Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Navonim - The Ramblings of Garnel Ironheart

Monday, 30 August 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.


Jennifer in MamaLand said...

Cool! I thought I was the only one tacky enough to review siddurs!

When I noticed the new Artscroll release this weekend, I was at first quite excited, then disappointed that they have maintained their standard of italicizing the majority of the English text.

Just as all caps is the online equivalent of SHOUTING, so too is italicizing the grammatical equivalent of calling your text out as %%special%%. So I find it irritating.

And it's funny - I never minded Artscroll's use of HASHEM (all caps - cuz he's shouting?) until I got the Koren-Sacks, which uses LORD (still shouting?). I don't necessarily prefer LORD, but at least it's an actual word that can be used in prayer if need be.

IMO, the factions that control all things Artscroll have likely not allowed anything all that exciting to happen with this siddur. I also don't trust that faction to create meaningful, prayerful English text as well as Lord (not LORD) Sacks probably does.

Most of which is moot because I rarely see the English, but I always figure anyone should be able to pick up a siddur and get something out of it. Artscroll, not so much.

Nachum said...

The inclusion of "laws of Israel" make it pretty clear it's meant as competition for Koren.

But aimed at Modern Orthodox? I don't see anything about prayers for the State of Israel, etc.

Artscroll is also creating a new RCA siddur to appeal to MO.

Of course, Artscroll is vastly discounting their new siddur. They're not above competing like a business. Nothing wrong with that...except they're a non-profit, but whatever.

Anonymous said...

A little competition is indeed a good thing.

Unfortunately, the Sacks siddur came out a little late for me, Hebrew-English Siddurim being of limited usefulness. The "extra" pages make davenning seem to take longer, plus there tends to be more flipping around.

My husband was obsessed to the extreme about the Ashkenaz version of the Simanim siddur, which came out months and months after the Sefard version. Simanim has a nice Shabbat Chumash, available in all different flavors.

I never liked Birnbaum after ArtScroll came out; in spite of its ideological biases, Artscroll gave very clear directions and acceptable translations, and it became easy to find my way around. Nowadays, I tend to use the Artscroll without the English because the layout is familiar. I don't know why they didn't include many of the helpful instructions for Israelis unfamiliar to the siddur. The Artscroll Russian-Hebrew siddur is very inclusive and is much beloved by my Russian friends for that reason.

For the chagim, I am going back and forth between the Machon HaMikdash machzorim, which are not without their drawbacks, and "Mimecha Eleikha", edited by Yehonadav Kaplun, which is only in nusach Sfard as far as I know. The latter has both comprehensive classical commentaries and some less traditional ones, and a lovely typeface. It's like inviting a diverse but convivial crowd to your leil haseder--everybody around the table, comfortable adding something.

--Manya Shochet

S. said...

>But aimed at Modern Orthodox?

I probably should promote the commenting on my own blog, but it's not that its aimed at modern orthodox per se. It's aimed at the people who are in the market to buy a fancy new siddur. Before last year there was no fancy new siddur to buy.

Garnel Ironheart said...

First of all you don't need to promote the commenting on your blog. You're way ahead in that tally so no worries!

Secondly, "aiming at the people who are in the market to buy a fancy new siddur" and "Modern Orthodox" are almost the same thing.

S. said...

I'm joking!

No it's not. That group includes anyone who would like a siddur with English translation, including probably hundreds of thousands of Evangelical Christians who may or may not know it.

As you yourself have written, Artscroll caters to (and may have even created) an entire category of semi-ba'alei teshuva. These people are certainly not, for the most, part ideologically Modern Orthodox and specifically looking for something like the Koren siddur, but no the Artscroll siddur.

Nosson Gestetner said...

I don't really understand the need for an MO version of the siddur for it's own sake (not re: extra tefillos, lower prices - those I understand) - Wouldn't all explanations be roundabout the same?

And how exactly is Artscroll Charedi angled?
I say that for two reasons:
-I use Artscroll seforim frequently and really don't see a Charedi angle
-Charedim are pretty anti-Artscroll!

Raphael Freeman said...

If you like a chumash with a siddur in the back, Koren invented the idea! For the US, we have the Talpiot Shabbat Chumash available from all good booksellers and also directly from our new website,

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

As Nachum said, there is also a new RCA siddur on the way; although Artscroll isn't 'creating' it. All the development is done by a committee of RCA rabbanim. I'm afraid that by the time it comes out, there won't be much interest in yet another Hebrew-English siddur. But if there will be a competition for a Modern Orthodox public, it would rightfully be between the Koren Sacks siddur recently brought out by the OU, and the soon to appear RCA siddur.

Mordechai Y. Scher said...

Nosson, for one thing, Artscroll pretty much ignores the existence of the State of Israel. When the siddur first appeared in Yerushalayim in the 80s, that was the first thing I noted about it. A galut-centered siddur. There were already plenty of those. In addition, no recognition that there are plenty of Jews (non-Zionist, too) in Israel, who need instructions and halachot that relate to their reality. Artscroll simply ignored all of that.

As for their other books? Ah, where to begin? The hagiographies are definitely a charedi thing. One might argue more chassidish, a la Rav Rakefet; who has noted the 'chassidim won', and their influence is strongly present even in Litvish circles. And anywhere you look at halacha in an Artscroll publication, it is likely to emphasize a Litvish/yeshivish/humra approach as preferred. The notion of 'mainstream halacha' has been sacrificed for the false safety of humrot. Just last night it came up in shiur that we have a generation of people who think that humrot are a default; and don't even know the basic halacha in many cases. That is partly due to Artscroll participating in such an agenda.

I've only heard Haredi protest over Artscroll concerning the g'mara; and that is due to Rav Shach's comments.

S. said...

>And how exactly is Artscroll Charedi angled?

You're kidding? It's the slightly tamer, 1970s American yeshivish hashkafah saturated.

The easiest way to see it if you don't already see it would be to compare the introductions and commentary in it and other Orthodox siddurim with those things, such as the Birnbaum siddur - or of course the Koren siddur. Also worth comparing are the halacha sections between A. and K.

Nachum said...

Nosson, you might want to check how Artscroll handles the "shalosh shavuot" in their English Gemara. It's basically the Satmar position unadulterated, without them telling you that or admitting that there are any other perspectives. Now that's Wrong with a capital "W."

Then again, I stopped taking their Gemara seriously when they changed every occurrence of the word "rape" from the first edition of Makkot to "oneiss" in the second. Why on Earth they would do that, I have no idea.

Of course, there's the infamous editing of R' Zevin's work as well, to fit in to their hashkafa.