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Exclusive Book & Movie Reviews: A Comprehensive Jewish Encyclopedia The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions by Ronald L. Eisenberg, PA: Jewish Publication Society of America, 2004, 806 pp., $40

by Ariel Scheib

Have you ever wondered why we read specific prayers on Shabbat? Or what traditional Judaism has to say about premarital sex? The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions is a fast and comprehensive way to learn practically anything relating to Jewish traditions, from life cycles to customs; such as divorce, kashrut, and festivals.

This book is a part of the JPS Desk Reference series by Ronald L. Eisenberg. The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions is an exceptional encyclopedia, with well-organized and clear answers to difficult questions regarding the reasoning and significance behind Jewish traditions. It is divided into four sections: Life-cycle Events, Shabbat and Festivals, Synagogue and Prayer, and Miscellany. Each particular tradition is separated into its own category which makes it easy to find answers. Eisenberg begins each section with a comprehensible and basic explanation of the issue and then follows with more detailed information and scholarly analysis. Both Jews of the Orthodox and Progressive spectrums can appreciate the book’s content, because it uses scholarly sources from numerous Jewish sects.

The text gives a detailed analysis of each tradition; including its meaning, historical connotation, and its practicality today. Eisenberg utilizes both classical and modern sources to explain traditions, composing a more accommodating work for young or less informed readers. This text will be just as useful to the beginner in Jewish studies, as to the very well-informed scholar. However, do not expect this text to provide every biblical source and scholarly explanation about a given tradition, it merely provides a basis and general description of each tradition. This book is an excellent starting ground for more in-depth studying about Judaism.

Overall, The JPS Guide to Jewish Traditions is a well-written and detailed encyclopedia for any audience seeking answers to questions concerning Jewish traditions. It would be an ideal gift for someone searching to learn more about Judaism as well as a beneficial addition to any Jewish home, library, or school.