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What is a Jew? [Paperback]

Rabbi Morris N. Kertzer , Rabbi Lawrence A. Hofman
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
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What is a Jew? + Choosing a Jewish Life: A Handbook for People Converting to Judaism and for Their Family and Friends
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Product details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 6th edition edition (1 Nov 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 068484298X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684842981
  • Product Dimensions: 21 x 13.9 x 2.1 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 466,384 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description


Discusses the basic tenets of Judaism; religious law and ritual; modern Israel; Jews and Christians; the social and community concerns of Jews; and Jewish customs, traditions, feasts, and fasts.

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First Sentence
"It is hard to discuss Jews, Judaism, Jewish beliefs, Jewish spirituality, or Jewish anything, without first describing Jewish community." Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very useful 13 Oct 2006
By Kurt Messick HALL OF FAME
I use this book as part of an undergraduate course on Modern and Contemporary Judaism, which I teach primarily for military personnel as part of their distance education undergraduate degrees. I include a few other books in the syllabus, but this book is often one of the ones most frequently cited as helpful due to its question-and-answer format. When I was studying for a Jewish Studies certificate at Indiana University some time ago (nearing a quarter of a century ago), an earlier version of this book was one of my regular references for a quick and informative answer to questions as they arose. The more recent edition, revised carefully and thoroughly by Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, preserves the style and utility of Rabbi Morris Kertzer's base text while adding material both for extension of questions and updating of information.

The book is broken into nine major sections, each one presenting within a series of questions. The first section looks at the different kinds of Judaism - Reform, Orthodox, Conservative, Reconstructionist, etc., and some other issues that come up with regard to basic identity - what is a Zionist? How does the Jewish community relate to the wider community?

The next few sections look specifically at religious questions, in terms of Bible and history, ritual and practice, and basic belief structures. Rabbis Kertzer and Hoffman address the differences in beliefs and practices largely for a Christian readership or for the Jewish person raised in a predominantly Christian culture.

Other sections include ideas of home and homeland, calendar issues (what is Chanukah and why does it fall at different times of year? etc.), and Jewish views on various issues in shared society such as divorce, children, and other topics.
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Amazon.com: 4.6 out of 5 stars  37 reviews
29 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Really neat introduction! 16 Dec 2000
By Thomas J. Brucia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Some books on religion give a warm fuzzy feeling - others give a lot of detailed information. This work is definitely in category two! In a question-response format (114 of each), this volume manages to cover almost anything one would want to know about Judaism. Originally written by the late Rabbi Morris N. Kertner, his nephew Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman has updated it. ("What Is a Jew" was first published in 1953, and has gone through three revisions, and countless reprints.) A new feature I found very useful in this revised edition is its transliteration of Hebrew words -- abundant in this work -- as they occur, together with their meanings. The 148 Hebrew (and occasionally Yiddish or Aramaic) terms used throughout the text are brought together in a glossary at the end of the volume, too. ---- Though this book is written from a "middle of the road" Jewish perspective, it carefully points out the differences between the four contemporary major divisions of Judaism (Reform, Conservative, Orthodox, and Reconstructionist schools). "What Is a Jew" also gives fair treatment to the Chasidim (Hassidim), and such historical schools as the Sadducees, Pharisees, Mitnagdim, and others. To give an idea of the range of questions covered in this paperback, here is a brief sample: "Who Were `The Rabbis'?"; "What is Halachah?"; "Is There a Priesthood in Judaism?"; "Do Jews Believe Literally in Satan?"; "According to Judaism, Do Animals Have Rights?"; "What is the Difference Between A Synagogue, a Shul, and A Temple?"; Why Do Some Jews Keep Only One Day of a Holy Day, While Others Keep Two?"; and "What Is the Jewish Attitude Toward Divorce?"; "Does Judaism Accept Converts?", and many other equally interesting topics. ---- I believe that whoever masters the contents of this fascinating volume will be well on his/her way to a fascinating voyage of discovery. Any non-Jew (like myself) who has ever been invited to a Bar Mitzvah, and has come out of the synagogue laden with questions, will find his/her journey out of ignorance a pleasant and rewarding one! This is as good a guide as I have been able to find...
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I use this fine book to teach a college course 6 May 2000
By David E. Levine - Published on Amazon.com
Morris Kertzer's book has been extensively revised by Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman, an eminent Reform Rabbi who gives fair and faithful treatment to all branches of Judaism in this book. I teach a course in Judaism at a Catholic College and I use this book as a key text. Rabbi Hoffman lucidly explains theology, ethics, customs, traditions, holidays, the Sabbath, Jewish lifecycle events, etc in an easily understood style which is helpful to both Jews and non Jews alike. He also makes a very fair attempt to be non judgmental about the differing views of the various branches of Judaism and, for the most part, represents each of these views fairly. I recommend this book for anyone who wishes to understand Judaism better.
15 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very helpful introduction 4 Oct 2002
By Andrew Parodi - Published on Amazon.com
What I liked most about WHAT IS A JEW? (aside from the somewhat humorous title) is how succinct and well organized it is. It is written mostly in a question and answer format, and just about all the questions a potential convert will have are listed and then answered. This book is also a good introduction for anyone just interested in learning about Judaism. I was impressed with the author's ability to convey the vastness of Judaism; there are so many different braches within the Jewish family. The author really conveys the love he has for his spiritual path, and makes it sound very exciting and interesting.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent book on Judaism 23 Mar 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
This is the best book I've found that provides an overview of Judaism. Its intention is to inform and provide understanding without needless bias or judgment. I read Harold Kushner's To Life! prior to What is a Jew? and was disappointed. His Conservative bias is obvious and gets in the way of his ability to present an overall understanding of Judaism. I don't get that sense at all with What is a Jew? Rabbi Kertzer and Rabbi Hoffman willingly present all the ways Judaism has come to be interpreted and practiced. They may analyze and draw conclusions, but it is done to help understanding, not to promote their own opinions or to judge others.
This book is a refreshing approach to a difficult topic, filled with wisdom and insight.
8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Every question has been answered! 19 Sep 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
I loved this book. I am a Reform Jew but I didn't really know what that meant. A friend of mine was curious about the Jewish religion and started asking me basic questions about what Jews believe but I didn't know how to answer. I picked up this book, thinking I would skim it and find her answers. Instead, I read it cover to cover and enjoyed avery minute of it. It was written in a way that was not overwhelming and it answered every question about what Jews believe from the symbolic meaning of the Star of David to Jews' beliefs on homosexuality. There was a short section on the history and each section talked about the beliefs of all different kinds of Jews. All in all a great read! I DEFINITELY recommend it!
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