Excellent introduction to Jewish faith and tradition...
May 13, 2013
This was a book that I had put on my library "to be read" list, but decided that getting it via Amazon Vine was faster and better... Judaism For Dummies by Rabbi Ted Falcon PhD and David Blatner. I felt this was a *perfect* example of what Dummies titles are good for... context on a complex topic, enough so that you know where to go for more information. Toss in a fair amount of humor along the way, and I had a great time reading this (while learning lots).
Contents: Introduction Part 1 - What Jews Generally Believe: That's Funny, You Don't Look Jewish - Who's a Jew and Why; It's All One - Judaism and God; A Never-Ending Torah - The Unfolding of a Tradition; A Path of Blessing - Judaism and a Daily Practice; Jewish Mysticism; Ethical Challenges Part 2 - From Womb to Tomb - The Life Cycle: In the Beginning - Birth and Bris; Coming of Age - The Bar/Bat Mitzvah; Get Me to the Chuppah On Time - Weddings; Stepping Through the Valleys - The Shadow of Death Part 3 - An Overview of Jewish History: Let My People Go - From Abraham to Exodus; The Kings of Israel - The First Temple; Bracketed by Exile - The Second Temple; The Exiles Continue - The First Millennium; The Greatest Horror, The Greatest Triumph; Jewish Buddhists and Other Challenges of the New Age; The Problem of Anti-Semitish Part 4 - Celebrations and Holy Days: A Taste of Paradise - Shabbat; In with the New - Rosh Hashanah; Getting Serious - Yom Kippur; The Great Outdoors - Sukkot; Seeking Light in Dark Times - Chanukkah; Celebrating Renewal - Tu B'Shvat; A Jewish Carnival - Purim; From Groan to Glee - Passover; Spring is Busting Out All Over - Shavuot; A Day of Mourning - Tisha B'Av Part 5 - The Part of Tens: Ten People Who Helped Shape Judaism; Answers to Ten Common Questions about Judaism Part 6 - Appendixes: Appendix A - Oy Vey! and Other Words You Should Know; Appendix B - A Sampler of Jewish Prayers and Blessings; Appendix C - Go Now and Learn Index
To be fair, there's no way to condense thousands of years of Jewish history, teachings, and tradition into 400 pages. I'm not sure that 4000 pages would get you any closer. But for the typical goy like myself, I needed context and structure around the major beliefs, teachings, holidays, and rituals. Blatner and Rabbi Falcon do that job well without getting bogged down in jots and tittles that would be more appropriate for rabbinical studies. They also do a good job in trying to point out differences and similarities between Orthodox, Reform, Conservative, Reconstructionist, Renewal, and Humanistic Judaism. Much like various Christian denominations, each one of the branches would likely argue about the "truth" as they know and understand it. Still, you have to start with basics, and those are covered nicely.
I have a close friend who is Orthodox (not Hassidic), and I've found it fascinating to learn more about the Jewish faith and how it affects his life. This would have been a perfect book to start with when it came to understanding the basic holidays, what can and can't be done on shabbos, and so forth. I've done OK on my own (well enough to have the title of shabbos goy), but this would have gotten me further along when it came to things like Sukkot and dietary restrictions.
For anyone with an interest in Jewish history, practice, and faith, I'd definitely recommend Judaism for Dummies. I'd also recommend reading it if you have friends or neighbors who are Jewish (especially Orthodox) and observe many of the traditions and holidays. You'll stand a much better chance of knowing the appropriate words and actions for various events, such as births, weddings, and deaths. You'll also understand why they don't seem overly excited to join you when you toss some shrimp on the barbecue...
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About the reviewer
Thomas Duff (duffbert)
Thomas Duff, aka "Duffbert", is a long-time member of the Lotus community. He's primarily focused on the development side of the Notes/Domino environment, currently working for a large insurance … more
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