Saturday, July 18, 2009

The Koren-Sacks Siddur

I just received my review copy of the Koren Sacks Siddur from the publisher. When I saw the package arrive I was excited to get started on my review. I opened it up and saw a beautifully designed and bound volume. I opened it up immediately and I must admit I was a bit disappointed - even before I read the first word.

The Koren Siddur is about the same size as the ArtScroll Siddur in all three dimensions. But the Koren Siddur is 1244 pages long and yet is a bit narrower than the ArtScroll Hebrew/English Siddur whose pages number 1086. The pages in Koren are therefore almost tissue thin. I guess that is about the only way one can fit that many pages into the same space as ArtScroll. This makes turning the pages a bit more difficult and probably more subject to wear and tear. What made this an even bigger problem for me is the fact that the thinness of these pages actually makes them a bit transparent. One can variously see through to the print on other side.

Those are the negatives.

The normal format of having the Hebrew text on the right and the English text on the left has been reversed. That did not bother me as much as I thought it would when I first heard about it. In fact it doesn’t bother me at all now that I see it.

Now for the positives - which I believe far outweigh those negatives.

There are 46 pages of introductory information including a forward by Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb. The largest section of course is by Rabbi Dr. Lord Jonathan Sacks who goes into great detail into the origins of prayer and an explanation of Jewish prayer as a conversation with God. He starts with the two sources for prayer:

“If you serve the Lord your God with all your heart” (Deut. 11:13)What is the [sacrificial] service of the heart (avoda shebalev)? This is prayer”. The other form – generally known as avoda. “service’ is sacrifice. Sacrifice could not be less like prayer.

He also discusses various other aspects of prayer such as its structure, the historical impression that Jewish prayer contains, its faith aspects, Kavana and Midrashim.

The biggest plus is Rabbi Sacks’ translation. It is worth contrasting the translations of ArtScroll with that of Rabbi Sacks. That is the ultimate test of its value.

One may ask why I choose to make that comparison. The answer is quite simple. The ArtScroll siddur has been a remarkable success story. It has virtually replaced all other forms and styles of Siddurim in Shuls all over America. It has for years been the standard siddur for most Orthodox Shuls and even some Conservative ones. ArtScroll did an excellent job in translating the siddur and making it user friendly.

A Lot of research and time went into that and it shows. First published in 1985 - they are now pretty well entrenched. Deservedly so. And their ‘Hebrew only’ siddur has become standard too - pretty much replacing all previous siddur formats. They monopolize the market now. If the Koren Siddur hopes to make some inroads towards popular acceptance and use – it has to compete with ArtScroll.

It is in the translation where in my view Koren wins that argument. Rabbi Sack’s translation is far more pleasing to the ear of the English speaker. His translations are truly far more elegant - a word used by many who have read it. For example he uses the word ‘Lord’ in translation of the Shem Havayah – the Hebrew four letter name of God. ArtScroll uses the term HaShem meaning ‘the name’. This is how religious Jews commonly translate that name in conversation so as not to utter God’s name in vein. I have always thought that translation to be quite childish when used in translating actual prayer. I have no clue why ArtScroll didn’t use the name ‘Lord’ which to me is a far more reverential translation.

Let us compare some of the translations of prayer between ArtScroll and Koren:

In the blessings of the Shema - Kadosh Kadosh Kadosh…

ArtScroll: Holy Holy Holy is HaShem, Master of Legions, the whole world is filled with His glory.

Koren: Holy Holy Holy is the Lord of hosts: the whole world filled with his glory.

Just before the Amidah in Shacharis - Mi Chamocha BaElim HaShem…

ArtScroll: Who is like You among the heavenly powers, HaShem! Who is like you, mighty in holiness, too awesome for praise, doing wonders.

Koren: Who is like You, Lord, among the mighty? Who is like You, majestic in holiness, awesome in praises, doing wonders.

From the Shabbos Amidah – Yismach Moshe…

ArtScroll: Moshe rejoiced in the gift of his portion: That You called him a faithful servant. A crown of splendor You placed on his head when he stood before you on Mount Sinai. He brought down two stone tablets in his hand, on which is inscribed the observance of the Sabbath. So it is written in Your Torah.

Koren: Moshe rejoiced at the gift of his portion when You called him “faithful servant”. A crown of glory You placed on his head when he stood before you on Mount Sinai. He brought down in his hand two stone tablets on which is engraved the observance of the Sabbath. So it is written in Your Torah.

From the first paragraph of the Kaddish - Yisgadel V’Yiskadesh…

ArtScroll: May His great Name grow exalted and sanctified (cong. Amen) in the world that He created as He willed. May He give reign to His Kingship, in your lifetimes and in your days, and in the lifetimes of the entire Family of Israel, swiftly and soon. Now respond: Amen.

Koren: Magnified and sanctified may His great name be, in the world He created by His will. May He establish His Kingdom in your lifetime and in your days, and in the lifetime of all the house of Israel swiftly and soon – and say: Amen.

After a while it becomes obvious that the far more flowing, beautiful, eloquent, and even inspirational translation is that of Rabbi Sacks.

Like the ArtScroll Siddur the Koren is complete in that there are no passages that are skipped - where one is asked to turn to another page to find a the appropriate text. And like the ArtScroll it contains all the weekday and Yom Tov Torah readings. It has a Halachic section as well.

The layout and typography are beautiful - very pleasing to the eye. It has a very uncluttered look to it. The text includes much footnoted commentary by Rabbi Sacks. The table of contents is in both Hebrew and English as one would expect.

Unlike the ArtScroll all transliterations are in the Sepharadit dialect rather than Askenazis. It contains the blessings for the State of Israel and sections pertaining to Yom HaZikaron, Yom Ha’Atzmaut, and Yom Yerushalyim.

In short - this siddur has everything. It is designed for use throughout the year - for weekdays, Shabbos, and Yom Tov - including Selichos. Where ever there is an original source used in the liturgy - such as Tehillim - it is cited in the margins of that paragraph or line.

Had this volume hit the market first - it would have been an instant hit. And it is certainly more appropriate for those with a more religious Zionist leaning. I certainly believe it is an excellent educational and inspirational tome to be read and studied. The only question is can it compete with Artscroll in the Shul? As I said at the outset, ArtScroll is pretty entrenched. And that drawback about thin pages seems to be a big one for Shuls looking for Siddurim with durability.

Are the pluses of Koren - of which there are so many - going to win over the public toward significant change? I guess we will have to wait and see.