The best books on Jewish spirituality

Why am I passionate about this?

I am a scholar of Kabbalah. My father was a rabbi and I grew up studying Torah with him. He was deeply spiritual, and that drew me to exploring the mystical Judaism. After completing my Ph.D. in Jewish studies, I traveled to India, meditated in the Himalayas, and discovered how mystical teachings East and West are remarkably similar. I taught Jewish spirituality for 20 years at a graduate school in Berkeley. Then a wealthy family approached me and commissioned me to translate the Zohar, the masterpiece of Kabbalah. This took me 18 years and the translation was published in 9 volumes by Stanford University. Now I teach Zohar online.


I wrote...

God and the Big Bang: Discovering Harmony Between Science and Spirituality

By Daniel C. Matt,

Book cover of God and the Big Bang: Discovering Harmony Between Science and Spirituality

What is my book about?

If the theory of the Big Bang is correct, as science tells us, then what kind of God makes sense today? Is it possible to accept the Big Bang and still discover a spiritual dimension in our lives? In God and the Big Bang, Daniel Matt answers these questions by drawing on the insights of Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) as well as contemporary cosmology. 

In juxtaposing these two distinct approaches—scientific and spiritual—Matt seeks to see each in light of the other. Spirituality and science are two tools of understanding that should not be confused; each is valid in its domain. Occasionally, though, scientific and spiritual insights resonate. By sensing these resonances, our understanding deepens.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Jewish Spirituality: From the Bible through the Middle Ages

Daniel C. Matt Why did I love this book?

This is a rich survey of Jewish spirituality, starting from the Bible and continuing through the 20th century, including the Talmud, Kabbalah, Ḥasidism, and modern Jewish thought.

Each essay is written by a different prominent scholar. Among the topics covered are: prophecy, the spirituality of Psalms, the relation between law and spirit, the mystical meaning of the mitzvot (commandments), meditation, mystical experience, and the Ḥasidic rebbe.

I like that each essay is based on solid scholarship and yet is very readable.

By Arthur Green (editor),

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

This book is the first of two columes on the spiritual life as manifest in the history of Judaism. This first volume deals with the classic ages of the Jewish tradition: the biblical, the rabbinic, and the medieval.


Book cover of On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead: Basic Concepts in the Kabbalah

Daniel C. Matt Why did I love this book?

Gershom Scholem was the greatest scholar of Jewish mysticism in the 20th century.

He basically created this entire field of study. This book collects some of his greatest essays, and each one is a gem. Among the topics he explores are: good and evil, the Shekhinah (the feminine aspect of God), transmigration of souls, and the astral body.

You’ll learn from this book not only some of the key teachings of Jewish spirituality, but also how a religious tradition is transformed and rejuvenated by mystical teaching.

By Gershom Scholem,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked On the Mystical Shape of the Godhead as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In clear and easy-to-understand prose, the pioneer of the modern study of Jewish mysticism explains the basic concepts of the Kabbalah.

"A major contribution to our understanding of the Kabbalah." —Arthur Green, Professor of Jewish Thought, Brandeis University

In the Zohar and other writings of the Kabbalah, Jewish mystics developed concepts and symbols to help them penetrate secrets of the cosmos that cannot be understood through reason or intellect. These ideas about God, human beings, and creation continue to fascinate and influence spiritual seekers of all persuasions today.

For anyone seeking to taste the mysteries of the Kabbalah, this is…


Book cover of The Zohar: Pritzker Edition

Daniel C. Matt Why did I love this book?

The Zohar is the masterpiece of Kabbalah, a vast mystical commentary on the Bible, composed in 13th-century Spain.

Over the course of 18 years, I translated this dense, cryptic Aramaic text into English, adding an extensive commentary to explain the mystical symbolism. For the Zohar, God is equally male and female, and it is up to us humans to unite the divine couple by living ethically and spiritually. God needs us, in order to be actualized in the world.

This is the first English edition of the Zohar to be based on the original manuscripts. It has been hailed as “a monumental contribution to the history of Jewish thought.”

By Daniel C. Matt,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked The Zohar as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first two volumes of The Zohar: Pritzker Edition, translated with commentary by Daniel C. Matt, cover more than half of the Zohar's commentary on the Book of Genesis (through Genesis 32:3). This is the first translation ever made from a critical Aramaic text of the Zohar, which has been established by Professor Matt based on a wide range of original manuscripts. The extensive commentary, appearing at the bottom of each page, clarifies the kabbalistic symbolism and terminology, and cites sources and parallels from biblical, rabbinic, and kabbalistic texts. The translator's introduction is accompanied by a second introduction written by…


Book cover of Meditation and Kabbalah

Daniel C. Matt Why did I love this book?

This book concentrates on the experiential side of Kabbalah (the Jewish mystical tradition).

Kaplan describes many techniques of meditation, based on original sources that he translates from Hebrew and Aramaic. He includes teachings from the Talmud, early Jewish mystical texts, the Zohar, Abraham Abulfia, Isaac Luria, and Ḥasidic masters.

This is a very rich collection, which will introduce you to a many profound and inspiring teachings. Kaplan is able to explain complex ideas clearly.

By Aryeh Kaplan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Meditation and Kabbalah as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The Kabbalah is divided into three branches-the theoretical, the meditative, and the practical. While many books, both in Hebrew and English, have explored the theoretical Kabbalah, virtually nothing has been published regarding the meditative methods of these schools. This is the first book published in any language that reveals the methodology of the Kabbalists and stresses the meditative techniques that were essential to their discipline. Kaplan offers a lucid presentation of the mantras, mandalas, and other devices used by these schools, as well as a penetrating interpretation of their significance in light of contemporary meditative research. In addition, Meditation and…


Book cover of Essential Papers on Kabbalah

Daniel C. Matt Why did I love this book?

This is a great collection of essays by some of the leading scholars of Jewish mysticism.

Each chapter is authoritative yet very readable and stimulating. Among the topics are: the nature of the Zohar, the meaning of Torah in Kabbalah, transmigration of souls, the figure of the Tsaddiq (the righteous hero), mystical prayer, a mystical approach to the Sabbath, mystical techniques, and the concept of “nothingness” in Jewish mysticism.

By Lawrence Fine (editor),

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Essential Papers on Kabbalah as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

An essential volume of 12th to 17th century papers on the Jewish mysticism of Kabbalah
As recently as 1915, when the legendary scholar of Jewish mysticism Gershom Scholem sought to find someone-anyone-to teach him Kabbalah, the study of Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah was largely neglected and treated with disdain. Today, this field has ripened to the point that it occupies a central place in the agenda of contemporary Judaic studies.
While there are many definitions of Kabbalah, this volume focuses on the discrete body of literature which developed between the twelfth and seventeenth centuries. The basis for most of this…


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The Wonder of Jazz: Music that changed the world

By Sammy Stein,

Book cover of The Wonder of Jazz: Music that changed the world

Sammy Stein Author Of Fabulous Female Musicians

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

I've been passionate about music for almost my entire life. Jazz music in particular speaks to me but not just jazz. I love music, full stop. I really discovered jazz when I attended a jazz club workshop in London and there, I had to join in or leave. I chose to join in and since then I have never looked back. I was introduced to more jazz musicians and now write about music for three major columns as well as Readers’ Digest. My Women In Jazz book won several awards. I have been International Editor for the Jazz Journalist Association and had my work commissioned by the Library of Congress. 

Sammy's book list on female musicians

What is my book about?

With input from over 100 musicians, the book discusses what exactly jazz is, and how you know you are listening to it. Do we truly know when and how jazz first originated? Who was the first jazz musician? How does jazz link to other genres? What about women in jazz? And writers and journalists? Do reviews make any difference? 

This book is a deep dive into jazz's history, impact, and future. It discusses jazz's social, cultural, and political influence and reveals areas where jazz has had an impact we may not even realize.Its influences on hip hop, the connection to…

The Wonder of Jazz: Music that changed the world

By Sammy Stein,

What is this book about?

This book is very different from other, more general jazz books. It is packed with information, advice, well researched and includes experiences from jazz musicians who gleefully add their rich voices to Sammy's in-depth research. All genres, from hard bop to be-bop, vocal jazz, must instrumental, free jazz, and everything between is covered in one way or another and given Sammy's forensic eye. There is social commentary and discussions of careers in jazz music. The musical background of those in the book is rich and diverse.
Critics comment:
"This new book by Sammy Stein is a highly individual take on…


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Interested in the Kabbalah, meditation, and Jewish history?

11,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about the Kabbalah, meditation, and Jewish history.

The Kabbalah Explore 26 books about the Kabbalah
Meditation Explore 268 books about meditation
Jewish History Explore 469 books about Jewish history