ArtScroll facing challenge from Modern Orthodox
NEW YORK — For decades, Mesorah Publications has towered over the English-language Jewish publishing world like a Goliath.
The Orthodox publishing firm’s siddur, produced under the ArtScroll imprint, is the most common prayer text in American Orthodox synagogues, and its myriad translations of religious books — most notably its groundbreaking English version of the Babylonian Talmud — have made a vast trove of Judaic literature available to English speakers.
But two new initiatives are posing a fresh challenge to the ArtScroll dominance.
In May, Koren Publishers Jerusalem will release the first English edition of its popular Hebrew siddur featuring a commentary and translation by the chief rabbi of England, Sir Jonathan Sacks. And the Orthodox Union has launched a new publishing arm, which its backers describe as filling a “niche” in the Orthodox world, principally through the publication of the writings of the late Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, the leading thinker of Modern
“It is almost like the ArtScroll siddur is a household word,” said Carolyn Hessel, director of the Jewish Book Council. “The Koren siddur is really remarkable, but it’s going to take a long time until they meet the marketing expectations that ArtScroll has already achieved.”
ArtScroll declined to comment for this article, but there are signs it is concerned.
The company has taken ads in various Jewish media offering steep discounts in exchange for the worn covers of Hebrew-English siddurs “from any publisher,” ArtScroll also has approached the O.U. about publishing a forthcoming siddur based on Soloveitchik’s writings, according to O.U. officials.
ArtScroll, which was founded in the 1970s and is headquartered in Brooklyn, may be right to be concerned.
Despite its command of the prayer-book market among a wide range of Orthodox English speakers, the ArtScroll siddur is written from a fervently Orthodox perspective and, at least in its main edition, eliminates the prayer for the State of Israel that is a mainstay in most Modern Orthodox congregations. (A special edition is available that does include the prayer.)