What is a Jew? Rating 4 Stars
By Rabbi Morris N. Kertzer
I happened to be at a denominational conference when I perused the bookseller’s table. I love books and just can’t seem to pass up opportunities to browse. Rabbi Morris Kertzer’s title caught my attention as being useful information for an upcoming book I was working on. I found his work to be insightful and informative, and the question/answer format worked well for me.
Kertzer’s work is for both Jews and Gentiles—anyone who desires to know more about Judaism. I counted up 114 questions that are answered beginning with the basic question, “What is a Jew?” Is this question answered from a religious, spiritual, cultural, or ethnic perspective? What is the difference between Orthodox, Conservative, Reformed, and Reconstructionist Jews? If you are curious about how Jews live, what is important to them, what is the basis for moral decision making, their attitude toward suicide, war, and a whole host of things, then this book will get you started in the right direction. Kertzer helps the reader understand what Jews believe, how they relate in community, their festivals and celebrations, the state of modern Jewish mindsets, and how they relate to Christians. It is a book about all things Jewish.
Morris Kertzer was a Jewish Rabbi (1910–1983) who died in Scottsdale, Arizona at the age of 73. In addition to What is a Jew, Kertzer also wrote other books on Judaism—The Art of Being a Jew, Today’s America Jews, and Tell Me Rabbi. He penned many articles on religious issues. This was the first time I have ever heard of Rabbi Kertzer and it was a pleasure to read his material.
The book isn’t difficult to read. It appeals to a broad audience and requires no religious training or background. The questions and answers are down to earth and the tone of the book is simple and informative, not preachy or proselytizing. If you are not interested in learning about Judaism from a practical standpoint, then the book probably isn’t for you. But for me, I soaked it up, learned a great deal, and feel like I might actually re-read it.
Kertzer first wrote the book in 1953, but my 1996 edition was a new and completely revised edition (revised by Rabbi Lawrence Hoffman). I give the book 4 stars which is a reflection of both my interest in understanding Judaism and Kertzer’s ease of explaining it for me.-TSW Copyright © T. S. Wise 2019
What is a Jew?, Rabbi Morris N. Kertzer, A Touchstone Book, Simon & Schuster, New York, NY, 1996 edition.