Here’s what I’d put on a standard Jewish bookshelf, with some notes and tips.
Siddur and Machzorim
This is a highly personal (and denominational) choice, but obviously it’s a cornerstone of any Jewish bookshelf. Both siddurim and machzorim of all the types (and haggadot) are highly collectible in a productive way, by which I mean, the differences are illuminating and educational, especially the different piyyutim that are included. You might also want a dedicated Tehillim.
You’ll want to have one single-volume Tanakh to refer to. I particularly like the Koren, and I especially recommend their Tzion edition, which has simple but very helpful tools, such as timelines and cross references in the margins. As far as English-Hebrew editions, this is again a personal/denominational choice; I like the Koren translation, and the (new) JPS Tanakh is also serviceable (and it’s what’s available on Sefaria, one of their few well-edited and recent English translations).
In addition to that, you may want to have a Chumash on hand, which is the Torah divided up by parashah, with the haftarot. Sometimes they include the five megillot. Some have Rashi. This is entirely a matter of preference and will depend on your usage.
Finally, you’ll want a Mikraot Gedolot, Tanakh with commentaries. My top pick is Bar Ilan University‘s Mikraot Gedolot ha-Keter for its excellent text editing and format, but I also have and recommend Mosad ha-Rav Kook‘s Torat Chayyim, edited by Mordechai Brauer. It’s often worthwhile to buy the Chumash as a set, then build up your collection of Nakh gradually (the volumes of Nakh with commentaries also tend to be sold separately). Artscroll‘s Czuker Edition, though I have quibbles with its editing, is a good choice for a fully vocalized text—yes, including the commentators, and it’s all in square letters. There are no good editions of Mikraot Gedolot in English that I know of, although there are some reliable translations of individual commentators that are generally sold as single volumes.
Choosing your edition of Talmud is probably the hardest choice on this page, given that different people are looking for different things and you have to try out many editions until you settle on one you love. It’s sort of like buying a house. So my biggest piece of advice here is to buy volumes individually as you learn them and try out different editions until you fall in love. My favorite so far as far is Oz Vehadar; I like their Murchevet series.
Once you start exploring commentaries that aren’t printed on the daf or in the back of the Gemara, you can add to your library according to what you want to explore.
For Mishnah, Kehati is extraordinarily clear and available in English as well as the original Hebrew (individual volumes are generally easy to get). Otherwise, I personally like learning Mishnayot from Koren’s Mishnah Sdura. The way the text is laid out makes it easier to absorb. They have an edition with Bartenura’s commentary and another with a commentary called Kav v’Naki. There’s also a free Kehati app.
You might want a Shulchan ‘Arukh; I like the Friedman Edition by Machon Yerushalayim, which is easy to get individual volumes of. Their Tur with Shulchan ‘Aruch is especially nice. I’d go for the Oz veHadar one-volume Mishnah Berurah. A set of Mishneh Torah is always a good investment; the Frankel edition is the absolute best but there are other good editions out there.
For Zohar, my picks would be Zohar haSulam or Zohar Matok MiDvash. The Pritzker Zohar is a great English translation, and they have an excellent Aramaic text posted and freely available on their website. Beyond Zohar, again, it’s your personal taste.
Hashkafah and Musar
There are far too many options here and this will depend very much on your personal interests, but I wanted to slot it in here as a part of any basic Jewish bookshelf to grow.
Though some have been replaced by online tools and apps, I still find the following to be indispensable:
The best all-purpose Hebrew-Hebrew dictionary I’ve used is the online Rav-Milim (paid). Brown-Driver-Briggs (the BDB) is still the standard as a Heb-Eng biblical dictionary. Jastrow remains the best tool for post-biblical Hebrew all the way up to modern Hebrew (it’s great for Rishonim). For Hebrew abbreviations, there’s the perennially useful Otzar Rashei Tevot.
Where to buy Jewish books online
- Mizrahi Book Store on eBay – I can’t recommend it enough; you can reach out to the seller for help tracking down titles.
- SeforimCenter – Great selection, ships from USA (Brooklyn).
- Greenfield Judaica – Also a great selection, ships from USA (Brooklyn).
- MySefer – Another good store, ships from USA (Brooklyn).
- Z. Berman Books – You can find some sefarim here that I don’t spot elsewhere. Ships from USA (NYC area).
- Lehmanns – Outstanding selection, UK based.
- Eichlers – Sefarim and Judaica, ships from USA (Brooklyn), offers free shipping over certain amounts.
- Steimatzky – the Barnes & Noble of Israel now ships worldwide.
- Magnes – The Hebrew University press, also ships worldwide.
Publishers’ online stores
- Koren Publishers – Everything from classical texts to several different imprints focusing on different subjects. All excellent quality.
- Mosad ha-Rav Kook – ships worldwide from Israel.
- Bar-Ilan University Press – ships worldwide from Israel.
- ArtScroll – A major Judaica publisher in the US, publishing classic texts and book with a chareidi focus.
- Urim Publications – A great selection of books, mostly in English.
- Feldheim – Less classic texts and more books in English.