In celebration of the High Holidays, we asked several rabbis for their recommendations of books to read during this season of reflection and renewal.
Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg
I’m going to suggest S. Bear Bergman’s Special Topics in Being a Human (illustrated by Saul Freedman-Lawson), which serves up, in graphic novel format, indispensable wisdom in short, bite-sized nuggets. Tender, thoughtful, and witty, they offer advice on how to make big decisions, how to have a disagreement without having a fight, how to take both criticism and a compliment, how to apologize properly, and more. This is a book for this reflective season, but also for all year-round.
Rabbi David Wolpe
I would recommend reading the book of Koheleth, Ecclesiastes. It will take less than an hour. You can reread it throughout your life and your understanding of it will deepen as you do. It is a chance to see a deep mind grapple honestly with the pains, contradictions, and confusions of life. It epitomizes the words of the poet Yeats: “from my quarrel with others I make rhetoric; from my quarrels with myself I make poetry.”
Rabbi Deborah Miller
I recommend My Jewish Year by Abigail Pogrebin. As we gather with our families and communities to reflect on the past year and to welcome in the new one, Pogrebin’s book offers an accessible and thorough overview to the possibilities for Jewish celebration. Reading it helps me to focus on some of my best memories from the outgoing year and to identify new ways to connect with Jewish life and practice in the coming year.
Rabbi Marc Katz
I recommend Nine Essential Things I’ve Learned About Life Harold Kushner. Kushner is known for writing accessible and thought-provoking books that merge Jewish text with modern life. In the past he has explored issues as diverse as evil, God, overcoming disappointment, and forgiveness. Now, after a storied career, Kushner has merged many of his most important ideas together into one book. Each chapter summarizes his book length treatments of subjects into digestible bits, moving his readers to consider how to grow and inspiring us to live our best lives. This is the perfect book to situate us in the Jewish conversation and introduce us to the most helpful ideas as we head into the High Holy Day season.
Rabbi Yaakov Bieler
I recommend Stop, Look, Listen: Celebrating Shabbos Through a Spiritual Lens by Nehemia Polen. While this book primarily deals with the spiritual aspects of observing weekly Shabbat there is a clear link to aspects of Shabbat to Yom HaKippurim, the culmination of the Days of Awe. Therefore, the connection between Shabbat and the Ten Days of Repentance should become obvious to the reader. Dr. Polen discusses in depth Chassidic practices, e.g., Niggun and Storytelling, to which attendees of services at this time of year will certainly be exposed.
Simona is the Jewish Book Council’s digital content and marketing manager. She graduated from Sarah Lawrence College with a concentration in English and History and studied abroad in India and England. Prior to the JBC she worked at Oxford University Press. Her writing has been featured in Lilith, The Normal School, Barnstorm, Digging through the Fat, and other publications. She is an MFA candidate in fiction at The New School.