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!

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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…

  1. Why Be Jewish? (David J. Wolpe)
  2. The Sabbath (Abraham Joshua Heschel)
  3. Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know about the Jewish Religion, Its People and Its History (Joseph Telushkin)
  4. God Was Not in the Fire (Daniel Gordis)
  5. Nine Questions People Ask About Judaism (Dennis Prager & Joseph Telushkin)
  6. Choosing a Jewish Life: A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism and for Their Family and Friends (Anita Diamant)
  7. Embracing the Covenant: Converts to Judaism Talk About Why and How (Rabbi Allan L. Berkowitz and Patti Moskovitz)
  8. Every Person’s Guide to Judaism (Stephen J. Einstein and Lydia Kukoff)
  9. The Jewish Home: A Guide for Jewish Living (Daniel B. Syme)
  10. American Reform Judaism: An Introduction (Dana Evan Kaplan)
  11. Nothing Sacred: The Truth About Judaism (Douglas Rushkoff)
  12. For Those Who Can’t Believe: Overcoming Obstacles to Faith (Harold Schulweis)
  13. Judaism in America (Marc Lee Raphael)
  14. The New American Judaism (Rabbi Dr. Arthur Blecher)
  15. Entering Jewish Prayer: A Guide to Personal Devotion and the Worship Service (Reuven Hammer)
  16. Hillel: If Not Now, When? (Joseph Telushkin)
  17. On Judaism (Martin Buber)
  18. Jewish Living: A Guide to Contemporary Reform Practice (Mark Washofsky)
  19. Jewish with Feeling: A Guide to Meaningful Jewish Practice (Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi)
  20. Chanukah: Eight Nights of Light, Eight Gifts for the Soul (Shimon Apisdorf)
  21. Every Person’s Guide to Purim (Ronald H. Isaacs)
  22. Kosher Nation (Sue Fishkoff)
  23. God Was in this Place & I, I Did Not Know (Lawrence Kushner)
  24. Make Your Own Passover Seder (Rabbi Alan Kay & Jo Kay)
  25. Taking Judaism Personally: Creating a Meaningful Spiritual Life (Judy Petsonk)
  26. Service of the Heart (Evelyn Garfiel)
  27. Witnesses to the One: The Spiritual History of the Sh’ma (Rabbi Joseph B. Meszler)
  28. The Synagogue in America: A Short History (Marc Raphael)

And counting.

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