For some people on your holiday shopping list, a standard gift just won’t do it. I’m talking about the erudite, shul-going Jew with shelves of Judaica and Jewish texts. For these discerning folks, I recommend three recent siddurs, each with unique features and looks: a practical, daily siddur, a new Renewal siddur and the world’s first egalitarian Sephardi siddur (my favorite).
L’ḥa Dodi: Kabbalat Shabbat & Maariv Featuring the Creative Translations of Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi
For your woo-woo aunt in Berkeley, I recommend this new slim paperback volume with a vibrant cover that recalls the now-ubiquitous rainbow tallis made popular by Reb Zalman (of blessed memory). Given the enormous influence his memory and teachings hold in contemporary lefty American Judaism, it’s a surprise a siddur like this didn’t already exist.
Reb Zalman, who founded the Jewish Renewal movement while living in the East Bay, approached prayer with head and heart, from the perspectives of textual tradition and radical creativity. In this siddur, both of those angles are present. In structure, editors Rabbis Emanuel Ben-David and David Zaslow present a complete, traditional service. But in place of typical translations, they offer Reb Zalman’s soulful, often surprising poetic takes on the prayers.
One of the more uncommon inclusions is K’gavnah, an esoteric kabbalistic prayer about “the mystery of Oneness” that concludes Kabbalat Shabbat. Personally, I’m enamored of Reb Zalman’s translation of my favorite evening prayer, Ma’ariv Aravim, about creation and the cosmos. His version begins: “We connect with You Our God, Cosmic Majesty. You speak out pleasant evenings. In opening the gates of nighttime awareness, You help us understand the rhythms of time….”
There are also a number of Reb Zalman’s English-language meditative songs.
For the Renewal Jew or anyone who admires Reb Zalman, this siddur is a must.
The Koren Shalem Siddur — with tabs!
When the Koren Sacks siddur was first introduced a decade ago, it immediately became the siddur of choice for Modern Orthodox Jews in America. It was the first English-language edition of the Israeli Koren Siddur. Like the Israeli edition, the Koren Sacks is beloved for its clear, modern translations; thoughtful, elegant layout; and use of Eliyahu Koren’s gorgeous proprietary Hebrew fonts. “Sacks” refers to the commentary included from former UK Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks.
The Koren Shalem edition expands on the original Sacks by adding in the text of holiday Torah readings, full text of the five megillot and the like. (To be honest, it’s not as new as the others in my list. It came out in 2017.) It comes in multiple sizes, hard- and soft-cover editions and several cover colors. But here’s the best part, the reason I’m recommending this siddur: tabs!
For years, I have wondered why the compact, comprehensive siddurs marketed to daily daveners don’t have little tabs to help users flip quickly to the service or section they need. Finally, my prayers have been answered. Koren continues to lead in user-friendly siddur design.
For the siddur power user in your life, this is the holiday gift for them.
This last one is my favorite new siddur in years, a must-have for any lover of Jewish liturgy. The sturdy hardcover volume — the first ever gender-egalitarian Sephardi siddur — is visually stunning inside and out. I was slack-jawed the first time I saw it. Editors Adam Zagoria-Moffet and Isaac Treuherz have created something truly special and unique.
Each two-page spread includes four columns of text: Hebrew, translation, transliteration and commentary. The text is presented in black and muted shades of red, blue-green and yellow, each indicating different emphases and aspects of the text. Small swoops hover over words where the worshipper should bow.
The aesthetic is almost like an illuminated manuscript, with subtle ornamental illustrations and borders throughout; it’s striking without detracting from the text. The Shema and Barchu pages in particular are vivid, creative delights.
As a Sephardi siddur, it includes a number of selections that will be unfamiliar to the experienced Ashkenazi davener (like myself), and are fun to discover as you flip through.
On the egalitarian front, it is a marvel. In addition to standard adjustments in wide use for decades, such as including the names of the matriarchs alongside the patriarchs, there are some up-to-the-minute new touches as well. In the translations, God is referred to exclusively with they/them/their gender-neutral pronouns. And, even more exciting, this is the first siddur to incorporate the suggestions of the Nonbinary Hebrew Project, which has put forth adaptations to Hebrew’s gendered grammar for use by gender-neutral speakers. For example, with the first-person prayer Modeh Ani, many siddurs offer modeh (masculine) and modah (feminine). But Siddur Masorti offers a third option, modet (gender-neutral).
I have only one complaint: The transliterations are overwrought. (See above: that upside down and backward “e” representing the Hebrew shva vowel in the siddur’s title.)
Be warned: This is only Vol. 1 — weekday prayers only. I’m praying for the success of a second crowdfunding campaign so the editors can get to work on a second volume for Shabbat.