Battle Of The Books


Suddenly, there’s a Siddur War brewing.

Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun, one of the Upper East Side’s major Modern Orthodox synagogues, will receive a major shipment in the next few weeks — 500 copies of a new prayer book.

The Yehudah Bilingual Edition of the Koren Siddur, issued by Jerusalem-based Koren Publishers, with an updated English translation and extensive commentaries and an introductory essay by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the knighted chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, is the first thoroughly revised English-language prayer book since Brooklyn’s ArtScroll Publications issued its now-classic edition a quarter-century ago.

The new siddur — colloquially called the Sacks Siddur — is considered more in line with Modern Orthodox thought, with more recognition of the growing role of women in religious life, than the standard siddur of haredi ArtScroll or its Rabbinical Association of America version that includes additional prayers for the State of Israel and Israeli soldiers.

The Sacks Siddur — which is endorsed by the Orthodox Union and carries an introduction by outgoing Executive Vice President Rabbi Tzvi Hersh Weinreb — comes a few months after the emergence of the OU’s strengthened publishing division; its Haggadah, based on the writings and lectures of the late Rabbi Joseph Ber Soloveitchik, was a best-seller this Passover, and an OU siddur is in the works.

The growing choices “reflect a need on the part of Modern Orthodox Jews to have a siddur they are very comfortable with,” says Jeffrey Gurock, professor of American Jewish history at Yeshiva University.
Reports have surfaced of ArtScroll contacting congregations offering to replace old editions of their siddur with a new one, in an attempt to head off large-scale purchases of the Koren product.

Rabbi Nosson Scherman, an ArtScroll founder and general editor, declined to comment on the Sacks Siddur.

Koren Publishers has embarked on an extensive promotional campaign for its new siddur, says Danny Levine, owner of J. Levine Books & Judaica in Manhattan, and Modern Orthodox rabbis report an early buzz for the Sacks Siddur, which will be released on Friday.

“We’ve been waiting for a siddur like this for a very long time,” says Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, spiritual leader of Kehilath Jeshurun.

The synagogue, which has used ArtScroll’s RCA edition for two decades, will deploy 400 copies of the Sacks Siddur in its main sanctuary, and will let congregants decide which prayer book they prefer, Rabbi Lookstein says. “We’re not replacing ArtScroll — I’m going to let the people vote with their hands.”

By the end of the summer, Modern Orthodox worshippers will have another choice: the RCA will issue its new ArtScroll Siddur that includes a greater variety of prayers that reflect Modern Orthodox practice.