Not for nothing are the Jews called the People of the Book. Across time and space, cultural and denominational differences, Jews are united by the tradition’s central sacred books, the Torah and the Talmud. Jews have long been a literate people, one who valued reading and writing even before the idea of mass literacy was widespread. And through the ages, Jews have not only read widely but they have always produced books … and more books. As the biblical author Ecclesiastes so wryly observed more than two millennia ago, “of making many books there is no end.” (Ecclesiastes 12:12)
For Ecclesiastes, the dizzying production of endless volumes — none of which would cure that pesky human condition of mortality — was wearying. But for the Jewish people it has also been a necessary means of communicating the tradition in every generation, and of working through the challenges and possibilities of every historical period, and a way to hold international and intergenerational conversations. The question is: Where should we begin?
Reading is a lifelong Jewish practice, and great Jewish literature should grow with us over the years. Psalm 90, traditionally ascribed to King David, declares: “The span of our life is 70 years, or, given the strength, 80.” But Jews are an optimistic people. Moses lived to 120, and we wish the same for ourselves and those around us. Ad me’ah v’esrim — to 120! — is a common Jewish birthday wish.
So here we offer recommendations of the best that Jewish literature has to offer, a book for every age, from birth all the way to 120.
My First Jewish Baby Book: Almost Everything You Need To Know About Being Jewish
by Julie Merberg
You’re never too young to start learning.
by Sheryl Haft
A classic bedtime tale, reimagined with two little bubbies, schlepping their hubbies.
Where the Wild Things Are
by Maurice Sendak
Learn to avoid going to bed without supper.
Why Noah Chose the Dove
by Isaac Bashevis Singer
The dove didn’t brag; neither should you. All animals are beautiful and valuable.
It Could Always Be Worse
by Margot Zemach
The original argument for why you should finish your broccoli. Some people have no food at all.
The House on the Roof: A Sukkot Story
by David Adler
Tolerating those who are different from you is a lesson you are never young enough to learn.
Herschel and the Hanukkah Goblins
by Eric Kimmel
The art will frighten you, but it’s a good kind of fright. There is evil in this world, but it can be vanquished.
Stories for Children
by Isaac Bashevis Singer
Your first helping of Yiddishkeit and all of its whimsical morality.
Number the Stars
by Lois Lowry
The world is full of unspeakable bad – and, sometimes, overwhelming good.
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children
by Ransom Riggs
Sometimes you need a good escape, and that’s alright.
Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret
by Judy Blume
There isn’t just one way to think about God, though many people in life may tell you otherwise.
The Devil’s Arithmetic
by Jane Yolen
Haunting and transportive – this feels like it could happen to you.
by Chaim Potok
For a b’nai mitzvah present, get a taste of how Judaism and secular culture collide and coexist.
The Illustrated Pirkei Avot
by Jessica Deutsch
The gorgeous illustrations will trick you into studying Jewish ethics – and remind you that while you are not obligated to complete the work, neither are you free to desist from it.
The Diary of a Young Girl
by Anne Frank
See yourself reflected in one of history’s most beloved and tragic Jews.
by Leon Uris
History isn’t dead. It’s a blockbuster.
Survival in Auschwitz
by Primo Levi
A cornerstone of Jewish education and a titan of Holocaust literature. You’ll never forget it.
As a Driven Leaf
by Milton Steinberg
The Talmud comes to life.
by Sonia Levitin
Not all Jews look the same.
by Joseph Telushkin
Take this primer with you on your semester abroad.
People Love Dead Jews: Reports from a Haunted Present
by Dara Horn
The real deal on antisemitism.
36 Arguments for the Existence of God: A Work of Fiction
by Rebecca Newberger Goldstein
Nothing this funny should be so thought-provoking.
When Bad Things Happen to Good People
by Harold Kushner
Unfortunately, you’re old enough to be asking yourself these sorts of questions.
The Red Tent
by Anita Diamant
A landmark of Jewish feminist literature.
How to Read the Jewish Bible
by Marc Zvi Brettler
Thought you knew how to read it? Think again.
by Shalom Auslander
It’s perfectly understandable to be bitter about some things. Maybe a therapist would help.
by Naomi Ragen
Essential reading if ultra-Orthodox Judaism is as alien to you as Mars.
The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay
by Michael Chabon
Fall in love with the theatrics of language – and the ambitions of mid-twentieth century New York Jews.
by Abraham Joshua Heschel
Even you could use a day off. Make good, meaningful use of it.
The Jewish Catalog
compiled by Michael and Sharon Strassfeld
A DIY guide to building your Jewish home and life, for novices and experts alike.
On Being a Jew
by James Kugel
Beautiful reflections on a life of Jewish observance.
Poems of Jerusalem and Love Poems
by Yehuda Amichai
The greatest modern Israeli poet is the perfect voice for how to enter your thirties gracefully.
The Passionate Torah: Sex and Judaism
edited by Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg
The Holy Book takes on all things below the belt.
Maus: A Survivor’s Tale
by Art Spiegelman
Enjoy masterful comic art while deepening your empathy.
Angels in America
by Tony Kushner
Expansive, heartbreaking, breathtaking drama.
The Blessing of a Skinned Knee
by Wendy Mogel
How to parent sagely. No helicoptering for you.
by E.L. Doctorow
Playing with American history has never been so fun.
The Beginning of Desire: Reflections on Genesis
by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg
Your mid-thirties seem like the right time for a new take on an old Book.
Here All Along: Finding Meaning, Spirituality, and a Deeper Connection to Life – in Judaism
by Sarah Hurwitz
Why do Jew?
Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism
by Gershom Scholem
At 40 you are finally ready to explore Kabbalah.
If All the Seas Were Ink
by Ilana Kurshan
A memoir of divorce and Talmud — could be useful, you never know.
My Jewish Year: 18 Holidays, One Wondering Jew
by Abigail Pogrebin
If the High Holidays are your only observance, this might persuade you to spice up the mix.
The Lonely Man of Faith
by Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik
On the other hand, if you feel like the only one communing with a higher power, this reminds you that you’re in good company.
by Cynthia Ozick
Everyday items can be imbued with enormous meaning. Just ask your kids.
A Tale of Love and Darkness
by Amos Oz
The history not just of one man’s life – but of a homeland’s, too.
by Baruch Spinoza
By now you may have some pretty entrenched beliefs. You might not agree with Spinoza’s, but at least he’ll make you account for your faith.
The Finkler Question
by Howard Jacobson
It’s tough being a Jew in England, too.
by Myla Goldberg
Do your kids like to spell? If so: good luck.
People of the Book
by Moshe Halbertal
Books have always held us together.
People of the Book
by Geraldine Brooks
An imagined history for the famed Sarajevo Haggadah.
by James A. Michener
If you haven’t had a call to a higher purpose yet, remember that it’s never too late.
Life and Fate
by Vassily Grossman
A good time for a Russian juggernaut of a novel.
Lithuanian Yeshivas of the Nineteenth Century: Creating a Tradition of Learning
by Shaul Stampfer
The classic work on the most classic of Jewish institutions.
The Memoirs of Gluckel of Hameln
by Glückel of Hameln
Fourteen children and a business to run: This Jewish widow was an ordinary 17th century hero.
The History of Love
by Nicole Krauss
Your life has many complex, intertwining tales.
Sacred Fragments: Recovering Theology for the Modern Jew
by Neil Gillman
Halfway there. Here are the questions to confront for the second half.
This is Real and You are Completely Unprepared
by Alan Lew
The High Holidays will transform your life.
The Dream of the Poem: Hebrew Poetry from Muslim and Christian Spain, 950-1492
by Peter Cole
Jewish poetry unlocked.
Tales of the Hasidim
by Martin Buber
Fall in love with Jewishness again.
The Adventures of Augie March
by Saul Bellow
A tough read but worth it. Give yourself a good challenge with the Jewish Tom Sawyer.
Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory
by Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi
Could this be the secret to Jewish survival?
Taking Hold of Torah: Jewish Commitment and Community in America
by Arnold Eisen
A path forward for American Judaism.
The Thirteen Petalled Rose
by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
Explore new spiritual dimensions.
A Student’s Obligation: Advice from the Rebbe of the Warsaw Ghetto
by Rabbi Kalonymus Kalman Shapira
A master educator inspires.
Ben-Gurion: Father of Modern Israel
by Anita Shapira
Aim to leave a legacy like this one. If you make it an eighth of the way, you’ll have succeeded.
The Ruined House
by Ruby Namdar
What does it all mean?
The Grammar of God
by Aviya Kushner
Translation really matters.
Eichmann in Jerusalem
by Hannah Arendt
The sophistication of thought will make you smarter. It’ll also remind you to remain vigilant.
by Aharon Appelfeld
By now, you might have learned that you can’t always tell when things are going to change for the worse. Enjoy the good bits while you can.
Anti-Semite and Jew
by Jean-Paul Sartre
An urbane take on antisemitism.
Kaddish and Other Poems
by Allen Ginsberg
A reflection on how complicated life and loss can be, with a burst of resonant beauty.
The Jewish Wars
You’re getting older. There’s still, as always, more to learn.
by Theodor Herzl
Your relationship with Israel may be complicated. Nevertheless, you and Herzl probably agree on a few important points.
Dr. Ruth’s Guide to Good Sex
by Ruth Westheimer
What else are you going to do in retirement?
by Herman Wouk
Family through the decades.
by Orly Castel-Bloom
You’ve read Herzl. See what’s become of his dream.
Here I Am
by Jonathan Safran Foer
For when intergenerational gaps are overwhelming.
Call It Sleep
by Henry Roth
Even your own life can feel mythical at times.
by Franz Kafka
For the hours, days, months, years you’ve spent wading through red tape.
Let There Be Laughter: A Treasury of Great Jewish Humor and What It All Means
by Michael Krasny
For the grandkids.
by Susan Sontag
There isn’t only one way to look at art.
by Leon Wieseltier
An erudite guide to grieving.
A Walker in the City
by Alfred Kazin
“That good and deep odor of lox, of salami, of herrings and half-sour pickles.”
From Berlin to Jerusalem
by Gershon Scholem
Maybe you should write a memoir.
Sacred Trash: The Lost and Found World of the Cairo Geniza
by Adina Hoffman and Peter Cole
The story of an amazing trove of ancient documents.
See Under: Love
by David Grossman
You are never too old for a good, long cry.
Her First American
by Lore Segal
Life is complicated, but full of love in unexpected places.
Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls
by Lawrence H. Schiffman
The real deal on one of the sexiest archaeological discoveries.
The Jewish Way in Death and Mourning
by Maurice Lamm
A helpful companion for the times.
Enormous Changes at the Last Minute
by Grace Paley
Rewrites the rules of the short story; forms are meant to be messed with.
by Philip Roth
Your life could have turned out quite differently.
by Edward Lewis Wallant
Bad memories and old traumas tend to age with you.
The Wise Men of Helm and Their Merry Tales
by Solomon Simon
Hysterical tales to share with the grandkids.
Bloodlands: Europe Between Hitler and Stalin
by Timothy Snyder
So much of the formation of the modern world—including your own—is messy and sad.
Death of a Salesman
by Arthur Miller
See yourself in the poorest of poor schlubs.
Notes on a Century: Reflections of A Middle East Historian
by Bernard Lewis
Certain things just get more and more confusing the older you get. Like, say, the Middle East.
by Bernard Malamud
You’ll never appreciate your material possessions — and your freedom — more.
A Letter in the Scroll
by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
Jews often describe themselves as people who have flourished in the face of peril. Maybe you relate.
The Guide for the Perplexed
by Moses Maimonides
You’re still confused by theology after all these years.
Sailor and Fiddler: Reflections of a 100-Year Old Author
by Herman Wouk
A whole life in poignant, witty reflection.
Man’s Search For Meaning
by Viktor E. Frankl
Put the long, anarchic project of your life into some much-needed perspective.
The Book of J
by Harold Bloom
Did a woman write the Torah?
Oy, Caramba! An Anthology of Jewish Stories from Latin America
by Ilan Stavans
Also try The Seventh Heaven.
The Story of the Jews, Vol I: Finding the Words: 100 BCE – 1492 CE
by Simon Schama
You have time on your hands. Time enough for an undertaking the size of the Jewish people.
Belonging: The Story of the Jews, Vol. II: 1492 – 1990
by Simon Schama
You’re halfway there. Finish the journey.
The Collected Stories of Deborah Eisenberg
by Deborah Eisenberg
American life presented smartly and starkly. This is happening all around you.
The Five Books of Moses
translation by Robert Alter
It’s never too late to revisit The Classic.
by S. Y. Agnon
You can’t get enough of these origin stories. Maybe it has something to do with aging. Who knows?
The Shabbes Goy: A Study in Halakhic Flexibility
by Jacob Katz
You’ve seen some stuff in your time, and you’ve adapted. So have your people.
Sefer Yetzirah: The Book of Creation
by Aryeh Kaplan
After a lifetime of empiricism, maybe you want to give the mystics their chance.
The Penguin Book of Hebrew Verse
edited by Carmi Charney
How many poems can you recite from heart?
The Bus Driver Who Wanted to Be God
by Etgar Keret
A lovely, strange reminder of the magic around you.
The Book of Genesis Illustrated
by R. Crumb
The oldest story in a new light.
by Emma Lazarus
You have so much to be thankful for — so much beauty to revel in.
Seek My Face: A Jewish Mystical Theology
by Arthur Green
Jewish mysticism for the modern era.
Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind
by Yuval Noah Harari
How did we get here? Where are we going?
Everything in Its Place: First Loves and Last Tales
by Oliver Sacks
End-of-life ailments dissected for those who love to learn.
The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son
by Jon D. Levenson
A new look at both Judaism and Christianity.
Filled with Fire and Light
by Elie Wiesel
Great lives, across time and space.
I And Thou
by Martin Buber
This list was compiled by Zachary Solomon, Rachel Scheinerman and Abby Seitz.
Looking to go even deeper? My Jewish Learning offers a 10-part email series on must-read Jewish books from the past 100 years.
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