In The Book of Jewish Practice and its companion The Book of Jewish Belief Louis Jacobs provides an introduction to Jewish belief and practice that I found easy to digest without being overly simplistic.
The Book of Jewish Practice is divided into 20 chapters, each of which can easily be read at a sitting. The chapters range through subjects like Belief in Action, The Dietary Laws and Duties of the Heart. The book is well illustrated with a photograph or illustration on almost every page. Each chapter is subdivided into sections of a paragraph or two. For example, the chapter on Prayers and Blessings is subdivided into sections on Jewish Prayer, Chanting, Movements and Gestures, Swaying in Prayer, Temple and Synagogue, Covering the Head for Prayer, Decorum in the Synagogue, The Prayers of the Day, Blessings and The Various Types of Blessings. This chapter also includes boxes amplifying on points in the text or giving anecdotes.
A favorite anecdote of mine is given in this chapter: Hasidim are generally fond of drinking whiskey. A Hasid who was asked why replied "When I drink whiskey I can recite the marvelous blessing: '... By whose word all things are brought into being'. "That is true" his questioner replied "but why do you have to drink whiskey for this purpose when you can drink water and recite the same blessing?" "Ah," answered the Hasid, "If a Jew can rise to the heights of acknowledging that all things are made by God's word, he deserves something stronger than water!".
I found this book to be remarkable in its non-judgementalness on the varieties of Jewish practice. This book was a priceless guide for me as I began to become more religously interested, but was overwhelmed by the amount of learning ahead of me. I can recommend it to anyone who wants to start being better grounded in the basics of Jewish practice.
- Bob Evans
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