How to Choose a Siddur
Jewish prayerbooks today are easier on the eye--but they challenge the heart and mind in diverse ways
Vying with Sim Shalom for the Conservative market is Siddur Hadash, which features a less challenging translation, numerous additional readings, and similar ideological adjustments.
Kol Haneshamah: Reconstructionism Speaks to God
The Reconstructionist movement's prayerbooks for weekdays, Shabbat and holidays form a matched set under one title, Kol Haneshamah ("every creature" or "all that breathes," from the last verse of Psalms). These siddurim showcase the Reconstructionist movement's innovative approach to liturgy--traditionalist in form, but radical in ideology. Far more is rewritten than in the Conservative siddur, though a full Hebrew text is given for every standard prayer. These siddurim are rather bulky.
The beauty of this siddur is in the translation by Dr. Joel Rosenberg, which draws out nuances of meaning that often lie dormant in these ancient texts. This siddur is worthy of repeated close reading.
A Trio of Maverick Siddurim
Among the many other, less widely distributed siddurim in North America, three deserve particular attention. One is the Metsudah Siddur, an Orthodox siddur edited by Rabbi Avrohom David and published by Metsudah Publications in New York that offers a unique tool: a "linear translation" of the entire liturgy, with Hebrew and English in facing columns. Someone interested in pushing past the barrier of Hebrew comprehension will find that this volume's popularity is well deserved.
Rabbi Richard N. Levy's On Wings of Light: The Hillel Siddur for Kabbalat Shabbat and Shabbat Evening features virtuoso translations of the standard prayers, translations that function more as riffs on the classic liturgy than straight renditions. It is especially good for a "learner's minyan" or someone in search of a siddur to read while a congregation recites a standard liturgy that does not energize his/her prayer experience.
The Progressive Chavurah of Boston has published a siddur called Chaveirim Kol Yisrael ("In the Fellowship of All Israel"), described as including "Prayers and Blessings for Shabbat and Festival Evenings, [and] Songs and Rituals for the Entire Year." This volume features a unique four-column format: on the left is a page with the Hebrew texts laid out as poetry and matched with line-for-line transliteration, while on the right is one column of translation and another with varied contents: explanations, meditations, poems. The rich selection of materials, largely in English, for holidays and life cycle events and the bright, crisp presentation on the page make this a siddur you'll turn to on many occasions.
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