Expand Jewish knowledge with the Internet as a guide

Whether you have had a formal Jewish education or are self-taught, no Jewish home would be complete without a shelf — or a room — full of Jewish books. Granted, nothing is as rewarding for a continuing Jewish education than to drop by your favorite Jewish bookshop and rummage through the new releases. But if you are looking for something different, you can continue your Jewish education on the World Wide Web. On the Internet, you can find a community of people with similar interests, recommendations for good reads, and believe it or not, complete Jewish books that you can read at no cost.

First, the free books. Don't expect to find any hot, new Jewish releases on the Web. In fact, because of copyright restrictions, these books are either more than 75 years old or they are by contemporary authors who want to make their works available freely. The quality of writing and interest to a general audience can vary widely. But, hey, the price is right.

The best place to start

your quest is at The Online Books Page — http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu This is a directory that points to more than 17,000 various types of books that can be read

on the Internet. The site's Jewish section — http://onlinebooks.library.upenn.edu/webbin/book/subjectstart?BM — has links to 60 online books including The Jewish Encyclopedia (1906); "The Legends of the Jews" (1909) by Louis Ginzberg, translated by Henrietta Szold and Paul Radin; and a book titled "Judaic Logic: A Formal Analysis of Biblical, Talmudic and Rabbinic Logic" (1997) by Avi Sion. You should also try the Web site's search page, using terms like "Jew," "Jewish," "Israel" or other favorite keywords. To find more books online, visit the Project Gutenberg Web site — www.gutenberg.net — That's where I came across the Jewish poems of Emma Lazarus.

Most books are too long to be read online. You will usually have to download the files onto your computer, expand them and then read them.

If you are able to read Hebrew in your browser, then check out Project Ben-Yehuda at http://benyehuda.org/e_faq.html Similar to Project Gutenberg, this site is devoted to "the classics of Hebrew literature (poetry and prose at first, and then essays, etc.) to the reader of Hebrew." The Project Ben-Yehuda links page — http://benyehuda.org/ h_links.html — will take you to other Hebrew literary sites. (There are also many wonderful online editions of the Torah, the Tanach and other religious texts, which I will look at in future columns.)

Of course, if you want to read most recent Jewish books, you are going to have buy or borrow them. Looking for recommendations? A site called Jewish Bibliographies on the Internet has scoured the Web for recommended reading lists about a wide variety of topics. Check it out at www.nmmc.net/Guide/ bibliography.links.html

Once you are ready to buy, you can either try your local bookshop or look for your book online. Whether you are shopping at Jewish specialty sites such as MileChai.com and MyJewishBooks.com or general retailers like Amazon and Barnes and Noble, always make sure that you understand the site's security provisions and return policies.

If you prefer to borrow Jewish books but don't have a good selection in your local library, then take a look at what the members of Kona Beth Shalom of Hawaii are doing — www.konabethshalom.org/library.htm Members are encouraged to make a list of their personal libraries and post them onto the synagogue Web site. Friends browse through the lists, e-mail their requests and pick up the books at the next Shabbat service.

Although many authors use the Web as a publicity vehicle for their work, they also fear it. They feel that if they excerpt too much of their work online, they will hurt the market for paying customers. Eliezer Segal is a notable exception. Segal is a university professor who has written a wonderful children's book called "Uncle Eli's Special-for-Kids Most Fun Ever Under-the Table Passover Haggadah." It tells the traditional story of Passover using the nonsensical style of Dr. Seuss. What is also special is that you can also read the book on the Web at www.ucalgary.ca/~elsegal/UncleEli/Eli.html