The Newish Jewish Encyclopedia

From Abraham to Zabar’s and Everything in Between


By Stephanie Butnick

By Liel Leibovitz

By Mark Oppenheimer

By Tablet

Formats and Prices




$50.00 CAD



  1. Hardcover $40.00 $50.00 CAD
  2. ebook $16.99 $21.99 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around October 1, 2019. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

Named one of Library Journal’s Best Religion & Spirituality Books of the YearAn Unorthodox Guide to Everything Jewish

Deeply knowing, highly entertaining, and just a little bit irreverent, this unputdownable encyclopedia of all things Jewish and Jew-ish covers culture, religion, history, habits, language, and more. Readers will refresh their knowledge of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the artistry of Barbra Streisand, the significance of the Oslo Accords, the meaning of words like balaboosta,balagan, bashert, and bageling. Understand all the major and minor holidays. Learn how the Jews invented Hollywood. Remind themselves why they need to read Hannah Arendt, watch Seinfeld, listen to Leonard Cohen. Even discover the secret of happiness (see “Latkes”). Includes hundreds of photos, charts, infographics, and illustrations. It’s a lot.



You picked up this book, which means you must be a little curious about Jews, or Jewish life, or Judaism. Maybe you grew up Jewish but barely remember anything from Hebrew school. Maybe you know a lot about Jewish practice but not about Jews and popular culture, or you know a lot about our people's relationship to food but not enough about our engagement with politics. Maybe you love nothing more than being a member of the tribe, but have never felt truly connected to a Jewish community, or you live somewhere where there simply isn't one. Maybe you're dating a Jew, or thinking of becoming a Jew yourself. Maybe you finished binge-­watching Seinfeld and are dying to know what's the deal with babka or shiksappeal.

Whoever you are, we have just one bit of rabbinic wisdom for you: the main way you can get Judaism wrong is by not asking any questions. We have a whole holiday meal devoted to asking questions, and it's delicious (see Passover).

We started our podcast Unorthodox in 2015 to offer a window into the kinds of conversations we were having as staffers at Tablet, the Jewish news and culture magazine. We wanted a place to discuss Israeli actress Gal Gadot as well as anti-­Semitism, and Montreal bagel culture as well as Judaism's various fast days—from Yom Kippur to the more obscure Tzom Gedalia. We immediately started hearing from listeners who said they'd found something in our weekly episodes that they weren't getting at synagogue; or that listening to this podcast was the only Jewish thing they did; or that they had convinced their parents or children or grandparents to listen, too. In the past four years, we've heard from converts whose rabbis recommended our show as a supplement to Torah study, and from gentiles married to Jews, asking us to explain their in-­laws' peculiarities.

After more than four million downloads, we've somehow become public explainers of Jewishness. From our bustling inbox to our active Facebook community, we are constantly being asked all sorts of questions. To the secular, we often find ourselves explaining religious concepts. To the religious, we offer a window into how secular Jews express our shared history and identity. And to anyone who has a question she is embarrassed to ask, we're there, never judging, explaining what Reconstructionism is, or why observant Jews don't mix meat and milk, or whether it's okay to use the acronym "JAP."

All of which is to say that people have a lot of questions—and we want to point you toward the answers. Since the publication of The Jewish Catalog in 1973, there has been no reference book that deals with Judaism, and Jewishness, in all its facets. Jews quarrel endlessly about whether we are a religion, an ethnicity, a tribe, a nation, a culture, a people, or a family. We're all of the above—but you'll look in vain for a book that reflects the diverse, indescribable Jewish people back at ourselves. So we decided to write one.

This is not a guide to Judaism, the religion, nor to Jewish "culture," if by that you mean bagels, kugel, Hanukkah presents, and Seinfeld. It's a guide to all that, and more. It's a guide to "being Jewish." For some, that means Jewish prayer, for others, Jewish hair—but for most of us, it's an eccentric mishmash. (Or is it mishmosh?)

And so, because this book is all about you, you can read it however you'd like. We've arranged the entries alphabetically, so you can read all the way from Aaron to Zyklon B (yikes), or hop around whimsically. Just remember that we are, in name and spirit, Unorthodox, which means that while we covered all the basics, we also had fun. We hope that you will, too, because there's not really a point to being Jewish—or anything else, for that matter—if it doesn't make you happy. Speaking of happy, see latkes.

Shalom, friends,

Stephanie, Liel, and Mark

Hosts of Tablet's Unorthodox podcast


from Caesar, Sid
to cultural Judaism

Caesar, Sid (1922–2014)

Television innovator known for wacky sketch comedy and for fostering a legendary writer's room that begat many tremendous careers. Isaac Sidney Caesar was born in Yonkers, New York, and worked in a luncheonette run by his immigrant parents. There he absorbed accents from all over, later incorporating them into the exaggerated gibberish of his memorable routines. Over a long career in television, he helped discover and foster many writing talents, including Mel Brooks, Carl Reiner, Neil Simon, Selma Diamond, and, later, Woody Allen.

Cahan, Abraham (1860–1951)

Founding editor of the Jewish Daily Forward, or Forverts, a Yiddish daily newspaper that launched in 1897. He helmed the influential, socialist-­leaning paper for more than four decades, launching a widely read advice column called "A Bintel Brief" that helped Jewish immigrants navigate life in America. He was also a novelist, writing in English; he's best known for The Rise of David Levinsky, a semiautobiographical tale of a Jewish immigrant in New York City.

Cain and Abel

According to the


  • “An illustrated, smart and comic guide, well-attuned to this moment.”
    Jewish Week

     “Crams in just about everything you need to know about Jewish culture and history – from the Torah to Chinese food. . . . A weighty tome that just begs to be picked up, thumbed through, and quoted from. It is exhaustive but not exhausting, a thorough examination of Jewish themes presented as hors d’oeuvres to entice a larger meal.”
    The Times of Israel
    “Deeply entertaining and highly educational. . . . Adding their thoroughly modern compendium to a long tradition of Jewish scholarship, the authors have served up a colorful array of all things Jewish for Jews and non-Jews alike.”
    Broadway World

    “Alternately irreverent and profound—but always informative. . . . A great gift.”

    “This delightfully irreverent romp through Jewish history and culture is the outgrowth of Tablet magazine’s podcast, Unorthodox, and considers itself the updated version of The Jewish Catalog (1973). As with Catalog, podcast hosts and coauthors Butnick, Liel ­Leibovitz, and Mark Oppenheimer claim this chronicle is not a comprehensive or exhaustive survey of all things Jewish. To that end, the biblical hero Judah Maccabee is “one kickass priest,” Jewish Community Centers are places “where Gentiles play racquetball,” and Long Island is “the other Promised Land.” Culturally, the authors make a convincing argument for Jews as “mediators of black music” and even responsible for the beloved Christmas tunes “White Christmas” and “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.” Bernie Madoff finds reference only under the generic moniker, shonde, or one who brings shame to the community, where he keeps company with Eliot Spitzer and Anthony Weiner. On a more serious note in a compilation filled with humor, brevity is the signature mark of that which requires mention, but not glory—Adolf Hitler, Nazis, and Auschwitz’s Arbeit Macht Frei (“work sets you free”) merit a single sentence each. ­VERDICT A welcome update on Jewish history and culture that is mostly just plain fun.
    Library Journal, starred review

    “No dense, scholarly tome, this volume is pure fun, although serious topics are included. . . . . A reference work is rarely as readable as this one is. Informative and irreverent, welcoming and witty, it is enthusiastically recommended.”

On Sale
Oct 1, 2019
Page Count
320 pages

Stephanie Butnick

Stephanie Butnick

About the Author

Stephanie Butnick, Liel Leibovitz, and Mark Oppenheimer are the hosts of Unorthodox, the most popular Jewish podcast on iTunes. 
Stephanie Butnick is the deputy editor of Tablet and has written for the New York Times and the Wall Street Journal. She has a bachelor’s degree in religion from Duke and a master’s in religious studies from NYU. She lives in New York with her husband and their cat, Cat Stevens.  
Liel Leibovitz is a senior writer for Tablet and the author of several books, including, most recently, A Broken Hallelujah, a spiritual biography of Leonard Cohen. He has a PhD in video games from Columbia, a fact that makes his seven-year-old self very happy. He lives in New York with his wife and their two children.   
Mark Oppenheimer is the former Beliefs columnist for the New York Times and the author of The Bar Mitzvah Crasher: Road-Tripping Through Jewish America. He has a PhD in American religion from Yale and lives in New Haven, Connecticut, with his wife and five children.  

Learn more about this author