The JPS Guide to Jew­ish Traditions

Ronald L. Eisenberg
  • Review
By – September 28, 2012

The JPS Guide to Jew­ish Tra­di­tions fills the require­ments of a desk ref­er­ence, a sin­gle vol­ume that cov­ers mate­r­i­al usu­al­ly found in sev­er­al dif­fer­ent books. Dr. Ronald L. Eisen­berg, the author, is a radi­ol­o­gist and lawyer who has writ­ten exten­sive­ly on med­ical and legal sub­jects. He is cur­rent­ly com­plet­ing a Master’s degree in Jew­ish Stud­ies at Sper­tus Col­lege and wrote this book to answer his own ques­tions on Jew­ish issues. 

The guide is orga­nized into eight sec­tions: Life-Cycle Events,” Sab­bath and Fes­ti­vals,” Syn­a­gogue and Prayer,” Jew­ish Lit­er­a­ture (clas­sic texts),” Mitzvot,” Mis­cel­lany,” Food,” and Plants and Ani­mals.” The table of con­tents lists the hun­dreds of entries cov­ered under these broad top­ics and the book is ful­ly indexed, so find­ing a giv­en sub­ject is easy. 

The entries are well researched, con­cise, and bal­anced, with his­tor­i­cal overviews from the bib­li­cal peri­od through the present. They cov­er the entire range of Jew­ish prac­tice, from the halakhic to lib­er­al Judaism, and deal with such con­tro­ver­sial issues as who is a Jew, euthana­sia, agunot, autop­sies, and intermarriage. 

Two of the most attrac­tive fea­tures of the book are its cov­er­age of home­ly folk tra­di­tions— there is an entry on mag­ic and super­sti­tion — and, at the oth­er extreme, its thor­ough use of tal­mu­dic and oth­er clas­sic sources. Because of this wide range, The JPS Guide is enjoy­able to browse as well as to con­sult on spe­cif­ic top­ics and can sit use­ful­ly on the shelves of both home and insti­tu­tion­al libraries. Appen., bib­lio., index , notes.

Maron L. Wax­man, retired edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor, spe­cial projects, at the Amer­i­can Muse­um of Nat­ur­al His­to­ry, was also an edi­to­r­i­al direc­tor at Harper­Collins and Book-of-the-Month Club.

Discussion Questions