How to Choose a Siddur

Jewish prayerbooks today are easier on the eye--but they challenge the heart and mind in diverse ways

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Sim Shalom: Tradition, Innovation, and Aesthetics in Balance

As in most aspects of Jewish life, the Conservative movement offers an ideological middle road. Its Siddur Sim Shalom is produced in two thin, light volumes for easy use and designed for maximum readability. This siddur features a sensitive and insightful translation, largely the work of the editor of the earlier 1985 edition, Rabbi Jules Harlow. Another literary treat is the occasional appearance of interpretive translations of the Amidah blessings and other benedictions, by Rabbi Andre Ungar. They are far from literal and their language borders on the florid, but they go a long way toward capturing the spirit of those classical Hebrew texts.

As in every Conservative prayerbook, the traditional Hebrew text is retained, with a few key passages emended for ideological reasons. Here, too, for example, there is no prayer for the restoration of sacrifices. References to resurrection are retained in the Hebrew text, but they are reinterpreted in English: "[He] who revives the dead" becomes in English "Master of life and death." Two parallel openings of the Amidah prayer appear, one with the traditional reference to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, and another featuring the matriarchs as well.

The editors of Sim Shalom do not believe their readers need transliteration, and only a few key prayers are transliterated anywhere in these volumes. A further indication of the expectation of a high level of comfort in Hebrew is that the name of God is consistently rendered by a transliteration of the standard Hebrew term, "Adonai."

This siddur also includes many Conservative liturgical innovations, such as updating the Nahem prayer on the Ninth of Av to refer to a rebuilt city of Jerusalem, or expanding the list of holidays on which one says the Al Ha-nisim prayer of thanks for miracles to include not only Hanukkah and Purim but also Yom Ha'atzmaut. This siddur also includes a Nahem prayer for Holocaust Memorial Day (Yom Ha-sho'ah) and offers a ceremony for the anniversary of Jerusalem's 1967 reunification (Yom Yerushalayim).

Worshippers or students looking for a siddur with extensive commentary might consider Rabbi Reuven Hammer's sensitive and erudite Or Hadash. Each page includes a page of Sim Shalom with wrap-around commentary in the fashion of classic rabbinic texts. The first of two volumes is now available.

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Rabbi Peretz Rodman

Peretz Rodman is a Jerusalem-based rabbi, teacher, writer, editor, and translator. He was a founding editor of MyJewishLearning.com.