Having just selected textbooks for an Introduction to Judaism class, I thought that folks might find this list useful:
- The Jewish Experience: An Introduction to Jewish History and Jewish Life, by Steven Leonard Jacobs. This is a good academic introduction to Judaism. Not a great deal of depth on any subject, but does a great job of covering the topic. A little light on the spiritual aspects of Judaism (prayer, for instance), but otherwise, a pretty fabulous book.
- The Story of the Jews: A 4000-Year Adventure, by Stan Mack. A graphic-novel style presentation of history. It covers the basics in an easy to read format. It does not delve into historical controversy, but tells the Jewish self-conception of history, while making note of the places where the stories we tell do not necessarily line up with historical reality.
- Jewish Literacy: the most important things to know about the Jewish religion, its people, and its history, by Joseph Telushkin. Written from a Jewish (and at times even Orthodox) point of view, this book is a view from the inside. Covering history, spirituality, observances, philosophy and more, its easy to read style and short articles on each subject make it great place to start.