I am a Christian writing about books to teach you about Judaism. This is important. You see, just as it is not the responsibility of people of color to teach white people about racism or for queer people to educate the straights, it is not on Jewish people to enlighten us Christians. (I did, however, ask some Jewish Rioters to look at this post before publishing. But if I made any errors, it’s on me.)
I’ve heard enough blah blah blah about how the United States is a Christian nation to know that a) some folks do NOT understand the U.S., and b) we need to work on our religious tolerance. The United States has the largest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel. Further, Jewish people have been here since our ancestors stole this land.
As an educator, I focus a lot on disrupting the status quo and promoting inclusivity. However, I realize that I tend to focus on my most salient identities—race, gender, and sexual orientation. While I have some basic understandings, there is a woeful gap in my religious knowledge.
The beautiful thing is that I can learn! We can learn, friends! There will always be gaps in our knowledge, but we have access to the information we need to fill the holes.
Why Do We Need to Learn More About Judaism?
This holiday season really solidified the importance of this work for me. You see, two things happened that hit home. The first was on Twitter. A woman shared screenshots of antisemitic DMs she’d received and called on Christians to do better. It reminded me of all the times I’ve encouraged white people to talk to other white folx about racism. People with privileged identities have a responsibility to call each other in on the issues facing marginalized folx.
The second thing that happened was that Daveed Diggs, who I am utterly and unashamedly in love with, released the song “Puppy for Hanukkah.” It is an absolute bop that reminded me of all of my work on making sure kids have windows and mirrors. (This is Rudine Sims Bishop’s notion that kids need to see themselves reflected and see into the lives of others.)
Thus, a stranger on Twitter and my future husband reminded me of the work I still need to do. So, for me and for you, here are some books to teach you about Judaism. (Note that this list includes mostly white Jewish authors. There are many Jewish authors of color, but not as many who write the basic types of books that make up this post. I will link below to several lists of fiction in which the authors are more diverse.)
Beginner Books to Teach Adults About Judaism
So, let’s start with the basics. Maybe you know a bit about Hanukkah and Passover, and maybe the Sabbath. Maybe not. Either way, these introductory texts will give you a decent overview.
Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals by George Robinson
Updated in 2016, this book provides information on Jewish beliefs, daily practices, traditions, and even some history. The updated version includes lots of contemporary issues, including same-sex marriage and gender identity. While it’s written to a Jewish audience or potential converts, it’s very accessible to non-Jewish readers.
Interested in the intersection of gender and religion? Check out these Books for the Jewish Feminist.
The Colors of Jews: Racial Politics and Radical Diasporism by Melanie Kaye/Kantrowitz
While this book is a little beyond the basics, it provides a crucial look at the diversity of Jewish people. Informed by the author’s work on whiteness, the text explores the Jewish diaspora and how Jews of color have been treated across the world. Though much of the book is historical, the author addresses contemporary issues as well.
Check out this list of 20 Essential Jewish American Novels (and Story Collections) of the Past 20 Years.
Jewish Literacy: The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin
This book offers a broad look at what it means to be Jewish. Written by a respected rabbi, it includes all the essential elements of Jewish life, culture, traditions, and religion. This comprehensive book is sure to answer any questions you might have.
Did you know that May is Jewish American Heritage Month? Find great books to read in this list: What to Read During Jewish American Heritage Month.
Books to Teach Children About Judaism
Children are the key to a more peaceful future. Whether the children in your life are Jewish or not, they need to see representations of Jewish people. Here are a few books you can share with them.
Always an Olivia: A Remarkable Family History by Carolivia Herron
Based on the true story of the author’s family, this book tells the harrowing history of one family. Includes everything from the Spanish Inquisition to eventually immigrating to America. Beautifully, one child is named Olivia in every generation. From the Hebrew Shulamit, the name means “peace”.
Explore our roundup of 7 of the Best Diverse Jewish Children’s and YA Books.
Wonders and Miracles by Eric A. Kimmel
This book is a great primer on the history of Passover. It includes rich art and photographs, as well as stories, poems, songs, and prayers. It provides key insights into the centuries-old tradition, teaching its importance to a new generation.
Do you want to teacher younger children about Passover? Try some of these Books about Passover for Children and Babies. Interested in more holidays? Check out this post on the best Hanukkah picture books.
The Story of Shabbat by Molly Cone
This picture book tells the historical and cultural origins of the Jewish observance of the Sabbath. From God’s creation of the world to current traditions, this book gives a comprehensive look at the weekly Day of Rest. As a bonus, the book includes a recipe for challah!
Check out this kid lit podcast on Honoring Jewish American Heritage. Want even more? Try some of the titles on this list of 100 Must-Read Works of Jewish Fiction.