The best books about a rabbi

4 authors have picked their favorite books about rabbis and why they recommend each book.

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One God Clapping

By Sherril Jaffe, Alan Lew,

Book cover of One God Clapping: The Spiritual Path of a Zen Rabbi

Like a Zen koan or a Jewish folk tale, One God Clapping presents a series of stories, each containing a moment of revelation that is never simple or contrived. This book is a bold experiment in the integration of Eastern and Western ways of looking at and living in the world.

One God Clapping

By Sherril Jaffe, Alan Lew,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked One God Clapping as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

From Zen Buddhist practitioner to rabbi, East meets West in this firsthand account of a spiritual journey.

Rabbi Alan Lew is known as the Zen Rabbi, a leader in the Jewish meditation movement who works to bring two ancient religious traditions into our everyday lives. One God Clapping is the story of his roundabout yet continuously provoking spiritual odyssey. It is also the story of the meeting between East and West in America, and the ways in which the encounter has transformed how all of us understand God and ourselves.

Winner of the PEN / Joseph E. Miles Award

Like…


Who am I?

A lifelong practitioner and teacher of both Zen and Judaism, I am also a psychologist, who has constantly grappled with human needs, suffering, and the craving for meaning. The focus of my life has been to integrate the profound teachings of East and West and provide ways of making these teachings real in our everyday lives. An award-winning author, I have published many books on Zen and psychology, and have been the playwright in residence at the Jewish Repertory Theater in NY. Presently, I offer two weekly podcasts, Zen Wisdom for Your Everyday Life, and One Minute Mitzvahs. I also provide ongoing Zen talks both for Morningstar Zen and Inisfada Zen, workshops, and other talks for the community.


I wrote...

Jewish Dharma: A Guide to the Practice of Judaism and Zen

By Brenda Shoshanna,

Book cover of Jewish Dharma: A Guide to the Practice of Judaism and Zen

What is my book about?

The practice of Zen and Judaism are like two wings of a bird. Both are needed to be able to fly. In our world where everything is in great flux, both roots and wings are necessary to live truly and fully. Both Jewish and Zen practices have enormous wisdom so relevant to our struggles today. Jewish Dharma shows how each practice illuminates, challenges, and enriches the other.

Zen is based on radical freedom, individuality, being in the present, and nonattachment. Judaism comes rooted in relationships, family, love, prayer to a Higher power, and the instruction to always remember. A Jewish heart is warm, giving, human, and devoted to family and friends. A Zen eye is fresh, direct, spontaneous, and planted in the present moment. Together they are like two wings of a bird, both are needed to be able to fly.

Moses Maimonides

By Herbert A. Davidson,

Book cover of Moses Maimonides: The Man and His Works

The late Herbert Davidson wrote on medieval Jewish and Muslim philosophy, and Maimonides was a natural topic for him.  Of the roughly eight or ten biographical studies of Maimonides that I have read, Davidson’s stands out for the strength of its logical analysis and its great breadth.  It offers numerous insights into the polymath that is its subject.

Moses Maimonides

By Herbert A. Davidson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Moses Maimonides (1137/38-1204), scholar, physician, and philosopher, was the most influential Jewish thinker of the Middle Ages. In this magisterial biography, Herbert Davidson provides an exhaustive guide to Maimonides' life and works. After considering Maimonides' upbringing and education, Davidson expounds all of his many writings in exhaustive detail, with separate chapters on rabbinic, philosophical, and medical texts. Moses Maimonides has been
recognized as the standard work on a towering figure of Western intellectual history.


Who am I?

I’m a historian of China and Japan whose work has hewed close to the cultural interactions between Chinese and Japanese over recent centuries. I’m now working on the history of the Esperanto movement in China and Japan from the first years of the twentieth century through the early 1930s. The topic brings together my interests in Sino-Japanese historical relations, linguistic scholarship, and Jewish history (the creator of Esperanto was a Polish-Jewish eye doctor). Over the last couple of decades, I have become increasingly interested in Jewish history. I think by now I know what counts as good history, but I’m still an amateur in Jewish history. Nonetheless, these books all struck me as extraordinary.


I wrote...

Maiden Voyage: The Senzaimaru and the Creation of Modern Sino-Japanese Relations

By Joshua A. Fogel,

Book cover of Maiden Voyage: The Senzaimaru and the Creation of Modern Sino-Japanese Relations

What is my book about?

After centuries of virtual isolation, during which time international sea travel was forbidden outside of Japan’s immediate fishing shores, Japanese shogunal authorities in 1862 made the unprecedented decision to launch an official delegation to China by sea. Concerned by the fast-changing global environment, they had witnessed the ever-increasing number of incursions into Asia by European powers―not the least of which was Commodore Perry’s arrival in Japan in 1853–54 and the forced opening of a handful of Japanese ports at the end of the decade. 

This was the first official meeting of Chinese and Japanese in several centuries. Although the Chinese authorities agreed to few of the Japanese requests for trade relations and a consulate, nine years later China and Japan would sign the first bilateral treaty of amity in their history, a completely equal treaty. East Asia―and the diplomatic and trade relations between the region’s two major players in the modern era―would never be the same.

Final Atonement

By Steve Neil Johnson,

Book cover of Final Atonement: A Doug Orlando Mystery

Doug Orlando is a conflicted New York City detective with a past, and that gives him a lot of psychological depth. Originally published in 1992, this was one of the best of the wave of gay mysteries. I loved it because the police procedures seemed so authentic and Doug seemed like a guy I’d want to know, and want on my side in case of trouble. 

Final Atonement

By Steve Neil Johnson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

LAMBDA LITERARY AWARD FINALIST FOR BEST MYSTERY! The bestselling crime novels of New York life in the early nineties are back. Gruff, weary, gay Brooklyn Homicide cop Doug Orlando is facing his most shocking case: Rabbi Avraham Rabowitz lay in a pool of his own blood, a prayer shawl stuffed down his throat, and his beard shaved off. The question for Detective Orlando isn’t who hated the right wing religious sect leader—Rabowitz had been the open enemy of blacks, gays, pro-choice women, even fellow Jews. In a case that moves from the depths of the ghetto to the high-rise office…


Who am I?

My first published novel, Mahu, was about a gay cop coming out of the closet in Honolulu while investigating a dangerous case. I didn’t even realize there was a whole genre of gay mysteries until I’d finished it, but since then I have made it my business to read as much as I can of these books, both classics and new ones. My reading has deepened my understanding only of my protagonist’s life, but of my own.


I wrote...

Mahu: A Mahu Investigation

By Neil Plakcy,

Book cover of Mahu: A Mahu Investigation

What is my book about?

Kimo Kanapa'aka's world turns upside down in Mahu. At 32, he has reached the pinnacle of his profession, detective on the Honolulu Police Department's homicide squad, based at the Waikiki station. But a difficult murder case, as well as turmoil in his personal life, is about to threaten everything he has worked for.

A life-threatening drug bust in chapter 1 makes Kimo realize that it's time to stop lying to himself. He's drawn to the Rod and Reel Club, a gay bar in Waikiki, where he has a couple of beers and begins the long process of accepting his attraction to other men. Leaving the club, though, he stumbles onto two men dropping a dead body in an alley, and he launches himself into a nightmare where his private life becomes public news.

The Frozen Rabbi

By Steve Stern,

Book cover of The Frozen Rabbi

For my money, Stern is the South’s premiere literary comic writer. In this one, he is a Southern Philip Roth with an I.B. Singer twist. A teenage boy discovers a frozen rabbi in the Kelvinator inside his parent’s Memphis basement. The rabbi’s been frozen for one hundred years. Bernie thaws him and what ensues covers a universe of incident: teenage hope and angst, Talmudic wisdom, kabbalistic film-flammery, the seduction of all of Memphis, from lowlifes to elite, by a rabbi (who can fly) selling himself as the font of all magic and knowledge. Stern obviously loves his Memphis and his Jews. At the same time he skewers them with the sleekest wit. Even Israel gets a gratuitous knock. It was the only thing I did not like in the book but it was fleeting, so I got over it. Such is the power of genius.

The Frozen Rabbi

By Steve Stern,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Award-winning novelist Steve Stern's exhilarating epic recounts the story of how a nineteenth-century rabbi from a small Polish town ends up in a basement freezer in a suburban Memphis home at the end of the twentieth century. What happens when an impressionable teenage boy inadvertently thaws out the ancient man and brings him back to life is nothing short of miraculous.


Who am I?

My heart has been Southern for 35 years although I was raised in Boston and never knew the South until well into my adulthood. I loved it as soon as I saw it but I needed to learn it before I could call it home. These books and others helped shape me as a Southerner and as an author of historical Southern Jewish novels. Cormac McCarthy doesn’t describe 19th-century North Carolina so much as immerse his voice and his reader in it. Dara Horn captures her era seamlessly. Steve Stern is so wedded to place he elevates it to mythic. I don’t know if these five are much read anymore but they should be.


I wrote...

An Undisturbed Peace

By Mary Glickman,

Book cover of An Undisturbed Peace

What is my book about?

Greensborough, North Carolina, 1828. Abrahan Naggar arrives in America from the slums of East London in search of a better life. But Abe’s vision of golden opportunity are soon replaced by the grim reality of indentured servitude.

Fifty miles west, Dark Water of the Mountains, the daughter of a Cherokee chief, leads a life of solitude. Twenty years before, she renounced her family’s plans for her to marry a wealthy white man—a decision that proves fateful. And in Georgia, Jacob, a Black slave, resigns himself to a life of loss in a Cherokee city of refuge for criminals. As their stories converge, the three outsiders will witness the horrors of Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act—just as they also discover the possibility for hope. 

The Weight of Ink

By Rachel Kadish,

Book cover of The Weight of Ink

Ester Velasquez and Helen Watt are two women separated by 300 years and connected by a cache of hidden documents. Seventeenth-century Ester, scribe to a blind rabbi, embraces new ideas she encounters in the rabbi’s correspondence. She yearns for the freedom to debate philosophy with other learned minds rather than lose herself to husband and home. Helen is a contemporary British professor eager to unlock the mysterious scribe. Enter the fantastical world of quill and ink, Portuguese-Jewish refugees from the Inquisition, Restoration London, Black Death, intellectual controversies, and forbidden thought.

I love this book because of Kadish’s atmospheric writing that steeps you in a faraway time where you can appreciate the luster of hand-carved cherubs and determination of two fabulous women who navigate life’s journeys with grace, determination, and regret.

The Weight of Ink

By Rachel Kadish,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Weight of Ink as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

WINNER OF A NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD A USA TODAY BESTSELLER "A gifted writer, astonishingly adept at nuance, narration, and the politics of passion."-Toni Morrison Set in London of the 1660s and of the early twenty-first century, The Weight of Ink is the interwoven tale of two women of remarkable intellect: Ester Velasquez, an emigrant from Amsterdam who is permitted to scribe for a blind rabbi, just before the plague hits the city; and Helen Watt, an ailing historian with a love of Jewish history. As the novel opens, Helen has been summoned by a former student to view a…


Who am I?

Early in my life, women were portrayed as damsels in distress or arm candy. Seeing Princess Leia on the screen was an epiphany. I was in the fifth grade, and suddenly the leading lady was a princess who was smart, capable, and brave. Then came Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley. I admire strong, complex women who can fail yet rise again to meet the challenge at hand, whether they live in the past, present, or future. World building in fantasy is similar to historical fiction, where minute details make it real and invite the reader inside. Add a little romance, wrap it in warmth and humor, finish with a sprinkle of magic, and I’m in.


I wrote...

Length of Days

By Bronwyn Long Borne,

Book cover of Length of Days

What is my book about?

In 1531, British pirates captured a Spanish galleon in the New World. Caught in a violent storm, the ship drifted south to Antarctica, where the survivors built a civilization on a verdant patch of earth concealed beneath the ice. They called their new home Shalemar.

In modern day, Shara Kennington, a college student on a research mission to Antarctica, falls through a crevasse and into the hidden world, where her arrival has been foretold for 500 years. Her resolve is tested by the clash of her modern values with Shalemar’s medieval culture. Set in a land where the sun rises and sets only once each year, Shara transforms from reluctant heroine to warrior queen, battling dark forces that will stop at nothing to claim the throne.

Book cover of The Unlikeable Demon Hunter: Crave

My last pick is action-packed, sexy, and pure fun.

Nava Katz’s twin brother, Ari, was chosen at birth to join the Brotherhood of David, a secret organization of demon hunters. The induction ceremony takes a turn when Nava is chosen instead. The first female ever to be chosen, and everyone—her parents, her rabbi, and the other hunters—all agree this must be a mistake. It might seem that this one doesn't qualify as slow burn since it's sexy right from the start, but it's the heart connection that takes time and therefore, qualifies it for inclusion.

The Unlikeable Demon Hunter

By Deborah Wilde,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Enjoy this urban fantasy series by best-selling author Deborah Wilde. Featuring a snarky heroine, kickass action, and spicy romance, this hilarious adventure sucker-punches you in the heart when you're not looking.

What doesn’t kill you ...
… seriously messes with your love life.

Nava is happily settling into her new relationship and life is all giddy joy and stolen kisses.

Except when it’s assassins. Talk about a mood killer.

She and Rohan are tracking the unlikely partnership between the Brotherhood and a witch who can bind demons, but every new piece of the puzzle is leaving them with more questions…


Who am I?

Not only am I a writer of urban fantasy romance, I've been a huge fan of the subgenre since I was a kid—since before it was called urban fantasy. When I happened upon a series I liked back then, I'd track down every book, stack them on the green shag carpet beside my bed, and read one right after another until I was finished. Thankfully, my mom and grandmother were readers and understood my obsession. If you like action, suspense, a little magic, and a splash of romance in your fiction, consider giving one of these stories a try. Enjoy!


I wrote...

Spiked

By C.P. Rider,

Book cover of Spiked

What is my book about?

Neely is a telepath with a deadly secret. Lucas is an alpha shifter with secrets of his own. When a homicidal alpha from Neely's past shows up threatening the people she cares about, she must put her faith in the one man she knows she can't trust in order to save them.

Rabbi Harvey Rides Again

By Steve Sheinkin,

Book cover of Rabbi Harvey Rides Again: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Folktales Let Loose in the Wild West

In another Wild West setting twist, an advice dispensing Rabbi is the vehicle for upcycling traditional folk tales. And it is funny: whether the Rabbi is busting through saloon doors to beat someone to the punchline of an Abe Lincoln joke or using his wits to outsmart bandits or simply helping out with a frontier domestic issue, I find myself literally laughing out loud. The illustrations are charmingly folky, and there is a glossary for the story sources which often turn out to be tales that are many hundreds of years old.

Rabbi Harvey Rides Again

By Steve Sheinkin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Rabbi Harvey Rides Again as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Rabbi Harvey is Back with Ten Hilarious New Adventures

In this follow-up to the popular The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey: A Graphic Novel of Jewish Wisdom and Wit in the Wild West, the Rabbi returns to the streets of Elk Spring, Colorado. Part Wild West sheriff, part old world rabbi, Harvey protects his town and delivers justice, wielding only the weapons of wisdom, wit, and a bit of trickery. These adventures combine Jewish and American folklore by creatively retelling comic Jewish folktales and setting them loose on the western frontier of the 1870s.

As his fame grows throughout the Rocky…


Who am I?

I love the experience of reading a book that combines a known (to me or not!) story combined with elements that make it new again. It could be a parody, a “fractured fairy tale,” or a new retelling, funny or serious. For my book Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake, I read so many nursery rhymes and fairy tales in order to populate the town with fun versions of recognizable characters for Little Red to encounter, it makes me appreciate these books even more.


I wrote...

Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake

By Barbara Lehman,

Book cover of Little Red and the Cat Who Loved Cake

What is my book about?

A highly visual fractured-fairy-tale retelling of Little Red Riding Hood (and a cat who loves cake) from Caldecott Honor–winner Barbara Lehman. With simple picture bubbles and pictograms, this is perfect for budding graphic novel readers. This playful retelling of a beloved classic is a visual delight, with references to other fairy tales hidden throughout Lehman's inviting illustrations. Master of the wordless picture book, Lehman tells a rich story using only pictures, perfect for teaching visual literacy and for young graphic novel enthusiasts.

A Blessing on the Moon

By Joseph Skibell,

Book cover of A Blessing on the Moon

This novel evokes an extraordinary range of emotions. Skibell works wonders with folklore and history, turning out a tale of tales that is by turns shocking and horrifying, tender, and outrageously funny. The language is deceptively simple and beautiful. Consider this description from the murdered narrator, on returning to his plundered neighborhood after climbing out of a mass grave: “In front of every house were piles of vows and promises, all in broken pieces. How I could see such things, I cannot tell you.” The balance here—of imagination, grief, and lightness—is exquisite.

A Blessing on the Moon

By Joseph Skibell,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Blessing on the Moon as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Joseph Skibell’s magical tale about the Holocaust—a fable inspired by fact—received unanimous nationwide acclaim when first published in 1997.

At the center of A Blessing on the Moon is Chaim Skibelski. Death is merely the beginning of Chaim’s troubles. In the opening pages, he is shot along with the other Jews of his small Polish village. But instead of resting peacefully in the World to Come, Chaim, for reasons unclear to him, is left to wander the earth, accompanied by his rabbi, who has taken the form of a talking crow. Chaim’s afterlife journey is filled with extraordinary encounters whose…


Who am I?

I’ve loved fiction that excites my mind and imagination since I was very young. I spent a lot of time in the library growing up, mostly reading horror and historical narratives. Later, I became interested in music, painting, film, philosophy, psychology, cognitive science, religion, and politics. I’m not an expert in anything—I’m too driven to make things to be a good scholar—but these are the subject areas that inform what I write.


I wrote...

Design Flaw

By Hugh Sheehy,

Book cover of Design Flaw

What is my book about?

A troubled high schooler traps a peer in an underground storage space. A traumatized felon returns home to rob the man who molested him as a child. A videogame help-line operator suspects a regular caller, obsessed with a disturbing role-playing game, of real-life misdeeds. In the title story, an unhappy couple adopts a “designer animal,” a genetic hybrid created to be the perfect pet. But the “grot” makes trouble in the neighborhood, becoming emblematic of a deeper problem. “Something is wrong with the world,” the narrator’s husband explains. “A design flaw. It’s so thoroughly corrupted, I’m not sure how to fix it.”

Inventive and unpredictable, these thirteen stories are wholly immersive, showing Sheehy at his captivating best.

A Heart of Stillness

By Rabbi David A. Cooper,

Book cover of A Heart of Stillness: A Complete Guide to Learning the Art of Meditation

Rabbi Cooper, through easy-to-follow and deeply human instruction, guides you through a soul-changing journey in this book. His own journey leads the way for anyone who wants to understand how meditation can change your life and the world. He taught me so much about how to express my faith in daily living.  A must-read.

A Heart of Stillness

By Rabbi David A. Cooper,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked A Heart of Stillness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A comprehensive guide to meditation for people of all faiths, from the best-selling author of God Is a Verb.

The only complete nonsectarian guide to meditation, A Heart of Stillness is a comprehensive guidebook to its basic principles and practices.

By showing the way to what mystics have experienced for thousands of years, David Cooper's accessible, clear advice provides invaluable guidance both for students already studying with a meditation teacher, and for those who want to develop a meditative practice on their own.

Drawing from the wisdom of the world's great spiritual traditions, Cooper teaches basic meditative principles and practices…


Who am I?

I love to read. A life-changing event in 1997, started my journey into writing and eventually into my conversion to Judaism. Many years later, I’ve come to realize that there are grains of truth in every faith tradition and I search for those truths in my own life. Currently, I have four books in print, writing under the pen names of Brenda Ray (The Hebrew Midwives Trilogy) and B. K. Ricotta (Two of a Kind and A Love So Sweet). Two other novels (Book 1 and 2 of the Econfina Creek Series) are in the works.


I wrote...

The Midwife's Heart: Hebrew Midwives Trilogy Book 2

By Brenda Ray,

Book cover of The Midwife's Heart: Hebrew Midwives Trilogy Book 2

What is my book about?

As Abraham's descendants prepare to cross into the Promised Land, led by Moses, Hannah, a disillusioned midwife will be tested in more ways than she can imagine. She wants love, a home, and children but she gave up on that dream years ago. One heartbreak and humiliation was enough.

Ze-ev is God’s warrior, protecting his people. Busy doing what must be done, finding a wife is not his priority. Besides, since his childhood sweetheart married another, he lost interest in seeking a wife.When he meets Hannah, they are both tested in ways they never imagined. Will either of them let down their guard long enough to trust again?

My Grandfather's Blessings

By Rachel Naomi Remen,

Book cover of My Grandfather's Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge, and Belonging

This book is filled with gems of description and of insight into the human condition. Presented as wisdom passed down lovingly by the author’s grandfather, these stand alone stories build up to a book of thoughtfulness. She writes movingly of herself as a little girl who learns faithfulness through watering a paper cup of soil and seeds until they sprout. Equally movingly she writes as a doctor about a patient, a “man of vision” who does not fit into any existing mold and is thereby isolated by his “deep sense of difference” from others. 

My Grandfather's Blessings

By Rachel Naomi Remen,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Grandfather's Blessings as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In My Grandfather's Blessings, Rachel Naomi Remen, a cancer physician and master storyteller, uses her luminous stories to remind us of the power of our kindness and the joy of being alive.

Dr. Remen's grandfather, an orthodox rabbi and scholar of the Kabbalah, saw life as a web of connection and knew that everyone belonged to him, and that he belonged to everyone. He taught her that blessing one another is what fills our emptiness, heals our loneliness, and connects us more deeply to life.

Life has given us many more blessings than we have allowed ourselves to receive. My…


Who am I?

"Two tickets to ride!Most people get only one life.... and on only one coast. This book is an overview of an era 1948-2020 of cultural shifts and expectations for "girls". At seventeen I left my family and NYC for college, a commune, and then art school on the West coast. Visual artist, woman, mother, and descendant, Joan describes the lifetime challenges that she has met with creativity, humor, and resilience. Two NW cities, two marriages, and two sons born 23 years apart inspire many of her stories. 

I wrote...

Building Solid: A Life in Stories

By Joan Rudd,

Book cover of Building Solid: A Life in Stories

What is my book about?

In frank and emotionally rewarding stories, a woman recalls her life from a feminist, Jewish, and largely humorous perspective. Her stories and her prose are delightful and sometimes hilarious, illustrated with original sculptures, drawings, and photographs. "Each story is a lovingly curated memory."

Growing up the youngest in a family of multilingual refugees, where each generation spoke a different language, caused her to turn to art to express feelings for which she had no words. She has an ability to write like a bright child thinks and feels. The variety of her life’s experiences allows her to formulate insights about memory that many people would enjoy. A fulfilling, cheering, and comforting book overall, describing (the kind of) wisdom that only time can impart

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