A New Prayer Book From UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks

Rabbi Gil Student writes:

Last week I had the pleasure of meeting Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks at a New York luncheon celebrating the publication of the new Koren Sacks Siddur (link). R. Shaul Robinson of Lincoln Square Synagogue arranged for me to have a few words with the Chief Rabbi, who said that he has read this blog on occasion(!). He also inscribed my copy of the new siddur.

Let’s talk about this siddur. You might recall my review of the British version of the siddur (link). The new Koren-Sacks siddur is by far the best siddur I have ever used and has set a new standard in scholarship, usability and esthetics. This edition has all the benefits of the British siddur with many additional features. These include:

  • All the parts of the service that I complained were "missing," e.g. full korbanos.
  • Mi-she-beirakh blessings that are commonly said in the US, including those for the US government and US army.
  • Excellent section of laws, including a month-by-month lu’ach a la Ezras Torah.
  • Even more commentary from the Chief Rabbi than the British edition.
  • Vowelization of the Hebrew is based on the Koren text, which is grammatically precise but more familiar than the British version, which was based on the Baer siddur.

And, of course, there is the unique typesetting. Koren considers typesetting to be an art, and you can tell. I’m not the most esthetically conscious person, so I’m sure that much of this is lost on me. Nevertheless, I still see the beauty in how they arranged the page. It isn’t only beauty but the way they set the page adds to your prayers. The crisp Hebrew text is in bite-size portions to help you focus on the meaning of the words.

And the Hebrew and English are reversed, with the Hebrew pages on the left and the English on the right. It took me about two minutes to get used to it but now I’m convinced that this is the way it should always be. Your eyes naturally land on the Hebrew first so you save a little time but, more importantly, it just feels natural.

If you are going to buy it online, please buy it from this link because I get a commission from this sale: link. I strongly recommend the siddur and already have two copies of my own.

Here’s a run-down of reviews in the media and a video about the siddur by Rabbi Sacks. You can also get a good preview of the siddur on the Koren website: link.

  • R. Jonathan Rosenblatt in The Jewish Week (link)
  • Alan Jay Gerber in The Jewish Star (link)
  • Five Towns Jewish Times (link)
  • Matthew Hay Brown in Baltimore Sun (link)
  • Leon A. Morris in The Jewish Week (link)
  • Simon Rocker in The Jewish Chronicle (link)
  • R. Dr. Martin Lockshin in Canadian Jewish News (link)
  • Raphael Ahren in Haaretz (link)
  • Ben Harris in JTA (link)
  • Steve Lipman in The Jewish Week (link)
  • R. Ben Hecht in the Jewish Tribune (link)
  • R. Ellie Fischer on Seforim Blog (link)
  • R. Dr. Tzvee Zahavy on Tzvee’s Talmudic Blog (link)
  • On the Mainline (link)


Buy the book here: link.

YAAKOV POSTS: I always thought it was shameful that the RCA had Artscroll do their siddur. I’m glad to see that there’s now an alternative.

JOE COOL POSTS: To be a viable alternative, it needs to be available. Compare these two lists:

http://www.artscroll.com/stores.html
http://www.korensiddur.com/usa.php

Really? Only a single store west of Chicago? And in Seattle, of all place. What, they never heard that there are Jews in California?

GIL POSTS: The siddur just arrived in the US about 2 weeks ago. It takes time. The publisher is smart enough to know that the key is getting shuls to buy copies.

I personally can’t stand the Artscroll siddur because the paper is so thick that the siddur is overly heavy.

JOEY POSTS: Prediction: Only those who are the anti-charedi type will buy this so they can feel like they are sticking it to the yeshiva/Artscroll crowd.

Only real anti-charedi rabbis will buy it for their shuls. Otherwise, why would shul boards shell out $ when they already have hundreds of Artscrolls on the shelf.

I’ve seen the siddur and I’m not all that impressed. I will take a second look now though after your praise (even if you are $ biased).

HONESTLY FRUM POSTS: I bought the siddur on Friday and began to use it over shabbos and it was a new experience in tefilah. The introductions to the individual tefilot were great and so were the introductions to the siddur. I found the typeset to be much easier on the eyes than Artscroll. I am in am going to be posting shortly about my opinion on how this siddur is going to take it to Artscroll. Yaasher Koach.

JOE COOL POSTS: Heavy paper will last longer under constant use. Artsroll’s real failure is the binding which has trouble standing up to the regular use. To me using the so called "Bible paper" is a HUGE downside. It might work in a chumash where any given page is used once a year, but it won’t stand up to daily use.

The publisher is smart enough to know that the key is getting shuls to buy copies.

That’s what people thought before Artscroll arrived on the scene. Artscroll’s success is partially due to the fact that they chose to make their product available in as many channels as possible. And really, if they wanted to entice shuls to pitch their existing siddurim for something new AND radically different, they would have priced the large size version and something less than $150!

People complain about Artscroll (and many complaints are justified), but you can’t beat really good and aggressive marketing with a marketing plan that appears to be designed by drunken raccoons.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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