I just got my new Koren Talpiot Siddur. This edition is new to me, though it was originally published last year. I’ll start by talking about this edition in particular, and continue with some speculations about where Koren’s English offerings seem to be headed.
The Koren Talpiot Siddur varies from the more common Koren Sacks Siddur (more on KSS from me) in that it provides no commentary and no translation, though the content of the prayers is the same as KSS. The familiar Koren fonts and layout are, of course, intact. Though it doesn’t have commentary or translation, KTS has English introductions, halachic guides to the year and to visiting Israel and so forth–in short, the same appendixes Koren Sacks has. It’s meant for an English-speaking Diaspora audience that is comfortable enough with liturgical Hebrew that it doesn’t need translation, but still wants minimal English instructions. I’m not sure if I quite fall in that camp, but I’m planning a road test of KTS for Friday night, so we’ll see how that goes.
Because it doesn’t have translations or commentary, it is noticeably slimmer than most American siddurim. The page size of the personal size edition I got is the same as my Koren Sacks, but KTS ends up about twice as slim, making it a perfect size, as far as I’m concerned. It also reminds me of the most notoriously small of the pocket size Israeli Korens. (I mean, it’s not as skinny as those Israelis are, but… this joke is going nowhere.)
However, as you can see in the photo of the spine to the right and in the photo of the cover below, the gold printing has been offset–and not because it looks cool. This is a little disappointing coming Koren, from whom we usually expect excellence in design. I don’t mind it on my copy because it adds character, but it was pretty surprising to see such a production error from Koren.
KTS has a couple of nice features with the cover that my Koresn Sacks doesn’t have, though I think the more resent copies of Sacks have had these features added. Like a hardcover book, KTS’ cover is slightly taller and wider than the pages themselves. This not only looks nice, but it will add some protection to the pages in a cluttered backpack like mine. The cover is also thicker and feels sturdier. I’m not sure how obvious this is in the picture above, but the cover is flexible, but slightly stiffer than the cover on my Sacks. This is also gonna help this siddur out in my backpack. KTS also has a dark blue ribbon bookmark built in, which is great. (I recently bought some ribbon and went on a rampage making these for some of the my other often-used siddurim so I appreciated that.)
There’s also one more feature that I’ve never seen before. When you read English sections of siddurim that are printed right-to-left, Hebrew-style, you (and by you, I mean me) can get confused about which page is the next page. KTS has, at the bottom of each English introduction page, a little indicator of what the first words are on the page that is meant to be read next. Has anyone seen examples of this before?
Koren is my favorite publisher of Orthodox siddurim–and my favorite of all in terms of visual elegance. It is the outgrowth of Eliyahu Koren’s classic 20th century Hebrew typefaces. The fonts are elegant, and from them, Koren created an elegant line of siddurim, probably the most popular in Israel.
In the summer of 2009, the Koren Sacks Siddur arrived. (Mine, which you can see around the middle of the banner image I’m currently using at the top of the blog, is looking a little worse for the wear–point is, I like it a lot and it gets a lot of use.) It was a major challenger to the ArtScroll monopoly on Orthodox publishing in America, featuring Koren’s elegant design, and translation and commentary by Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of England (or of Great Britain or of the United Kingdom… or whatever his position actually is).
Next year–I hope, but the date keeps getting pushed back–they’re coming out with the Koren Mesorat HaRav Siddur, which will include the commentary of “The Rav” himself, Joseph Soloveitchik. I’m very excited about this. They already have the Kinot HaRav, a Tisha Be’Av siddur with his commentary, though I don’t have it and I haven’t had the chance to flip through one yet.
What’s interesting is how consciously they seem to be positioning themselves to overtake ArtScroll. People–including me–keep saying that they will overtake ArtScroll, but they haven’t yet. ArtScroll has a broad appeal to many streams of Orthodoxy, while Koren is targetting only Modern Orthodox Jews. This much is clear from their special attention paid to luminaries of the center or center-left Modern Orthodox communitie like Sacks and Soloveitchik–especially Soloveitchik.
They’ve also changed their visual style to compete with ArtScroll. In Israel, Koren’s siddurim have remarkably plain covers. Yet, here they’ve settled on a more ornate cover, usually grey-blue with an embossed design, gold details (which they share with some of the Israeli editions) and the block of red in the middle. Though this is the standard, there are variations now, like white with gold (some ArtScroll titles are also available in this style) and leatherbound editions. And the prominently displayed Orthodox Union logo on the spine is no sublte reminder of the official endorsement that ArtScroll either never sought, or never got, despite being common in many, if not most OU shuls. [UPDATE: Apparently, all of the new copies being printed in Israel these days have the fancy cover style too. So never mind that…]
Koren’s English offerings are being billed so far as useful in both Israel and America (and Canda–yes, there’s a Canadian version of the Koren Sacks). They have complete guides to the minute differences in prayer in Israel and in the Diaspora.
ArtScroll, however, has been at it longer and has a wider variety of siddurim and styles. They have siddurim with translation and commentary and transliterations, as well as linear and interlinear versions of everything. Meanwhile, Koren has two different versions of the same linear Hebrew-English siddur with different commentaries, and now the Talpiot, which is Hebrew-only, but includes English instructions and guides. ArtScroll has machzorim, of course, but Koren doesn’t have that yet in English. ArtScroll also offers Sephardi versions of some titles, but Koren is all Ashkenazi in their English titles so far.
But, if the fact that they identify themselves as Ashkenazi on the spine is any indication, Koren has plans to publish other nuschot in English as well. They do have Hebrew editions on nuschot Sephardi, Sefard and Moroccan. (Don’t know about Edot haMizrah, though.) I know that they’re working on adapting Sacks for a Sephardi edition, I’d guess that most of this is farther out on the horizon. They’ll want to gain more penetration in the larger Ashkenazi market in America first.
So we’ll see what happens.