The Book of Jewish Knowledge: Answering all questions on Judaism - review

It offers 1,200 answers in 1,200 voices, presenting the miraculous story of Judaism via the various channels that capture and embody the essence of the Jewish experience.

The Book of Jewish Knowledge (photo credit: Jewish Learning Institute)
The Book of Jewish Knowledge
(photo credit: Jewish Learning Institute)
Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)Jerusalem Report logo small (credit: JPOST STAFF)

I recently received a gem of a book entitled The Book of Jewish Knowledge; A Multifaceted Exploration of the Teachings, Observances, and History of Judaism. The book comprises many of the rich ingredients of the Jewish people’s unique history, and is a collection of both historical records and time capsules of events that make our Jewish heritage so unique.

The book highlights many of the defining moments in our history as a Jewish nation and the miracle of our survival by using a vast amount of illustrations and sources ranging from the Bible to various manuscripts that were written at different points of history.

The book seeks to answer questions such as “What is Judaism? What does it mean to be a Jew? What is the secret of our survival for 38 centuries despite the attempts to destroy us too numerous and varied to recount? What is Judaism’s message to the world?”

It offers 1,200 answers in 1,200 voices, presenting the miraculous story of Judaism via the various channels that capture and embody the essence of the Jewish experience. Whether it is a source from the Bible or Talmud, a halachic responsum, the various Jewish practices of our daily lives and those of the High Holidays, a painting by a Jewish artist such as Marc Chagall, a Talmudic discourse from Rav Abaye or Rava, a quote regarding the longevity of the Jewish people by Mark Twain, a prayer from Psalms by King David, a kabbalistic diagram or even a gefilte fish recipe, this book contains all of the ingredients that embody the essence of the Jewish soul.

The main goal of compiling this groundbreaking and historic work is to create a single volume that one can use to understand the full scope of Jewish teaching and Jewish life. At the same time, the book looks at both the depth and the beauty of Judaism. Whether someone is a newcomer to Judaism and this is their first book, or if they have been studying Torah their whole life, the reader will have a newfound sense of appreciation by living the Jewish experience through this book.

 Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Maryland, who conceived the idea of the book (credit: Jewish Learning Institute) Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Maryland, who conceived the idea of the book (credit: Jewish Learning Institute)

Including texts from 225 different authors and works by more than 100 artists and photographers, the citations include scripture (the singular source from which all subsequent Torah emanates), Talmud and Midrash, sages (the many generations that devoted their lives to expanding the texts of Torah), mystics (the inner esoteric aspects of Torah), laws and customs (including Halacha, the customs adopted by Jewish communities through the generations), perspectives (essays, diaries and other works of the Jewish world), historical documents, and stories and parables that occupy an important place in Jewish teaching.

How was The Book of Jewish Knowledge written?

The Book of Jewish Knowledge was a multi-year effort involving many dedicated individuals, all of whose contributions are considerable, and greatly appreciated.

The book was conceived by Rabbi Shmuel Kaplan, regional director of Chabad Lubavitch of Maryland (a dear family friend for many years) whose unflagging efforts drove the project to its conclusion. Rabbi Yanki Tauber developed the structure and content of the book, its texts and introductory paragraphs, and Baruch Gorkin designed the interior and cover of the book and curated its unique art and photography. The book is published by the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute (JLI), which has been at the forefront of Jewish education since 1999, and serves the adult education arm of the worldwide Chabad-Lubavitch movement.

The scholars, educators, writers, editors, designers and videographers of JLI have created hundreds of courses on Jewish history, Talmudic law, biblical commentary, Jewish philosophy, Jewish mysticism, medical ethics, business ethics, mental health and many other topics. The courses are translated into nine languages and reach more than 2,000 communities worldwide by JLI-trained and certified instructors. It was by drawing on the prodigious content of these courses that The Jewish Book of Knowledge could be produced. So many amazing individuals had a hand in making this historic volume available to the Jewish world, and it is a treasure that should be on the table of every Jewish home.

What is in the book?

The Book of Jewish Knowledge was written in a unique format, divided into five sections. The first section is on Jewish history, in which we learn about the first Jews, Abraham and Sarah, the birth of Isaac, the binding of Isaac, Jacob and Esau (the wrestling twins who represented alternate worlds, the spiritual and the physical), Jacob’s dream, and Joseph and his brothers.

We then delve into the Exodus from Sinai including the enslavement in Egypt, Moses, the burning bush, the splitting of the sea and the giving of the Torah. The history section goes on to mention the era of the Judges, the kingdom of David and Solomon, the destruction of the Temple, and the Six Day War. The section ends with the historic breakdown of the Jewish Diaspora from both the Babylonian and Greco-Roman eras to the atrocities of the Holocaust and the striving for redemption to this day.

The second section discusses Jewish teachings including the Bible (the 24 books of written Torah), the 613 mitzvot, the prophets of Israel, and the book of Psalms). This section also gives an overview of the Talmud and Midrash, Halacha (Torah law, codes and ethics), philosophy and beliefs, Jewish mysticism (the kabbalists and the hassidic movement) and ends with morals and character (including excerpts from Ethics of The Fathers, joy and humility, dealing with misfortune, and speech).

Midway into the book, we arrive at Section 3, which discusses the essence of Jewish practice. This includes prayer (the Shema, the three daily prayers and the synagogue), charity, Shabbat (the customs include kiddush, Shabbat candles and havdalah), food and diet (mindful eating, kashrut and blessings over the food), and the section finishes with signs and identifiers such as the mezuzah, tefillin and tzitzit.

As you read through the fourth section, you are taken through the cycle of the Jewish year. This includes the Jewish calendar, the High Holy Days (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur and the dynamics of teshuva), Sukkot, and the rejoicing and dancing celebration of Simhat Torah, Hanukkah, Purim, Passover, Shavuot and the three weeks of mourning, in which we recently mourned the destruction of the Temple on Tisha Be’av.

The book concludes with the life cycle milestones: birth and childhood (brit milah, the naming of a child and the essence of the Jewish birthday), the milestone of a bar and bat mitzvah in a Jewish child’s life, marriage (the Jewish wedding, marital life and mikveh), work and retirement, death, and afterlife.

The book concludes with discussing preparing the body for burial, mourning and memorial, the gravesite, and the afterlife in Jewish tradition. The book ends on a very unique note, as it discusses the resurrection of the dead, one of the integral beliefs that comprise a Jew that are included in Maimonides 13 Principles of Faith. This ultimate experience of being connected as a whole being requires the body as well as the soul.

The principle of resurrection implies that the body is not merely an object but a subject. The body is part of the person himself. Hence the obligation to bury and honor a dead body. As Rabbi Chaim Lutzato stated, “This world is a corridor to the next world.” 

This book discusses every facet of Jewish history that applies to the mind, body and soul, and leaves the reader with a great sense of fulfillment. To own this treasure is a true honor, and it is a book that should be passed down from generation to generation.

Any attempt to encapsulate the whole of Judaism in a single volume is a most ambitious endeavor, as stated in The Jewish Book of Knowledge. At most, we can build a portal and foundation. Whether this is your first encounter with Judaism, the hope is that it will be the first of many.

This book is a sampling of the range, depth and beauty of the ideas and ideals taught and lived by the Jewish people for 3,800 years, and will encourage the reader to further their knowledge and engagement with Judaism. Within the context of Jewish tradition, many of the data presented are the subject of differing opinions among scholars, differences in customs among communities, and multiple perspectives by sages and thinkers.

“These and these are both the words of the living G-d.”


As the Talmud famously quotes, “These and these are both the words of the living G-d,” as all derive from the same source and strive toward the same goal. In the texts presented in this book, the aim is for a cross-section of source texts and perspectives that would represent the rich variety of Jewish teaching and for generations to come. 

A very special thank you to the JLI, which published the book, and all of those who helped make it possible, sharing the beauty of Judaism and its wonderful traditions with the world. ■

The writer received his undergraduate degree in business (cum laude) from Yeshiva University and his MBA with a double distinction from Long Island University. He is a financial adviser who resides in New York City, and is involved in Israel-based and Jewish-advocacy organizations.