Monday, June 22, 2009

A few thoughts on the Koren Sacks Siddur

I wouldn't dignity this post with the description "review." For that, I recommend that you read the one by ADDeRabbi, republished here. I'll just say a few words about this new siddur/prayer book. (Okay, when have I ever written just a few words? :) )

As ADDeRabbi/Rabbi Ellie Fischer points out, "Koren characteristically breaks lines up thematically, as in poetic verse. This results in an abundance of white space, but makes the prayers more intelligible. " I do find it easier to follow the prayers because of this arrangement. Sometimes I get lucky, and the English is lined up to match, more or less. At other times, one language flows onto the next page before the other, making it tough for someone not fluent in Hebrew, but that's not unusual for siddurim/prayer books in general. The only thing I miss from the ArtScroll Siddur is the way ArtScroll sometimes goes out of its way, using bold letters or starting new lines, to indicate that a portion of a prayer (Kel Baruch G'dol Deiach, in the first brachah/ blessing preceding the Sh'ma) or a psalm (see Psalm 34, p. 377 in the ArtScroll Siddur Kol Yaakov, Nusach Ashkenaz) was carefully written in alphabetical order. I tend not to notice that, unless it's pointed out to me. The Koren does mention the alphabetical order in the commentaries at the bottom of the page, but it would have been a nice touch to make it obvious in the typeface. Overall, however, I think the Koren Sacks Siddur is easier to read.

Much has also been made of the more female-friendly nature of the Koren Sacks Siddur. (See JOFA endorses Koren Sacks Siddur, especially the ADDeRabbi's comments, not to mention his linked post re the ArtScroll Women's Siddur, for which he has no kind words). I certainly appreciate the fact that the grammatically-correct "modah" ("thank") is given for women reciting prayers that include the masculine "modeh." The simple acknowledgment that women actually use siddurim is already something new (to the best of my knowledge) and commendable.

Rather than enumerate more of the female-friendly points, I'll copy ADDeRabbi/Rabbi Ellie Fischer's comment (see link immediately above), since he's more learn
-->èd and a better writer:
"The Koren Siddur is more inclusive of women both in terms of its content and in terms of its instructions. The content includes the liturgy (imported from the Sephardic rite and increasingly prevalent in Israel) of the “Zeved ha-Bat” celebration upon the birth of a daughter (it appears in the excellent “Life Cycle” section of the siddur). It furthermore includes the thanksgiving prayer recited by a women after childbirth, which includes “Birkat ha-Gomel”. The ArtScroll Siddur makes no mention of this obligation (and the practice is even discouraged in the ArtScroll Women’s Siddur, which follows the minority opinion of the Mishna Berura on this matter without recording dissent). With regard to zimmun, the ArtScroll Siddur applies the practice to “three or more males, aged thirteen or older”. The Koren Siddur, on the other hand, states that “when three or more women say Birkat ha-Mazon with no men present, then substitute “Friends” for Gentlemen”.

I am sorry, though, that Sacks didn't think to rearrange the order of B'fi yesharim. Some siddurim arrange the words in such a way that the third letter of the third word of each phrase spells out the name of the matriach Rivkah (Rebecca), just as the first letter of the second word of each phrases spells out the name of her husband, the patriarch Yitzchak (Isaac). It would have been nice if that prayer had been arranged this way:

B'fi y'sharim titromam
U'vdivrei tzadikim titbarach*
U'vilshon chasidim titkadash
U'v'kerev k'doshim tithalal

*Note that, in Hebrew, the b and v sound are sometimes written with the same letter.

Major gripe: As if the Hoshanot aren't incomprehensible enough already, you had to skip the translation, too?

Minor gripe: The textual variants (page 1237) do not include all of what appear to me to be spelling and/or grammatical errors.

1) I find it annoying that the Rabbi Yishmael Omer quotation at the end of Birkot HaShachar continues the differentiation of "echad (one)" in verse 9 and "acher (other)" in verse 10, a difference, in Hebrew script, of exactly one letter. I assume that this error resulted from the similarity of appearance between the letters daled and resh, and probably originated with a typesetter of a previous siddur. The same error appears in the 1941 siddur of Sacks' predecessor as Chief Rabbi of the British Commonwealth, Rabbi Hertz. If anything, the manner in which these two verses are laid out in the Koren Sacks Siddur makes it even more obvious that this is an error. As recently as the 1949 Birnbaum Siddur (Ashkenaz) and the 1977 DeSola Pool Siddur According to the Custom of Spanish and Portuguese Jews, the word was correctly spelled "acher" in both verses 9 and 10. When did this obvious typo become so sacrosanct that it can't be corrected?

2) What's with the l', la, business? In K'dushah D'Yotzer, the text clearly calls for "laMelech Kel chai v'kayam," not l'--we're talking about The King who lives and endures, not a king. Same with the blessing after the Sh'ma, "b'rachot v'hodaot laMelech, blessings and thanksgivings to The King." These errors (and probably a few more that I've missed) are found in most siddurim, but I was rather hoping that Sacks would correct them.

Some have also complained that the Koren Sacks Siddur does not include the entire Sefer Tehillim/Book of Psalms, which is included in many other Orthodox siddurim. That would have been nice, but the drawback would have been a much longer and heavier book. What's your opinion?

Okay, enough nitpicking.

I strongly recommend Rabbi Sack's very informative introduction, which I'll have to reread--I began writing this post on June 8, and, having sat shiva for my late mother (deceased/niftar June 12) in the interim, have forgotten what I wanted to say about it.

Bottom line: Nitpicking to the contrary notwithstanding (independent soul that I am, I ignore anything I dislike in any siddur anyway and "correct" it to my preference), I find the Koren Sacks Siddur outstanding in both lay-out (readability) and content, and strongly recommend it to anyone seeking a first-time or new Orthodox siddur.

June 23, 2009 update

Here are some major kudos than I neglected to mention:

1) The lay-out of Hallel makes it very easy to read. The lines that are supposed to be repeated, starting with "Od'cha ki anatani," are printed first in "regular" size, then, directly underneath the first reading, in smaller script. The Birnbaum's "Each line is repeated twice," with the verses laid out on successive lines, isn't hard to follow, but the ArtScroll Kol Yaakov Ashkenaz's "Each of the following four verses is recited twice," with the verses laid out with nothing but commas in between, is a real pain. I've davvened (prayed) Hallel from all three of these siddurim, and the Hallel in the Koren Sacks is the easiest to follow, by a long shot.

2) The clear differentiation in print between the kamatz katan ('oh' sound) and the kamatz gadol ('ah' sound, in S'fardi pronunciation), and between the sh'va na (pronounced) and the sh'va nach (silent) makes for far greater ease in using the proper pronunciation than even the ArtScroll's differentiation in print. The kamatz katan and the sh'va na are both printed in a larger size. For me, davenning from the Koren Sacks is actually something of a pronunciation lesson, and a very welcome one, indeed.

June 24, 2009 update

I have one small request: In future additions, could the citations/"sidenotes" (printed in the margins, which makes them easier to find, I'm happy to say) include not only the chapter numbers, but the verse numbers, as well? This would make it so much easier for those of us who have a limited Jewish education to track down quotes. Thank you.



Anonymous Raphael Freeman said...

The B’fi Yesharim order that you suggest is nusach sefard, not ashkenaz.

The Hoshanot were not translated due to restrictions of space and the fact that they will appear translated in the Machzor. We have tried to make the tfilla for Chagim as complete as possible for convenience (you may not always have a machzor available particularly in shuls), but for full translations and significant commentary, we felt that this was best left for the Machzorim.

With respect to Rabbi Yishmael omer, I’m curious as to why you think that this is a mistake. This would indeed be a grevious mistake and would change the way we learn Torah. Can you please give some evidence basing your theory?

The textual variants only give a small number of difference between the Koren and other siddurim. If we were to include everything, then it would be many pages long. Not every difference is a mistake. Most differences (actually probably 99%) are simply different opinions.

The "mistakes" that you are pointing out are simply not mistakes. It may be that other siddurim choose different basis for their nusach, but I can assure you that the Koren nusach (which incidentally was not created by HaRav Sacks) was worked on for about 10 years starting in the early 1970s resulting in the first Koren siddur in the early ’80s.

Tue Jun 23, 02:20:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

I have precious little by way of formal Jewish education, and have been learning my way around the Orthodox siddur since my late twenties, only taking upon myself the obligation to pray daily about two years ago. I'm also, at 60, a relatively old person "playing" what's more frequently a young person's "game," namely, blogging. So I confess to being quite flabbergasted to have none other than the editor of the Koren Sacks Siddur commenting on my not-quite-review thereof, and feel entirely out of my depth.

Nevertheless, since you were kind enough to comment, I'll do my best, with my imited knowledge, to respond.

First of all, thank you for the information concerning B'fi y'sharim. I had no idea that my preferred version is from nusach s'fard. Since this siddur is nusach ashkenaz, I now understand why you didn't use that version. Independent soul that I am, I will continue to use it anyway, even though I'm Ashkenazi, because I appreciate the fact that it acknowledges one of the matriachs.

I look forward to reading the translations of, and commentaries to, the Hoshanot in the Machzorim, whenever they grace us with their publication. (I do hope to see a Sefer Tehillim with Rabbi Sacks' translations and commentaries, at some point, as well.)

Regarding Rabbi Yishmael omer, I based my assumption that there is a misprint on the fact that both the Birnbaum and the DeSola Pool use the work "acher" in both verses. Also, having noticed the difference when I switched from the Birnbaum to the ArtScroll, I consulted an Israeli from my congregation--someone far more learned than I--concerning this difference of opinion, simply because I was confused and wished to know which spelling was correct, and he seemed quite certain that "acher" was correct in both instances. My Hebrew and Talmudic knowledge being quite limited, perhaps you can enlighten me.

As concerns the question of "l'" and "la," I am aware that these are traditional nusach. It's just that, even with my limited knowledge of Hebrew, the spellings that I mentioned seem to leave the words not meaning quite what I think they're supposed to mean. Perhaps Hebrew grammar has evolved since these prayers were written. It has not escaped my attention that the Koren Siddur moves the "Kelokai, n'shama" prayer so that it follows "Asher yatzar," rather than following the Birkot HaTorah, as in the Hertz, Birnbaum, and ArtScroll siddurim. I was simply wondering whether halachic grounds might be found to correct grammatical errors, however traditional, or to bring them more into conformity with current grammar,as well.

Tue Jun 23, 06:24:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

By the way, I'll hope you'll appreciate today's updates, added before I wrote this comment. I forgot a couple of well-deserved kudos.

Tue Jun 23, 06:27:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

grammar has evolved since the prayers were written — and there have been attempts to "correct" or "standardize" the naturally-inconsistent grammar of the Siddur according to various models.

Wed Jun 24, 03:54:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Larry Lennhoff said...

One of the things I like about the Koren Siddur is how far forward it moves Birkat Hatorah. If you followed the order in the Artscroll siddur, you would put on tefillin, say some biblical verses, and only then recite birkat hatorah.

The only other siddur I know that moves Birkat Hatorah ahead of any recitation of biblical verses is the Chabad Siddur.

Incidentally, Rabbi Micha Berger (and I think the Artscroll commentary) mentions putting Asher Yatzar and Elokai Neshama immediately after one another so one thanks Hashem for both physical and spiritual survival.

Wed Jun 24, 05:21:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Larry, the ArtScroll commentary does say that some recite Kelokai, n'shamah" directly after "Asher yatzar," but puts both prayers considerably after any mention of the, um, first morning "call of nature."

The Koren Sacks Siddur actually takes the ArtScroll more at the ArtScroll's word than the ArtScroll does: The ArtScroll states "It is forbidden to study or recite Torah passages before reciting the following blessings," but it makes that statement *after* one has already recited Torah passages while putting on the tallit and tefillin! By the ArtScroll's own standards, its order is wrong and the Koren Sacks' order is right--the tallit and tefillin should be put on *after* one recites the Birkot HaTorah/Torah blessings! I've been trying hard to remember to recite Birkot HaTorah first, but it'll take a while.

Steg, I'll love to see more "correction" attempts.

What about the Rabbi Yishmael Omer quote? Are there two variant texts?

Wed Jun 24, 09:48:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...

there is a halachic debate going back to the Rishonim as to the correct order. Artscroll follows one approach, Koren and Rinat Yisrael follow the other (netilat yada'im, asher yatzar, elokai neshama, bircat ha'torah, then tefillin etc.)

I think the Koren/Rinat Yisrael approach makes much more sense. But Artscroll isn't wrong, they are just following a different shitah.

Mon Jun 29, 12:46:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Unknown said...

In the Ashkenaz nusach (in the U.s.) the B'fi Yesharim order to include Rivkah is part of the Rosh Hashana - Yom Kippur nusach. I think that "Rabbi Scroll" discusses the reason for the difference in the Art Scroll machzor (but I do not have it here to look up).

Mon Jun 29, 02:24:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Shitah (shin, yod, tet, hei) =
"system, method, manner" (Zilberman Heb. Eng. Dictionary, papeback). No doubt about, blogging continues to be an education.

JDub, I'm with you on this--I, too, think that "the Koren/Rinat Yisrael approach makes much more sense."

Sabba Hillel, I seem to recollect that the old Silverman Conservative Machzor for the High Holidays changes the B'fi y'sharim order, too. I like it, but I'd love to know why it's done for the Yamim Noraim only.

Nu, isn't any kind soul going to rescue me from my own ignorance re Rabbi Yishmael Omer?

Mon Jun 29, 09:12:00 PM 2009  
Anonymous jdub said...

I can't clarify it, I'm just not sure you are correct. Rinat Yisrael, which is one of the best siddurim in terms of using variant manuscripts to try to divine the "correct" texts, also uses one as echad and one as acher. Just because it's readily apparent to you that it's a scribal error, doesn't mean that it actually is. I don't consider either the Birnbaum or De Sola Pool to be academically rigorous siddurim, although both were great advancements over what had been around, so absent some textual proof (not from recent siddurim) I'm just not sure you are right.

Tue Jun 30, 08:03:00 AM 2009  
Blogger BZ said...

As ADDeRabbi/Rabbi Ellie Fischer points out, "Koren characteristically breaks lines up thematically, as in poetic verse. This results in an abundance of white space, but makes the prayers more intelligible."

If he thinks this is an abundance of white space, clearly he hasn't seen Kol Haneshama or Mishkan T'filah!

Tue Jun 30, 11:38:00 AM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

It's been a long time since I opened a Kol HaNeshama, but I recollect that it's a pleasure for the eyes, with some very nice calligraphy and illustrations. The B'fi y'sharim prayer is in the nusach s'fard order (with the letters spelling Yitzchak and Rivkah bolded), and the Birkot HaShachar is in accordance with nusach Italki. It's a vast improvement over the original Reconstructionist Siddur, as might be expected--modern movements sometimes "threw out the baby with the bathwater" on their first siddur-editing attempts.

Tue Jun 30, 12:01:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Clarification: I think the Kol HaNechama uses "sheh-asani b'tzalmo" (who made me in The One's image) in the place of the Orthodox "who has not made me a woman (for a man)/who has made me in accordance with His will (for a woman)" blessings.

Tue Jun 30, 12:05:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Concerning the Rabbi Yishmael question, I e-mailed the following to my "G-d Squad" (rabbis and rabbinical students) list:

"Please hold the rotten tomatoes and forgive me for being an am ha-aretz--I really did believe that I was looking at a simple spelling error. But that begs the question: If the Birnbaum and DeSola Pool spell that word one way and the Hertz, ArtScroll, and Koren Sacks spell it another way, it seems to me that *someone* made a spelling error, unless there is more than one version of the Rabbi Yishmael Omer text. Could some kind soul with access to Sifra kindly check the beginning/introduction, where the various siddurim say that this text originates?"

Tue Jun 30, 11:25:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Shira Salamone said...

Received by e-mail from Rabbi Gil Student, of the Hirhurim blog (see my blogroll):

Birnbaum made emendations based on conjecture and he was knowledgeable but not a major talmid chacham. However, De Sola Pool's Hebrew was put together by R. Chaim Chavel who was a major talmid chacham.

That notwithstanding, I checked Dr. Seligmann Baer's Siddur Avodas Yisrael -- Dr. Baer was a famous German grammarian from the mid-nineteenth century -- and he has it with the first as echad and the second as acher.

My suspicion is that the standard siddurim had the split but their source, the Sifra, did not (I checked and it doesn't, at least in the Weiss edition). It is possible that both Birnbaum and R. Chavel decided that to change the siddur text to fit the Sifra. Just a speculation on my part.

Gil Student
Have you seen my new book?

Tue Jun 30, 11:27:00 PM 2009  
Blogger Elie said...

Gil's last comment was essentially what I was going to reply. Birnbaum explicitly addresses the echad/acher issue in the introduction to his siddur. He refers to it as an error in most siddur editions, which he corrected based on the original source of the beraysa, the first page of the Sifra.

Given the above, how could it be argued that the split version is anything but a copyist's error? Are there editions of the sifra which have it the other way?

Wed Jul 01, 09:16:00 AM 2009  

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