Picking Out a Siddur

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Another step in becoming observant is learning Jewish prayers. To pray one needs a prayer book. In Hebrew the word is siddur (Hebrew: סידור; plural siddurim), from the word seder which means order because our prayers follow a set order.

So I set out to buy a siddur, went to a Judaica store in Paris and explained, too briefly as you’ll see, what I wanted. The shop-keeper advised a recent prayer book with explanations. The text was in Hebrew on the right and in French on the right. I did not look at any other version and bought this one.

I was quite happy with it for a while until I discovered its shortcomings. The siddur was a Sephardi version and I wanted an Ashkenazi one; all my fault since I should have asked for it specifically. What’s more, whenever a prayer had already been featured in a previous service, it was not repeated with the French text, only in Hebrew and in much smaller type. For someone who was struggling with Hebrew, this was not a detail. Finally it was a bit too big for travelling.

So I went online and typed “siddur” on the French Amazon website and the first that came up was The Complete ArtScroll Siddur. I then ordered the pocket-size thinking it would be easier to carry around. I made sure not to repeat the same mistake and chose the Ashkenazi edition.

Mostly it was fine but the fonts were a bit small this time for every day use. At that point I decided that one really needs two siddurim, at least, one for every day and one for traveling. I consulted my rabbi about the Sim Shalom siddur and he advised the older edition, mainly for the translation.

Some time later I was staying with a friend a little before he left for a ten day visit of Hungary and Poland. He mentioned that he did not have a small Ashkenazi siddur to travel. Since I had my copy with me, I gave it to him.

I now had one big Askenazi siddur but no small one. At that time Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks released a new commented version of the famous Singer’s Prayer Book with a new and more modern commentary. This time there were more sizes and I settled for the standard edition which is bigger than a pocket-size but smaller than the big one.

It turned out to be the perfect choice. It is pleasant to use on a daily basis but also easy to put in a bagpack when traveling.

What siddur(im) do you use and why?

18 thoughts on “Picking Out a Siddur

  1. Great pick! We ordered the Rabbi Sacks siddur some time ago. His commentary is wonderful. I love his other books too, you must read them if you haven’t. I use a pocket Artscroll siddur without translation. The translation distracts me during davening. I also have about 15 other siddurim, many with translations in three languages, so when I need some translation I have it at hand. For travelling, I use an even smaller leather bound siddur which I bought in a cute leather shop in Bnei Brak a few years ago.

    BTW, you gave me a lot of catching up reading to do during my vacation! I admire your posting frequency and especially the high level of your writing. Please keep it up!

  2. We use Sim Shalom and our Chumash is Etz Chaim. Pretty typical conservative books.

    The ideal prayer book for me would be done like ArtScroll Chabad but with the Conservative versions of everything. ALL the Chabad texts are quite user friendly with great instructions on when to bend, bow, etc. For people who are Baal Tshuva or converts, or just becoming more active after years of nothing, these instructions are great.

    And there you have it 🙂

  3. i have a whole shelf full! i like metsudah because i like the linear translations. i like the israeli reform movement’s prayerbooks because they’re very complete. plus i like others because they’re beautiful and inspirational…the more the better!!!

  4. I wish I could find a siddur I liked. When I daven or go to shul (rare, with small children) I usually use the Artscroll (which we have in several sizes) for its readable service. However, I don’t really relate to its haredi commentary, and would like to find something more Modern Orthodox. I may check out R’ Sacks’s siddur–that sounds intriguing. Apparently Artscroll has come out with an RCA (Rabbinical Council of America–more centrist Orthodox) version that includes prayers for Israel, but I’d want to look at it before I bought it.

  5. Frumteacher: Thank you for your answer and the compliment. I’m still on holiday and thus have had the opportunity to blog more than I am usually able to do.
    Phyllis: Sorry, I don’t know the metsudah siddur.
    Shimshonit: Rabbi Sacks’s siddur is definitely much more MO than the ArtScroll Siddur – whose explanations are not my cup of tea either.

  6. I had the same issues! I got the Artscroll Women’s Siddur, sephardic version and in the pocket size. Which is way to small for my way too blind eyes! LOL I also feel like I still don’t know what to do exactly…

  7. Hello. A year ago while visiting Israel, I met a British gentlemen with a small green vinyl pocket edition of a Hebrew-English siddur by a (the?) former Chief Rabbi of Great Britian Hertz). It struck me at the time as a great traveling siddur — very compact, yet relatively large print and a sturdy but flexible cover. However, I have been unable to identify it again. Are you familiar with it? If so, how does it compare with the new Sachs version? I also recently viewed a pocket size Chabad Hebrew/English, which I also liked, but it seemed bulkier than the Hertz edition I remembered. How do these compare, if you know?

    Thanks,

    Art Levine

  8. I am also making this choice. I have bought both the French massorti edition and the (new…) Sim Shalom, own the (English) Chabad´s Tefilat HaShem, ArtScroll´s and a German one.

    José

  9. I’d like to see the Rabbi Sacks siddur; I haven’t yet had a chance to be able to afford buying any of Rabbi Sacks’ books, but from what little I’ve read of his, he’s quite delightful. And in any case, I’ve got a penchant for 19th century German Orthodoxy and its ideological offspring, so I’d reckon on my being not displeased at all with Rabbi Sacks’s outlook.

    Rabbi Hertz’s siddur is quite lovely (as are all his writings – Humash, Affirmations of Judaism, Sermons Addresses and Studies…), except that it is unmanageably large for daily davening, being approximately the same size as a full-size Artscroll, nay a tad larger in fact!

    Hertz = 22.89 x 16 x 5.59 cm
    Artscroll = 22.61 x 15.49 x 9.14 cm

    On the other hand, the pocket Artscroll, being 15.24 x 10.16 x 3.81 cm, I have found quite perfect insofar as size (and font-size) is concerned, and so it shall be my benchmark. It is, however, very thick, but this is easily rectifiable by buying the much slimmer (but same convenient length and width) weekday version. The pocket Metsudah (interlinear) siddur is similarly sized and thus manageable, and what it lacks in commentary, it makes up for in sheer usability for those still learning Hebrew! (Actually, its commentary, though sparse, earns points in my book for its not infrequent citations of Rav Hirsch.)

    The Hirsch siddur (which I highly recommend for its commentary, whether or not one actually davens from it – anyone wanting Modern Orthodoxy, here’s the wellspring unless one wants the Siddur(im) of Rav(s) Amram and/or Saadia Gaon!) is 19.81 x 13.97 x 2.03 cm, so it is a bit large for daily davening, but just barely manageable in a pinch.

    The full-size R’ Sacks is 18.8 x 12 x 3.2 cm, making it a pinch smaller than Rav Hirsch’s siddur, and so probably quite usable for daily davening, though I cannot be sure without having held on in my hand. The pocketsize R’ Sacks is 12.8 x 9.4 x 2.8 cm, and so is even smaller than the pocket Artscroll – no wonder it has been criticized for small font (but I have not yet seen it myself)!

    In Jewish Action 69:2 (Winter 5769/2008), there is an ad for a Koren siddur arriving in Spring 2009, utilizing Rabbi Sack’s translation and commentary. I know nothing of size, pagination, typesetting, etc. It says to contact shopou@ou.org or 212-613-8385.

    That’s all I’ve got. Kol tuv y’all; I have no idea whom I’m talking to, but Google got me here anyway!

  10. Michael: That’s a lengthy comment! Unfortunately I haven’t had a chance to have a look at the Hetz or the Hirsch siddur but would quite like to.
    As for whom you are talking to, you can always have a glance at the “about” page!

  11. Well, Rav Hirsch is THE fount of Modern Orthodoxy, so he’s a must-have. And the perush to Pirkei Avot in his Siddur is worth the purchase price. Verbose (in the 19th century German way), but that just means more scrumptious commentary to peruse!

    On the other hand, Rav Hertz’s comments are very brief and concise (as opposed to Rav Hirsch, who, as I like to say, “writes essays on pesukim”), but he elaborates on anything he considers to be of importance.

    Cf. Rambam: in his perush to the Mishnah, he might write a sentence or two on one Mishnah, but then he’ll write an entire treatise when he deems necessary (viz. the hakdamah to the Mishnah, on Torah She’be’al Pe b’clal; the hakdamah to Perek Helek on the 13 Principles and Olam haBa; the hakdamah to Avot (viz. Shemonah Perakim), which is a psycho-ethical view of Jewish ethics b’clal based on Aristotelian philosophy) – Rav Hertz is like that.

    He has an essay on Shema, an essay on Kaddish, and a few other essays, and sometimes he’ll write an especially long comment when there’s something interesting (Did you know that according to Rav Saadia Gaon, the reason we say besamim over havdalah is that people would smell spices cooked over coals during the meal, but since you cannot do this on Shabbat, they’d do it after motzei Shabbat; not only does this have nothing to do with neshama yeteira, but it even has nothing to do with our practice of smelling a spice-box – they’d mamash burn spices over coals for Havdalah!). According to hearsay, Rav Hertz based himself largely on a companion to the siddur by Israel Abrahams, so I myself am planning on buying Abrahams’s book as soon as I plant my money tree.

  12. I found this interesting: the new Koren-OU siddur I mentioned, utilizing Rabbi Sack’s translation, is reviewed at http://seforim.traditiononline.org/index.cfm/2008/12/9/Book-Review-The-Yehuda-Bilingual-Edition-of-the-Koren-Siddur.

    I am not sure what is different about it compared to the standard Authorized version; I know it is newly typeset, but is it the same content with different pagination? Is any content different? Different instructions? Different halakhah section? I am going to email OU and ask.

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