The Book of Customs: A Complete Handbook for the Jewish Year is described as "the best-selling guide to Jewish life for three centuries." If this is true, then why haven't we heard of it? Two reasons: because until now it has not been translated into English, and because the 300-year period of the book's popularity was centuries ago! Lucky for us, Scott-Martin Kosofsky, an award-winning book designer and editor, has plucked it from obscurity to revive it for a new generation.
This revival is a complete transformation. Kosofsky frames it with tradition, expecting each reader whatever his or her denomination to pick and choose what material is required. The author admits that if Judaism "is a cafeteria' religion, then it's one that serves the traditional main courses." Readers will find a banquet here, whenever hunger strikes, and at whatever intensity.
What exactly is on the menu? A comprehensive guide to the Jewish year: the weekly cycle (revolving around the Sabbath), the yearly cycle and the life cycle (birth, marriage, death) for home and synagogue observance. There is material enough to pilot a beginner or a practiced hand: from how to light the Sabbath candles to when to say the Amidah on the first night of Sukkot. Pithy tidbits, cross-references and Biblical or Talmudic citations are packed into the margins, enticing us to further study. Kosofsky packs a lot in this user-friendly, attractive guide.
Joanna Brichetto is a graduate student in Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt University who longs for sassy wit and hip hindsight.