The Koren Sacks Siddur: Afterthoughts

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A few months ago, when it was first released, I reviewed the Koren Sacks Siddur, the traditional prayerbook translated by Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, sponsored by the OU, and designed to give Artscroll a run for its money. To make a long review short, I hailed it as the second coming.*

How has it held up? To be honest, I’m not sure.

koren sacks siddurDespite my initial enthusiasm, more than a few things about the prayerbook kept me flip-flopping. Its overstylized font looks really cool, but takes the eyes longer to digest, much the same way that you wouldn’t want to read a newspaper written in calligraphy. Psalms and prayers start and end in the middle of pages, which isn’t bad, but I really like the traditional prayerbook layout in which prayers (mostly) start and end on the same page. There, it feels like a recitation — like you see the whole prayer, and when you recite the words, you’re really owning it. This feels more like you’re reading a book.

The layout of the text is grand — I love how, instead of saying

“Barchu,”

and then the next line comes in the same exact font, without any of the auditory hullabaloo that it’s given by a real, enthused synagogue service, the Koren Siddur says it good and strong, in a massive text like

“Barchu!”

However, when the entire page is taken up by Barchu! and the line that comes after it, followed by another full page for Kaddish, it starts to feel the tiniest bit excessive. Especially when some prayers have line breaks like poetry, with two or three words on a line and plenty of blank space, while others are thick old paragraphs.

A not-so-secret bonus application of the poetic structure is that, for those of us whose Hebrew isn’t so stellar, we can leap almost instantly between Hebrew and English sides. (The way the pages are laid out — Hebrew on the left, English on right — is opposite from most prayerbooks, and makes going back-and-forth even easier.) However, only about half of the prayerbook is laid out in this way, and it’s often the clunky paragraphs where we need most to jump back and forth — not things like Barchu, which, translation-wise, is almost self-explanatory in its sparseness.

The actual words of translation, like a quickly aging wine, only makes me happier as I go. Although clever Jewschool readers noticed that the translation was actually taken from an earlier Sacks siddur, it’s not like the words themselves have changed in the past year — it’s still a damn good translation, and a damn good commentary.

The renaissance man and Bible performer Marcus Freed told me that, once, he was with Jonathan Sacks during a particularly boring synagogue service. “How’d you like it?” Freed jokingly asked the Chief Rabbi as they were walking out.

In reply, Sir Sacks gripped his arm. “You have to make synagogue exciting again,” he told Marcus. “You have to make people love praying.”

All told, it’s a good thing that Sacks is a doer as well as a sayer.

______
* — Yes, that might be a bit weird, especially since us Jews don’t believe in the first coming. But maybe the original siddur was the first coming. Whew. Theological crisis averted.

Posted on July 20, 2009

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