It’s the most wonderful time of the year! The air is getting chillier, leaves are exploding with color, and Jewish communities around the world are getting ready to celebrate a month-long holiday-palooza. In addition to (hopefully) eating delicious food and spending time with our loved ones, we may also be spending hours in synagogue services, which along with all the screen-free days for the more traditionally observant, gives us plenty of quality reading time. So however you choose to celebrate this festive season, we’ve got a book list to help you elevate your holiday experience.
Days of Awe by SY Agnon – A classic and accessible collection of nearly 300 Jewish teachings related to the high holidays. Drawn from sources spanning 2000 years of Jewish experience and organized according to the order of services, this book serves as an ideal companion to the traditional liturgy.
But Where Is The Lamb? by Dr. James Kugel – In this thoughtful retelling of the story of the binding of Isaac, Professor James Kugel offers new insights and commentary into the centerpiece of the Torah portion that is traditionally read on the 2nd day of Rosh HaShanah. His scholarly attention to detail and nuanced language invites all readers to re-imagine the story they think they already know.
The Days Between by Dr. Marcia Falk – A collection of the author’s poetry and writings, Falk’s book offers a modern interpretation of the theological and liturgical themes of the high holidays. Her innovative service for “tashlich” (the symbolic casting away of sins) is just one example of how this work inspires readers to immerse themselves in the experience of the holidays.
All These Vows by Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman – Rabbi Hoffman takes a deep dive into the ideas, language, and artistry of the “Kol Nidre”, one of the liturgical highlights, not only of the high holidays, but of the entire Jewish calendar year. Discover its history and new understandings of how it became such a popular and essential part of the Yom Kippur and Jewish prayer consciousness.
Jonah: A Modern Commentary by Rabbi Leondard Kravitz and Rabbi Kerry Olitzky – By the time we get aroun to reading it in the afternoon service on Yom Kippur, the book of Jonah doesn’t always get our full attention. This scholarly work wakes readers up, providing insight and context for this often-simplified biblical story.
My Jewish Year by Abigail Pogrebin – While this expansive book includes all the holidays that make up the Jewish calendar, the material that addresses the high holidays and those that follow in the month of Tishrei deserves its own mention here. The author’s focus on celebration and ritual makes her writing especially relatable, and readers will likely find much to enrich their personal appreciation for these special times.
Every Person’s Guide to Sukkot, Shemini Atzeret and Simhat Torah by Rabbi Ron Isaacs – More of a “how-to” guide, this book provides excellent instruction about the origins, meaning, and observances of the titular holidays. For readers who wonder how to keep the holiday spirit alive after the break fast, Rabbi Isaacs makes it appealing and empowers them to get started on the next stage of their Jewish journey.
JPS Bible Commentary – Ecclesiastes by Rabbi Michael Fox – This volume of the JPS Bible Commentary series includes the text and intensive scholarship on the book of Ecclesiastes which is traditionally read during the holiday of Sukkot. This book, with its combination of traditional text and modern commentary, is a treasure trove for those who enjoy a sophisticated grappling with theological issues and questions of human nature.
The Wisdom Books – Job, Proverbs, and Ecclesiastes by Dr. Robert Alter – In his translations, the author approaches these canonical books as works of literature, and the results are a breathtaking. For readers who appreciate the linguistic and poetic subtleties that underly the larger moral and metaphysical messages. Read Ecclesiastes during Sukkot, be inspired to read Job and Proverbs throughout the year.
And God Said… A Brief History of Creation by Barbara Leff – On Rosh Hashanah we celebrate the creation of the world, and on Simchat Torah we celebrate that we get to read about it again in the new year. Leff’s poetry collection draws from the Jewish tradition and is the perfect jumping off point to appreciate the return to the beginning of the Torah reading cycle.