains the full traditional text in Hebrew and Aramaic, with English translation and commentary. The print is large and clear, the book is just the right size and format to fit nicely on your Passover table, the cover is laminated for long life and easy cleaning from all those wine spills. We own several of these books.


6. A book about the meaning of Jewish practice

a modern and timeless classic by the Lubavitcher Rebbe

This book about the beauty of Judaism and about the way to live a meaningful life is a must on everyone's Jewish reading list.

This work speaks to Jews and non-Jews alike, and is full of wisdom and insight, yet written in a simple and understandable language.

Based on lectures and writings of the last Lubavitcher Rebbe, Menachem Mendel Shneerson, a revered and acknowledged leader in the Jewish world. Whether or not one follows the teachings of Lubavitch, his influence transcended denominations and religions, and spoke to the humanity in each of us.

Toward a Meaningful Life - a book of wisdom from "the Rebbe"

Toward a Meaningful Life, New Edition: The Wisdom of the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson
Toward a Meaningful Life, New Edition: The Wisdom of the Rebbe Menachem Mendel Schneerson

One of the best books describing the beauty and meaning found in living a life in step with God.


7. A book about conversion to Judaism

Everything you ever need to know about Jewish conversion.

9. A book about Kashrut - a book about Jewish dietary laws

10. Books about Shabbat

Shabbat, or Sabbath, is an oasis in time. Remembering and keeping the Sabbath is one of the Ten Commandments. Much of the tranquility in Jewish religious life stems from this very special day.

Shabbat is a day of rest, a day of family, good food, prayer, and singing.

A collection of books below ranges from spiritual to practical, with traditional Shabbat songs CDs thrown in.

A selection of Shabbat books and melodies

Seventh Heaven: Celebrating Shabbat with Rebbe Nachman of Breslov
Seventh Heaven: Celebrating Shabbat with Rebbe Nachman of Breslov

Rebbe Nachman of Breslov is a great-grandson of the legendary Baal Shem Tov, a founder of Chassidism, a Jewish movement infused in spirituality. Known for his deep fairy-tale like stories, and for meditating in the fields. His burial site in Uman, Ukraine attracts Jewish pilgrims from over the world to this day.

The Complete Shabbat Table Companion
The Complete Shabbat Table Companion

A booklet containing all the blessing before and after Shabbat meals, a very comrehensive selection of Shabbat songs, and transliterations from Hebrew for the beginner.


11. Books on Jewish family and Jewish marriage

Family, marriage and raising children are central to Judaism. This selection of books is accessible for those who know very little about Judaism, while still being inspiring and illuminating for those living a Jewish life from the start.

Jewish family and marriage books

The Secret of Jewish Femininity
The Secret of Jewish Femininity

A book about the laws of Jewish family purity, or niddah.


Reader Feedback

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    • profile image


      6 years ago

      Very good list. I would include a few others such as "The Gerus Guide" and "The Book of Our Heritage"

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      This lens is an excellent resource for anyone wanting a more thorough grounding in Judaism -- whether for conversion or just from a desire for deeper understanding.. Nicely done. Blessed.


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