Tag Archives: koren

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.


Never a bad time to complain about ArtScroll

There's also this book. I haven't read it yet, but I'm very excited for it.

Here at The Reform Shuckle, I pride myself on always bringing you, my dear readers, the best and latest in not liking ArtScroll.

Today, someone with a blog called “⒜ Ⅎℜℹ℮ℕ∂ﬥⓎ ⓓⓞⓢⓔ ◕∫ ✡” (no, I can’t decipher that either) posted about not liking ArtScroll. She (?) linked to a post of mine, saying, “I really do hate that ArtScroll is under the impression that women need a separate siddur.” Me too, fellow blogosphite, me too.

She also points out a 2007 Jewschool post called “Warning: Artscroll Women’s Siddur,” which includes a lovely lambasting of the ArtScroll women’s siddur by the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance that I had not read before. It’s quite good.

And there’s mention of this, from On the Contrary:

ArtScroll wants to have their cake and eat it, too. They’ve created an entirely new genre, an entirely new custom for women’s prayer, and taken it upon themselves to present complex and disputed issues in a one-sided manner, ignoring age-old customs and halakhic positions, and yet market the thing as though it’s something that your alter bubbedavened from.

Check out the full post about not liking ArtScroll (and about liking Koren, also an important topic around here!)

There hasn’t been anything new at What’s Bothering ArtScroll in ages, but it’s always worth a look–if for the name alone more than anything else!

Yom Kipur at Hadar: Part III–Annotating one’s siddur as a spiritual practice and why I had to wear a kipah

There’s a lot to say about Yom Kipur at Hadar this year. Intro here. Part I here. Part II here.

This story actually begins on Rosh Hashanah at Chavurat Lamdeinu. Rabbi Ruth Gais mentioned a quote from former JTS Chancellor Louis Finkelstein:

When I pray, I speak to God; when I study, God speaks to me.

This really resonated with me. But I immediately thought about taking it one step further. Following the tradition of my mother, I make notes all over my siddurim and machzorim. Probably to an even greater extent than my mother does. I’ve often thought that I kind of study the siddur while I pray. Does that make me the rare lunatic to whom God actually speaks while he prays? (I mean this half-seriously.) Either way, ever since Ruth planted this quote in my head, I’ve been thinking about the notion of writing during prayer as a spiritual practice.

Now, I know that writing is one of the forbidden forms of work for those who observe Shabbat in that way. I’ve also been to Hadar three or four times before and never been asked to put on a kipah or told to stop scribbling all over my siddur. So I figured these were OK things. On YK this year, I got a rude awakening about the extent to which Hadar is willing to tolerate halachic deviance.

During shacharit, a gabbai came over to me and handed me a little business card with a page number and a task on it and asked if I’d like to open the ark on page such and such. (Hadar gives out honors in this way. It’s very novel, I think. The cards suggest using them as a bookmark for the page on which your honor will take place.) I politely said that I couldn’t because I was using a different machzor and I was afraid I’d miss the right time. He said, “OK. Well, can offer you first gelilah?” I know when that is, so I said, “Sure. Thanks.”

A few minutes later, he came back, holding a little black kipah. “Can I offer you a kipah?” I told him that I’d rather not. He seemed hesitant and confused. “OK. Well, when you go up to dress the Torah, we’d appreciate it if you’d wear one.” Fine by me. “Sure. I understand. Thanks,” I said, taking the kipah. I had also been annotating my machzor all morning so I had a pen tucked behind my right ear. “And if you could just put the pen away when you come up.” Fine by me. “Sure. I understand,”  said.

A moment later, I realized that I had my own kipah with me and pulled that one out so I didn’t have to use the borrowed one. I went ahead and put it on, borrowing some bobby pins from Dana, so I wouldn’t forget.

Then he came back again. “Actually, we’d appreciate it if you wouldn’t write at all, out of respect for the community. If you have to, please go to the back and do it privately.” I grudgingly said, “OK. I understand.” I was pretty pissed, but didn’t really have any room to argue with the guy, especially since I was appreciative of the fact that he hadn’t insisted I wear the kipah the whole time.

So as the Torah reading was winding down, I went to stand in the back such that I’d have a clear shot to the amud when he called for gelilah. Standing back there, I decided, in the spirit of YK, that I’d find the gabbai later, during a break, and apologize to him, honestly, for being such a pain in the ass about everything.

By the time I got up there to start dressing the Torah, it was pretty clear that the gabbai has decided that between the pen and the kipah and everything that had already passed between us, I must be some kind of uncouth loon. So he felt the need to give me detailed instruction on how to dress the Torah. What he didn’t know is the I spent the better part of my life dressing the Torah more often than not at lay-led services at CBI.

The guy doing hagbah sat down, of course, with the front of the Torah toward him, making it hard to put the belt on. To make matters worse, it was one of those wacky Torah belts with the three circular clasp things that have to go through these holes. Its was damn near impossible to put it on backwards. So now I’m fumbling around and taking forever with the belt, so I look like even more of a moron than I already appeared to be. Once the belt is buckled, it’s a little higher than it should be. So I’m about to tug it down when the gabbai leans over and says, “If you could just pull it down to halfway.” I know.

Then he hands me the Torah cover. Like every other Torah cover ever, it’s got a slit in the back so that you can pull it open like curtains and ease it over the scroll easily. Well, this is clearly not the way the gabbai usually does it. You can, of course, leave the slit closed and lift the cover all the way over the Torah and drop it on from above. I guess he prefers that way because he starts looking at me like I’m doing something wrong again.

Then he gives me the breastplate, which I put on without incident. I had noticed when the Torah was brought out that it didn’t have crowns, so I know not to wait for them. But whoever was reading was obviously using a yad, so now I’m waiting to the yad. I turn back to the gabbai, expecting the yad. He already knows that there’s no yad to be put on so to him it looks like I’m waiting for further instructions. So he says, “You can go sit down now,” in this tone that says “Why are you still here? You’re done. Duh.”

So I go sit back down. Earlier, I had been considering keeping my kipah on, but I decide to take it off before I’m even back at my seat.

I did not write anymore, but I also decided not to apologize to the gabbai.

Does this siddur actually have a trailer?

The Koren Mesorat HaRav siddur is coming later this year! I’m excited because my current copy of the Koren Sacks siddur is falling apart because of heavy use. And I’m also excited because I love any new publication with the famous Koren design sense. And I’m even more excited because I don’t know anything about The Rav, Rabbi Soloveitchik, but they call him The Rav. So this should be pretty great.

In other news, I want to live in a world where all new siddurim have trailers. But I’d rather the type in the trailer wasn’t in the font papyrus.

[via Hirhurim]

Halkin on Koren

Hillel Halkin, author of the new biography of Yehuda Halevi, has a new review of one of this blog’s favorite sidurim, the Koren Sacks sidur in the new Jewish Review of Books.

Mostly, the review is a long rambling meditation on Halkin’s opinions and assessments of the structure of liturgy, while barely touching on this edition of the sidur. He can’t even bring himself to mention the typeface and only briefly mentions the brilliant design of the sidur.

And he has this to say about Musaf:

There is a logic in the absence of the musaf in Mishkan T’filah. We are beyond all that now, so why mention it?

There is a logic in the emended musaf of Siddur Sim Shalom, too. Our forefathers did what they did and we are not ashamed of it, but it would be absurd to want to do it ourselves. Let us therefore mention it—in the past tense.

There is only tradition in the musaf of the Koren Siddur. All but the more hallucinatory Orthodox Jews know that the Temple will not be rebuilt in historical time and that animals will not again be slaughtered in it. And the great majority of them, if honest, would admit to being thankful that this is so.

I’ve said this before, but I’ll say it again because it’s an important topic to me in liturgy: The history of sacrifice is important. As much as I’m not a big fan of Sim Shalom, I take their approach over the other two here.

The issue with MT’s approach is that it ignores the historical background, the justification for prayer. Prayer replaces sacrifice, with the Amidah at its core. Therefore, for every time that sacrifice would have occurred when the Temple stood, there ought to be an Amidah. There was an additional sacrifice on Shabbat. Likewise, there must be an additional Amidah on Shabbat. It lends to the coherence of the system, which is important.

Why is it important? Because coherence is better than incoherence.

Which sidurim I use and where

I just noticed that I’ve started behaving in some standard ways when it comes to which sidurim I use and where I use them.

I bring the Koren Hebrew-English with me wherever I go. If I don’t want to use the sidur of choice where I am for any reason, I use Koren.

So if the sidur of choice is Mishkan T’filah, I use Koren. I’ll also keep an MT in the seat next to me in case I wanna look at something.

If it’s Sim Shalom and I can plan ahead, I’ll bring my compact copy of Or Hadash, Reuven Hammer’s brilliant commentary edition of SS. If I don’t have time plan ahead, I’d rather not use SS because it’s so big and hard to use standing up. So I use Koren, which is so compact and perfect for praying while standing.

If it’s Siddur Chaverim Kol Yisrael, I’ll use it except for during the Amidah, when I’ll switch to Koren because CKY is rather large.

Same as CKY goes for Siddur Eit Ratzon.

I think I’m going to that gay synagogue in NYC on Friday. I happen to own a copy of their sidur, so I’ll just bring that with me and give it a test-drive.

The Koren Soloveitchik Siddur? Sign me up.

I’ve previously written about the Koren Sacks Siddur here. This post uses this JTA article and this Failed Messiah post as sources. This post has been crossposted to Jewschool.

My favorite siddur these days is the Koren Sacks Siddur. Busting ArtScroll’s liturgical monopoly for the first time in a long time, Israeli siddur and Tanach publisher Koren combined the elegant layout and typefaces created by Eliyahu Koren with the clear, concise English commentary and instruction of the British Sacks siddur to create the Hebrew-English Koren Sacks Siddur. The siddur came out this summer and quickly shook up the exciting world of Orthodox American liturgy.

One of the OU’s perennial complaints about the ArtScroll family of siddurim is their refusal to quote or cite modern sources. The OU has long sought to create a siddur that includes the commentary and teachings of the giant of Modern Orthodoxy, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik. Koren loves it and is already working on creating this siddur, which they call the Mesorat HaRav Koren Siddur.


The Koren Siddur. Thank God.

Crossposted to Jewschool

Koren, Israeli publishers renowned for Eliyahu Koren’s gorgeous fonts and refreshing layouts, have finally given us a sidur for the English-speaking world. And it’s everything I hoped it would be.

I’ll start with my personal impressions of this siddur and move on to it’s significance on the world’s liturgical stage second.

I’ve never opened a new sidur before and immediately felt its beauty above all else. As a font nerd, I’m still going nuts for Koren’s two similar fonts, used throughout the siddur for the Hebrew text. Parts of the liturgy that are direct biblical quotes are in Koren’s original tanach font and the rest of the text is presented in the similar, but sublty different sidur font. Both are elegant and totally readable.

Better than just having great fonts, the sidur is laid out with all the elegance we expect from Koren. See this opening page from Minchah for example. Rather than having Hebrew on the right and English on the left, with lines of text terminating in the center of the spread, the Hebrew is on the left and the English is on the right, with lines of text originating in the middle of the page.

Combine this with Koren’s sensical and elegant line breaks and blocks of text, and each two-page spread of the sidur is symmetrical, with the blocks of English and the blocks of Hebrew mirroring each other in shape like a rorschach ink blot test.

As part of their attempt to keep the page as uncrowded as possible, rather than frequent stage directions, this sidur has an innivative way of telling you when to bow and when the rise, etc. Next to words on which one is supposed to bow, there is a small equilateral triangle pointing down. In K’dushah, each instance of the word Kadosh gets a similar triangle pointing up to indicate that one should rise up on one’s toes.

According to one of the sidur’s several prefaces, “The prayers are presented in a style that does not spur habit and hurry, but rather encourages the worshiper to engross his mind and heart in prayer.” They have done that.

Now on to the significance of this sidur in the wider world. For all of my lifetime, the most popular orthodox sidur has been the family of ArtScroll sidurim. This is a family of sidurim with a very conservative agenda to push. They are ornate, over-designed and full of crowded pages, excessive instructions, and suggestive translations. (For more on ArtScroll and its agenda, see What’s Bothering ArtScroll?) Further, ArtScroll is under the impression that women need a seperate sidur.

At every turn, The Koren Siddur is ArtScroll’s opposite. Rather than being ornate and gilded, Koren is subdued. ArtScroll has crowded pages, where Koren has elegant pages without wasting any paper with excessive white space. Where ArtScroll beats you over the head with stage directions and choreography, Koren makes subtle suggestion with its innovative triangles. And where ArtScroll believes women need their own sidur, Koren offers, in an equal font, the word Modah alongside the word Modeh. The sidur has even been endorsed by JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

The Orthodox Union gets it and they like this sidur, which even has a little OU stamp of approval on the spine. There have also been reports of large Modern Orthodox congregation placing orders for complete sets of the Koren Siddur.

Goodbye, ArtScroll sidurim. Welcome, Koren. You’ve been a long time coming.