Thursday, June 07, 2007

A New Siddur

The United Synagogue of Great Britain recently published a new siddur (link), with a new translation and commentary by Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. As has come to be expected of this rabbi of formidable talent, the translation and commentary is thoughtful and eloquent. What follows are some brief thoughts on the new (Nusach Askenaz) siddur.

- The binding is excellent. The book is lightweight and slightly smaller than most prayer books. I measure this to be 4 1/2 x 5 3/8. It has a green leather cover and two elegant cloth bookmarks attached to the binding.

- The Chief Rabbi’s introduction is excellent and I believe better than any other siddur introduction I’ve seen. I particularly appreciated the section on the patterns in prayer. Although I was hoping for a little more about the historical development of the prayer structure.

- The Chief Rabbi’s commentary is sparser than Artscroll’s but always intelligent and informative and inspirational. He makes a big deal about Franz Rosenzweig’s three principles of Judaism (creation, revelation and providence) and how they appear in the prayer service.

- The Hebrew typesetting is excellent. The page seems much less “busy” than the Artscroll page. It uses a bold sheva to identify a sheva na, which is much more easily identified by the eye than Artscroll’s horizontal line above the letter. It also identifies a kametz katan by elongating it, although that does nothing for me personally because I pray in Ashkenazic Hebrew. There is also a good deal of poetic typesetting of the prayers, which to me adds meaning to the prayers.

- They devised an interesting way to identify seasonally added prayers without copying Artscroll’s now-classic gray-shading method. The new way is arguably better. I found that particularly regarding Ha-Me’ir La-Aretz in Yom Tov morning birkhos keri’as Shema, something that always trips me up, this siddur does it better than Artscroll.

- The Hebrew text is almost entirely based on Dr. Seligmann Baer’s classic Siddur Avodas Yisrael (as was the 1890 “Singer Siddur”). This leads to a few nuanced differences, such as some additional degeshim kal(im) and u-vi-nimah kedoshah, kulam in Shacharis birkhos keri’as Shema (rather than the common u-vi-nimah, kedushah kulam - Baer attributes this change to R. Wolf Heidenheim). This could be viewed as an improvement over the anonymously created Artscroll vowelization. The De Sola Poole siddur’s Hebrew was put together by the famous scholar R. Chaim Dov Chavel (of Ramban fame), which gives me confidence in it. But I’m not sure who vowelized the Artscroll siddur and who approved it. Baer, at least, knew his grammar inside out. It could be argued that Baer and Heidenheim were somewhat overly enthusiastic with their conceptions of grammatical purity, but Baer’s siddur is long established as a classic so I’m perfectly comfortable using it.

- There are a few deviations from the Baer text that makes this siddur largely unusable by most people. Berikh shemeih, while the Torah is being taken out, was removed. Fine, that doesn’t really bother me. The Akedah and all of korbanos between Parashas Ha-Tamid and Eizehu Mekoman was removed (as explained in the footnote, this is according to the siddurim of R. Sa’adia Gaon and R. Amram Gaon). And the silent prayer(s) during the singing of the kohanim in duchenen was removed. I don’t know why they did it but that’s a deal-breaker for me.

- There are sections identified in the table of contents for Yom Yerushalayim and Yom Ha-Atzma’ut. These sections give instructions of the “some say Hallel” type. While I don’t, it’s nice to see the days acknowledged.

- The mi she-beirakh texts are unrecognizable to me, both the regular one(s) and the one for the State of Israel. I found the one for the royal family to be interesting.

- The siddur does not have the Torah readings for Yom Tov, which I found quite annoying on Shavuos. Although it does have the readings for Chol Ha-Mo’ed.

- There are only brief sections on the halakhos of praying, nothing remotely near what Artscroll has. That is unfortunate.

- The siddur does not have the entire book of Psalms appended to it, which I greatly appreciate. If I want a Tehillim, I’ll take one off the shelf.

- The English translation is simply excellent. Birnbaum and De Sola Poole use archaic English, with an abundance of “thee”s and “thou”s. Artscroll (and Metsudah) doesn’t but it usually translates word for word, often with somewhat awkward translations, and generally does not adjust for English sentence structure. R. Sacks translates word for word in an elegant but common English and generally changes the order of the wording when appropriate, to adjust for sentence structure in English.

For example, from Ashrei:


Righteous is Hashem in all His ways and magnanimous in all His deeds.

Hashem is close to all who call upon Him -- to all who call upon Him sincerely.

The Lord is righteous in all His ways, and kind in all he does.

The Lord is close to all who call on Him, to all who call on Him in truth.

Note that in the first verse, Artscroll has “Righteous” before “Hashem”, using the Hebrew rather than English sentence structure. This is the norm in Artscroll. But then in the very next verse, it deviates from the Hebrew and uses English sentence structure. Notice also the use of “Hashem”, as if that is a translation into English or somehow less of an approximation of God’s name than “Lord”. And the word “magnanimous” is somewhat awkward. Here, R. Sacks is consistent, correct and more elegant. (Although, I have found a few occasions where he uses Hebrew sentence structure.)

- Here is part of the second blessing in the Shemoneh Esreh with a few translations:

Thou, O Lord, art mighty forever; thou revivest the dead; thou art powerful to save. (Thou causest the wind to blow and the rain to fall.) Thou sustainest the living with kindness and revivest the dead with great mercy; thou supportest all who fall, and healest the sick; thou settest the captives free, and keepest faith with those who sleep in the dust. Who is like thee, Lord of pwer? Who resembles thee, O King? Though bringest death and restorest life, and causest salvation to flourish.
De Sola Poole

Lord who art mighty for all eternity, Thou revivest the dead. Thou art great in saving power,
making the wind to blow and the rain to fall,
sustaining the living in love. With great love Thou revivest the dead, Thou upholdest the falling, Thou healest the sick, Thou freest the bound, keeping faith with those who sleep in the dust. Who is like Thee, Lord of power! Who can be compared with Thee, King who sends death and gives life, and causes His saving power to flourish!

You are eternally mighty, my Lord, the Resuscitator of the dead are You; abundantly able to save. |Who makes the wind blow and makes the rain fall.| He sustains the living with kindness, resuscitates the dead with abundant mercy, supports the fallen, heals the sick, releases the confined, and maintains His faith to those asleep in the dust. Who is like You, O Master of mighty deeds, and who is comparable to You, O King Who causes death and restores life and makes salvation sprout!

You are eternally mighty, Lord, You give life to the dead and have great power to save. |He makes the wind blow and the rain fall.| He sustains the living with lovingkindness, and with great compassion revives the dead. He supports the fallen, heals the sick, sets captives free, and keeps His faith with those who sleep in the dust. Who is like You, Master of might, and to whom can You be compared, O King who brings death and gives life, and makes salvation grow?

Overall, the Sacks siddur is something I am glad to have as a reference. I also occasionally like to switch siddurim because the different look helps me focus more on the words. So I have added the siddur to my rotation. But I don’t think that as it currently stands it is viable as a regular siddur for frequent use in America. This is even more true since there is presumably a Rav Soloveitchik siddur in the works similar to the recent machzor that will be based on the Artscroll (I have no inside information on this but I think I’m making a pretty safe guess).

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