­­A New Siddur and Insights on the Old

RCA Siddur Avodat HaLev

By Rabbi Dr. Aton Holzer and Chief Rabbi Arie Folger

EnglishThe journal Hakirah recently (Vol. XXVIII) published an article I wrote together with Rabbi Dr. Aton Holzer (that’s Rachel Holzer ‘s husband) related to our work for the RCA Siddur Avodat haLev, which appeared in 2018 with Koren. (For eigtheen months, I was the project manager and led several committees, while Aton was the absolutely most active member of any of those committees. I served under the two senior editors, Rabbis Heshie Billet and Basil Herring. Rabbi Herring went on to shepherd the siddur through a significant rewrite after we switched to another publisher, and dedicated seven or eight years to the project). Beyond a general review of the siddur and some behind the scenes peek, we explore kabbalistic concepts for prayer and the siddur, as well as nussach hatefillah and music.

A siddur is many things at once. A Siddur is primarily a devotional device, orienting our consciousnesses toward God, facilitating Divine service in the ideal manner. Its blessings attach to the gamut of human experiences, emotions, wonder; mindfulness, interruptions of rote routine, are portals to religious awareness. Berachos find praise of God in such diverse experiences as the flavor of an apple, the startle of thunder, the genius of a scholar, the elation of a marriage ceremony, and even the searing pain of loss. In the sanctity of the commanded life, with all of its imperatives. The Siddur traces these channels back to their Source, and thus unites Man with his.

At the same time, it is also a teaching tool. Rav Soloveitchik writes, “Prayer tells the individual, as well as the community, what his, or its, genuine needs are, what he should or should not petition God about… In a word, man finds his need-awareness, himself, in prayer.”1 For Chief Rabbi Sacks, “Scholars of Judaism, noting that it contains little systematic theology, have sometimes concluded that it is a religion of deeds not creeds, acts not beliefs. They were wrong because they were searching in the wrong place. They were looking for a library of works like Moses Maimonides’ Guide for the Perplexed. They should have looked instead at the prayer book. The home of Jewish belief is the siddur.”2

Indeed, the Siddur educates in several ways. The content of its petitions teach us what we ought to want. The implied polemics and occasional catechistic poems teach us what we ought to believe. But more than that, as Prof. Joseph Tabory has noted,3 the Siddur is an anthology par excellence – its materials span the full expanse of Jewish history, and three millennia of intellectual currents course through its passages. Every genre is represented, from Biblical battle songs to Mishnaic legal treatises to Kaliric Aggadic tapestries to Hassidic ecstatic paeans to the Sabbath; only in the Siddur can a catalogue of Maimonidean principles share a binding with Zoharic mystical declarations, and Aramaic Halakhic formulae with contemporary poetry reviewed by Shai Agnon.4 The Siddur tells a story, our story. The mingling of Eretzisraeli piyutim and occasional prayer formulae within the otherwise Babylonian-dominated common Nusach5 may offer clues to the manner of development of Ashkenaz/Germany as a major center of medieval Jewish life,6 an abiding mystery of Jewish history. Its polemics cover our struggles with enemies inside and out, from Sadducees to early Christians and Gnostics to Karaites, and its texts bear the scars of despots as varied as the Assyrian Sennacherib, the Babylonian Nebuchadnezzar, the Sassanid Persian Yazdegerd II, the Byzantine Heraclius and Holy Roman Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa. Events such as the first Crusade, the Spanish Expulsion and the Khmelnytsky massacres (and in the RCA Siddur, the Shoah and, happily, the founding of the Jewish State) all have left their mark on the Siddur.

And so the Siddur takes us on a grand tour of the history of our people and its ideas; it situates ourselves in relation to the generations that precede us; contextualizes us within the eternal covenantal community ─ if we are paying attention.

The new RCA Siddur Avodat HaLev, under the exceptional stewardship of R. Basil Herring, is intended to potentiate both aspects. The Siddur leads with a newly translated essay by Rav Soloveitchik that is perhaps his clearest, yet most beautiful expression of the principle of ein od milvado which animates the prayer context. The Siddur’s commentary is studded with inspirational notes that are meant to uplift, to direct the heart to the Source of Blessing, and its backmatter essays treating the meaning of prayer and kavanah range from the practical to the poetic. One reviewer objects “…while the siddur does a fine job in examining the nature of Kavanah, it sheepishly avoids dealing with most perplexing questions of our age: What is the nature of a personal relationship with God? Is God “responsive” to our prayers? Does prayer truly have or evoke healing power?”7 but he seems to have been distracted by the “sha’ar hakavannah” section header; the issues he mentions are precisely the questions addressed in essays by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, Rav Yehuda Amital, Rabbanit Rookie Billet and Rabbi David Mescheloff. It is gratifying to know that the Siddur indeed addresses the most perplexing questions of our age. To this we can add other burning questions like the employment of fixed texts for what is meant to be heartfelt devotion, and the place of korbanos vis-a-vis modern sensibilities – ably addressed by the Seridei Eish and R. Shalom Carmy, respectively.

The essays also contextualize specific prayers that have their own distinct properties. R. Heshie Billet aims to understand the amidah via a philological analysis of the word tefillah. We reprint R. Pinhas Peli’s classic exposition on berachos. R. Basil Herring presents an examination of Shema and kabbalas ol malchus shamayim – very different from prayer – through the lens of Rav Soloveitchik, and we compiled an essay on the special rhythm of tefillos of Shabbos. The theology of Shabbos is not treated by the Rav frontally in any other known composition; this is a particularly obvious lacuna for a thinker who put so much emphasis on kiyum shebalev in Mitzvos.8 The manner in which he does so in the compiled work solves a longstanding mystery in his theology of kedushah9 ─ namely, why can Shabbos be an exception to R. Soloveitchik’s insistence in numerous places10 that kedushah is man-made? (Spoiler alert: The holiness of Shabbos is ontologically prior to, and represents the very telos of, man-made sanctity.)

R. Saul Berman authored a marvelous preface for the previous RCA Siddur, which unfortunately could not be retained after the previous publishing house terminated its contract with the RCA. After the new Siddur was announced, R. Berman voiced skepticism that a Siddur would be able to close the “God gap” – the distance that Western civilization and technological advances have placed between man and God.11 In the new Siddur, we picked up that gauntlet and curated material that is at once uplifting and at the same time conceptually rigorous, and (hopefully) presented it in a manner that is accessible.

Like many contemporary Siddurim, there are boxout Halachic guides to inform the worshipper. But unlike any other, there is a guide to halachos bein adam lechaveiro in prayer, so critical to creating the proper atmosphere in prayer, yet so overlooked.

At the same time as it works to focus devotion, the RCA Siddur spares no effort to unpack the Siddur’s messages and contextualize its many treasures.

First, all of the text was carefully reviewed, and its final version reflects conscious choices, rather than overlooked defaults. Some (not all!) examples from the first fifty pages alone:

  • We ought to present the morning prayers in the actual order that they are to be said, instead of the thematic grouping which is found in other Siddurim. (Rav Hershel Schachter ratified this approach.)
  • Do we restore the lost passages of adon olam? (No, it will be confusing.)
  • What is the original nusach of the fifth line of yigdal? (V’chol notzar yoreh; confirmed by Prof. Marc Shapiro. This version also fits best with the fifth Maimonidean principle.)12
  • In birchos hashachar, the feminine variants of goyah (or nochris) and shifchah were considered as women’s alternatives, and both Rav J. David Bleich and Rav Aharon Lichtenstein were consulted (the latter, via Rabbi Dov Karoll); Rav Bleich opined that it was appropriate to use the grammatic construct that best fit the speaker, while Rav Lichtenstein argued that the blessing is about the status or type of person that we are thankful not to be, which is gender neutral (and thus the male default); we do not intend to peg our blessing on a particular person. In the end, in a machlokes between those two giants, we opted for the most common nusach regarding the berachos, but in Modeh Ani and similar formulae we incorporated the grammatically correct alternative Modah Ani for a female worshiper.
  • Prof. Richard Steiner was consulted as to whether (uv’)/[u’ve]shochbecha takes a shva na or nach,13 and Rav Hershel Schachter was consulted for his view;
  • A decision was taken regarding the correct chasimah for the blessing that follows, which ends the l’olam yehei adam passage (tarum and shimcha are better attested in Ashkenaz manuscripts, confirmed by R. Schlomo Hofmeister, than tarim and shemo)14, with the assistance of Rabbi Professor David Berger. Emendations made to the siddur text were identified, some based on Halakhic sevara (e.g., rendering the V’Yehi Ratzon following hama’avir sheinah… in plural rather than the original singular), some (e.g., hameichin vs. asher heichin) by well-meaning Siddur grammarians, based on grammatical assumptions that have been rendered outdated by advances in diachronic linguistics. Generally we left these in place unless the original had already been popularized in a widely used contemporary Siddur, so as to avoid confusion.
  • Some detective work went into understanding why many siddurim (such as the prior RCA Siddur) have one difference between the ketores passage before daily Shacharis and after Mussaf on Shabbos (b’mikdash vs. ba’azarah, because some popular siddurim copy-pasted only the post-prayer passage from its daily recitation in nusach Sefard); and
  • We relied on the best manuscripts of Siddur and Sifra to resolve the proper situation of the words echad versus acher in the Rabbi Yishmael omer passage (and raised the question, do we transliterate Rabbi or the original Ribbi? The world is accustomed to the former, and replacement would be tamu’ah larabim).

And this is before we even got to Baruch She’Amar!

The new RCA Siddur has been criticized by some reviewers15 for preserving texts which seem to offend modern sensibilities. In preparing the text of the Siddur, we saw ourselves as custodians whose mandate is to preserve, transmit and sometimes restore the words recited by the generations that preceded us, not to critique them; instead we endeavored to make them understood to the contemporary mispallel. While our thinking was certainly informed by a resistance to what C.S. Lewis called chronological snobbery,16 this sensibility typically did not need to be invoked. Our experience in editing the Siddur convinced us that the proper approach to our liturgists is akin to the principle of charity or principle of rational accommodation articulated by Donald Davidson17 and Willard Van Orman Quine,18 widely employed in the historiography of philosophy by those who wish to productively engage the ideas of earlier thinkers. By this principle, we avoid attributing irrationality, logical fallacies or falsehoods to the others’ statements when a coherent, rational interpretation of the statements is available,19 or as Quine said, “your interlocutor’s silliness is less likely than your bad interpretation.”20 The profundity, complexity, and range displayed by the (mostly) anonymous Rabbinic authors of our liturgy convinced us that they deserved the benefit of rational accommodation, and the words themselves typically lent themselves to an understanding that was entirely compatible with contemporary ideas of justice and human dignity.

And it turned out that on closer scrutiny, the most plausible understandings of ostensibly problematic prayers sidestep the contemporary objections. For example, the series of three blessings beginning with “SheLo Asani Ishah” seems nothing less than a clear response to the substance of an anti-Judaism polemic which appears in the Christian bible, in Galatians 3:28: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” In context, Paul’s epistle polemicizes against Judaism’s focus on works of the Law that, with the advent of Jesus, have been replaced by faith, which harbors no distinctions.21 This is the most famous verse in an epistle that is a sweeping rejection of the Torah, the key document which decisively removes early Christianity from Judaism; scholars further suggest that the verse itself is a fragment of early Christian baptismal liturgy;22 these items would have been familiar to first-century Jewish leadership struggling against this movement, which had made significant inroads in the Jewish community. It is thus plausibly suggested that the three shelo asani blessings – which preserve these same distinctions, in their precise order ─ are a polemical response against that Christian doctrine, providing the added benefit that a closet missionary serving as a shaliach tzibbur could be uncovered right at the beginning of Shacharis, long before he refuses to recite Velamalshinim,23 This dovetails nicely with the explanation provided by sources contemporaneous with the Beracha’s authorship, the Tosefta Berachos 6:18 and Yerushalmi Berachos 9:1 (that shelo asani ishah was thus formulated to reflect that women are not obligated in [all] Mitzvot). This seemed to us more likely the correct explanation than that the classical Rabbis aped a Greek axiology of persons; indeed, scholars have noted that misogyny, while a defining feature of Hellenistic thought and early Zoroastrianism, is not representative of Jewish scripture and the dominant stream in Rabbinic tradition.24

One of the aforementioned reviewers supposed that “the [RCA] Siddur is deeply influenced by the critiques that the Orthodox feminist movement has raised over the years,” since the RCA Siddur “endorses women’s participation in tefila” and encourages or at least validates daughters saying kaddish, women reciting zimun, and the matriarchs are included in some Mi Sheberach headers.

Feminism, when defined as the advocacy of women’s rights on the grounds of the equality of the sexes, has undoubtedly influenced all modern societies in a profoundly salutary manner. The very existence of a female laity across the Orthodox spectrum that is well-educated, that functions at the highest levels of academic and professional life, and is ambitious in avodas Hashem ─ across the Orthodox spectrum ─ is a testament to the success of the global movement for women’s human rights, and coupled with the advances of technology, it has revolutionized the way that we live.25 The inclusion of women’s variants in a Shul siddur follows naturally from the presence of a religiously literate, sophisticated, and above all, participatory, ezras nashim. The inclusion of women as commentators and essayists likewise reflects the extraordinary efflorescence of first-rate female Torah scholars and thinkers in recent years. The relatively modest amount amount of material we were able to gather — from the meager amount of prayer-relevant published material, and new contributions solicited from overburdened and overextended yehidot segulah circa 2009 – already seems incongruous given the remarkable advances in the decade since, and womens’ intellectual share in the Siddur will surely reach equilibrium with that of their male counterparts in future editions.

The Orthodox feminist movement has had a more checkered reception from Orthodox Rabbinic leadership. The movement is heterogenous, and some in the movement consider radical egalitarianism in ritual and other halakhically circumscribed matters as a desideratum, or at least seem willing to disregard halakhic and hashkafic stances hallowed by centuries or millennia of jurisprudential interpretative continuity.26 To that end some have sought to admit women to observances that Halakhah classically proscribes for women – or at least considers significant only when performed by men, in the presence of a minyan – including all devarim shebik’dushah. In the 1970’s, the question of the Halakhic permissibility of women’s prayer groups crystallized the positions of many leading poskim of the times regarding the movement. The Frimer brothers catalog these views, including that of Rav Soloveitchik:

…The Rav was uncertain as to what precisely the women participating in these services were seeking: greater spirituality resulting from increased kiyyum ha-mitsvot (fulfillment of the commandments), or – consciously or not – something else, perhaps public peer approbation, conspicuous religious performance, or a sense of equality with men. If the real motivating factor was any of the latter, it was likely that a women’s tefilla group would not truly satisfy their religious needs; on the contrary, the women’s services would merely foster increasingly unfulfillable expectations, resulting in a greater frustration and perhaps even a break with halakha.27

As the two of us were those who did the preliminary research, one of us (AF) discussed the matter with our poskim, and we wrote the commentary to those pieces, we wish to set the record straight. The only one of those inclusions that may be said to have been influenced by the encouragement of the Orthodox feminist movement is the endorsement of women saying kaddish, a davar shebik’dushah, and that was only done because no less than Rav Ahron Soloveichik felt that this was something that we ought to permit. It is his teachings that made us consider and finally decide in favor of this inclusion, while noting that “customs vary regarding whether she should recite it in an undertone or out loud and whether or not she may recite it if she is the only mourner present” (pg. 52).

Neither the inclusion of women’s zimun, nor of the imahos in the Mi Sheberach for the sick, nor of a Zeved haBat ceremony (which was not noted in the review) was motivated by critiques posed by the Orthodox feminist movement. Women’s zimun is an explicit halakha in Shulchan Arukh (OH 199:7), anchored in the Talmud, and though the Shulchan Arukh rules that it is reshus, the Gra is rather insistent that it is an actual obligation. We included women’s zimun after I (AF) consulted with Rav Hershel Schachter, who cited a number of contemporary gedolim who had endorsed the practice (with certain limitation, the most obvious of which is in the Talmudic proviso that we do not do a mixed zimun). Among those Rav Schachter cited as endorsing women’s zimun was Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (and indeed, such is cited as his view in Ve’alehu Lo Yibol) provided the men present are all family.

The inclusion of the imahos in the Mi Sheberach for the sick is nothing more or less than an ancient nusach still used in many communities. As the resident Yekke, I (AF)28 continuously brought olde nuschaos, and especially those that remained in use among Yekkes, to the attention of the team. That is also why in E-l Malei Rachamim, we use the words tachas kanfei haShekhinah as the leading nusach, offering ‘al kanfei haShekhinah merely as an alternate nusach. ‘Al is an emendation by the Shelah, based on a teaching that it is converts that are gathered under the wings of the Shekhinah, while born Jews are over the wings of the Shekhinah. Tachas kanfei haShekhinah is undisputedly the original nusach; the emendation of the Shelah only makes sense if we’ll actually care to distinguish in the nusach between prayers for deceased converts and for deceased born Jews. Since that isn’t done anywhere, it makes sense to keep the original nusach, as still practiced in many communities, including but not limited to Yekkish communities. This reversion to the original nusach was accepted by our poskim.

The Zeved haBas ceremony (pg. 1076) was indeed considered because more and more people desire to celebrate more formally the birth of a girl, but only included because it is many hundreds of years old, a common celebration among Sefardim, and duly attested by the Yaavetz, whose text we utilized. However, we grant that we cannot refute a theory that would posit that we were more sensitive to including this ceremony on account of being the happy fathers of mostly girls.

Returning to prayers that were marked for omission by some reviewers, Kapparos likewise has quite a bit more to the story than meets the eye, as we report in the text, which a different reviewer noted approvingly.29 We likewise don’t flinch from including and exploring the ribbono shel olam at bedtime that references reincarnation, nor the incantational verses at bedtime, Havdalah or kiddush levanah (indeed, the reversed “k’even yidmu” verse is likely not the result of a misreading of Soferim30 but is found in magical works from the genizah, as Prof. Shai Secunda enlightened us); we provide a basis to rationalize their use per the Arizal in the bedtime context. Prof. Secunda also provides an historical insight that serves as a robust defense for the continued recitation of Yekum Purkan, the passage which wrongly became early Reform’s symbol for Orthodox liturgical ossification.31

In light of the principle of charity, a similarly satisfactory understanding can be found for the Mi Sheberach before Mussaf that excludes women from “Hakahal hakadosh hazeh;” one that immediately comes to mind is that “hazeh” is always understood in Rabbinic literature as a deictic pronoun, evidenced in various Aggadic and Halachic sources;32 on the men’s side of the mechitzah, and for those families in which mothers are home with small children and unable to attend shul at all, there are no women to “point” to; perhaps it was felt best for the blessing to be bestowed on those immediately adjacent33 and proceed through them to women and children associated with them, since formal blessings are bestowed upon people (in birkas kohanim) or items (in birchos hanehenin) that are immediately proximate and visible to the mevarech. V’ein kan makom leha’arich.

Whereas some reviewers suspected innovation, in point of fact we took great pains to make sure that any adaptation would first and foremost be solidly anchored in ancient nusach, traditional hashkafah, unassailable halakhah, and also be vetted by our poskim. Thus, we considered not only the need to have a Shoah remembrance ceremony, but were cognizant of (some on the team even adamant about) the critique of Yom haShoah, which was instituted by the Knesset, as a result of a tug of war between right and left wing parties in which the concerns of the secular left ended up gaining the upper hand. The broad consensus of the religious public was to follow the Chief Rabbinate of Israel’s lead and enshrine the 10th of Teves as the Yom haKaddish haKelali, thus ensuring that the martyrs would be mourned in a most traditional manner, while the secular, left wing parties wanted to remember first and foremost the Warsaw Ghetto uprising, and appended the memory of other victims of the Holocaust to that act of defiance as almost a mere afterthought.34 As a result, though all Jewish communities do commemorate the victims of the Shoah, not all celebrate Yom haShoah. Even among those that do, many desire a more traditional mode to commemorate the victims.

Therefore, we have crafted a service centered around the study of Mishnayos, which serve to bring about an iluy neshamah in the manner that classical sources recommend. Because it centers around the study of Torah, it may be used on any day of the year ─ except for Tisha beAv ─ and may thus also be used in Nissan. Upon considering the nusach of the E-l Malei Rachamim to use for the martyrs of the Holocaust and of Israel’s wars, we have taken into consideration Rav Joseph Ber Soloveitchik’s insistence to not ever use the phrase “baavur she’anu mispallelim baavuram,” as that would be an unseemly attempt to condition our prayers on a particular result, a practice frowned upon as a form of iyun tefillah (cf. Berachos 55a).35

In recent years, a new Shoah remembrance day has come about: Yom haShichrur vehaHatzalah. This remembrance day was initiated by a partnership between Russian Jews, who are much more secular, the Conference of European Rabbis, which includes rabbis from the full spectrum of Orthodoxy, but leans more Chareidi, the Chief Rabbinate of Israel and Jewish organizations all over the communal spectrum. This day has been established with the blessings of many Chareidi gedolim, with the result that Chareidim eagerly take part in these commemorations. They are more reluctant to do on Yom haShoah, even though they do participate in official ceremonies of Yom haShoah, too. In 2018, the Knesset enshrined in law that remembrance day, through the Chok Yom haShichrur vehaHatzalah miGermaniah haNatzit. Though it is too early to tell, the rising rates of participation across the religious spectrum raises the real possibility that this will be come a fixed part of the Jewish calendar. Our liturgy for Shoah remembrance fits every bit as well for this remembrance day as for Yom haShoah.

For the prayers of Yom haAtzma’ut, we consulted with Rav Aharon Lichtenstein. One of us (AF) made the phone calls and had repeated conversations with him on this and other topics of the siddur. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein was negatively disposed towards the official Rabbanut sponsored Yom haAtzma’ut liturgy; for him, we ought to say Hallel, each one according to his poskim, either with or without a beracha, or thank God in a different way, but he didn’t appreciate the special liturgy. However, he nonetheless instructed us to include that liturgy in the siddur, out of respect for the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. Even so, he expressed a stronger disapproval of the inclusion of the few lines from Lechah Dodi. In line with his recommendation, we included the full Yom haAtzma’ut liturgy in the siddur, while noting that actual practices may differ.

Regarding Yom haAtzma’ut, we also consulted with Rav Hershel Schachter. Rav Schachter reported that the Rov, who was an ardent supporter of Zionism and outlined in one of his most famous essays (Kol Dodi Dofek) how he understood the modern State of Israel religiously, was not fond of reciting Hallel on Yom haAtzma’ut. When the MTA high school turned to him with a request to find a way to integrate Hallel into Shacharis of Yom haAtzma’ut, he responded that they should recite it without a beracha after Kaddish Tiskabel. During a lengthy conversation that spanned many aspects of Yom haAtzma’ut, other modern observances and other aspects of the siddur, Rav Schachter expressed his approval for reciting Hallel (without a beracha), but in the process also made an intriguing theoretical suggestion: Shouldn’t we consider the possibility of saying both Hallel and Tachanun? His reasons for suggesting that were that (a) the Tur records a minority view of saying Tachanun on Purim, and (b) we owe tremendous gratitude to God for having been given the opportunity to live through the establishment and continuing development of the State of Israel; yet on Yom HaAtzma’ut the state was proclaimed, war also broke out, and it is thus both a very happy day and a day on which great sacrifices were demanded of the People of Israel. He did not make that suggestion in the expectation that it would be adopted practically, but the suggestion is nonetheless very thought provoking. In that, he – possibly unwittingly – echoed the Rov, who, in a private conversation told Rabbi David Holzer “…For my part you could say tachanun. But tachanun and hallel are not mutually exclusively.”36 It should also be clear that there is no inkling of a doubt that we owe God tremendous gratitude for this incredible miracle that is the return to Zion and the establishment of the independent, sovereign State of Israel.

Both the Shoah Remembrance and Yom HaAtzma’ut/Yom Yerushalayim services are bolstered by essays by leading thinkers with expertise in Jewish history, R. Jacob J. Schacter and R. Professor David Berger, to ensure that the mispalel understand not merely the content of the additional services, but also why the gedolim of our community considered it important that we specially mark these recent events.

As we stressed at the beginning of the present essay, the siddur is filled with kabbalistic texts (all the Lesheim Yichud formulas, for starters) and texts whose meanings have been enriched by Kabbalistic understandings. As a result, we sought the counsel of a great Talmid Chacham who is a notable kabbalist, Rav Yaakov Hillel. One of the issues we discussed with him was the Seder Tu biShvat, and his advice can also be seen as a general framework in these matters. The “official” Seder Tu biShvat comes from a controversial sefer called Chemdas Yamim. Though the work is anonymous, some scholars believe that they have identified the author.37 The sefer includes a poem by Nathan of Gaza, who was the “prophet” of Shabbetai Tzvi. The inclusion of such a poem obviously makes the whole sefer suspect. The question of the status of Chemdas Yamim has implications not just for Seder Tu biShvat, since it is from there that the Chayei Adam had copied Tefillah Zakah (which one reviewer had suggested we include) and made it popular.38 (Indeed, since making this discovery, I (AF) have switched to reciting erev Yom Kippur the Vidui of Rabbenu Nissim, instead, and add a nusach that represents one of the passages that the poskim found particularly important in Tefillah Zakah, namely where the penitent proclaims that he forgives all those who wronged him for any wrong for which he doesn’t plan to seek redress in beis din).

We asked Rav Yaakov Hillel what he thought of Seder Tu biShvat. His response was that (a) it is quite popular, especially among Morrocan Sefardim; (b) nonetheless, “הצנועים מושכים את ידיהם כי אומרים שמחברו היה מאותו הכת,” those who are scrupulous abstain from using that text, since it is suspected that the author was a Sabbatean; (c) he was, however, supportive of the notion of a Seder Tu biShvat, which fits right in to the whole genre of tikkunim (of which only the Tikkun Leil Shavuos and to a lesser extent the Tikkun of Hoshanah Rabbah and for the evening before a bris enjoy any significant enduring popularity). Therefore, he suggested crafting our own text based primarily of the Ramchal’s Maamar Eitz haSadeh. The conclusion is obvious: the idea is good, but when a text is problematic, exchange it for a text with a better pedigree, for instance a text by Ramchal. Such a text was to have appeared on the Siddur’s supplemental website, and may instead feature in an upcoming companion volume.

Texts that have “fallen out” of the Siddur are restored. Where recent Siddurim have purged the text of “extra” personal supplications to streamline the prayer experience, we return them so as to facilitate personal investment in prayer. Gott fun Avrohom, the most famous of all Yiddish techinos ─ recited ubiquitously by our grandmothers in Eastern Europe but absent from other Koren Siddurim ─ is reinstated; and a section of techinos for women is provided in translation to Hebrew, fittingly restoring to contemporary women a genre of self-expression in prayer that was innovated for them and by them centuries ago. While we were at it, we provided a siddur in which women could find themselves as much at home as men, by supplying in-text female variants when appropriate, accounting for realities such as female heads of household, and providing for such halachic options as women’s zimun and birkas hagomel, all with the encouragement and assent of our poskim.

In the commentary and essays, we turned to Rav Soloveitchik more than any other contemporary figure not merely because of the Siddur’s RCA pedigree – indeed, he was intimately involved behind the scenes in every aspect of that organization’s endeavors,39 and was the rebbi or grand-rebbi of the lion’s share of its members – but because, as Lawrence Kaplan writes,

Soloveitchik’s writings on the nature of halakhah and the personality of halakhic man are endowed with a special, almost unique, authority, not shared by any other of the works in the modern era on these subjects. For Soloveitchik, alone among the leading Jewish thinkers in the modern era to have written on the philosophy of halakhah, was both a rabbinic figure of the first rank… and a creative theologian and philosopher who mastered the Western tradition of philosophical and scientific thought and was thus able to write about the halakhah in universal philosophical and phenomenological categories.40

Since the target audience of this Siddur is one that is intellectually sophisticated and versed in the Western tradition of philosophical and scientific thought, and Rav Soloveitchik has left a significant corpus, and he had a particular interest in, and devoted several major works to, Tefillah, it was natural that his thought be overrepresented in our Siddur. Arguably, there are others who wore both hats of Rabbinic leadership and mastery of the Western tradition whose oeuvre has grown quite a bit since the Siddur commentary was completed circa 2010, and future Siddurim would likely incorporate more of thinkers such as Rav Aharon Lichtenstein and Rav Shimon Gershon Rosenberg (Shagar). As for Halachic instructions, some of the practices of Rav Soloveitchik have taken root in Yeshiva University and a plurality of Modern and Centrist Orthodox congregations, and it was felt appropriate to validate the diversity of practice in our target congregations.

On the theme of diversity, aside from Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Kook, Rav Lichtenstein, ybl”ch Rav Nachum Rabinovitch, and other luminaries of the centrist Orthodox/religious Zionist community, the commentary provides space to gedolim of the modern period who are typically assigned to other religious communities and are not often in the consciousness of the Siddur’s target audience – R. Chaim Kanievsky ybl”ch, as well as R. Shmuel HaLevi Wosner, R. Ovadia Yosef, R. Hayyim David HaLevi, and the Lubavitcher Rebbe. This is a marked departure from the prior edition of the RCA Siddur, which in the main presented insights from greats associated with the religious community of its editors.

Apart from inspiration, the commentary finds meaning that is often overlooked. Knowledge of Tanach alerts us to prayer passages that incorporate snippets of pesukim as shorthand for profound ideas. In the very first passage, the presence of rabbah emunasecha in modeh ani calls attention to its source in Eichah, the turning point at which the lamenting gever recognizes that despite the horrors he has endured, God’s mercies are still in place – because Jews continue to wake up in the morning. We were fortunate to have access to the foremost minds in what may be termed the Literary School of Orthodox Jewish Tanach study41 as well as a direct line to religiously committed academic scholars with expertise in Jewish history, grammar and philosophy. The historical backdrops for various prayers and the concealed polemical messages are brought into full relief. Texts outside the canon like Ben Sira and archaeological findings that shed light on or appear to challenge our texts are discussed – Ancient Near East literature is mustered to help understand words like totefes, ahavah and emunah, and the special significance of the bris meal; the makeup of ketores and techeiles is helped by archaeology, and conversely, the mystery of the Dead Sea scroll “nun” verse for Ashrei is explained, and the most likely explanation reasonably vindicates our Mesorah. Scientific matters and identification of flora and fauna were assisted by R. Natan Slifkin, who has special expertise in, and curates a museum for Biblical Natural History. At the very same time, the broad tent of the RCA afforded us access to Chassidic scholars and even mekubalim who helped us fully explicate Kabbalistic prayers and avoid any obscurantism in our commentaries. The motto of the commentary was karov Hashem lechol kor’av, l’chol asher yikra’uhu b’emes.

The astute reader would do well to compare the new Siddur’s commentary with that of the previous RCA Siddur. Since much of the commentary was initially prepared when the Siddur was set to appear under its previous publisher, many of the “diburei hamaschil” (sub verbis) were retained, but the understandings are sometimes completely at variance, based on new (or newly considered) evidence. Matters of concordance had been retained in the first iteration of the new Siddur’s commentary, and after change of publisher, were removed and replaced for copyright purposes.

Aside from restored prayers, the siddur serves as a mekitz nirdamim in another aspect – the basis of the (heavily updated) translation is the elegant masterpiece by David de Sola Pool, perhaps the leading twentieth-century Sephardic Rav in the United States, a true gavra rabbah described in the following terms by his successor: “If ever the American Jewish community could boast of an extraordinary rabbi who combined the talents of a congregational rabbi, the social activism of a genuine idealist, the eloquent advocacy of a Zionist partisan and the calm, deep writings of a fine scholar—that rabbi was David de Sola Pool. That this rabbi was Orthodox made him more unique. That this rabbi was Sephardic made him absolutely unique for his time and place.”42 Unfortunately, delays in publication meant that his work was superseded by Philip Birnbaum’s, and the Siddur never saw the success it deserved.43 Along with de Sola Pool’s prose were brilliant poetic “free-form” translations of hymns by himself and his great-grandfather David Aaron de Sola and R. Joseph Marcus, along with those of literary luminaries such as Israel Zangwill, Nina Salaman and Elsie Davis, which had previously appeared a few decades prior (in a series of British translated Machzorim co-edited by Chief Rabbi Hermann Adler’s nephew).

Our greatest frustration in the Siddur’s publication has been the hundreds of pages of quality material – essays, commentary, yotzeros ─ that had to be cut so that the siddur could remain one portable volume. With the gracious consent of Hakirah, we present two essays that we wish could have been included – one on the Kabbalistic schema of prayer which informs many passages in the Siddur, subject matter which is treated in a more general (and lyrical) manner in R. Lamm’s essay on Chassidic perspectives on prayer; and one on nusach hatefilah, in collaboration with an expert Chazzan, which needed to be removed when one of our community’s foremost gedolim asked to address the same topic, albeit, again, in a more general (and Halakhically rigorous) way. We present them here for the readership of Hakirah.


1 Soloveitchik, Joseph B. “Redemption, Prayer, and Talmud Torah,” Tradition 17:2, New York: Spring 1978, p. 62.

2 Sacks, Jonathan. The Koren Sacks Siddur. Jerusalem: Koren Publishers, 2009, p. xxxv.

3 Tabory, Joseph. “The Prayerbook (Siddur) as an Anthology of Judaism.” Prooftexts 17: 2, Bloomington: May 1997, pp. 115-132.

4After years of speculation, evidence has been discovered that conclusively shows that the Prayer for the Welfare of the State of Israel was authored by Chief Rabbi Isaac Halevi Herzog, and not by Shai Agnon. Herzog had merely sent it to Agnon for review, and the latter made only the most minor edits (reportedly just 5 words). See Joel Rappel, Between Prayer and Politics (heb.), Hevel Modiin: Kinneret, Zmora-Bitan, Dvir, 2018.

5 The prayer versions of Ashkenaz, Edot haMizrach, Spanish-Portuguese, Romaniote and earlier, defunct variants from the high middle ages like Tzarfat and Provence all are rooted in the Nusach of early medieval Bavel; Ashkenaz retains the greatest degree of influences from the Nusach of early medieval Eretz Israel, which has been reconstructed from documents recovered from the genizah of the Ben Ezra synagogue of Fostat, among the last outposts of Nusach Eretz Yisrael until the tradition was extinguished in the thirteenth century. See Friedman, Mordekhai Akiva, “New Evidence of the Abolition of the Eretz-Israel Prayers and Prayer Rituals in Egypt in Abraham Maimonides’ Times” (heb.) in Ehrlich, Uri, ed., Jewish Prayer: New Perspectives (heb.), Jerusalem: Mosad Bialik, 2016, 315-325; for the reconstructions of the prayer version(s) see Ehrlich, Uri, The Weekday Amidah in Cairo Genizah Prayerbooks: Roots and Transmissions, Jerusalem: Yad Ben-Zvi Press, 2013. Ironically, many of these traces, such as alternate endings to Amidah blessings of Retzeh and Sim Shalom, as well as the krovot of R. Eliezer HaKalir for Tal and Geshem and four Parshiyot, have been entirely eradicated under the influence of the Vilna Gaon from the Nusach Ashkenaz used in most contemporary Israeli Ashkenazi synagogues; in the diaspora, these remain in use in most Ashkenaz communities, including but not limited to the various Yekke rites.

6 Soloveitchik, Haym. Collected Essays II, Oxford: Littmann Library of Jewish Civilization, 2014, p. 141-143.

7 R. Michael Leo Samuels, at https://www.sdjewishworld.com/2018/12/22/book-review-siddur-avodat-halev/, accessed May 15, 2019.

8 See Saks, Jeffrey, “The Rav Between Halakhic Men and Lachrymose Lubavitchers,” Kol HaMevaser, New York: 2016, X:1 p. 22-23.

9 Raised, for example, by R. Gil Student in http://hirhurim.blogspot.com/2008/03/rav-soloveitchiks-confrontation-with.html, accessed May 15, 2019; and Avraham Wein, “Of Perspective and Paradox: Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s Analysis of Holiness,” Kol Hamevaser IX:3, New York: 2016, p. 25. See also Sherlow, Yuval. Vehayu le’ahadim be`einekha: Medialektikah leharmoniah bemishnato shel Harav Yosef Dov Halevi Soloveitchik. Alon Shevut: Tevunot, 2000, p. 7; Finkelman, Yoel. Theology With Fissures: Contradictions in Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s Theological Writings. Journal of Modern Jewish Studies, 13(3), Abingdon-on-Thames­­: 2014, 399–421.

10 E.g. in his Halakhic Man, trans. Lawrence Kaplan, Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1984, p. 47; And From There You Shall Seek, trans. Naomi Goldblum, Jersey City, NJ: Ktav, 2008, p. 115; Family Redeemed, Jersey City, NJ: Ktav, 2000, p. 64; The Emergence of Ethical Man, Jersey City, NJ: Ktav Pub. House, 2005, p. 150; also see Lichtenstein, Aharon, “Joseph Soloveitchik,” in Noveck, Simon, ed., Great Jewish Thinkers of the Twentieth Century, Washington, DC: Bnai B’rith Adult Jewish Education, 1963, pp. 293-4. Rav Lichtenstein himself takes an altogether different approach to kedushah in his recent (posthumously published) Kedushas Aviv,

11 R. Saul Berman, at https://forward.com/culture/112469/even-a-new-siddur-can-t-close-god-gap/, accessed May 15, 2019.

12 We were also cognizant of the recent scholarship questioning the degree to which the thirteen Maimonidean principles were seen as binding in subsequent generations; see e.g. Shapiro, Marc B., The Limits of Orthodox Theology, London: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 2004; and more generally, Kellner, Menachem, Must a Jew Believe Anything, London: The Littman Library of Jewish Civilization, 1999; but see also Bleich, J. David, The Philosophical Quest: Of Philosophy, Ethics, Law and Halakhah, Jerusalem: Maggid Press, 2013, especially p. 9-32.. As such, we solicited an essay by Professor David Shatz to contextualize the Ikkarim for the contemporary mispallel.

13 See discussion at https://www.ou.org/blog/oupress/saying_shema_better/, accessed May 15, 2019.

14 We were also assisted by R. Binyamin Shlomo Hamburger with regard to textual issues. See his “Hagahat Siddur HaTefillah Lefi Siddurim Kedumim,” Yerushateinu 6, Bnei Brak: Machon Moreshet Ashkenaz, 2012, 262-296.

15 E.g., Rabbi Dan Margulies, at https://morethodoxy.org/2018/12/18/the-new-rca-siddur-the-ravs-legacy-and-feminist-innovation/, accessed May 15, 2019, and Rabbi Michael Leo Samuels, note 4 above.

16 Lewis, C.S. Surprised by Joy: The Shape of My Early Life. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, 1955, p. 207.

17 Davidson, Donald. “Truth and Meaning,” Synthese, 17, 1967, p. 304-323.

18 Quine, Willard Van Orman. Word and Object, Cambridge MA: MIT Press, 1960.

19 Pithy summary from https://onlinephilosophyclub.com/the-principle-of-charity.php, accessed June 1, 2019.

20 Davidson op. cit., p. 59.

21 Indeed, the phrase bears affinity to a pre-Christian Hellenistic thanksgiving formula, described in Greek as follows: “There were three blessings for which he was grateful to fortune: First, that I was born a human being and not one of the brutes; next, that I was born a man and not a woman, and thirdly, a Greek and not a barbarian;” this is explored by Yoel Kahn, The Three Blessings: Boundaries, Censorship and Identity in Jewish Liturgy, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011. However, the relatively late date at which these blessings were formulated, and the evidence of contemporaneous anti-Christian polemic (e.g. Elokai Neshamah, probably Birkas Haminim, swaths of the Haggadah, etc.), make it seem far likelier to these authors that Chazal in this instance were responding to the Gospels, rather than directly borrowing from Socrates or Plato.

22 See discussion and sources cited in Fung, Ronald Y.K., The Epistle to the Galatians, Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1988, p. 176.

23 A few berachos and associated liturgy trace their formulations to the first and second centuries of the Common Era, when early Christianity and Gnosticism were the chief ideological and political competitors of the Jewish community in the Holy Land, and polemics against these ideologies are discernable in numerous blessing formulae. A “neighbor” of shelo asani ishah, the blessing Elokai Neshamah, is seen by R. Samson Raphael Hirsch, Kaufmann Kohler, R. J.H. Hertz and others as polemicizing against the Christian doctrine of original sin (“the soul… it is pure”), even as the text continues with a description of bodily resurrection, which runs counter to Gnostic doctrine. The most obviously polemical formulae have been subject to censorship over time. See, e.g., Langer, Ruth, Cursing the Christians? A History of Birkat HaMinim, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012; see also Yuval, Israel J., “Easter and Passover as Early Jewish-Christian Dialogue,” in Paul F. Bradshaw and Lawrence A. Hoffman, eds., Passover and Easter: Origin and History to Modern Times, Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2000, p. 98-124. After his survey of what he sees as thoroughgoing polemic in the Haggadah, Yuval goes to far as to say “…in its deepest meaning, the Oral Law should be seen as the Jewish response to the Christian New Testament.” The purist Tefillas Yeshurun siddur reinstated the uncensored version of the birkas haminim.

24 See Frymer-Kensky, Tikva, In the Wake of the Goddesses: Women, Culture and the Biblical Transformation of Pagan Myth, New York: Fawcett Columbine, 1992. See also Elman ,Yaakov, “’He in His Cloak and She in Her Cloak:’ Conflicting Images of Sexuality in Sasanian Mesopotamia,” in Ulmer, Rivka, ed. Discussing Cultural Influences: Text, Context and Non-Text in Rabbinic Judaism, Lanham, MA: University Press of America, 2007, p. 129-164.

25 Rav Soloveitchik often expresses himself in his writings in a manner that is compatible with, and even anticipates, some concepts in feminist ethical and political theory. See Wolosky, Shira, “The Lonely Woman of Faith,” Judaism 52:1-2, New York: American Jewish Congress, 2004, 3-18.

26 We term “jurisprudential interpretative continuity” such interpretations of halakha and halakhically relevant sources that occur within jurisprudential contexts and – due to continuity of interpretation – do not allow for re-evaluation of that interpretation in the Halakhic context. An extreme example regards the prohibition against homosexual intercourse. Some authors claiming to belong to the Orthodox community have tried to suggest interpretations of the severe prohibition on homosexual intercourse in a manner that would allow condoning homosexual relations. Such interpretations invariably are at odds with all interpretations considered by halakhah since the earliest iterations of the Oral Law, and there is not a single traditional source that is accorded any halakhic import that supports those reinterpretations. With regard to other issues, in which those seeking reinterpretations of halakhah can muster some obscure sources, those sources had never been part of the ongoing halakhic discourse. That is what we term jurisprudential interpretive continuity: the existence of an interpretive tradition that was adopted within legal discourse, which displays sufficient continuity so as to render certain alternate readings inadmissible.

27 Frimer, Aryeh A. and Frimer, Dov I. “Women’s Prayer Services – Theory and Practice.” Tradition 32:2, New York: Winter 1998, p. 41. For research that seems to bear out the latter concern, see Shain, Michelle, “Whence Orthodox Jewish Feminism? Cognitive Dissonance and Religious Change in the United States,” Religions 9, Basel: MDPI, 2018, article 332.

28A zealous convert, I should term myself, as I grew up in Nusach Sefard and “converted” upon becoming the rov of the Yekke community of Basel, Switzerland, since it is a place with a real minhag hamakom. ─AF

29 R. Israel Drazin, “The New Rabbinical Council of America Siddur,” https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-new-rabbinical-council-of-america-siddur/, accessed May 31, 2019.

30 Farkas, David S. “Backward and Forward: An Unusual Feature of Kiddush Levanah.” Hakirah

vol. 9. New York: 2010, pp. 229-242

31 See Petuchowski, Jacob J., Prayerbook Reform in EuropeThe Liturgy of European Liberal and Reform Judaism, New York: World Union for Progressive Judaism, 1968, especially p. 116, 122. See also the joke cited here, http://onthemainline.blogspot.com/2010/01/minhag-jokes-and-their-historical.html (item 2).

32 See Menachos 29b; Yerushalmi Shekalim 1:4, Rambam Hilchos Chametz U’Matzah 8:4, et al.

33 The necessity of visual contact between the one who blesses and the recipient is noted in several places in the Torah commentary of R. Ovadiah Seforno, most prominently in his comment on Bereshit 48:10. See discussion in Samet, Elhanan, Studies in the Weekly Parasha (Series 3) vol. 1 (Heb.), p. 245.

34See Stauber, Roni. הויכוח בשנות החמישים בין הציונות הדתית לבין השמאל הציוני על מועד יום הזיכרון לשואה, in מדינה בדרך : החברה הישראלית בעשורים הראשונים, Zalman Shazar Center for the History of the Jewish People, 2001.

35 See e.g. Nefesh HaRav, p. 143.

36David Holzer, “The Rav: Thinking Aloud,” 2009, pg. 210.

37See Brill, Alan. Tu bShvat Seder – with Text, 2010, accessed on May 30th 2019 at https://kavvanah.wordpress.com/2010/01/25/tu-bshevat-seder-with-text/.

38See Tefillah Zakah: History of a Controversial Prayer, 2007. Accessed on May 30th 2019 at https://seforimblog.com/2007/09/teffilah-zakah-history-of-controversia/. One could argue that the inclusion of L’David Hashem Ori (Psalm 27) from Rosh Chodesh Elul until Simchas Torah should be struck from the siddur on similar grounds. However, this practice has gained widespread acceptance in Ashkenazic communities. Also, it seems that the practice predates Chemdas Yamim by several years, as it appears in Sefer Shem Tov Katan (1706), Sefer Zechirah (1709) and Sefer HaMussar (1724), which predate Chemdas Yamim (1731). See discussion in Pardes Eliezer, Rosh Hashanah, p. 104-107.

39 See Bernstein, Louis. Challenge and Mission: The Emergence of the English-Speaking Orthodox Rabbinate. New York: Shengold Publishers, 1982.

40 Kaplan, Lawrence. “Joseph Soloveitchik and Halakhic Man,” in Morgan, Michael L and Gordon, Peter Eli, eds. The Cambridge Companion to Modern Jewish Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007, p. 210.

41 See Beasley, Yaakov. “Review Essay: Return of the Pashtanim.” Tradition 42:1, New York: Spring 2009, pp. 67-83.

42 R. Marc Angel at https://www.jewishideas.org/article/rabbi-dr-david-de-sola-pool-sephardic-visionary-and-activist, accessed May 15, 2019.

43 The Siddur’s erstwhile competitor’s review unfairly accusing R. de Sola Pool of Christological influence did not help much, either. See Paltiel Birnbaum, “Siddur Hadash Ba La-Medinah,” Hadoar, 2 Kislev, 5721, p. 85 and rebuttal by Chaim Dov Chavel, “Teshuvat Histadrut Ha-Rabanim De’Amerika,” Hadoar, 2 Kislev, 5721, pp. 87–89. See the comprehensive treatment in Krasner, Jonathan. “American Jews in Text and Context: Jacob Behrman and the Rise of a Publishing Dynasty.” Images 7, Leiden: 2015, especially pp. 74-77.

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