While some try new prayer book, others wait for theirs
At Conservative congregations across the country, they’re waiting for the prayer books to arrive.
The Conservative movement has just published its first new siddur, or prayer book for Shabbat and weekdays, since 1985, and the rabbi and ritual committee of Congregation Beth Emeth in Virginia wants to take it for a test drive.
“Siddur Lev Shalem,” or the “Complete Heart” was published in February by the Rabbinical Assembly. In it, the movement attempts to make the prayers more accessible to those with little Jewish background or Hebrew skills, more inclusive of women and LGBTQ congregants and a richer experience for those whose Jewish knowledge is deep.
“We’ve expanded in two directions,” said the siddur’s senior editor, Rabbi Ed Feld, “more traditional and more contemporary.”
At a list price of $49, or $29.40 for movement affiliates, outfitting an entire congregation in prayer books is more than an impulse buy. Beth Emeth ordered three copies to start, said Rabbi Mina Goldsmith.
“We’ll look at it for ease of use,” she said. “Are the translations accurate yet meaningful? Is the transliteration more accessible? Do the commentaries add to the experience? Is the page distracting? Is it such an improvement that it will be worth investing thousands of dollars?”
The siddur, like the High Holiday machzor that the movement previously published, is arranged in four columns. The Hebrew text faces the transliteration. Running down the outer margins are commentaries including historical context, readings and poems. The prayer book begins with a section on preparing for Shabbat at home.
“Siddur Lev Shalem” “has been expressly designed to meet people where they are, whether at synagogue or at home, religiously or spiritually,” said Rabbi Julie Schonfeld, executive vice president of the Rabbinical Assembly, in a statement.
Like Goldsmith, Rabbi Ethan Seidel of Tifereth Israel Congregation in Washington has a few copies on order. He also wonders if it will be “different enough and better enough to invest in.”
The congregation would need 300 to 400 copies at a cost of more than $10,000, he said. That wouldn’t be an impossible sum — those stickers inside the book with a donor’s name is a time-tested incentive. But Seidel said that he and his ritual committee, which will consider the new siddur, are happy with the old one, called “Siddur Sim Shalom” (“Maker of Peace”).
“Lev Shalem” reaches back into history for some of its innovations, according to Feld. The ancient blessing for moments of good fortune has gone out of use, except during grace after meals. “We have revived its more general use” during the Torah service, he wrote in an email.
At the same time, the shift in the meaning of words has led to some being dropped: out went “awesome God,” replaced by “awe-inspiring” God.
Here in Pittsburgh, Congregation Beth Shalom is among those who have already had a few Shabbat services under their belts using the new siddur.
The Squirrel Hill congregation ordered “somewhere around 360” copies, said Rabbi Seth Adelson. “That includes people who ordered it for their own personal use.”
Like other rabbis in the movement, Adelson, who was a proofreader on the prayer book’s holiday sections, said he thinks the new volume to be a “wonderful tool for improving our connection with tefilla,” with prayer.
“What this siddur does marvelously is connect the Hebrew with the [one who prays] by offering context, meaning, kavanot, words of intention,” he explained, “ideas that expand the words of tefilla from being just ancient words on a page that for many are hard to understand.”
That approach is needed today more than ever, he added. “We are living in a time in which meaning should be the highest value within Jewish practice. … For tefilla to be meaningful to our kids and grandkids, we have to find ways to make it meaningful. If that means giving them a new siddur to appreciate tefilla, then we have to give them those tools. And this siddur does that.”
David Holzel writes for Mid-Atlantic Media. Chronicle staff writer Adam Reinherz contributed to this article.