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Reprinted with permission of the author from "Best Contemporary Jewish Writing," edited by Michael Lerner. This piece is one of several that Beliefnet will publish from the new annual anthology.

Why only a hundred? There could easily be a thousand!

I asked dozens of Jewish writers, thinkers, rabbis, academics, and community leaders to make recommendations and a smaller group of them to help me narrow down the list. By the end of the process I still had two hundred books that deserved to be noted and room to list only half of them.

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I decided to limit my list to books that are available in English and have been written since 1985. That helped winnow the list somewhat, but it pained me to not be able to cite some books that have had tremendous influence in the current period but were published before 1985. I am thinking particularly of the work of my teacher Abraham Joshua Heschel, Emmanuel Levinas, and Martin Buber; the poetry of Don Pagis and Denise Levertov; the best fiction of Cynthia Ozick, Tillie Olsen, Chaim Grade, Chaim Potok, and Bernard Malamud; the writing of Irving Howe; the early and probably more significant works of Elie Wiesel; and the influential works that appeared in the "Jewish Catalogue"(s) or in the writing of the most important Jewish feminists, collected by Susannah Heschel in 1983.

In saying "best" books, I actually mean "most significant" books. By significant, I mean books that have a profound message or are written in ways that are overwhelmingly beautiful and compelling or have had a profound impact on public Jewish discourse or have influenced the most creative people in their take on reality or are likely to have that impact.

Some people suggested that I list my own Jewish Renewal: A Path to Healing and Transformation (HarperCollins, 1995) or my dialogue with Cornel West, Blacks and Jews: Let the Healing Begin (Putnam, 1995). I appreciated their enthusiasm, but I demurred. In fact, if anything I've sinned against anyone close to me by bending over backward to avoid playing favorites. I've listened to others, and included books that I don't like (and some that I really can't stand) but have played an important role in contemporary Jewish discourse.

What's the point of this kind of list? Well, its primary value is as a way to cut through hundreds of hours of research and focus on the books that are central to contemporary Jewish literacy. I can safely say that if you read the books listed here, you'll be amply prepared to participate in contemporary discussions in the Jewish world. But I do apologize to the many, many authors whose works are equally deserving to be on this list.



Introduction | List By Category | List By Alphabet
Fiction
S.Y. Agnon, Only Yesterday
Aharon Appelfeld, The Conversion
Saul Bellow, Ravelstein
Melvin Jules Bukiet, Stories of an Imagined Childhood
Jules Chametzky and others (eds.), The Norton Anthology of Jewish American Literature
Anita Diament, The Red Tent
Rebecca Goldstein, Mazel: A Novel
Allegra Goodman, Paradise Park
David Grossman, See Under Love
Tony Kushner, Angels in America
Bernard Malamud, The Complete Stories of Bernard Malamud
Grace Paley, Collected Stories
Thane Rosenbaum, Elijah Visible
Philip Roth, The Counterlife
Howard Schwartz (ed.), Gabriel's Palace: Stories from the Jewish Mystical Tradition
Isaac Bashevis Singer, Shadows on the Hudson
Ilan Stavans (ed.), The Oxford Book of Jewish Stories
Aryeh Lev Stollman, The Far Euphrates
A.B. Yehoshua, Mister Mani
Richard Zimler, The Last Kabbalist of Lisbon

Gender & Sexuality
Rachel Adler, Engendering Judaism
Rebecca Albert, Like Bread on the Seder Table
Judith S. Antonelli, In the Image of God
Daniel Boyarin, Carnal Israel
Ellen Frankel, The Five Books of Miriam
Tikva Frymer-Kensky, In the Wake of the Goddesses
Elyse Goldstein (ed.), The Women's Torah commentary
Judith Hauptman, Rereading the Rabbis
Paula Hyman and Deborah Dash Moore, Women in America
Judith A. Kates and Gail Twersky Reimer (eds.), Reading Ruth
Irena Klepfisz and Melanie Kaye-Kantrowitz (eds.), The Tribe of Dina: A Jewish Women's Anthology
Debra Orenstein, Lifecycles: Jewish Women on Life Passages and Personal Milestones
Judith Plaskow, Standing Again at Sinai
Letty Cottin Pogrebin, Deborah, Golda, and Me
Ellen M. Umansky and Dianne Ashton, Four Centuries of Jewish Women's Spirituality
Susan Weidman Schneider, Jewish and Female: Choices and Changes in Our lives Today

History & Culture
Meron Benvenisti, Sacred Landscape: The Buried History of the Holy Land Since 1948
David Biale, Power and Powerlessness in Jewish History
Yaffa Eliach, There Once Was a World
Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi, Booking Passage
Benny Morris, Righteous Victims: A History of the Zionist-Arab Conflict, 1881-1999
Amos Oz, In the Land of Israel
Michael Walzer and others (eds.), The Jewish Political Tradition

Holocaust
Yehuda Bauer, Rethinking the Holocaust
Eva Fogelman, Conscience and Courage: Rescuers of Jews During the Holocaust
Saul Friedlander, Nazi Germany and the Jews
Daniel Jonah Goldhagen, Hitler's Willing Executioners
Geoffrey Hartman, The Longest Shadow
Lawrence Langer, Art from the Ashes
Deborah E. Lipstadt, Denying the Holocaust
Peter Novick, The Holocaust in American Life
Tom Segev, The Seventh Million
Art Spiegelman, MAUS: A Survivor's Tale

Identity
Sander L. Gilman, Jewish Self-Hatred
Jacob Neusner, Recovering Judaism

Jewish Thought and Ethics
Elliot N. Dorff and Louis E. Newman (eds.), Contemporary Jewish Ethics and Morality
Evan Eisenberg, The Ecology of Eden
Michael Fishbane, The Exegetical Imagination
Irving Greenberg, The Jewish Way: Living the Holidays
David Hartman, Israelis and the Jewish Tradition
Susannah Heschel (ed.), Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity: Writings of Abraham Joshua Heschel
Emmanuel Levinas, Nine Talmudic Readings
Laurence J. Silberstein and Robert L. Cohn (eds.), The Other in Jewish Thought and History
Joseph Telushkin, The Book of Jewish Values

Judaism in America
Steven M. Cohen and Arnold M. Eisen, The Jew Within: Self, Family, and Community in America
Diane Matza (ed.), Sephardic American Voices
Riv-Ellen Prell, Fighting to Become Americans

Literary Criticism
Alfred Kazin, God and the American Writer
Chana Kronfeld, On the Margins of Modernism

Memoirs
Elie Wiesel, Memoirs
Leon Wieseltier, Kaddish

Poetry
Yehuda Amichai, Open Closed Open
Allan Ginsberg, Selected Poems, 1947-1995
Marge Piercy, The Art of Blessing the Day: Poems With a Jewish Theme
Adrienne Rich, Selected Poems, 1950-1995
Steven J. Rubin (ed.), A Century of American Jewish Poetry

Spirituality
Ellen Bernstein, Ecology and the Jewish Spirit
David Cooper, God is a Verb
Marcia Falk, The Book of Blessings
Roger S. Gottlieb, A Spirituality of Resistance
Arthur Green, Seek My Face, Speak My Name
Rodger Kamenetz, Jew in the Lotus
Aryeh Kaplan, Innerspace
Lawrence Kushner, God Was in This Place and I, i Did Not Know: Finding Self, Spirituality and Ultimate Meaning
Daniel Matt, The Essential Kabbalah
Carol Ochs, Our Lives as Torah
Marcia Prager, The Path of Blessing
Zalman M. Schachter-Shalomi, Paradigm Shift
Rami M. Shapiro, Minyan
Arthur Waskow, Down-to-Earth Judaism

Theology & Scripture
Robert Alter, Canon and Creativity
Harold Bloom, The Book of J
Neil Gilman, Sacred Fragments: Recovering Theology for the Modern Jew
Moshe Halbertal, The People of the Book
Lawrence Hoffman, My People's Prayer Book: Traditional Prayers, Modern Commentaries
Judith A. Kates and Gail Twersky Reimer (eds.), Reading Ruth
Peter Pitzele, Our Fathers' Well
Nosson Scherman (ed.), The Stone Edition of the Chumash
Adin Steinsaltz (ed.), The Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud
Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg, Genesis: The Beginning of Desire

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