Become a Jew in 28 Easy Books: My Conversion Reading List
Update (4/4/11): You can now explore my annotated conversion reading list and find out what post-conversion Judaica I’m reading now by visiting my Goodreads profile. When you’re done here, I invite you to click through there!
With my mikveh appointment less than three days away, I thought this would be a good time to share my conversion reading list. Considering how central study is to the Jewish faith, it shouldn’t be a surprise that study is a central part of a Jewish conversion journey. Ordinarily with Reform Judaism, conversion candidates attend a four-month Introduction to Judaism class and/or follow a reading list required by their rabbi–in addition to a year (more or less) of regular attendance at worship services, participation in congregational life, adoption of Jewish ritual and holiday observance, and regular meetings with their rabbi.
I followed a somewhat different path. On Thursday when I emerge from the mikveh, my journey from beginning to end will have lasted nine months. While I’m very involved in my synagogue (a regular worshipper, a member, and proposed for the board of our Brotherhood), my rabbi and I met only a handful of times. My favorite Orthodox blogger, Chaviva Galatz, once joked about me saying, “The neshama (spirit) is strong in this one!” I’d agree, and because of that, I created my own study list.
It was an easy thing to do. For the most part, I followed my nose to titles that I felt would satisfy whatever overwhelming, burning, yearning curiosities I had about my about-to-be-adopted faith at a given moment, as long as my overall selection of titles included fundamental Jewish learning and my rabbi and I felt like I was progressing or, better, applying what I was learning in real life.
Since September, I’ve read 28 Judaica (Jewish-themed) titles, or approximately 7,000 pages (and skimmed through several more.) Three of them–the top three–were transcendent works that I’d recommend to anyone considering joining the Jewish people. Only one I felt was little more than a waste of time. (Guess which one.) I’m a big believer in LMGTFY, so I’ll let you run your own Amazon searches for more information on these works, should you so desire.
However, if you’re a Chicago local like I am, know that I found–and checked out–every single title as a circulating book at the Chicago Public Library. Most of the titles I found at the main Harold Washington Library Center in the Chicago Loop. In fact, the Judaica section there is so large (picture a suburban supermarket aisle filled with Jewish books from one end to the other), I’ll continue to haunt it for years to come. Others I found in the small but strong Judaica section at CPL’s Sulzer Regional Library in the Lincoln Square neighborhood. Now on to the list, in semi-chronological order…
- Why Be Jewish? (David J. Wolpe)
- The Sabbath (Abraham Joshua Heschel)
- Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know about the Jewish Religion, Its People and Its History (Joseph Telushkin)
- God Was Not in the Fire (Daniel Gordis)
- Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism (Dennis Prager & Joseph Telushkin)
- Choosing a Jewish Life: A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism and for Their Family and Friends (Anita Diamant)
- Embracing the Covenant: Converts to Judaism Talk About Why and How (Rabbi Allan L. Berkowitz and Patti Moskovitz)
- Every Person’s Guide to Judaism (Stephen J. Einstein and Lydia Kukoff)
- The Jewish Home: A Guide for Jewish Living (Daniel B. Syme)
- American Reform Judaism: An Introduction (Dana Evan Kaplan)
- Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism (Douglas Rushkoff)
- For Those Who Can’t Believe: Overcoming Obstacles to Faith (Harold Schulweis)
- Judaism in America (Marc Lee Raphael)
- The New American Judaism (Rabbi Dr. Arthur Blecher)
- Entering Jewish Prayer: A Guide to Personal Devotion and the Worship Service (Reuven Hammer)
- Hillel: If Not Now, When? (Joseph Telushkin)
- On Judaism (Martin Buber)
- Jewish Living: A Guide to Contemporary Reform Practice (Mark Washofsky)
- Jewish with Feeling: A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Practice (Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi)
- Chanukah: Eight Nights of Light, Eight Gifts for the Soul (Shimon Apisdorf)
- Every Person’s Guide to Purim (Ronald H. Isaacs)
- Kosher Nation (Sue Fishkoff)
- God Was in this Place & I, I Did Not Know (Lawrence Kushner)
- Make Your Own Passover Seder (Rabbi Alan Kay & Jo Kay)
- Taking Judaism Personally: Creating a Meaningful Spiritual Life (Judy Petsonk)
- Service of the Heart (Evelyn Garfiel)
- Witnesses to the One: The Spiritual History of the Sh’ma (Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler)
- The Synagogue in America: A Short History (Marc Raphael)