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The Koren Sacks Siddur: Hebrew/English Prayerbook for Shabbat & Holidays with Translation and Commentary- Ashkenaz (Hebrew) Hardcover – Jan 1 2008
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"Every page is a pleasure to the eye. The layout conveys dignity and depth, and the subtleties of the text and design will move us, sometimes unconsciously, to feelings and intuitions that are novel, pleasing and uplifting. Rabbi Sacks offers us words of introduction and explanation, commentary, and an exquisite grasp of the poetry of prayer." -- Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, Executive Vice President "Orthodox Union" --This text refers to the Imitation Leather edition.
About the Author
Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks is former Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth. --This text refers to the Imitation Leather edition.
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The siddur is an anthology of widely divergent ideas that were composed by Jews - and non-Jews in some instances, like the ma tovu ohalekha prayer that is at the beginning of the siddur - with different ideologies over a long period of time. The siddur contains pieces from the Bible, such as Psalms, and poems written in the sixteenth century by mystics, such as the prayer welcoming the Sabbath called in Hebrew lecha dodi. By incorporating such a wide spectrum of views, the rational and the mystical, old and relatively new, Jews are capable, if they understand the prayers, to reflect on what is being said, the history of their religion, the concerns of its adherents, see if and how the prayers relate to their lives, and ask themselves whether the prayer they are reading can help them develop themselves and improve society.
Does the new Koren Siddur improve upon these matters and aid Jews in better understanding what they are reading?
The answer is an emphatic "yes." Indeed this is one of the primary purposes of the new siddur. It aids Jews in acquiring all of the above-mentioned benefits by its manner of presentation, its translations and its commentaries. The following innovations of this new siddur are a small sample of how this siddur enhances its users' period of prayer and their understanding of Judaism.
* Both the Hebrew and English are written with a beautiful font especially designed to enhance the siddur.
* Both the Hebrew and English are generally written with poetic spacing that, unlike run-on sentences, prompts the reader to think and consider the meaning of each phrase, as in the mourner's kaddish:
Magnified and sanctified
may His great name be,
in the world He created by His will.
* There is a rational acceptance of the existence of the State of Israel and the United States, which is absent from the currently widely-used siddur. There are services for Yom Hazekaron, Israel's Memorial Day, Yom HaAtzma'ut, Israel's Independence Day, and for Yom Yerushalayim, the day commemorating the reunion of Israel's capital Jerusalem.
* Highly significant is the English translation and commentary of Sir Jonathan Sacks, the chief rabbi of the British Empire. Rabbi Sacks introduces the siddur with an instructive thirty-two page Understanding Jewish Prayer. Rabbi Sacks' English is impeccable, unlike the yeshiva-type English contained in the currently popular siddur.
* Unlike this currently popular siddur that openly promotes a mystical ideology and a world-view where God is present in everyday affairs and manipulates individuals, groups and nations like puppets to do His will, Sacks' translation and commentary is open-minded and reasonable. For example, while discussing Israel's Independence Day, he mentions the mystic Nachmanides' view (in his commentary to Leviticus 18:25) that Jews only fully fulfils the divine commands (mitzvot) when they perform them in Israel. Sacks writes, among other things: "Interpreted non-mystically, this means that the Torah represents the architecture of a society, it is not just a code for the salvation of the soul. The Torah includes laws relating to welfare, the environment, the administration of justice, employer-employee relations, and many other matters not normally thought of as religious. It is less about the ascent to heaven, than about bringing heaven down to earth in the form of a just, gracious and compassionate social order." This world-view stands in stark contrast to that advocated in the currently popular siddur.
* The new siddur contains a Guide to the Reader section that is an excellent introduction to how Hebrew should be pronounced and explains how the editors of the siddur made pronunciation easy by inserting clues in the Hebrew text. An example is that the emphasis on all Hebrew words should be on the last symbol except where the editors placed a small line next to the vowel in words that are not so pronounced.
* There is a section explaining how the services differ in Israel.
* There are 66 pages of 490 instructions on the laws of prayers.
* The editors of the new siddur recognize, as they should, that there have been centuries of debate as to the wording of some prayers. Two pages delineate these differences.
* Many people do not know when and how to respond to certain prayers - for example, should one say "amen." This is addressed.
* There are charts indicating what prayers could be said for special occasions, such as the birth of a child, for an illness and for guidance.
* Many synagogue attendees cannot read Hebrew and do not know how to navigate through a siddur, so the editors placed an English transliteration of the two types of mourners' kaddish as the last pages of the siddur.
* It is refreshing and characteristic of the Koren Siddur to read on page 26 that Jews "believe that every human being is equally formed in the image of God," men and women, Jew and non-Jew.
These are just some of the many innovations introduced in the Koren Siddur. Synagogues should replace their current prayer books and give their parishioners this magnificent volume.
This word alone is enough to conjure up praise, disgust or tepid acceptance among my Orthodox readers. The publisher, which has been printing Jewish material since 1977, is edited by Rabbis Meir Zlotowitz and Nosson Scherman who spawned a revolution within the realm of Jewish publishing.
The enormously popular ArtScroll Siddur, available in a variety of translations and styles, can be found in any American Orthodox synagogue today. And the company's vast collection of translated gemaras, TaNaChs and hashkafa-centered books have made Jewish learning accessible to an unprecedented number of observant and non-observant Jews.
In my view, the Jewish world should be grateful for the establishment of ArtScroll. Before the company's vast library of prayer books and scriptural texts, there were few options in Jewish study available to those who were not fluent in Hebrew. Now, people actually have an idea of what they're saying and studying at shul/home/school/yeshiva, and this is a beautiful thing.
But there are some things about ArtScroll I do not care for. Their translations are sometimes vague and often non-literal (Shir HaShirim is one of the more notorious examples I can think of regarding this phenomenon), they are less open to non-Charedi ideas and their "novels" frankly suck.
This is where alternative publishing houses, such as Metsudah and Koren, come in.
Koren is a Jerusalem-based publisher who, like ArtScroll, has its own unique typeface and style. According to [...], Eliyahu Koren in 1961 "set out to publish the first Tanakh (Bible) edited, designed, printed and bound by Jews in nearly 500 years." Most people who own a Koren Tanach will notice that its "font" is old-yet-modern looking, and its cream-colored paper is thin to keep the sefer from becoming too heavy.
In 2009, Koren teamed up with Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom/British Commonwealth. Sacks is known worldwide for a Zionistic/Modern-Orthodox, scholarly approach to Judaism, and even those who don't agree with everything he says regard him as a "chashuv" man.
The result of the Koren-Sacks collaboration is a siddur which I honestly find quite delightful. Here are some things I'd like to say about it...
The first thing I noticed about this siddur is that it is very "Koren-esque". The thin, cream-colored Koren paper is used, and the famous Koren typeface appears here. At the same time, it will be immediately noticed by all who use this siddur that unlike ArtScroll, the Koren-Sacks siddur places the Hebrew text on the odd-numbered pages and their English translation on the even-numbered pages. This takes some getting used to, but I believe it makes tefila flow more smoothly.
Now with the help of the Chief Rabbi of England Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks, that wonderful siddur has been translated into English providing a beautiful and informative prayer book that appeals to the modern Zionist Jew. The font is the same beautifully designed font Eliyau used in 1981, and is printed in what Koren Publishing calls their "Bible" paper, which has added high cotton and linen fibers to increase strength yet maintain thinness.
Some of the innovative features of this new siddur include emphasizing the phrasing of the Tefilot with line breaks. Likewise, blessings are presented in two lines in order to emphasize the meaning. As a surprise, the Hebrew text of the prayers is on the left hand side of the page and the English is on the right. This, say the editors, allows the text to flow more freely. There are many additional prayers included, such as the Hallel which appears in the service for Yom Haatzmaut, Israel Independence day.
An annotated prayer book, the source for many of the texts of various prayers is located in the margins, as opposed to the body of the text in other Siddurim. Also included is a halachic guide for visitors to Israel that emphasizes the centrality of Jerusalem.
Most notably the translation conforms with the modern Israeli pronunciation of Hebrew. That means the hard taf sound not the soft ess which is a hallmark of Ashkenazi pronunciation. A Zionist Siddur, the Koren Sacks Siddur has been endorsed by the Union of Orthodox Rabbis.
All in all this is a special siddur that will only add to the legacy of Koren and bring a new way of thinking about prayers to a new generation of Jews.
First, in its physical presentation. The introduction states, "From a visual standpoint, the contents of 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" (p. ix). Most prayers, for example, are not printed in paragraphs, but as poetry, line by line, with line breaks corresponding to the logical flow of the prayer. As much as possible, each prayer is kept whole, beginning and ending on the same page, which creates a sense of holiness and order on the page itself. Many siddurs seek to fulfill the traditional value of hiddur mitzvah or beautifying an object used to fulfill a mitzvah; the Koren achieves this through order and simplicity.
Second, Rabbi Sacks' translation reflects the same order and simplicity, combining normal, modern English with the dignity appropriate to the prayers.
Third, the commentary serves not just to explain, but to heighten the devotional experience of the prayers. I'll illustrate both translation and commentary with a look at Rabbi Sacks' treatment of the Shema. He translates it as,
Listen, Israel: the LORD is our God,
the LORD is One.
And the commentary: "The word Shema is untranslatable in English. It means (1) listen, (2) hear, (3) reflect on, (4) understand, (5) internalize, (6) respond in action, and hence (7) obey. . . . I have translated it here as `Listen' rather than the traditional `Hear' because listening is active, hearing passive. The Shema is a call to an act of mind and soul, to meditate on, internalize and affirm the oneness of God" (p. 470-471). Sacks' decision to go with "Listen" over the traditional "Hear" provides not only new insights, but also a new devotional focus on the Shema. It's also typical of his translation approach, which is low-key, but not afraid to do something new and noticeable when necessary.
Such emphasis on kavanah throughout the Koren Siddur makes it an essential resource for prayer and an essential part of any Jewish library.