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Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs & Rituals Paperback – September 1, 2001


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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Essential Judaism: A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs and Rituals is a brief but comprehensive layman's handbook to Jewish prayer, worship, festivals, customs, history, language, philosophy, and ideology. Its author, George Robinson, returned to synagogue after a 20-year absence and found himself utterly confused about the basics of his religion, despite having attended Hebrew school. He looked far and wide for a reference work that would help him get his bearings but did not find one; so he wrote one himself. Robinson's background as a journalist proved to be an asset in this project, which shows evidence of much detective work, the results of which are plainly described and clearly organized. Robinson is sensitive to the many perspectives of contemporary Judaism without being mealy-mouthed. His work is a triumph of diplomacy and clear thinking; his overview of Hebrew Scripture, and his excellent Kosher primer, would be worth the price of this book in themselves. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Ten years ago, Robinson entered a Reform synagogue for the first time since adolescence. He became an active congregant, but he discovered in his reincorporation of certain rituals and practices that he "was often baffled" by what occurred in the synagogue. This expansive tome attempts to provide the essentials of Judaism for novices, outsiders and those who, like Robinson, rediscovered their heritage as adults. It's an excellent introductory resource, vast but accessibly organized. Robinson first covers the most ritually significant Jewish prayers and walks the reader through a typical Shabbat service. He presents the basic facts about holidays and the Jewish calendar, then explores Jewish life-cycle rituals from bris to burial and includes a catch-all chapter on other practices such as Kashrut. By beginning with Jewish practice, rather than history or law, Robinson centers the core of Judaism in everyday life. The book's second half is a whirlwind tour of Torah and Talmud, Kabbalah and Jewish philosophers, with a key explanatory chapter on historical developments such as Hasidism and Zionism. Notably absent is the history of the Holocaust and the founding of Israel; Robinson notes that the Judaica sections of most bookstores already overflow with such historical information, and he explores instead the scope of Jews' reactions to those events. This is a valuable, sensitive one-volume guide to Jewish practice. (Mar.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 672 pages
  • Publisher: Atria Books; unknown edition (September 1, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0671034812
  • ISBN-13: 978-0671034818
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.6 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.3 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #90,620 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

146 of 147 people found the following review helpful By Seth Rogovoy on March 29, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Over the last few years I've read my way through many of the popular "how-to"s and primers of Jewish literacy, books by Telushkin, Donin and Dosick, for example.
George Robinson's Essential Judaism is by far the best of the lot. Subtitled "A Complete Guide to Beliefs, Customs, and Rituals," the book is indeed that and a lot more.
In the course of its 650 pages, the book lucidly explores Jewish worship and practice, sacred literature (Torah, Talmud, other rabbinical works), Kabbalah and mysticism, holidays, life cycle events, dietary laws, and Jewish history and denominationalism.
The treatment Robinson gives such topics as the prayer service, the blessings of daily life, and the evolution of contemporary Judaism is surprisingly deep for a work of this kind.
In particular, his chapters on the mitzvot ("Living a Jewish Life") and non-Rabbinic Jewish thought ("The Philosophers: The Continuing Evolution of Jewish Thought"), stand out not only for their all-around comprehensiveness, but also for their originality of ideas and presentation.
Essential Judaism is a well-organized and well-indexed book that can be enjoyed read from beginning to end, dipped into arbitrarily, and kept nearby as a handy reference. In just the month or so I've had it, I've already had several occasions to use it in this last manner, to answer questions or explain references I've stumbled over in other books, and it hasn't failed me yet.
Most books like this are written by rabbis, and some have particular agendas, ideological or religious.
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43 of 43 people found the following review helpful By Julie Lovisa VINE VOICE on April 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
I am not new to Judaism, but I have a lot to learn...actually, that is an understatement...I have mountains to learn! Essential Judaism is the one book that all people interested in Judaism, whether just in passing, as a potential convert, or as an actual Jew, should own. You will learn about all phases of Jewish life...from prayer, festivals, and how to live Jewishly, to Torah, mysticism, and philosophy. The narrative is very in-depth for such short overviews of all the various subjects and there are also sidebars to further elaborate on some things, including a listing of the entire 613 mitvot from the Torah. This book has been a valuable learning tool for me.
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30 of 30 people found the following review helpful By Wesley L. Janssen VINE VOICE on January 27, 2005
Format: Paperback
George Robinson returned to Judaism as an adult looking for spiritual centeredness, a deeper understanding of himself and his place in the world. He's a journalist, not a rabbi. His writing prowess is immediately evident, as is the fact that he has educated himself extensively in the material he treats. His book is primarily conceived as a broad-ranging educational text and guide for those who departed from the Judaism of their youth but are seeking 'something' or feeling drawn back. The book is actually a unique resource for anyone interested in Judaism. Being just such an 'anyone', Robinson's book is for me too, even though I'm not Jewish.

Beginning with a chapter on prayer and ritual, it becomes apparent that the reader will need to familiarize himself with many Hebrew words to appreciate Robinson's discourse. There's no way around it, but it's well worth the effort. The book is so thoroughly interesting that, regardless of the language and length (500 pages plus appendices), it may not seem like an effort at all. Robinson's scholarship is generally exceptional.

This reader was quickly struck with how fluid Judaism has proven to be. As the author states, "A people's ideas are informed by their history, and vice versa. . . and a lot of this book is about that relationship. . . There are some who would have you believe that Judaism is a transhistorical, immutable system of belief, but that just isn't true.
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17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By major music head on February 27, 2006
Format: Paperback
as a jew making a recommitment to jewish practice after a 30-year hiatus, i needed a major brush-up. this book, i believe, was heaven-sent. i continually found myself saying out loud, "i didn't know that!" it covers every facet of judaism, from what to do and expect when you go to services, to the history of ancient israel, to the major philosophers, to how we as a people survived 2,000 years in exodus, to the rise of hasidism, to the effects of the holocaust on the religion, to the differences between the four major branches of judaism -- and everything in between. i flew through the 600-or-so pages and enjoyed not only the content, but robinson's writing style. his use of non-sexist language is refreshing. if the book piques your interest in specific areas, as it did mine, the bibliography points to sources where you can dig deeper. thanks, george, this book is a mitzvah.
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