The New RCA Siddur [Ashkenazi tradition]: a siddur review by Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen

November 23, 2018 by Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen
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Traditionally J-Wire does not review obvious religious publications such as prayer books and bibles.

The new Siddur

Recently there has been a flood of publications and reality is that while most Jews are not regular synagogue-goers, week in and week out, when they visit a synagogue they will pick up such texts.

A number of synagogues in the orthodox community recently introduced the Lobel edition of the Koren/Sacks Siddur [prayer book]. It is an Australian edition of a popular siddur edited by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks and published by Koren. The Lobel edition as other Sacks siddurim had radicalized the Hebrew-English format for the Hebrew was on the left and English on the right. The Koren editions have slowly been replacing the Artscroll editions of prayer books which have been around for the past thirty plus years. Artscroll had previously replaced in most modern Orthodox synagogues the almost ubiquitous Singer’s Prayer Book created under the approval of various British Chief Rabbis.

Every prayer book has its strengths and weaknesses- in many cases more in the perception of the user rather than on any theological/halakhic question.

The first challenge for all recent prayer books is its size. Each new one adds items. The first edition of the Singer’s Prayer book was under 400 pages and published in the late nineteenth century. This one has 1346 pages plus a supplement of an additional 106 pages. Like Artscroll and other editions of the Koren siddurim almost every page contains some commentary expanding on points within the text- although Singer’s did not have any commentary.

The second strength of this book is a series of short essays and points beginning before the siddur itself (by Joseph Soloveitchik, often referred in orthodox circles as “the Rav”) and continued in the supplement/appendix at the end. Each will have a different appeal (including none) to the user.

There is also some recognition of the need to respond to the reality that women are playing more and more positive roles in religious life in Orthodoxy. Over the last few decades not only have there emerged a group called JOFA [Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance], the emergence of yeshivot for women and even the ordination of women [not universally accepted in Orthodoxy nor is there even agreement about how to address them]

The Rabbinical Council of America is the foremost organization of modern Orthodox rabbis in the world. It is strongly Zionistic in philosophy. This leads to a minor criticism of Grace after Meals [Birkat haMazon]. It is common today in a section of Grace among committed Zionists to include a blessing for both the State of Israel as well as its Defense Forces. I was surprised to find this missing.

Having got used to Koren’s change of format for Hebrew English I was surprised to see that this siddur has reverted to the older format. They have also chosen to neither use the special Hebrew font created by Koren (many find it harder to read) and to have not used Rabbi Sack’s translation but rather to continue using a translation from 1960 by De Sola Pool. The one thing that saves the English is that the font used is much clearer for the reader.

On balance, I am not sure whether this is a positive step. I will try and use it for a number of weeks before deciding whether to continue or put it in my library as just another curiosity among my collection of siddurim.

The New RCA Siddur [Ashkenazi tradition]

Basil Herring- Editor

Rabbinical Council of America/Koren

Jerusalem 2018

Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen is Associate Professor, School of Medicine, University of Notre Dame Australia. He spent a number of years as the Literary Editor of the Australian Jewish News

Comments

5 Responses to “The New RCA Siddur [Ashkenazi tradition]: a siddur review by Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen”
  1. Aton Holzer says:

    Thank you for the kind review. Having contributed to work on the RCA Siddur I should note that the blessings you mention (harachamans) for the state of Israel actually are included in the text. With regard to formatting, my understanding is that most American congregations using this Siddur are transitioning from the previous RCA Siddur and are more comfortable with a layout and typeface not too dissimilar from the Artscroll and other older Siddurim. The translation is based on the RCA’s own 1960 De Sola Pool edition and is intended to strike a balance between literal rendering and poetry. I suspect the interested reader may find the RCA Siddur a good balance in the manner that Rabbi Ingram suggests.

  2. Rabbi Chaim Ingram says:

    Unfortunately the English-speaking Ashkenaz world still awaits the perfect siddur. ArtScroll Wasseman Edition is second to mone whan it comes to font, lay-out, rubric and commentary all contained within a mangeable format; but unfortunately its translation is over-literal, inelegant, stilted and very American. Koren-Sacks translation is much better (although the red Jakobovits siddur was unsurpassed in that regard with a mellifluous transltion by the late Eli Cashdan)but falls down in other areas. I agree with the reviewer that the Koren font is harder to read.

    Akthough one prominent Sydney synagogue has sought to replace ArtScroll with Koren, many worshippers there still use ArtScroll by choice; and it is certainly premature to speak of a general trend. When somebody brings out a Siddur combining the excellent features of ArtScroll I have mentioned with a Cashdan-like English translation, I shall certainly be won over!

    • Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen says:

      Actually at least 2 synagogues in Sydney have introduced the Lobel siddur [which was a side comment in the review] as well as at least one day school

  3. Ian Silver says:

    In my opinion, everything depends on a modern translation, given most synagogue attendees have limited fluency in Hebrew. Fortunately, there are options, such as Rabbi Lord Sacks’ excellent version. The editor might wish to look at the new Conservative/Masorti siddur, Lev Shalem, as a comparison.

    • Rabbi Jeffrey Cohen says:

      The purpose of the review was to look at siddurim recently introduced in Orthodox synagogues in Australia. another review MIGHT review siddurim from various trends within Judaism for I believe the Reform/Progressive movement have also introduced a new siddur within the last couple of years [and a new High Holiday Machzor in the past 15 months]

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