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What Jewish religious books should one consider when starting a Jewish Library in their home? A set of Shas (Talmud) and the Shulchan Orech (Code of Jewish Law) are the obvious ones, What else should be considered essential for the Jewish home?

closed as primarily opinion-based by mevaqesh, DonielF, Shmuel Brin, sabbahillel, Danny Schoemann Mar 9 '17 at 8:06

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • Hello Ken. May I suggest you request a print copy of Art Scroll's catalogue? It will give you an idea of the breadth of Jewish literature. Since Art Scroll is a well respected Orthodox company, you can be sure of the legitimate Jewishness of their publications. You know, as opposed to going to Amazon and ending up with a far from legitimate source. – JJLL Aug 12 '15 at 0:59
  • Hey Ken. It was an oversight on my part. I did not notice the date. I am not sure why your question appeared at the top of my recent questions list. Hope you are reading through your library. – JJLL Aug 12 '15 at 1:02
  • @JJLL: I edited the question seven minutes ago. AFAICT, changes to a question or its answer set will always automatically bump it up to the top of the Mi Yodeya homepage. Still, your comment (though belated) is still a useful suggestion to those coming after Ken who also want to start buying some Jewish books. – tealhill Aug 12 '15 at 1:04
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    @tealhill. I obviously overlooked your edit as well :) – JJLL Aug 12 '15 at 1:23
  • I think it's obvious that your ability to use seforim is relevant to the importance of buying them. But I would say that for many homes a current calendar, a bilingual Kitzur Shulchan Aruch and a siddur would be the top three items. Next I would suggest something that you enjoy using from the list of seforim commonly learned: Chumash with Rashi, Mishnah, Gemara, etc. – Chaim Mar 8 '17 at 13:00
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I'm sure I'll miss some important things, but here's a list of what I'd consider essential (or at least very useful). I'm going to write for the native English speaker who also understands quite a bit of Hebrew, since that's what I am. I'm community-wikifying this answer, so anyone with 100 reputation points can edit it. I'm going to type this out without links at first and come back in and linkify it later. Others are welcome to help with the linkifying.

ESSENTIAL

  • Siddur (prayer book) with translation. If you're Ashkenazic but not Chassidic, buy an ArtScroll or Metsudah siddur in "nusach ashkenaz". If you're Chabad Chassidic, buy the Siddur Tehillat Hashem. If you're another type of Chassidic, buy an ArtScroll or Metsudah siddur in "nusach sefard". If you're Sephardic, avoid buying a "nusach sefard" siddur; instead, buy the Orot Sephardic Siddur. If all this confuses you, visit your local Judaica store for help.
  • Torah (Five books of Moses) with Rashi's commentary and translation of both the text and commentary. Torah is our central text. Rashi is the universally-acknowledged dean of commentators. We're required to study the weekly portion with commentary, and this would facilitate that.
  • Other commentaries on the Torah for added variety or depth of study. I'm partial to the translation and commentary of R' Samson Raphael Hirsch. If you're fluent in Hebrew, Mikraot Gedolot or Torat Chaim provide a nice collection of commentaries.
  • Tanach with translation for reference.
  • Tanach with commentary (either collection of primary commentaries, such as Mikraot Gedolot or an English commentary) for study.
  • Mishnah with standard commentaries or Kehati
  • Talmud
  • One of each of these dictionaries:
    • Modern Hebrew - Helpful with Tanach, Mishna, Hebrew commentaries, and Rabbinic literature
    • Jastrow on Aramaic - Comprehensive coverage of pretty much any word you'll see in the Talmud and in Aramaic commentaries
    • "Practical Talmud Dictionary" - Very helpful with understanding Talmud phrases in context
    • Dictionary of acronyms / "Otzar Rashei Teivot" - Talmud commentaries, and Rabbinic literature are full of acronyms that can be frustrating if you don't have a reference handy. There are many brands; in my experience, any is fine.
  • Distillation of Halacha to look up what the issues are (but not necessarily to tell you what to do in every case). At least one of the following, some or all of which can be had with English translation:
    • Mishna Berura (for Orach Chayim) and Chochmas Adam (for Yore Dea)
    • Kitzur Shulchan Aruch
    • Aruch Hashulchan
    • Shulchan Aruch Harav (if you're Chabad)
    • Yalkut Yosef (if you're Sepharadi)
    • Ben Ish Chai (if you're Sepharadi)
  • Rambam's Yad Hachazaka - Whichever edition[s] suit your learning style and level, e.g.:
    • With traditional commentaries
    • "Rambam La'am"
    • With English translation
  • At least one thing not on this list, chosen based on your interests or desire for expansion on something in this list. I think it's essential to have books in your library that you chose, to increase your personal connection to the library and to learning, and to make learning more enjoyable and therefore more likely to be frequent.

OPTIONAL

  • Some Hashkafah Sefarim

    • Chovot Halevavot
    • Likutei Amarim (Tanya)
    • Mesilat Yesharim
    • Nineteen Letters (or Chorev by R' Hirsch)
  • Add stuff here.

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    I would add one of my favorites, Shemirat Shabbat Kehilchotoh – Ken Mar 5 '10 at 21:18
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    Chanoch, welcome to mi.yodeya, and thanks very much for the additions! I look forward to seeing you around the site. – Isaac Moses Mar 16 '10 at 4:42
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    Mussar/Machshava/Hashkafa- Orhot Saddiqim, Shaare Teshuba, Messilat Yesharim, Derech Hashem, Reshit Hochma, Ali Shur, Michtab MeEliyahu, Nefesh HaHaim, Shaare Qeudasha. – Hacham Gabriel Nov 27 '11 at 1:12
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    @HachamGabriel, some of the items on your Mussar/Machshava list could probably be worth including. I don't think I'd recommend Kabala books for a starter library. – Isaac Moses Jun 19 '12 at 14:41
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    Is Tanya really for a starter? – Hacham Gabriel Jun 21 '12 at 2:08
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If you're just starting a Jewish library, and don't have a good idea already about what you need, then you probably weren't raised with enough Jewish background to fully sort out the list above. (And may not have such a good command of Hebrew.) In that case, a reasonable list would include (in approximate order):

  1. ArtScroll Chumash
  2. Siddur
  3. To Be a Jew by R' Hayyim HaLevy Donin
  4. Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (any one of several translations)
    • Ben Ish Chai instead if you're Sepharadi -- it's been translated
  5. The Way of God by Rabbi Moshe Chayim Luzzato
  6. ArtScroll or Metsudah Chumash with Rashi
  7. A modern book on the laws of Kashrut (e.g. Artscroll's books)
  8. A modern book on the laws of Shabbat (e.g. 39 Melachos by R' Dovid Ribiat)
  • Dear Chanoch: 1. Could you please add a note to the bottom of this post saying something like the following?: "Feel free to edit this post as much as you like; but note that, if you make an edit which I dislike, I may roll it back." 2. May I please replace both Kitzur Shulchan Aruch and sefer Ben Ish Chai with R' Ze'ev Greenwald's Shaarei Halacha? The latter is more up to date; it includes coverage of modern matters such as whether or not it's okay to open a fridge on Shabbat. – tealhill Aug 12 '15 at 23:27
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I have yet to find a better list than that of the "Crazy Jewish Convert":

Essential Jewish Library

Obviously, this is for someone who is not Hasidic. A Hasidic Jewish library looks a little different, although it includes everything in the above list.

Essential Jewish Library (Chabad)

The essential Jewish library for Chabad Hasidim consists of basically everything from the above list, with some slight changes and additions.

My Own Additions to Both Lists

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One of Chabad's ten mitzvah campaigns is Bayis Molei Seforim (relating to the mitzvah to have a collection of Jewish holy books at home). Their official recommendation for the "basic" books to have is as follows:

  • a Chumash
  • a Tehillim
  • a Siddur (I would add: weekday and Shabbos siddurim, plus mahzorim if possible)
  • a Tanach
  • a Talmud
  • a Zohar
  • a Mishneh Torah
  • a Kitzur Shulchan Aruch
  • a Tanya

...The Wikipedia article suggests that the most important of these are a Chumash, a Tehillim, and a siddur.

Of these recommendations, I question only the inclusion of the Zohar and the Tanya. As for the Zohar--I'm not really sure if you are supposed to own it, but most people are not supposed to study it, and possibly not read it either. Tanya is a book that is highly valued by Chabad (and a few others), but I would not consider it an absolutely central text in Judaism.

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I was listening to a Yeshivah University lecture in which the speaker said that according to Abarbanel the only two books that a religious Jew needs to own is a Tanakh, and Chovoth haLevavoth

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    Of course during the Abarbanel's time acquiring sefarim was much more difficult than it is today. Much more difficult. – ezra Oct 20 '17 at 2:55

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