A Decade of Recommendations

By Jewish Review of Books

By Jewish Review of Books

The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son: The Transformation of Child Sacrifice in Judaism and Christianity

Jon D. Levenson

$33.60

Levenson’s book is a deep analysis of the particularist myth revolving around the death and resurrection of the “beloved son” (Isaac for Jews, Jesus for Christians) that constitutes both the Jewish and Christian traditions. Levenson demonstrates, perhaps somewhat counterintuitively, that it is precisely because they share so much that the Jewish and Christian traditions cannot affirm each other. Then, by showing how close Judaism and Christianity are to one another, Levenson challenges contemporary Jews to recognize that Judaism has distinct theological underpinnings. Here, we see the fault line between classical Jewish sources and much of modern Jewish self-understanding (regardless of denomination or politics). --Leora Batnitzky, Ronald O. Perelman Professor of Jewish Studies at Princeton University

All Who Go Do Not Return: A Memoir

Shulem Deen

$16.00 $14.72

Deen’s book is a painful personal story about the loss of his family when he broke with the Skverer Hasidic community of New Square, New York. --Leora Batnitzky, Ronald O. Perelman Professor of Jewish Studies at Princeton University

The Beginning of Wisdom: Reading Genesis

Leon R. Kass

$28.80

Reading Genesis with Kass deepens the faith of the already-committed and challenges them, and it invites in the openminded and perhaps (as it did for me) helps them discover for the first time the committed Jew they want to be. --Eric Cohen, executive director of the Tikvah Fund and author of In the Shadow of Progress: Being Human in the Age of Technology (Encounter Books).

Daniel Deronda

George Eliot

$12.00 $11.04

Eliot, like Tolstoy, is an artist who looks out at the world for her material. Yes, her work is deeply felt, permeated with her ideas, but her stage is vast, her characters wonderfully varied. She is not always successful; her work is imperfect—but it is never small; it is never petty. She has the expansive imagination required to write about a particular culture at a particular moment. And, for the most part, she is honest enough and rigorous enough to avoid settling for types and clichés. Because of this, Daniel Deronda is my favorite Jewish novel. --Allegra Goodman’s novels include Intuition, The Cookbook Collector, Paradise Park and Kaaterskill Falls (a National Book Award finalist). She lives with her family in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where she is writing a new novel.

The Autobiography of Solomon Maimon: The Complete Translation

Solomon Maimon

$42.00

In vivid personal anecdotes, as well as in his systematic explanations of Kabbalah and Hasidism, Maimon shows how a religious tradition that was once able to nourish the greatest minds—like that of Maimonides, from whom Maimon took his pen name—had come to seem stiflingly backward, an obstacle to truth rather than a path to it. The Autobiography achieved classic status in the 19th century—Goethe and George Eliot both read it—but, when I discovered it, in an 1888 translation, the book was long out of print in English. Happily, in 2018, Princeton University Press published a new, complete translation, edited and annotated by Yitzhak Melamed and Abraham Socher (the editor of the JRB) and translated by Paul Reitter. You don’t have to be a student of German philosophy or Jewish history to find it a fascinating human and historical document. --Adam Kirsch is an editor of the Wall Street Journal’s weekend review and the author, most recently, of Who Wants to Be a Jewish Writer? And Other Essays (Yale University Press).

Operation Shylock: A Confession

Philip Roth

$16.95 $15.59

I think Operation Shylock is the only Philip Roth novel read more by Israelis than Americans. This whimsically inventive novel—one of Roth’s very best—offers an astute, acerbic, and daring parsing of the Israeli condition and the American Jewish relationship to it. Roth brilliantly reappropriates an old literary trick: separating the protagonist (named, of course, Philip Roth) from his alter ego (whose name too is, of course, Philip Roth) and allowing this literary doppelganger to run amok. He argues for the dismantling of the Zionist dream and the mass reverse-exodus of the Jews back to the diaspora. And then, Roth performs his famous magic, engaging in various perverse twists and turns, including the seduction of his doppelganger’s non-Jewish girlfriend in a fancy Jerusalem hotel room and a long, philosophical interrogation by an elderly mastermind of the Israeli Mossad. It’s a page-turner, one of the funniest books I’ve ever read, and a searing exposition of the complex and fantasy-laden relationship between Israel and the diaspora. I find myself recommending it often. --Ruby Namdar is the author, most recently, of The Ruined House, which won the 2014 Sapir Prize—Israel’s most prestigious literary award—and was published in English by Harper in 2017. He lives in New York City and teaches Jewish literature.

The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science

Norman Doidge

$18.00 $16.56

The book I find myself recommending over and over, almost monthly, is The Brain That Changes Itself, a 2007 exploration of the world of neuroplasticity. It may be the most Jewish book I’ve read in a decade, or perhaps it’s the book that has most expanded my sense of my own Jewishness or the book that I’ve come to see as the greatest balm and inspiration for the anxiety of our days. All I know is, at this moment, I would do anything to have every Jew in America read it. --Alana Newhouse is the editor in chief of Tablet Magazine and the author of The 100 Most Jewish Foods: A Highly Debatable List (Artisan).

The Passover Haggadah: An Ancient Story for Modern Times

Tablet and Alana Newhouse

$16.95 $15.59

I have a recommendation. One haggadah to rule them all—or at least to replace Maxwell House as the standard for the American Jewish community. It’s called, well, The Passover Haggadah. (Actually, it does have a subtitle: An Ancient Story for Modern Times.) It manages to be true to the text that was first codified in the 10th century while providing sharp commentary from contemporary sages such as Liel Leibovitz and Howard Jacobson. I am biased since my friends at Tablet Magazine made it. But then again, they are my friends in part because they understood the need for a haggadah just like this one. --Bari Weiss is an op-ed staff editor and writer for the New York Times. Her first book, How to Fight Anti-Semitism, was published by Crown in September 2019.

My Mother's Sabbath Days: A Memoir

Chaim Grade

$55.19

Chaim Grade (pronounced “grah-deh”) was a great Yiddish poet who became a great novelist when he turned to prose after the war. I have taught and recommended many of his works, and I even translated one of his novellas, The Well. I think my favorite of his writings is My Mother’s Sabbath Days, an autobiographical fiction, the first part of which is centered in Vilna in the 1930s. Grade, the only remaining child of a widowed mother, lives with her in the back room of a smithy, struggling like many a teenager to free himself from a parent’s oppressive oversight and expectations. In most of his writing, Grade portrays the intense, male world of the Polish yeshivas. Here, he shows the religious life of Polish Jewry through the practice of an “ordinary” fruit peddler. His mother, Vele, is an unvarnished model of the moral universe the Nazis destroyed. --Ruth R. Wisse is professor emerita of Yiddish literature at Harvard University. Her book Jews and Power (Schocken) was recently republished. She is currently a distinguished senior fellow at the Tikvah Fund.

Red Cavalry and Other Stories

Isaac Babel

$18.00

Books are never the same—not those that truly count; they change as you change. It was the radicalism, the sensual yearning, the Jewishness just beyond reach (“a lock of woman’s hair lay in a book of the resolutions of the Sixth Party Congress, and crooked lines of ancient Hebrew verse . . .”) that first drew me to Isaac Babel. More than merely being drawn to his Red Cavalry, I experienced it like the letter of an older, lost brother, now dead but more alive than anything else. --Steven J. Zipperstein is the Daniel E. Koshland Professor in Jewish Culture and History at Stanford University. His latest book, Pogrom: Kishinev and the Tilt of History (Liveright), has appeared in paperback. He is currently at work on a biography of Philip Roth for Yale’s Jewish Lives series.