People of the Prayer Book

Taking a page from Lev Shalem, the popular High Holiday machzor, a new Shabbat and festival siddur offers an updated translation, layout and commentary designed to enliven the experience of prayer
for contemporary Jews.

by Rabbi Carol Levithan

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There is growing excitement about the publication of Siddur Lev Shalem for Shabbat and Festivals, now in the ?nal stages of editing, with publication anticipated later this fall. Why a new siddur? The answer: Mahzor Lev Shalem, which has gone through five printings and sold over 320,000 copies since its publication in 2009. The four-column format, with historical and explanatory material in the ?rst column next to the Hebrew, along with poetry and inspirational readings in the fourth column next to the English, has transformed the experience of being in synagogue for the High Holidays.

While the immediate success of the mahzor quickly led to establishing the Siddur Lev Shalem committee, Rabbi Ed Feld, chair of both committees, observes there were also compelling reasons to create a new Conservative siddur. “You can’t describe God as ‘awesome’ anymore,” is his persuasive way of illustrating how language changes and why “each generation needs its own translation,” as re?ected in the carefully crafted literal translations in both the mahzor and siddur that allow the reader to choose how to relate to the text. Commentary elucidating the text has also become an integral feature in prayer books, even in siddurim published in Israel for native Hebrew speakers.

Siddur Lev Shalem represents the essence of Conservative Judaism, combining his-torical wisdom with spiritual searching. As one rabbi put it, “Lev Shalem stretches us in two directions: both toward the tradition and toward the contemporary.” It includes all the prayers and psalms familiar from previous Conservative siddurim yet makes them more accessible, with clear instructions and explanations as well as extensive transliteration. It is more literal and poetic. What’s more, the siddur serves as an anthology, offering a wide array of readings such as alternative versions of prayers from the Italian rite, which dates back to the ?rst millennium in the land of Israel. The full range of Jewish historical and cultural experience is on these pages, inviting daveners to see themselves as links in an unbreakable chain of North African, Italian, Sephardic, Middle Eastern, and Ashkenazi Jews whose prayers are included, some for the ?rst time in centuries.

The siddur is also a book for our time. An expanded collection of mi sheberakhim includes wording appropriate for gay cou-ples who are marking life-cycle occasions celebrated in the synagogue – naming a baby girl, adoption, becoming grandpar-ents, marking a birthday or anniversary, or traveling to Israel.

There is a prayer to be recited by mourners or those observing a yahrzeit when no minyan is present that includes a communal response, acknowledging the need for support when Kaddish cannot be said. Since the opening of the ark historically has been a time for personal prayer, the siddur includes additional meditations and private prayers. The siddur’s unique fourth column offers poems and an extraordinary array of other material that can be read, sung or recited responsively. These are drawn from the vast treasury of Jewish writing ranging from the Bible, Talmud and rabbinic midrash to the Rambam, Rav Nahman, Abraham Joshua Heschel, Mordecai Kaplan, Ismar Schorsch and modern poets such as Zelda, Marge Piercy, Marcia Falk, Yehuda Amichai, and many more.

The ancient practice of reciting the Song of Songs (still observed in Sefardi synagogues) offers an alternative for beginning the Friday evening service and, with other poetry, provides opportunities to teach and sing exquisite melodies from our rich musical tradition. For each festival there is a reading from or related to the megillah for that holiday, poems that speak to the unique quality of remembering loved ones in that season and a meditation “In Memory of a Parent Who Was Hurtful” that will resonate deeply for those unable to recite the traditional Yizkor prayer for a parent.

To inspire and support greater home observance, Siddur Lev Shalem begins with a text on preparing for Shabbat followed by an expanded section for candle lighting with poetry, new meditations and readings as well as traditional blessings. Shabbat BaBayit (Shabbat at home) includes all home rituals, table songs (transliterated), Havdalah, and explanations of Shabbat rituals.

Siddur Lev Shalem is a book for shul and home, certain to nurture the tradition of owning prayer books and passing them on to the next generation.

The Siddur Lev Shalem for Shabbat and Festivals Committee includes: Rabbi Edward Feld, Senior Editor; Rabbi Jan Uhrbach, Associate Editor; Rabbi David Ackerman, Cantor Joanna Dulkin, Rabbi Amy Wallk Katz, Rabbi Cantor Lilly Kaufman, Rabbi Alan Lettofsky, and Rabbi Rob Scheinberg.

Rabbi Carol Levithan is Consultant for Special Projects at the Rabbinical Assembly.