Reviewing: “The Book of Jewish Knowledge” by The Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. Jewish Learning Institute; Deluxe Edition. 2022. Hardcover. 496 pages. ISBN-13: 978-1636680125.
You never get a second chance to make a first impression. As far as I know that’s not a Jewish adage, but it is one that’s accurate and that the publisher of The Jewish Book of Knowledge learned and understood well.
When I opened the book, my first thought was “stunning.” Everything about it screams high quality—the paper, the pictures, the charts, the cover and even the binding. Yes, I checked.
But before cracking the book itself, first I had to get to it. It comes as a beautiful presentation, in a fitted box, a high-end sleeve into which it is housed, and even a branded bookmark. It’s not just a book. It’s an experience.
On the surface it looks like a beautiful coffee table book, but it’s much more. When you open it, while the pictures are magnificent, you’ll do much more than flip the pages admiring the images. When you begin to dig in, the substance is so significant that it gives the feeling of reading the most beautiful encyclopedia ever. It’s the opposite of a page turner. There’s so much information on each page, you want to stay on each one for a while, to read, digest and learn.
In nearly 500 pages, your eye is drawn to the incredible graphics, pictures, and charts. But these are interspersed among meaningful content, and all the citations are listed in a vast array of sources, ranging from John Quincy Adams to the Zohar.
One of the most impressive of the graphics was a list of all the 613 mitzvot. It was the first time I’ve seen such a clear presentation of this, an arrangement of the commandments by category, with the positive and negative commandments sorted by simple color coding. The thought behind both the substance and layout is evident throughout the book.
Under Shabbat, I especially liked how the editors not only sought to provide knowledge, but to also make it experiential by including recipes from a traditional Jewish home. Someone’s grandmother is kvelling!
Living in Israel, I was drawn to the section “In the Jewish Homeland.” It is rich in history from the return of the Jewish people after our slavery in Egypt, including of course the modern State of Israel. Even if only subtly, that’s important because it draws a link to our Biblical connection and how that is connected to the rebirth of the State in 1948.
We had guests for Shabbat the week after the book arrived. I had it in easy reach, and at one point people were actually competing to look. The praise for the content and presentation was universal, validating my immediate response.
The book is divided into five chapters, perhaps corresponding to the five books of the Torah: Jewish History, Jewish Teaching, Jewish Practice, The Jewish Year and Lifecycle Milestones. The truth is that each chapter could be its own book. There’s great content throughout; however, there’s so much more that could be expanded upon in each topic. But The Jewish Book of Knowledge is an incredible start, raising the bar high on thoughtful, professionally researched and beautifully presented content that is relevant to us all.
While all the content (and) more is probably available online, the fact that this is assembled as a single book, which can be perused on Shabbos and Yom Tov, sets a new standard on Jewish books.
The Jewish Book of Knowledge is a fantastic publication of the Rohr Jewish Learning Institute. When I asked about the book initially, I inquired if it was appropriate for non-Jews, as my job entails building bridges between Jews and Christians, as well as bonding Christians with Israel. I was answered affirmatively but wanted to check it out myself, and I’m so glad I did. I might have explained some aspects of Jewish tradition differently, and I noted a presumption of understanding of basic aspects of Jewish life, history, and practices that might make it challenging for someone unfamiliar with these to d fully appreciate the content of the book, though I feel confident that the editors considered this delicate balance. All in all, they did a fabulous job.
It’s a tremendous volume of Jewish knowledge, and wisdom, an important addition to Jewish life and a great addition to anyone’s personal library or coffee table.
“The Book of Jewish Knowledge” is available on Amazon at: https://amzn.to/3HT8HZr and at https://shop.myjli.com/products/the-book-of-jewish-knowledge-rh.
Jonathan Feldstein was born and educated in the U.S. and immigrated to Israel in 2004. He is married and the father of six. He has a three-decade career in nonprofit fundraising and marketing and throughout his life and career, he has become a respected bridge between Jews and Christians and serves as the president of the Genesis 123 Foundation. He writes regularly on major Christian web sites, and hosts the Inspiration from Zion podcast where he shares experiences of living as an Orthodox Jew in Israel.