Take the 2-minute tour ×
Mi Yodeya is a question and answer site for those who base their lives on Jewish law and tradition and anyone interested in learning more. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I have found that the first thing to do when you want to learn something about a subject, is to start with the idea that you know absolutely nothing. I understand, for example, that Judaism has either branches, or sects, or various subgroups. I'm interested in understanding Orthodoxy, which I understand isn't even one branch, but a bunch of branches.

(Update: if "branch" is an incorrect word, please understand that I mean only, groups which could be held distinct in some way, from the rest of Orthodox Judaism.)

What is a good book that helps with understanding Orthodox Judaism, as it exists today and is practiced, it's history and ideas and most of all, the underlying principles or forms, or ideas, which make it itself. A good book for me would answer these questions:

  • What do the authorities within Orthodox judaism say about Orthodox Judaism. How do they define it?
  • What is the daily life of those comitted to the practices of Orthodoxy look like, including the practice of "Shabbat/"Shabbos"
  • Introducing the the study of Torah, Tanakh, and Talmud, as it is understood by Orthodox authorities.

I realize that all of the above are worthy of their own books. But imagine, you simply want somewhere to start. is there a good book on what Orthodox judaism is, that addresses at least a little bit of those subject areas, that would be readable by someone with zero knowledge of Hebrew?

The most important thing I want to know is that the view in the book is presented by those who themselves hold the views they are describing. That is, I am not looking for an external, or academic view. I am looking for an internal view, but perhaps written so that those who are not part of the religion, or practicing it themselves, might be able to understand it.

share|improve this question
3  
You should know that the Jewish tradition does not distinguish among branches of Judaism. There are tribes en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tribal_allotments_of_Israel, but they have little significance nowadays. There are so-called Ashkenazic and Sepharadic Jews (and some others), but that's just a name given to Jews who have lived in various areas and developed their own culture and practices; there's no real difference between an Ashkenazi and a Sepharadi like there is between, though I hate to make the comparison, a Catholic and a Protestant. [continued] –  msh210 Apr 27 '11 at 2:17
1  
Warren P, Welcome to mi.yodeya, and thanks very much for this important question! I look forward to seeing you around. –  Isaac Moses Apr 27 '11 at 4:01
1  
@Warren Take a look at this Wikipedia article: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/… In particular, I like its description of Orthodox: "Orthodox Jews generally see themselves as practicing normative Judaism, rather than belonging to a particular movement. Within Orthodox Judaism there is a spectrum of communities and practices, including Modern Orthodox Judaism, Haredi Judaism, and a variety of movements that have their origins in Hasidic Judaism." (continued) –  Isaac Moses Apr 28 '11 at 21:18
1  
(continued) The reason you see "Orthodox" as having a bunch of branches is that unlike the defined Reform, Conservative, etc. movements, "Orthodox" really just means "all those who stick with the tradition that was there before people started creating new 'movements'," so that includes all different kinds of communities, some of whom have never heard of the term "Orthodox," with no single, central authority. –  Isaac Moses Apr 28 '11 at 21:31
1  
@IsaacMoses Chasidim wasn't considered a new movement when it started? It's just so different than what came before. –  Charles Koppelman Aug 13 '12 at 20:34
show 7 more comments

5 Answers

  1. Horeb, by Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, is definitely directed to a Jewish audience, but is, I suspect, largely comprehensible by others.
  2. Herman Wouk's This Is My God is directed mostly to an irreligious Jewish audience, but was interesting to me (a religious Jew) also and is certainly comprehensible by non-Jews.
share|improve this answer
4  
+1 for Horeb (amazon.com/Horeb-Philosophy-Jewish-Laws-Observances/dp/…). It summarizes something resembling the gamut of Jewish observances, observance by observance, giving all the "whats" "hows" and "whys" from R' Hirsch's point of view, which has had an important influence on contemporary Orthodox understanding. –  Isaac Moses Apr 27 '11 at 15:53
2  
The Herman Wouk one looks great, and so does Horeb. Both in fact, seem quite promising! Thanks! –  Warren P Apr 28 '11 at 21:01
    
By the way, the first half of Horeb is available in English online (apart from a few Hebrew volumes on HebrewBooks) –  b a Aug 13 '12 at 21:58
add comment

Some book ideas (I'll add more if I think of them):

share|improve this answer
    
Now you've inspired a new question. Great novels featuring jewish observance and religious life. I just love Chaim Potok's The Chosen, and My Name is Asher Lev, for example. –  Warren P Apr 28 '11 at 21:03
    
Rabbi Benjamin Blech is amazing. He also writes for the Aish.com website. –  Adam Mosheh Feb 20 '12 at 6:20
add comment

Warren,

I enjoyed reading your question. I hope my answer is of some assistance.

The Durants in their book the Story of Civilization write:

As we have it, the Mishna (i.e., oral teaching) is the result of much editing and interpolation since Jehuda; even so it is a compact summary, designed for memorizing by repetition, and therefore tantalizingly terse and obscure to one who comes to it from any background except that of Jewish life and history.

This is the case for practically all the literature put forth over the past two millennia since the Mishna by practicing orthodox Jews. That is, if your looking for the real stuff you may have some trouble "getting into it".

That said, you might try this introductory material on-line; here and here.

Best to you,

David

share|improve this answer
    
I read that first link already before once. Aish.com seems pretty great. I'm reading lots on the second one too. I am, I must confess, addicted to reading those offline objects composed of paper, so I hope someone comes along with a book idea, too. –  Warren P Apr 26 '11 at 21:33
1  
Check the "Books" link at the Shalom Center shalom-center.org/lectuur.htm –  David Perlman Apr 27 '11 at 5:30
add comment

another one

Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism [Paperback] Dennis Prager

(the intelligent skeptic's guide to Judaism)

http://www.amazon.com/Nine-Questions-People-About-Judaism/dp/0671622617

share|improve this answer
    
Excellent suggestion, thank you! –  Warren P Jul 18 '13 at 18:02
add comment

Start with with the written Torah which is more or less the first 5 books of the Old Testament, though the language in the King James Bible can be a little archaic. Look for a "plain English" translation by a Rabbi.

The written Toray is divided into "Parshas". If you read one each week, it will take you a year. If you're "in a rush" reading one Parsha per day might work but I wouldn't recommend reading any faster than that. Its "dense" reading and you might catch yourself just scanning your eyes over the words and not really thinking about what they mean.

The oral Torah (Babylonian Talmud) has not been fully translated into English. It is LONG, 6,200 pages and written in Hebrew and Aramaic. Most modern day Rabbi's haven't even read all of it, but it is considered by the Orthodox, as the definitive definition of the law - despite being unclear and contradictory in many places. The format is as follows:

  • Statement of the Law (In Hebrew)
  • Rabbi A says the law really means this (in Aramaic)
  • Rabbi B says the law really means this (in Aramaic)
  • No conclusion, they more or less agree to disagree.

For practical use there are various "codifications" of the law. The most commonly used is the Shulchan Aruch. Again this has not been full translated into English. The Mishneh Torah by Maimonides is available in English on the Chabad:

http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/682956/jewish/Mishneh-Torah.htm

WARNING: Despite providing many valuable online and offline services, Chabad are generally regarded as a heretical sect due to the fact that they worship their (dead) Rebbe as the Messiah, and believe that he is going to be resurected.

For learning about Shabbat, the best thing to do is to visit an Orthodox synagogue on Friday evening. Dress formally (a suit, or at least black pants and a shirt). It is a "mitzvah" for Jewish people to invite strangers (including non-Jews) into their home for Shabbat dinner. This way you can "experience" Shabbat for yourself, including the rather complicated rituals.

Enjoy!

share|improve this answer
1  
Whether it's technically heresy or just nonsense is debatable (and you may have intended the word to be used loosely (as you probably also meant worship loosely)), but either way the rest of your answer seems to me to be a poor recommendation for the OP so -1 for that. –  Double AA Nov 30 '13 at 23:27
1  
Babylonian Talmud was translated (or at least almost all of it) –  Shmuel Brin Dec 1 '13 at 2:11
    
What's a poor recommendation? Would it be unadvisable for a non-Jew to just show up in a suit at any Orthodox synagogue on a friday? If there was an "open house" day that Synagogues held once a year for those interested in Judaism and Jewish Life, I guess that would be more considerate? –  Warren P Dec 1 '13 at 18:18
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.