Tag Archives: Hebrew language

My first observations about the Koren Mesorat HaRav Siddur

If you’ve come here from the Jewniverse email that went out on 9.27.12, welcome!

Though the Jewniverse thing directed you here, I highly recommend just going straight over to my new blog, davidamwilensky.com. Everything from this blog, including this very post, is there too!

When I first posted this siddur trailer (!) over a year ago, I wrote that it was coming later in 2010. Since then, Amazon has emailed me like three times to tell me the release was being postponed. Well, it’s finally here. This morning, I played around with my new toy in shul. Here are some initial observations:

The Rav meets Sir Sacks:

There’s a lot of Modern Orthodox star power in this volume. Rabbi Joseph “The Rav” Soloveitchik did more in his lifetime to shape Modern Orthodoxy than anyone else ever has. This siddur includes his commentary throughout, as well as a number of great introductions and forewords about him and about his views on Jewish prayer.

At the same time, it’s still a member of the Koren Sacks family of siddurim because it still features the translation used in the Sacks siddur.

It’s yet another (mostly) beautiful Koren product:

Yes, it has the usual beautiful Koren typefaces and layout, but it doesn’t have the bookmark ribbons that some of their other recent siddurim have had, which is a little disappointing. And then there’s this:

In my copy of the Koren Mesorat HaRav Siddur, page 441/442 has some issues. The corner of this page arrived pre-bent. If it’s not totally apparent from the image above, here’s what it looked like when I unfolded it:

So that’s special.

It’s hard to read English from right to left:

It’s a recurring problem: A siddur should open from right to left, but anglophone siddurim have forewords and commentary printed in English, which makes for weird reading. Reading an introduction, when you get to the bottom of the page, you have to keep reading by looking at what would be the previous page in an English book. Koren has a clever way of helping you wrap your mind around this:

In lighter print, they indicate that you should continue reading on the next/previous page with the direction of the arrow and they tell you what the next English word will be. Koren is very focused on using visuals, rather than instructions, to help the user navigate the siddur. This is one of many cases in which they do this very well.

But I came across a problem today: They don’t do the same thing for a piece of commentary that lasts over multiple pages. For example, let’s say you there’s a piece of English commentary in the middle of the service that starts on the left leaf of a two-page spread (we’ll call it page 2). If this piece of commentary is long enough that it stretches over two pages, they run it on the next English page, but the previous Hebrew page, if that makes sense (we’ll call it page 1). If it’s longer than that (I found one like this in this siddur today), it then jumps two English pages back or two Hebrew pages forward (we’ll call it page 3). You with me? The point is, it’s downright confusing and Koren ought to use little arrows to help us through it.

It would be cooler if it wasn’t just Soloveitchik’s commentary:

In one of the introductory sections, Hanhagot HaRav, we get a list of his personal prayer practices. For instance, in Birchot Hashachar, he used to replace the word “goy/nation” in “shelo asani goy” with “nochri/stranger” because the Tanach sometimes uses the word “goy” in reference to the Jewish nation. He also used to omit “hanotein laya’ef ko’ach” because it wasn’t listed in the Talmud. Yet this siddur includes it as well as the word “goy,” as you can see:

It would be a lot cooler if it was the siddur according to Soloveitchik, rather than a siddur with his commentary.

Some new nikud?

Koren isn’t alone in this, but they like to indicate the difference between the two types of the shva vowel. They indicate which ones are vocalized and which ones are truly silent by making the dots of the vocalized shva a little bigger, as you can see in the word “hamevorach” from my copy of a different Koren siddur:

You can see that the shva under the mem is bolder than the shva under the final chaf. That’s what I’m talking about.

But in the Mesorat HaRav Siddur, they’ve got a new, more obvious way of marking the vocalized shva:

Now, they leave the shva itself alone so that both types appear the same. But they add a line above the letter that has the vocalized shva. The advantage is that it’s way more obvious. Plus, in the example above, you wouldn’t now that the shva in “barechu” is vocalized because there are no other shvas at that type size to compare it with.

That is all. So far. Shabbat shalom.


Recent acquisitions: Chaim Stern’s later works; new editions of Mishkan; ‘Singlish’; a skinny red thing; and a Russian siddur with transliterations!

I got some new things! There will be more stuff on some of these later on, but for now, here’s the rundown:

A skinny red thing

This little Kabbalat Shabbat hardcover pamphlet sort of thing, quite creatively -titled “Siddur Kabbalat Shabbat” is used on Friday nights at Beth El. They got it because it has a basically Conservative liturgy, but it also has transliterations to an extent that Sim Shalom does not. They do this musical Kab Shab thing sometimes and I suspect they expect a less Hebrew-literate crowd at those services for whom transliterations are a welcoming feature.

Two new editions of MT

When I interviewed CCAR Publisher and Director of Press Rabbi Hara Person in her office for this story a while back, she also gave me these two goodies. One is the World Union Edition of Mishkan T’filah, which we previously speculated about here. The World Union Edition might be more correctly referred to as the southern hemisphere edition, as it’s mainly for the smaller anglophone Reform communities in Australia, South Africa and New Zealand. The other is MT: The Journal Edition, a new(-ish) educational version of MT that leaves the left side of each spread either blank or offers questions and space to write reflections.

I will definitely have more on these and more from my interview with Hara for y’all one of these days.

A Russian siddur with transliterations!

My mom went to Russia a little while ago and came back with this charming souvenir. There are actually Cyrillic transliterations in this thing! It turns out it’s easier to learn how to read Russian than I thought. That is, if you already read Hebrew. Because that one letter looks a lot like a Shin…

In the Hebrew there, it says “Tehilat Hashem.” Whether you know Cyrillic characters or not, it’s pretty easy to make that out in the transliteration too.


These (left to right, top to bottom: Kol Nidrei, a bencher, Friday night, Shabbat morning) are part of the “Singlish” family of prayer books by Joe Lewis. I recently inherited these. They seem a lot like my beloved Eit Ratzon. I’m gonna keep digesting these and I’ll get back to y’all with more on them soon.

Chaim Stern’s later works

Neither of these acquisitions are actually all that recent, but I don’t think I’ve ever talked about either one here.

Anyway, on the right is Paths of Faith. Chaim Stern created the draft that became this siddur to replace Gates of Prayer. The CCAR decided it wanted to go in a different direction and created MT instead. So Stern kept at it and Paths of Faith was eventually published elsewhere. Unfortunately, it was published posthumously.

On the left is The New Light Siddur, a siddur that Stern helped edit for a congregation in New Jersey.

OK. That’s all. Shanah tovah.

Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, Ph.D. is now a blogger!

Biblical/liturgical Hebrew translator Joel M. Hoffman just announced at his blog that his father, the greatest liturgical mind of our time, Lawrence Hoffman, has started a blog:

I’m thrilled to announce that my father, Rabbi Lawrence A. Hoffman, Ph.D., has just started a blog: Life and a Little Liturgy. The author of three dozen books, Rabbi Hoffman — “Dad,” to me — is a preeminent Jewish liturgist (it’s a niche market, I know, but he’s got it cornered) and leading modern Jewish philosopher.

And what does Lawrence have to say for himself in his first blog post at Life and a Little Liturgy? It goes a little something like this:

I do not usually admit this right off the bat – it is definitely a conversation stopper – but here it is: I am a liturgist. “Liturgy” is a common enough word among Christians, but it does not flow trippingly off Jewish tongues, and I am not only Jewish but a rabbi to boot. The word comes from the Greek, leitourgia, “public service,” which is how Greek civilization thought of service to the gods. The Jewish equivalent is the Temple cult of antiquity – in Hebrew, avodah, which meant the same thing, the work of serving God. That eventually morphed into what people do in church and synagogue. Christians call it liturgy; Jews call it “services.”

And then it keeps going. It’s a long post. But it’s worth it.

Biblical Hebrew, Tanakh tabs, etc.

Aside from the Biblical Hebrew independent study, I'm also taking Digital Photography, so let's hope the quality of these photos starts improving.

I’m doing an independent study this semester in Biblical Hebrew with an adjunct from the Theological School, our United Methodist seminary here at Drew. Her name is Suzanne Horn. She’s a Christian, so I think we’ll end up learning plenty from each other.

Anyway, for the independent study, I ordered a Koren Tanakh–the Hebrew-only variety. Above, you can see it on the left. Next to it is my JPS Hebrew-English Tanakh. I bought that trusty little volume before I went to Israel for the fall semester of my senior year of high school, which means I’ve been toting it around in my bag for four and half years now. It’s looking, as you can see, a little worse for the wear.

When it was about a year old, I bought the Bible tabs you can see lolling about on the edges of the pages. They’re one of the most useful little investments I’ve ever made. At the Chavurah (hit mute on your computer if you click on this link!), when we’re all flipping about trying to find the Haftarah, I’m always the first one there.

But I’d really like to get Hebrew tabs for my new Koren Tanakh. As far as I can tell, no one makes them. It seems like JPS should, but they don’t. And it seems like Koren could, but they don’t either.

I could make my own by buying some binder tab things from an office supply store and then printing them out on my computer, but they wouldn’t be small or durable enough.

So, does anyone know if someone makes them? And does anyone have any thoughts on fabricating them nicely?

PS–That’s my Moshe Rabbeinu non-piggy bank to the right of the monitor in the picture above. He has a slot in his back where you can put coins. And on the base it says INVESTS, but Jesus may save, but Moses… well, you know.

New Koren, future Korens

My new personal size, softcover Koren Talpiot, with some girl’s Blackberry for size

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.

Baruch She'amar is always my favorite page in a Koren Siddur. Of course, KTS preserves the usual elegant Koren fonts and layout from the original Israeli editions. KTS, however adds English instructions, as you can see at the top right.

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.

Oh, hey, Koren. You've lost weight.

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.

You can see the sturdy, but flexible cover as well as the mistake with the offset gold printing

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.)

An example of the innovative newspaper-style line that refers you to the appropriate next page

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.

The full line of Koren Sacks Siddur editions. That red one is the Canadian one. Mine is the smallest size.

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).

Man, this ad really got my hopes up. Needless to say, it did not come out this spring. It's now slated for March of 2011.

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.

The plainer cover of the standard Israeli Koren siddur

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…]

The full English instructions Koren Talpiot Siddur series--now in more colors!

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.

Indie Yeshiva Pocket Siddur: a review

I’m about to be not very complimentary toward this siddur. You can read a defense of it by one of its creators here.

Crossposted to Jewschool.

Before I get to the actual review of the Indie Yeshiva Pocket Siddur, it bears outlining some basic of my basic beliefs about Jewish prayer and how to make Jewish prayer accessible.

What is beautiful about Jewish prayer is the structure-poetry. There is the micro-poetry of the words, which is all well and good, but what’s so amazing, is the coherent structure of Jewish prayer, the macro-poetry. If you teach a Jew the structure, you can hang whatever you want on it and they will see the beauty in any service in any synagogue in the world.

PunkTorah, the organization responsible for this new entry into the siddur market, the Indie Yeshiva Pocket Siddur, begins from a different premise. Apparently, they believe that what is needed to make the siddur comprehensible to Jews in the pews is a punkification. They have punkified the siddur in two detectable ways. First, they have put a silly punk-looking cover on it. Second, they have stated in the introduction that they are punkifying it:

Who Are We?

Indie Yeshiva is a project of PunkTorah, a force for change by creating open source Jewish education…

Let’s dispense with the notion that this siddur is truly “punk”  right from the start. If it were punk, it would be open source. Despite the above quote, the previous page says, “ALL TEXT © PunkTorah, Inc. 2010.” Continue reading