The Siddur Is a Battlefield

The ancient priesthood, the Pharisees, the kabbalists, the Ḥasidim—each of these and more have made a stand in the prayer book for what they think Judaism should be.

A 1,200-year-old siddur, the oldest known copy in existence, is displayed at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images.

A 1,200-year-old siddur, the oldest known copy in existence, is displayed at the Bible Lands Museum in Jerusalem. GALI TIBBON/AFP/Getty Images.

Atar Hadari
Observation
Oct. 20 2016
About the author

Atar Hadari’s Songs from Bialik: Selected Poems of H. N. Bialik (Syracuse University Press) was a finalist for the American Literary Translators’ Association Award. His Lives of the Dead: Poems of Hanoch Levin earned a PEN Translates award and was released in 2019 by Arc Publications. He was ordained by Rabbi Daniel Landes and is completing a PhD on William Tyndale’s translation of Deuteronomy.


The casual reader of the siddur, the Jewish prayer book, does not exist—it’s not a book you’re likely to pick up at the airport, read halfway through, and then abandon because you’ve lost interest in the plot or sympathy with the leading character. Even if you wander into a strange synagogue for a bar mitzvah, your relationship to the siddur that comes to your hand is intensely practical and intimate as you find your way through it to the passage the people around you are reciting. It is a book with a public face and a private face, a sort of literary equivalent to Dr. Who’s Tardis, the time machine that looks small from the outside but contains infinite space within.

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More about: Prayer, Religion & Holidays, Siddur, The Monthly Portion