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Judaism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) Paperback – 24 Feb 2000

4.4 out of 5 stars 21 customer reviews

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Product details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford Paperbacks; New Ed edition (24 Feb. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0192853902
  • ISBN-13: 978-0192853905
  • Product Dimensions: 17.8 x 1 x 11.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (21 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 254,313 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

Product Description


Throughout Solomon's (Marcus Braybrooke, Church Times)

Just as its name implies, this series features concise works that aim to give a crisp insight into otherwise complicated topics ... complicated subjects are condensed and made simple, to whet the appetite or provide just enough material for those with a casual interest. (Bournemouth Evening Echo)

Norman Solomon has achieved the near impossible with his enlightened Very Short Introduction to Judaism. He manages to keep the reader engaged, never patronizes, assumes little knowledge but a keen mind, and takes us through Jewish life and history with such gusto that one feels enlived, rather than exhausted, at the end. (Rabbi Julia Neuberger)

A magnificent achievement. Dr Solomon's treatment, fresh, very readable, witty and stimulating, will delight everyone interested in religion in the modern world. (Louis Jacobs, University of Lancaster)

This book will serve a very useful purpose indeed. I'll use it myself to discuss, to teach, agree with, and disagree with, in the Jewish manner! (Rabbi Lionel Blue)

About the Author

Dr Norman Solomon is a freelance writer and journalist, and a regular contributor to the Jewish Chronicle. He is a Fellow in Modern Jewish Thought at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies. His previous publications include Judaism and World Religion and he contributed to The Oxford Companion to the Jewish Religion.

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Customer Reviews

4.4 out of 5 stars
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Good intro for non-Jews, but the author generally writes as though he suspects the reader is bored arseless, e.g. at the start of the final chapter: 'We've almost made it...'

The book contains some nice photos and tables simplifying facts, dates, etc. However, after reading the book, I still didn't 100% feel like I knew and understood some of the more salient points associated with the Jewish calendar / festivals. Also, more tips on pronunciation would've been helpful for the Hebrew names.
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Format: Paperback
The "very short introduction" series is useful in that the most important facts and aspects of a topic are presented to you clearly and concisely - no need to flick through pages and pages, no need to look in the index or anything. The book itself is divided in chapters such as Festivals, Why Judaism and Christianity split etc. Norman Solomon has successfuly selected the most intriguing bits of Judaism to present to us in this 150 page book.
Not only does the book provide the facts about the religion like festivals, worship etc, but also contemporary issues like Zionism and the conflicts of modern Israel and Palestine, a topic that should interest many. It is hard to find a book that deals with this subject that is not greatly biased; Solomon on the other hand makes it very clear in the introduction that he aims to present the facts of Judaism as Jews would, i.e. not from a Christian perspective, not using Christian language.
I definitely recommend this book if you are interested in the religion. However, if you want to delve really deep into the sects in the religion (which is briefly but well dealt with in this book) and other topics, buy a big thick book on Judaism rather than this "very short introduction".
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I am generally pleased with this introduction to Judaism and its main philosophical, theological, cultural, and historical components. It goes into a great depth of detail concerning the origins of Judaism and its values and historical movers and shakers and the settings in which they lived and espoused their teachings.

The first quarter of the book is focused almost primarily on the comparison between Judaism and Christianity and asking the questions of how and why they split and what is the key differences are. That being said, for someone such as myself raised tinok shenishba and with no great in-depth knowledge of Christianity either, this can be a little difficult to grip and it isn't helped by the fact that the writing is very dry and jargonisms abound throughout. For someone who wants to dip their toes into the knowledge pool they may find this work a little cold and difficult to access, for those wishing to pursue knowledge beyond this book then it's a great book to jump right into. Thankfully I belong to the latter as I wish to study with a local shul upon entrance to university next year, and this book is an excellent reference point for topics of interest to study further.

The information packed into this tiny work is admirable however. The book takes you on a journey from exploration of Jewish identity (I feel this could have been expanded on including current inter-Jewish debate on Jewish identity both in Israel and the diaspora and the cultural, historical, and secular conceptions of Jewish identity), through the history of its great thinkers and philosophers who shaped Judaism and how it is now known, taught, and lived. Through to the way its teachings are practiced, explanation of its calendar and most important festivals, and its spiritual importance.
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Format: Paperback
It must be a daunting prospect for a scholar, having to condense a vast store of knowledge into one of these little books, deciding what to include and what must go, but Solomon judges this well. He emphasizes the diversity and continuing evolution of Judaism, correcting common misconceptions about how ancient or orthodox certain aspects of Judaism are. He also lays special stress on the importance of the Holocaust and of the existence of a modern state of Israel in shaping contemporary Jewish thought.

There are plenty of basic facts - descriptions of festivals, etc - included here, as you would expect. It also raises a great many issues and cites a number of authors, making this an excellent place to begin a more detailed study, if you wished.

Solomon writes well, with a light, sometimes even humorous touch, where appropriate. He was a lecturer at Oxford when this book was first published in 1996, but is now retired, I believe. A revised edition wouldn't go amiss. Perhaps he is too busy working on his Penguin Classics Talmud, which is due out soon and should be worth reading. He is not to be confused with the American activist of the same name, although Amazon does exactly that, so that if you click on either author, you get a list of books by both of them. Take it from me, they are very different!
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By Mrs. K. A. Wheatley TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on 24 Oct. 2007
Format: Paperback
I love these Very Short Introductions to, they are invariably spot on in finding a way into what can be some tricky issues or ideas. This one however, did not live up to expectation. It did help me out in giving me a reasonable grounding in understanding the basics of Judaism, but I felt that the author had a bit of an axe to grind about what he perceived other people thought of as 'the jews'. this is totally understandable given the long history of persecution that the Jewish people have endured from practically all other quarters of the earth, but I felt it was a little inappropriate here. These books are short and have to fit a great deal into their few pages. I would have appreciated a little more about the nuts and bolts of what is a complex set of religious beliefs and a little less, dare I say it, axe grinding. Having said that, the end section in particular, showing ways to interpret Jewish Law was fascinating, I was only disappointed that not all of the book lived up to this level of interest and information.
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