Monday, August 30, 2010
A Little Competition Goes a Long Way
Competition is the important factor that makes an idea or society great. Insulated from competition, societies become stale and unimaginative, unable to cope with change and prone ultimately to failure. The greatest example one can bring to prove the truth of this is the United States of America, a country born of competition and which thrives on encouraging it. I am personally a big fan of the idea, except in sports because I suck at that.
What has gotten my attention recently was a new book from the folks at Artscroll that doesn't seem to have yet generated the publicity it should. Now, I have been critical of some of Artscroll's work in the past. Yes, they have published important works like the Schottenstein gemaras (Bavli and Yerushalmi) along withg other great works but other features like their hagiographies and digests of classic works (as opposed to translations with commentary) leave much to be desired.
Then there is their original siddur. Although I am a fan of the old time Birnbaum siddur it is easy to see why Artscroll reduced it from its longtime position as the standard English-Hebrew siddur in the Orthodox world to that of dusty has-been. The clear print, detailed commentary, the weekday Torah readings and tehillim in the back, and the layout all made the Artscroll siddur a natural for any shul looking to upgrade its siddur supply. The only real limitations to the siddur were its lacking certain sections, like the Yom Kippur Katan services and other more obscure prayers that people who required an English side to their prayer book were unlikely to ever say. In addition a perusal of the commentary would turn up the fact that only certain Chareidi authorities were quoted, never any from the Modern Orthodox or Zionist communities but again, not something most people were likely to notice.
It also helped Artscroll that for more than two decades they were essentially the only other choice for an English-Hebrew siddur with commentary. All that changed last year when Israeli publisher Koren burst forth with its English-Hebrew siddur. With its beautiful binding and typeface along with the revolutionary idea of putting the English page on the right and a commentary by Rav Jonathan Sacks, shlit"a, it became the first legitimate competitor for Artscroll's flagship publication.
More importantly, it didn't come out as a general competitor against Artscroll. Anyone who looks over the Koren quickly realizes that this siddur was created to give the Modern Orthodox community a siddur of its own. The significance of this cannot be understated.
The siddur, like Artscroll's, has certain limitations, most significantly that it lacks certain prayers many frum people are not familiar with. Again, this might just be a quibble since anyone dedicated to saying Yom Kippur Katan is likely to have an all-Hebrew siddur.
Most importantly, it has created competition within the frum publishing industry. For the first time in over 20 years, Artscroll has revised its siddur and come to include those extra prayers along with certain other practical liturgies. In short, it has taken a step further towards becoming a complete siddur, not just a really nice sidder for folks who want an English translation. The typeface has also improved and, significantly, the price has dropped.
Personally I am unlikely to rush out and buy the new Artscroll siddur when it comes out. Like Koren's, there will only be an Ashkenaz version initially and I daven Sefard. I also have a nice all-Hebrew siddur with all the amenities inside. However, the idea that Koren has created a concept of competition, that the Modern Orthodox market is important to Artscroll and that its needs are now being noticed is an tremendous thing, in my opinion. Along with Ktav, I have a hope that Modern Orthodox can start creating its own line of seforim, digests and commentaries all from the MO perspective. Perhaps this will be the start of a great change for Modern Orthodoxy.