My favorite books on Jewish ethical teachings

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a psychiatrist and medical ethicist—not a theologian or rabbinical scholar. And yet, for more than thirty years, I have had a kind of love affair with rabbinical ethics and have written several books on the topic. This is particularly ironic, since, in my youth, I rebelled against my own rabbi’s teachings and my father’s adherence to Orthodox Judaism. Much later in life, I took courses in Jewish ethics and studied briefly with a local rabbi. I eventually came to appreciate the deep psychological wisdom in so much of Jewish and rabbinical ethics. 


I wrote...

The Ethics of the Jewish Mystics: An Introduction and Commentary

By Ronald W. Pies,

Book cover of The Ethics of the Jewish Mystics: An Introduction and Commentary

What is my book about?

How do we live as decent, caring human beings? What values do we chose? This book provides a basic introduction to the ethical teachings of the Jewish mystics. The author believes that what is most valuable in the writings of Moses Cordovero, Nachman of Bratslav, and other Jewish mystics are their ethical teachings—more so than their mystical speculations. No previous knowledge of rabbinic Judaism or Jewish mysticism is required, nor is there any presumption that the reader accepts the theology of Judaism. However, readers who embrace Orthodox Judaism may find this survey of rabbinic ethics a useful guide to "the good life." 

Shepherd is reader supported. When you buy books, we may earn an affiliate commission.

The books I picked & why

Book cover of A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 1

Ronald W. Pies Why did I love this book?

Rabbi Telushkin presents Jewish ethical teachings in a clear, compelling, and often quite personal way, calling upon his vast experience as a scholar and spiritual leader. I have come back to this book many times for ethical guidance in my own life. Rabbi Telushkin manages to present complex ethical ideas in a reader-friendly manner, often leavened by amusing personal stories and experiences. 

By Joseph Telushkin,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 1 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A Code of Jewish Ethics, Volume 1: You Shall Be Holy is the initial volume of the first major code of Jewish ethics to be written in the English language. It is a monumental work on the vital topic of personal character and integrity by one of the premier Jewish scholars and thinkers of our time.

With the stated purpose of restoring ethics to its central role in Judaism, Rabbi Joseph Telushkin offers hundreds of examples from the Torah, the Talmud, rabbinic commentaries, and contemporary stories to illustrate how ethical teachings can affect our daily behavior. The subjects dealt with…


Book cover of The Pirkei Avos Treasury

Ronald W. Pies Why did I love this book?

Pirke Avos—often translated as “The Ethics of the Fathers” or “The Chapters of the Sages”—is the only book of the Talmud devoted exclusively to ethics. (The Talmud is a collection of rabbinical commentaries on the Torah, or “Old Testament”). Don’t be put off by the “gendered” title. Pirke Avos is a treasure trove of ethical guidance and psychological insight for anyone seeking a richer spiritual life. This particular edition brings together scores of sages and scholars in one volume. 

By Moshe Lieber, Nosson Scherman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Pirkei Avos Treasury as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Ethics Of The Fathers, the sages' guide to living.


Book cover of The Right and the Good: Halakhah and Human Relations

Ronald W. Pies Why did I love this book?

Judaism is sometimes accused of being obsessed with rituals and laws, at the expense of interpersonal relationships. Rabbi Feldman’s insightful book debunks that charge, focusing in psychologically astute ways on human relationships. Topics include revenge, violence, love, and generosity. While scholarly in content, this book has a friendly, informal tone, such as the chapter titled, “One strike and you’re out: hitting and raising a hand in violence.” 

By Daniel Z. Feldman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Right and the Good as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In an effort to respond to the baseless criticism that Jewish law is overly preoccupied with religious ritual at the expense of issues having to do with interpersonal relationships, the author presents a detailed exploration of the vast attention that the masters of Jewish thought have given to relations between and among individuals. This book is not a legal guide to interpersonal relationships in Jewish life, nor is it a volume of moral exhortation. Rather, Rabbi Feldman aims to convey the importance of his subject by exhibiting its hallowed place within the structure of Jewish law and within the analysis…


Book cover of The Jewish Moral Virtues

Ronald W. Pies Why did I love this book?

The team of renowned scholar (Professor Borowitz) and popular educator (Francie Schwartz) have produced a friendly, welcoming guide to living an ethical life, based on traditional Jewish virtues. Topics include trustworthiness, lovingkindness, compassion, humility, and contentedness. This book is really a guide to musar—the practical wisdom that has guided Jewish conduct throughout the centuries. 

By Eugene B. Borowitz, Frances Weinman Schwartz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Jewish Moral Virtues as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A book of practtical ethical wisdom applied to contemporary life.


Book cover of The Living Talmud

Ronald W. Pies Why did I love this book?

Professor Judah Goldin’s new translation of Pirke Avot, along with his introductory essay on the Talmud, provides a concise, easily understood introduction to Jewish ethics. Prof. Goldin also provides some of the first English translations of many classical commentaries on Pirke Avot, all in a compact, paperback format. By making these translations available to the general public, Goldin has performed a valuable service.  

By Judah Goldin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Living Talmud as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.


You might also like...

I Am Taurus

By Stephen Palmer,

Book cover of I Am Taurus

Stephen Palmer

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Philosopher Scholar Liberal Reader Musician

Stephen's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The constellation we know as Taurus goes all the way back to cave paintings of aurochs at Lascaux. This book traces the story of the bull in the sky, a journey through the history of what has become known as the sacred bull.

Each of the sections is written from the perspective of the mythical Taurus, from the beginning at Lascaux to Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, and elsewhere. This is not just a history of the bull but also a view of ourselves through the eyes of the bull, illustrating our pre-literate use of myth, how the advent of writing and the urban revolution changed our view of ourselves, and how even bullfighting in Spain is a variation on the ancient sacrifice of the sacred bull.

I Am Taurus

By Stephen Palmer,

What is this book about?

The constellation we know as Taurus goes all the way back to cave paintings of aurochs at Lascaux. In I Am Taurus, author Stephen Palmer traces the story of the bull in the sky, starting from that point 19,000 years ago - a journey through the history of what has become known as the sacred bull. Each of the eleven sections is written from the perspective of the mythical Taurus, from the beginning at Lascaux to Mesopotamia, Ancient Egypt, Greece, Spain and elsewhere. This is not just a history of the bull but also an attempt to see ourselves through…


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in Jewish history, Judaism, and the Holocaust?

10,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about Jewish history, Judaism, and the Holocaust.

Jewish History Explore 455 books about Jewish history
Judaism Explore 88 books about Judaism
The Holocaust Explore 381 books about the Holocaust