“A Concise Guide to Halakha: An overview of Jewish Law,” is one of five new books published by Maggid Books which were authored by the recently deceased scholar Rabbi Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz who authored sixty books and hundreds of articles. I reviewed two of the volumes previously, on the Torah and on the Sages. The series focuses on five main topics of Jewish tradition in easy to read English. The books are filled with eye-opening and thought-provoking information. People of all religions will learn much from these books.
The books are: (1) “A Concise Guide to the Sages,” the Sages being called Hazal in Hebrew, a Hebrew acronym for “our Sages, may their memory be for a blessing,” (2) “A Concise Guide to the Torah,” (3) “A concise Guide to Halakha,” Jewish Law is called Halakha in Hebrew, meaning “guide path,” (4) “The Concise Guide to Mahshava,” Mahshava being Hebrew for Jewish thought, and (5) “Reference Guide to the Talmud.”
“A Concise Guide to the Halakha,” a 643 page book, is made up of five parts. The first 125 pages with twelve chapters focuses the life cycle, on birth, weddings, death, funerals, Bar and Bat Mitzva, birthdays, wills, visiting the grave, and more. This section and the others include a summary of the various customs practiced by Jews in different countries. Among much else, it tells why it is important to give a child a Hebrew name, even if the child is also has a non-Hebrew one. It tells what to do in unusual cases such as do you circumcise a child on the following Shabbat when the child is born during twilight on Friday evening? What is the ceremony of the redemption of the firstborn, why is it done, how do Ashkenaz and Sephardic customs differ, and why do they differ? Why do the customs relating to the birth of a girl differ from that of a boy? Should a person make a confession before dying?
The second part, with 26 chapters from page 129 to 375 informs readers about the holidays, including Rosh Hashana, Yom Kippur, Passover, and the other holidays. Among much else, the chapters tell who is exempt from fasting on Yom Kippur, what prayers are said on the holidays, what is one prohibited to do, what are the kabbalistic ushpizin, the rules pertaining to the new moon, the request for rain, the special rules for the month of Elul, and much more.
The third part with 15 chapters from page 379 to 475 tells about the Shabbat and how it differs from the festival, when should candles be lit, why light the candles instead of electric lights, using electricity on Shabbat to watch TV, and more.
The fourth part with 5 chapters from page 479 to 536 deals with the daily routine and speaks about how one should start the day, the daily prayers, kaddish, and Torah study.
The fifth part with 8 chapters from page 539 to 624 gives information that doesn’t fit in the other parts, about the mezuza, keeping kosher, family purity ritual fringes, tefillin, interpersonal mitzvot, charity, and charging and paying interest.
The volume also has frequent notes in all five parts for further reading on the subjects discussed, and a glossary of 16 pages.
In short, Rabbi Steinsaltz has made a significant contribution by giving us an easy to read and understand treasure of significant information.