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10 Jewish Books You Must Read

Looking for a good distraction from the world? Check out these awesome Jewish books suggested by Oberlin students!

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1. The Red Tent by Anita Diamant

amazon.com

As suggested by Isabel Harari

"Her name is Dinah. In the Bible, her life is only hinted at in a brief and violent detour within the more familiar chapters of the Book of Genesis. In The Red Tent, Anita Diamant brings this fascinating biblical character to vivid life.

Told in Dinah’s voice, the novel reveals the traditions and turmoils of ancient womanhood—the world of the red tent. It begins with the story of Dinah's mothers—Leah, Rachel, Zilpah, and Bilhah—the four wives of Jacob. They love Dinah and give her gifts that sustain her through a hard-working youth, a calling to midwifery, and a new home in a foreign land. Dinah's story reaches out from a remarkable period of early history and creates an intimate connection with the past.

With over 3.3 million copies sold, The Red Tent is a modern classic loved throughout the world, and the basis of the A&E/Lifetime mini-series."

2. People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks

geraldinebrooks.com

As suggested by Samia Mansour

"From the Pulitzer Prize–winning author of March, the journey of a rare illuminated manuscript through centuries of exile and war.

In 1996, Hanna Heath, an Australian rare-book expert, is offered the job of a lifetime: analysis and conservation of the famed Sarajevo Haggadah, which has been rescued from Serb shelling during the Bosnian war. Priceless and beautiful, the book is one of the earliest Jewish volumes ever to be illuminated with images. When Hanna, a caustic loner with a passion for her work, discovers a series of tiny artifacts in its ancient binding—an insect wing fragment, wine stains, salt crystals, a white hair—she begins to unlock the book’s mysteries. The reader is ushered into an exquisitely detailed and atmospheric past, tracing the book’s journey from its salvation back to its creation.

In Bosnia during World War II, a Muslim risks his life to protect it from the Nazis. In the hedonistic salons of fin-de-siècle Vienna, the book becomes a pawn in the struggle against the city’s rising anti-Semitism. In inquisition-era Venice, a Catholic priest saves it from burning. In Barcelona in 1492, the scribe who wrote the text sees his family destroyed by the agonies of enforced exile. And in Seville in 1480, the reason for the Haggadah’s extraordinary illuminations is finally disclosed. Hanna’s investigation unexpectedly plunges her into the intrigues of fine art forgers and ultra-nationalist fanatics. Her experiences will test her belief in herself and the man she has come to love.

Inspired by a true story, People of the Book is at once a novel of sweeping historical grandeur and intimate emotional intensity, an ambitious, electrifying work by an acclaimed and beloved author."

3. Nice Jewish Girls: A Lesbian Anthology

goodreads.com

Suggested by Tavi Gerstle

"Pervasive anti-Semitism within the lesbian community inspired the first edition of this stimulating anthology in 1982: ``I discovered that I felt far more vulnerable as a Jew than I did as a lesbian,'' writes Beck, director of women's studies at the University of Maryland. ``What would happen if we admitted that oppressed groups can themselves be oppressive?'' Responding to that challenge are 35 entries, including nine that are new and several that have been updated, ranging from poems and stories to short critiques and a photo-essay. Judith Plaskow refutes recent feminist accusations that the Jews ``invented'' patriarchy; and Adrienne Rich, daughter of a Jewish father and gentile mother, recalls being assigned the role of Portia in her predominantly gentile school's production of The Merchant of Venice. Although some may find Irena Klepfisz bombastic and simplistic on the West Bank imbroglio, on the whole the broad, nonpartisan readership."

4. Everything is Illuminated by Jonathan Safran Foer

amazon.com

As suggested by Rachel Sacks


"With only a yellowing photograph in hand, a young man -- also named Jonathan Safran Foer -- sets out to find the woman who may or may not have saved his grandfather from the Nazis. Accompanied by an old man haunted by memories of the war; an amorous dog named Sammy Davis, Junior, Junior; and the unforgettable Alex, a young Ukrainian translator who speaks in a sublimely butchered English, Jonathan is led on a quixotic journey over a devastated landscape and into an unexpected past.

By turns comic and tragic, but always passionate, wildly inventive, and touched with an indelible humanity, this debut novel is a powerful, deeply felt story of searching: for the past, family, and truth."

5. A Bride for One Night by Ruth Calderon

amazon.com

As suggested by Emily Volz

"Ruth Calderon has recently electrified the Jewish world with her teachings of talmudic texts. In this volume, her first to appear in English, she offers a fascinating window into some of the liveliest and most colorful stories in the Talmud. Calderon rewrites talmudic tales as richly imagined fictions, drawing us into the lives of such characters as the woman who risks her life for a sister suspected of adultery; a humble schoolteacher who rescues his village from drought; and a wife who dresses as a prostitute to seduce her pious husband in their garden. Breathing new life into an ancient text, A Bride for One Night offers a surprising and provocative read, both for anyone already intimate with the Talmud or for anyone interested in one of the most influential works of Jewish literature."

6. The Yiddish Policemen's Union by Michael Chabon

amazon.com

As suggested by Jonah Fox

"For sixty years Jewish refugees and their descendants have prospered in the Federal District of Sitka, a "temporary" safe haven created in the wake of the Holocaust and the shocking 1948 collapse of the fledgling state of Israel. The Jews of the Sitka District have created their own little world in the Alaskan panhandle, a vibrant and complex frontier city that moves to the music of Yiddish. But now the District is set to revert to Alaskan control, and their dream is coming to an end.

Homicide detective Meyer Landsman of the District Police has enough problems without worrying about the upcoming Reversion. His life is a shambles, his marriage a wreck, his career a disaster. And in the cheap hotel where Landsman has washed up, someone has just committed a murder—right under his nose. When he begins to investigate the killing of his neighbor, a former chess prodigy, word comes down from on high that the case is to be dropped immediately, and Landsman finds himself contending with all the powerful forces of faith, obsession, evil, and salvation that are his heritage.

At once a gripping whodunit, a love story, and an exploration of the mysteries of exile and redemption, The Yiddish Policemen's Union is a novel only Michael Chabon could have written."

7. As A Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg

myjewishlearning.com

As suggested by Rabbi Megan

"The age of the Talmud is brought to life in a breathtaking saga. This masterpiece of modern fiction tells the gripping tale of renegade talmudic sage Elisha ben Abuyah's struggle to reconcile his faith with the allure of Hellenistic culture. Set in Roman Palestine, As a Driven Leaf draws readers into the dramatic era of Rabbinic Judaism. Watch the great Talmudic sages at work in the Sanhedrin, eavesdrop on their arguments about theology and Torah, and agonize with them as they contemplate rebellion against an oppressive Roman rule. But Steinberg's classic novel also transcends its historical setting with its depiction of a timeless, perennial feature of the Jewish experience: the inevitable conflict between the call of tradition and the glamour of the surrounding culture. In his illuminating foreword, specially commissioned for this edition, Chaim Potok stresses the contemporary relevance of As a Driven Leaf: This novel of ideas and passions. . . retains its ability to enter the heart of pious and seeking Jew alike. Synagogues everywhere are adopting As a Driven Leaf for group study."

8. Rue Ordener Rue Labat by Sarah Kofman

nebraskapress.unl.edu

As suggested by Theodora Lang


"Rue Ordener, Rue Labat is a moving memoir by the distinguished French philosopher Sarah Kofman. It opens with the horrifying moment in July 1942 when the author’s father, the rabbi of a small synagogue, was dragged by police from the family home on Rue Ordener in Paris, then transported to Auschwitz—“the place,” writes Kofman, “where no eternal rest would or could ever be granted.” It ends in the mid-1950s, when Kofman enrolled at the Sorbonne.
The book is as eloquent as it is forthright. Kofman recalls her father and family in the years before the war, then turns to the terrors and confusions of her own childhood in Paris during the German occupation. Not long after her father’s disappearance, Kofman and her mother took refuge in the apartment of a Christian woman on Rue Labat, where they remained until the Liberation. This bold woman, whom Kofman called Mémé, undoubtedly saved the young girl and her mother from the death camps. But Kofman’s close attachment to Mémé also resulted in a rupture between mother and child that was never to be fully healed.

This slender volume is distinguished by the author’s clear prose, the carefully recounted horrors of her childhood, and the uncommon poise that came to her only with the passage of many years."

9. The Sabbath by Abraham Joshua Heschel

goodreads.com

As suggested by Rabbi Megan

"Elegant, passionate, and filled with the love of God's creation, Abraham Joshua Heschel's The Sabbath has been hailed as a classic of Jewish spirituality ever since its original publication-and has been read by thousands of people seeking meaning in modern life. In this brief yet profound meditation on the meaning of the Seventh Day, Heschel introduced the idea of an "architecture of holiness" that appears not in space but in time Judaism, he argues, is a religion of time: it finds meaning not in space and the material things that fill it but in time and the eternity that imbues it, so that "the Sabbaths are our great cathedrals."

10. All of a Kind Family by Sydney Taylor

amazon.com

As suggested by Rebecca Primoff


"Meet the All-of-a-Kind Family -- Ella, Henny, Sarah, Charlotte, and Gertie -- who live with their parents in New York City at the turn of the century.

Together they share adventures that find them searching for hidden buttons while dusting Mama's front parlor and visiting with the peddlers in Papa's shop on rainy days. The girls enjoy doing everything together, especially when it involves holidays and surprises.

But no one could have prepared them for the biggest surprise of all!"

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