Teshuvah: A Guide for the Newly Observant Jew
By Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
Maggid Books, 2010, 192 pages
Reviewed by Israel Drazin - September 13, 2012
The term "Teshuvah" literally means "return," and a Jew who abandoned Judaism in whole or in part and then returned to be observant is called a Baal Teshuvah, "one who returns," or Chozeir b'Teshuvah, "one who changes and returns." This book is designed to teach such people about the laws, practices, and history of Judaism. It is a basic primer by a famous, scholarly, and mystical Orthodox rabbi.
The book is divided into two parts. The first part is an overview of the benefits of Judaism. It addresses issues such as how Rabbi Steinsaltz feels observant Judaism functions in the modern world, how to begin "returning" to Judaism, the difficulties, lapses, problems of faith, and relating to family, friends, non-Jews, and the observant community. Interestingly, the rabbi advises returnees not to try to become totally Orthodox at once.
The second part addresses eleven subjects that Orthodox Judaism considers important, explains each, and offers advice how to do them. These include studying Torah, prayer, Shabbat, festivals, and kosher foods. He also discusses marital roles, home observances, and the role of women. Being mystically minded, the rabbi includes thoughts about the study of kabala in the study Torah section. In regard to women, he takes the position that "women's role is different from that of men." He writes that women "must get used to (an understanding) that the things men do in the religious sphere, be it in the synagogue or anywhere else, are not to be imitated." He opposes the view of other Orthodox rabbis that allow women to put on the tallit and tefillin. He emphasizes that women should be homemakers and dress modestly.