Has Modern Orthodoxy Finally Gotten the Prayer Book It Needs?

Sept. 11 2019

For many years, the standard prayer book to be found in American Orthodox synagogues was the bilingual one produced by the ArtScroll publishing house in 1984. More recently, it has faced competition from several editions by the Israel-based Koren press, the most popular of which features the translation and commentary of the former British chief rabbi Jonathan Sacks. The Rabbinical Council of America (RCA)—the main organization of Modern Orthodox rabbis in the U.S.—last year added another siddur to the mix. In his review, Yosef Lindell compares it to its competitors: 

The RCA siddur has no overarching literary thesis about prayer, [unlike the Koren editions]. Its commentary, like [that provided by] ArtScroll, is an anthology drawing on disparate ideas and sources. But it’s a remarkable anthology, with far more discussion than Koren and far more diversity than ArtScroll. The breadth of whom it quotes is unparalleled: [the 20th-century master exegete] Neḥamah Leibowitz might be cited in one paragraph and [the 19th-century ḥasidic rabbi] Levi Yitzḥak of Berditchev in the next. The ideas of [such highly traditional rabbis as] Moses Feinstein and Eliyahu Dessler share space with the thoughts of [contemporary] Tanakh teachers with more modern literary sensibilities, like Rabbi Yitzḥak Et-Shalom, and academics like Shai Secunda. It does not shy away from the conclusions of academic scholarship, particularly when discussing the origins of prayers. Rather, it strikes a good balance between the traditional and the academic, the old and the new.

I must [also] mention the more than 100 pages of essays on prayer in the back of the siddur written by various leaders in the Modern Orthodox community and beyond, covering issues of history, halakhah, and kavannah [the inward state appropriate to prayer]. Not every essay . . . is remarkable; one standout is Rabbi Daniel Feldman’s guide to the interpersonal laws of prayer: if we know precisely under which circumstances it is appropriate to interrupt the recitation of the liturgy to say “amen,” but can’t speak civilly to a synagogue official, perhaps we’ve missed the point of prayer. So too, Rabbi Shalom Carmy’s short meditation on how the foreignness and visceral nature of animal sacrifice can unlock a deeper understanding of prayer is thought-provoking.

As for the translation of the prayers into English, Lindell compares it favorably with those of ArtScroll, but finds it inferior to Rabbi Sacks’s. The RCA prayer book also stands out in its enthusiastic liturgical embrace of religious Zionism, and its efforts to take into consideration both male and female users.

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Read more at Lehrhaus

More about: American Judaism, Jewish liturgy, Modern Orthodoxy, Religion & Zionism, Siddur

Condemning Terrorism in Jerusalem—and Efforts to Stop It

Jan. 30 2023

On Friday night, a Palestinian opened fire at a group of Israelis standing outside a Jerusalem synagogue, killing seven and wounding several others. The day before, the IDF was drawn into a gunfight in the West Bank city of Jenin while trying to arrest members of a terrorist cell. Of the nine Palestinians killed, only one appears to have been a noncombatant. Lahav Harkov compares the responses to the two events:

President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to denounce the attack, offer his condolences, and express his commitment to Israel’s security. Other leaders released supportive statements as well. Governments across Europe condemned the attack. Turkey’s foreign ministry did the same, as did Israel’s Abraham Accords partners the UAE and Bahrain. Even Saudi Arabia released a statement against the killing of civilians in Jerusalem.

It feels wrong to criticize those statements. . . . But the condemnations should be full-throated, not spoken out of one side of the mouth while the other is wishy-washy about what it takes to stave off terrorism. These very same leaders and ministries were tsk-tsking at Israel for doing just that only a day before the attacks in Jerusalem.

The context didn’t seem to matter to some countries that are friendly to Israel. It didn’t matter that Israel was trying to stop jihadists from attacking civilians; it didn’t matter that IDF soldiers were attacked on the way.

It’s very easy for some to be sad when Jews are murdered. Yet, at the same time, so many of them are uncomfortable with Jews asserting themselves, protecting themselves, arming themselves against the bloodthirsty horde that would hand out bonbons to celebrate their deaths. It’s a reminder of how important it is that we do just that, and how essential the state of Israel is.

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Read more at Jerusalem Post

More about: Jerusalem, Palestinian terror