- The Tanach
- A Siddur
Tanach: The Bible
"But I already own a Bible!" you might say. "I just won't read the New part!"
I understand; that's totally logical. But that's not going to be very helpful to you.
You know this, but people (especially Americans) often forget: translation matters, and it can be manipulated. Further, remember that the Christian scriptures are translations of translations. In most cases, the "Old Testament" will be the Hebrew translated into Greek translated into Latin, then translated into English, probably just "updating" the archaic English of the King James version. (I just read a fabulous book on the New Testament and its translations: Misquoting Jesus by Dr. Bart Ehrman!) Worse, the included books may be different! (You know that the Protestant and Catholic bibles have different books included, right?)
So yes, you need a "Jewish version" of the Old Testament. Though still in translation, it'll be only Hebrew to English, and the "translation choices" will be made with Judaism in mind. Remember that even then, a specific section could be translated very differently and still be within the Jewish perspective. Midrashim will often pick up on that.
There are two most popular versions of Tanach (which includes the Chumash - the 5 books of the "Torah" - and the other books you may have previously called "The Old Testament."
The Artscroll Tanach (as of right now, the smaller Student Edition is more expensive)
Note that neither of these sefarim - books - will be what you use in synagogue on Shabbat during Torah readings. That book will, most likely, be the Artscroll Chumash. (Chumash is only the first 5 books, while the Tanach has all 24 books.) If it is important to you to have the same book as you use in shul, then buy the Artscroll Tanach because the English translation and commentary of the first 5 books should be the same as you would have in shul, but you'll have the benefit of the "extra" books without buying 2 books. If you're nerdy like me, you may want the JPS at home so that you can see a different translation before reading the Artscroll one during the Torah reading at shul. Alternatively, you can also read the Chabad translation on their website's Torah portion section. Personally, I really enjoy seeing how JPS, Artscroll, and Chabad translate ideas differently so that I can get a fuller understanding of the Hebrew. Chabad's printed Chumash is the Gutnik Chumash. I don't know whether this edition is the same translation as that on the Chabad website, and everyone I've asked doesn't know either, but I hear it has a great deal of commentary included.
Siddur: The Prayer Book
Then you'll need a siddur: a prayer book. Jewish prayer is very...regulated, for lack of a better word. It's formalized. But don't forget that your prayers in your own words are just as important and meaningful. However, you'll need to learn the Jewish approach to prayer, which has many benefits after the initial sticker shock of "who has enough time to say all these prayers every day?!"
But which siddur? The list of available siddurim grows every year, and now you can even get several different siddurim on your phone! A) You'll want a paper one instead of only a digital one. B) Your best best is to use the same siddur your synagogue uses. If you don't have a synagogue yet, you should probably start with the Artscroll Ashkenazi one, since it is the most used in America. There is a pocket-size edition, which is great for a purse or backpack, but I suggest getting a full-size version first because the font is larger and easier to read. The full-size edition will be especially helpful for reading vowels when you move into the Hebrew text. I plan to go more in depth on the "which siddur?" question later this week, so hold on to your seats!
Which siddur do you use, and what do you like about it? And which siddur to Sephardim generally use? (I don't know much about Sephardi shul norms.)