Dear Rabbi,

It was nice eating at your house this past Shabbat. The food was great, the songs were stirring, and your kids are brilliant.

But I noticed that your walls are covered with bookshelves. Why do you have so many books?


You’re onto something. I am a hoarder. I hoard Jewish books; I hoard Jewish knowledge.

Have you ever spoken to a hoarder? You know, those people who can never get rid of anything? It’s nearly impossible for them to throw things out or give things away. It is painful. Each item holds meaning for the owner, almost as if the objects actually own the owner.

In fact, I just put down a photo book displaying junk in homes across the globe, which taught me that everyone is a hoarder in some sense. Some hold onto baskets, some collect model cars or dolls, or a year’s supply of toilet paper.

What people choose to collect is often telling. Sometimes it relates to a treasured memory or a secret trauma. But whatever the reason, it’s something about which they cared enough to keep it.

Volumes of Stories

I am, first and foremost, a man of nostalgia. No, not one of those people who sits around and pines for the “good old days,” bemoaning the depletion of morality in today’s society. I do not believe in that. But I do believe that our past, the legacy our ancestors left us, can (and should) deeply influence our lives. In fact, I believe the core reason we need to respect our elders is because they have more experience and knowledge than we do.

Most of the books that you saw in my house are volumes that have been studied for thousands of years, either in their current form or in a different form. They impart knowledge from another era, when life was permeated with G‑dliness.

I consider our generation a lucky one. We are fortunate to be able to study ancient texts, learn from the sages of old, and implement their wise advice in our lives.

When I find myself having a hard day, or wondering what the future holds, I look at my books. It warms my heart to know that I am not alone. Generations before me also questioned. And these volumes contain the answers.

And there’s the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study—conducted by the Department of Education—which found that children with a large, visible collection of books in their homes performed better scholastically. I strongly believe that the mere presence of the books in my house creates an atmosphere that benefits those who enter and live in my home.

Not Enough Just to Have Them . . .

As a small child, Rabbi Shmuel of Lubavitch, the Rebbe Maharash, loved to purchase books. He saved up his allowance and some gifts, and gave the money to his father, the Tzemach Tzedek, for safekeeping.

It was not every day that a bookseller came to town. When one did, the young boy was excited to at long last purchase some books. He asked his father for the money, but the Tzemach Tzedek said, “First you have to be fluent in the books you already have.”

The son responded, “You also have a huge library. Are you fluent in every volume?”

The father told him to bring him any volume and test him. The son did so, and his father passed with flying colors. Ultimately, he did give the child his money, but he managed to impart an important lesson: holy books are to be studied. They are not decorations.

I’ll let you in on another secret: many of the volumes on my shelves are from my grandparents. Although my life has been rocky at times, it pales in comparison to theirs. My grandparents were Holocaust survivors. Their entire lives were destroyed by the Nazis, they endured hell in all of its forms, and then they were forced to continue on with life.

Book hoarding is hereditary. My grandparents1 chose to invest the precious money that they earned after the Holocaust in Jewish books.

And the volumes are well used. My grandparents spent much of their spare time learning.

While I cannot say that I am fluent, or study in every free moment, I know that I have to make an effort. The books remind me that I need to dedicate time to learning. The bursting bookshelves remind me that study does not end after high school or advanced Judaic education. It continues for the rest of one’s life.

The Guests

In my library, you’ll find books in many languages. This ensures that guests will always have something to do in my house. I’ve never heard anyone say they’re bored here! It also makes for great conversation.

The Children

The author of that photo book would tell you that the items in his parents’ home caught his attention and taught him something about his parents.

When your children know how important these books are to you, when they see that this is what you care about and display in public, they will realize that you truly cherish the contents of these volumes.

Start Your Own Collection

I did not amass my collection of Jewish volumes in a single day. I began sometime before the age of six. But it is never too late to begin. Every home should have a charity box, a prayerbook, a book of Psalms and a book of the Torah prominently displayed.2 All of these books are available in English. Most importantly, make sure to actually study and use the books you collect.3

See Environment & Identity and A House of Books.

Click here to purchase Jewish books online.