The Koren Siddur: Standard Size

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The Modern Orthodox Siddur ..... Almost Perfect

Aug 28, 2009 (Updated Aug 28, 2011)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Lovely English and Hebrew printing, vibrant English translation, and helpful notes.  What's not to like?

Cons:Hard to think of any.  Perhaps there should be more and longer notes.

The Bottom Line: A new, for the 21st century, Jewish prayerbook, combining good looks and great scholarship and command of English.

THE KOREN-SACKS SIDDUR, which was unveiled on May 15, 2009, is the latest, and possibly the best, complete siddur ever available to English-speaking Jews.  It combines the magnificent and beautiful typography of the publishing house begun by Eliyahu Koren, with a vibrant new English translation and running commentary worked up by Sir Jonathon Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the United Kingdom (a title given to the principal rabbi of the largest Orthodox synagogue in London). 

Naturally, this siddur will be compared and contrasted with the very popular ArtScroll Siddur, first issued 20 years ago.  The editors of both siddurim have very wisely and politely refused to criticize each other's work.  However, it is fairly clear that the ArtScroll represents a sort of Old Orthodoxy of Central Europe, while the Sacks is representative of Modern Orthodoxy, particularly of the English-speaking world (this modern trends skips about 20 minutes of the morning service that appears in the ArtScroll version). 

Right away I will say that the Sacks siddur is a treat for the eye.  The ArtScroll Hebrew print (Hadassah font) may be a tiny bit more legible than the thicks-and-thins of Koren's famous typeface (and, since the Koren Bible of more than 40 years ago, the Koren typeface has been very slightly revised - primarily the letters Alef, Resh, and Shin), but the constant italics of ArtScroll's English text quickly became tiresome.  By the same token, the dull sanserif typeface used for the English translation of the Koren Jerusalem Bible was not used.  The Sacks siddur uses a lovely English typeface (not very different from New Times Roman) which, line for line, is proportionately larger than the ArtScroll's text and which is much easier on the eyes.

Knowledgeable readers may already know that Koren published a lovely all-Hebrew Ashkenaz siddur in 1981.  For those who could manage entirely in Hebrew it was a lovely thing and, of course, scrupulously edited by the best Israeli scholars.  It adhered to an inside-Israel liturgy, which has rules slightly different from those of the Diaspora.  Most significantly perhaps, it differed from most previous siddurim by its deliberately decision to keep the the text in short poetic or metrical lines rather than try to jam as much material into each line of type. 

The Sacks siddur's Hebrew text - and the English translation on the facing pages - continue this style, but the Sacks siddur is not merely a bilingual edition of the 1981 all-Hebrew edition.  Here a great deal has been typeset anew, stuff that wasn't in the 1981 edition has been added, and some changes have been made to the text itself.  For example, the Kaddish in the Sacks edition has the congregation's Amens shown - a helpful feature taken from the ArtScroll siddur.  
The Sabbath song (the tune I have heard sounds like a slow waltz, but I once encountered a congregation that sang it like a marching song), Yedid Nefesh, is shown - it wasn't in the 1981 edition - and not the same text as in the ArtScroll and earlier siddurim (which take their text from versions much later than its first appearance in the 1601 posthumously published siddur of Rabbi Eliezer ben Moshe Azikri) but the text that appears in the more recent Rinat Yisroel siddur (the most popular siddur in Israel) which used Azikri's handwritten text (more about this later).  

The English translation in the Sacks siddur is clear and vibrant and apparently the new work of Rabbi Sacks himself.  For example, in the Song of Glory that is sung during Shabbos Mussaf, ArtScroll has the grating line:
"The hat of salvation He put on His head; salvation for Him, His right hand and His sacred arm."
And Sacks renders the same line:
"Triumph like a helmet He wore on his head;
His right hand and holy arm to victory have led."

Unlike nearly every previous Hebrew-English siddur, here the Hebrew is on the lefthand pages (the odd-numbered pages) and the English is on the righthand pages, so the lines in both languages commence at the inner margins.  The Hebrew text, if poetic or chanted, is not printed in paragraphs but in stiches with line breaks appropriate to the rhythm of the chant. 

A painful drawback for many people who would benefit from the commentary is that the weekday prayers are the first half of the book (which is usual) and get thorough commentary but in the Sabbath prayers, the second half, whatever is repeated from the weekdays gets no commentary at all.

The ArtScroll siddur distinguished itself with its running commentary on almost every page.  The Sacks commentary is less extensive and many pages have no commentary at all.  Historical details are kept to a minimum and the focus is on the spiritual significances of various lines and phrases. The comments run from the lefthand to the righthand page and then continued by turning the page on the left.

   Sacks also includes an extensive appendix with 490 numbered paragraphs; the first 313 describe the various holy days of the Jewish year with some explanation for the significance of the day and whatever liturgical peculiarity it might have.  The remaning notes explains the various customs of prayers, both generally and for particular prayers.  There are also brief notes on alternative readings in some of the prayers.  A lengthy introduction discusses the many aspects of Jewish prayer.

The Hebrew text has some features not found in the 1981 edition.  Hebrew grammarians are caught up in the issue of multiple pronunciations of vowel points that have not changed in print over the centuries, in particular the kametz, which (in theory at least) can be pronounced two ways.  For this edition, the vowel points for the two pronunciations of kametz are slightly different for those who need (or care about) this distinction, based on the conclusions of the best modern grammarians.  Vowel points were not part of some of the original text of many prayers, so sometimes the vowel points here differ from those used in the same prayers in other siddurim.  Seldom is this as obvious as in the aforementioned song Yedid Nefesh; which seems to appear with (slightly) different vowel points in every edition.  It was composed some four centuries ago and is filled with Kabbalistic symbolism (beginning with the fact that the initial letters of the four stanzas spell out the Divine Name) -- and confusing grammar and many words not found in the Hebrew Bible (the same phrase has been variously translated "the child of your beloved", "your beloved child", and "your loving child").   Circa 1870 an Ashkenaz siddur in Poland appeared using the first printed version of Yedid Nefesh and the editor had to promise replacement pages to prevent his entire press run from being rabbinically banned (see The Sabbath Service by B.S. Jacobson, Tel-Aviv 1981, English ed. page 373).  Sacks uses the author's own handwritten text for both the Hebrew and the English translation (oddly, the same Rabbi Sacks supervised the fourth edition (2007) of the Authorised Daily Prayer Book of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth, but that edition had the conventional text).

Sacks has stuff here that ArtScroll lacks altogether:  A prayer for the United States government, another for the safety of the American military forces, a prayer for the government of Israel, another for its soldiers, a prayer for Israeli POWs and hostages, and a prayer for the victims of the Holocaust.  (There is a Canadian edition of Sacks - reportedly the very first siddur to contain - in the main text - prayers for the Canadian government.)  Like the ArtScroll, there are bits - mostly Torah readings for various days - that are presented without an English translation.  The ArtScroll siddur appears to be intended entirely for Jews in the Diaspora, but Sacks adds very useful instructions for anyone using his siddur inside Israel.

As with ArtScroll and Hertz, Sacks identifies the sources of all Biblical quotations (but only by chapter, not by verse), putting them in the side margin alongside the related quotation rather than clustered at the bottom of the page as in ArtScroll.

THe ArtScroll siddur (in a special edition which included a prayer for the US government and another for Israel) had the endorsement of the Rabbinical Council of America (which had previously endorsed David De Sola Pool's Ashkenaz Shabbos siddur published by Behrman).  The Sacks siddur has the endorsement of the Orthodox Union and also of a group of Orthodox feminists who are pleased with the note of inclusiveness embodied in the Sacks translation.

If the Sacks siddur is not perfect, it is a bit closer to that goal (I think) than the ArtScroll siddur, although the student ought to keep a copy of both. 

Recommend this product? Yes

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