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

Why Is Iran Acquiring Property in Venezuela?

In June Tehran and Caracas concluded a major twenty-year cooperation treaty. One of its many provisions—kept secret until recently—was the transfer of 4,000 square miles of Venezuelan land to Iranian control. Although the territory is ostensibly for agricultural use, Lawrence Franklin suspects the Islamic Republic might have other plans:

Hizballah already runs paramilitary training centers in restricted sections of Venezuela’s Margarita Island, a tourist area northeast of the country’s mainland. The terrorist group has considerable support from some of Venezuela’s prominent Lebanese clans such as the Nasr al-Din family, who reportedly facilitated Iran’s penetration of Margarita Island. . . . The Maduro regime has apparently been so welcoming to Iranian intelligence agents that some of Hizballah’s long-established Latin American network at the tri-border nexus of Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay has been overtaken by Hizballah activities on Venezuela’s Margarita Island.

Iran’s alliance with Venezuela most importantly provides Tehran with opportunities to target U.S. interests in Latin America and potentially the southern United States. Iran, along with the Chinese Communist Party, is in the process of strengthening Venezuela’s military against the U.S., for instance by deliveries of military drones, which are also considered a threat by Colombia.

While air and seaborne arms deliveries are high-profile evidence of Iran’s ties with Venezuela, Tehran’s cooperation with Venezuelan intelligence agencies, although less visible, is also intense. The Islamic Republic’s support for Hizballah terrorist operations is pervasive throughout Latin America. Hizballah recruits from Venezuela’s ten-million-strong Lebanese diaspora. Iran and Hizballah cooperate in training of intelligence agents and in developing sources who reside in Venezuela and Colombia, as well as in the tri-border region of Brazil, Paraguay, and Argentina.

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Read more at Gatestone

More about: Iran, Latin America, Venezuela