New Issue of Jewish Action

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Long before I helped begin Cross-Currents, the place my keyboard’s output called home was Jewish Action, the quarterly of the Orthodox Union. To the credit of the OU, its leadership encouraged the production of a serious Orthodox magazine that allowed different points of view on a given topic. In my mind, an appreciation of diversity remains one of the most sorely needed elements in contemporary Torah-true Judaism. Too many people are aware of the complexity of both life itself and the Torah’s response to it to be serviced by one-size-fits all approaches. Denying the legitimacy of different Torah approaches (to the exclusion of non-Torah approaches which indeed often have to be dismissed) rings hollow to many people; to others, it breeds contempt of anyone who does not think exactly as they do. Jewish Action remains one of the few places where people can see different opinions championed with equal skill and authority. I believe that this is the reason why quite a few people on JA’s Editorial Board maintain with alacrity an active role, even though they may personally be to the right of where much of the OU finds itself.

The new issue is of special interest to me. My one published sefer – an adaptation of Maharal’s Be’er HaGolah – was finally reviewed, in commemoration of the 400th yahrzeit of the Maharal next week. (BE”H, I will be flying to Prague to take part in a community-sponsored event to mark the occasion.) The review, like the Maharal’s work itself, is particularly deep, thorough, and incisive. I am delighted that the able reviewer – Rabbi Elyakim Krombein – liked my approach, and still found areas of subtle criticism. The Maharal is well-served by such exacting demands.

Another section of the issue gathers word portraits of modern day heroes: laypeople whose progress in Torah was not stalled by their entry into the work force. They continued galloping ahead in Torah learning and skills, not content to simply run in place. They accomplished enough to write Torah works of their own. One of those featured is a talmid of mine; another is my good friend Rabbi Hillel Goldberg.

A section on tefillah offers essays by both Rabbi Zvi Hirsh Weinreb and Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. The latter’s contribution is excerpted from his new Koren Siddur, vying to compete with Artscroll for the English speaking market.

I will admit to being a huge fan of Artscroll, on several different levels. I’ve seen much of the criticism – and written some of it myself. Nonetheless, what some people see as flaws all pale in comparison to the immense good that Artscroll publications have brought the Torah community. I never found the Artscroll Siddur lacking. To the contrary, its translation is light years ahead of the alternatives I remember from my childhood.

The Koren Siddur, however, excels in one area. Very few people can make a pen sing like Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. The Artscroll translation is more than adequate – but it reads like prose, when so much of our liturgy is really poetic. To whom should this make a difference? To those whose Hebrew skills are still weak, and must daven using a translation. The Koren translation is simply more mellifluous and lyrical. It reads like a song of the heart, rather than a religious op-ed.

Consider these examples from Shemonah Esreh:

You grace humanity with knowledge and teach mortals understanding. Grace us with the knowledge, understanding and discernment that comes from you. Blessed are You, Lord, who graciously pardons.

May the offshoot of Your servant David soon flower and may his pride be raised high by Your Salvation, for we wait Your Salvation all day. Blessed are you,Lord, who makes the glory of salvation flourish.

Check the Artscroll translations of these berachos. They are more than defensible. They are quite useful – but they are just not as pretty and elegant. The Koren renditions are of a kind that a person can give his or her heart to, rather than just read and focus upon. I will keep using the Artscroll myself, and keep recommending its use for all people in my orbit except those who need to daven in English. For them, the Koren is the better choice.

[with thanks to Martn Brody, of the Chief Rabbi’s Fan Club]

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16 Responses

  1. Jewish Observer says:

    “Only one? I think it excels in quite a few areas”

    – it”s just an expression, like saying “he is right about one thing” when in fact he (whomever he is) is probably right about thousands of things

  2. Nachum Lamm says:

    Hey, different strokes. I hope everybody “wins” here. The more seforim the better, I always say.

  3. Jacob Suslovich says:

    to Nachum Lamm.

    I apologize for the misspelling. As to the substance of your comment, there is always a tradefoff between a readable translation and a literal one. In my opinion the very slight edge that the Koren siddur has in readability does not offset its much greater deviation from folowing the Hebrew more exactly.

  4. Nachum Lamm says:

    Jacob: It’s “Koren.” The Koran is something else. :-)

    In any event, as is often pointed out, the literal translation is not always the best. To be sure, it helps to have a literal translation, so as to know what a word actually means (that’s why we have Everett Fox’s Chumash, so we know that “mizbeach” means “slaughter-site”), but more loose translations are sometimes best in some contexts.

  5. Jacob Suslovich says:

    I have compared the Koran translation quoted in the article with that of the Artscroll Siddur. I apparently lack any poetic sensibility since I find the Koran translation only slighly more lyrical than that of Artscroll. But the Artscroll translation keeps much closer to the Hebrew orignal, both in terms of the syntax of the sentence and the grammar of the words. If I want to clarify my often fuzzy understanding of the Hebrew, I can do so much more easily with the Artscroll translation than with the Koran translation. Yet despite hewing more closely to the Hebrew original, the Artscroll translation is quite readable. On balance it is in my opinion the superior work.

  6. Moishe Potemkin says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein’s advocacy of diversity is welcome, and I have no doubt that it is sincere. However, I cannot help but remember his qualification of the standards for Cross-Currents contributors, to wit: “We do, however, draw the line at the left.”

    The lack of diversity that he decries is precisely the delegitimization of those further to the left of whomever is exhibiting the intolerance. I fear that unless he’s willing to go a little further, he’s endorsing the very same attitude that he appropriately finds to be problematic.

    [YA – I can’t tell you that are wrong. Most of us feel that we have to draw the line somewhere. I will be content with an expanded embrace of the area within two standard deviations of the norm, if one could quantify hashkafa. We have too much toxic infighting and denigrating of people who are very close on a continuum. I will see Reform, Conservative, Humanistic, secular Jews as my brothers and sisters, but I can’t possibly embrace their views on the divinity of Torah or the nature of halacha. Similarly but more subtley, I do believe that the far left (and it is only the far left I would and do exclude) is simply off the continuum of traditional Orthodoxy. I’m not going to wage a street battle over it, but I do believe – and I have written why, without mentioning names – that the approach to halacha on the far left is so far removed from a theoretical “mainstream” that it has no place in a journal that bnei Torah are reading.

    Bottom line: I hope you will agree that a bit more diversity is better than none at all.]

  7. Daniel Shain says:

    The profiles of the baalei batim who have excelled in learning are very inspirational but also depressing in making me feel totally inadequate. However, I wonder whether most of us mortal men can really wake up at 3am as described in one of the articles, and still function at work and in dealing with our families.

  8. Nachum Lamm says:

    “The Koren Siddur, however, excels in one area”

    Only one? I think it excels in quite a few areas, some making it better than Artscroll and some simply making it a good siddur on its own, Artscroll or no.

  9. Bob Miller says:

    Birnbaum’s translations got to the point directly, simply and (therefore) elegantly. They said “use me” not “look at me”.

  10. Nathan says:

    THE METSUDAH SIDDUR helped me to learn the vocabulary of the siddur
    with a speed that amazed my friends.

    I recommend that Baalei Teshuvah and anyone who wants to
    improve their understanding of the siddur should study
    both the ArtScroll Siddur and the Metsudah Siddur.

    I also find the Metsudah Tehillim and the Metsudah Chumash
    with Rashi to be extremely helpful, yet many people do not
    know about these helpful resources.

  11. mycroft says:

    ” The Phillip Birnbaum siddur – I dont think Artscroll’s translation is “light years” ahead of theirs – had a more scholarly approach than the Artscroll simplistic one, yet you never got the impression that it’s editors thought it was “my way or the highway”.”

    Phillip Birnbaum is one who unfortunately is forgotten about-but for probably a quarter of a century or so his Siddurim were the standard ones used.
    On a personal level I had the pleasure of meeting him and talking to him many times near the end of his life. I found him to be a pleasant, knowledgeable person.

  12. Saul Lieberman says:

    Given your appreciation of the Koren translation, I am surprised that you think it would only be appropriate for those “whose Hebrew skills are still weak, and must daven using a translation.” More likely, it could be appropriate for anyone who cannot otherwise perceive that “so much of our liturgy is really poetic.”

  13. Nathan says:

    L. Oberstein (message # 1) said:

    “It [Jewish Observer] had to toe a party line
    that would not offend any faction of the Agudah,
    especially the right-wingers, who took offense
    at any suggestion that was counter to
    their version of reality.”

    I could be wrong about this, but according to my small understanding,
    it seems to me that part of the extreme right-wing version of reality
    is that back in Europe, everyone was a very great tzaddik who never
    never committed sins and learned all of Shas hundreds of times.

    This view of history can be refuted by studying mussar books
    that detail the sins of the generations that they were written in.

  14. Garnel Ironheart says:

    > In my mind, an appreciation of diversity remains one of the most sorely needed elements in contemporary Torah-true Judaism. Too many people are aware of the complexity of both life itself and the Torah’s response to it to be serviced by one-size-fits all approaches.

    Does that mean Cross Currents will be recruiting Modern Orthodox and Religious Zionist rabbonim to become regular contributors?

    [YA – It always has, and will continue BE”H to do so.]

  15. DF says:

    I’m also not an Artscroll basher, having davened daily from one of their siddurim for more than 20 years running now. But I think you overdo it when you claim its flaws pale in comparison to the good it’s done. I’m not so sure, and for precisely the reason you begun your article with. Artscroll presents a world in which it’s view of Torah is presented as the only view. It is not shy in asserting stridently that its viewpoint is “authentic”, as though all others are not. Artscroll is certainly entitled to publish in line with its editors’ hashkafos, aquired in the great yeshiva of Telshe, but there is a way to do so without disparaging others. The Phillip Birnbaum siddur – I dont think Artscroll’s translation is “light years” ahead of theirs – had a more scholarly approach than the Artscroll simplistic one, yet you never got the impression that it’s editors thought it was “my way or the highway”.

    [YA – I’m not sure why the word “authentic” implies that other views are not. Can’t there be more than one authentic approach? Am only I allowed to say that there are, but not Nosson Scherman? I know him, and he believes it no less than I do.]

  16. L. Oberstein says:

    Many years ago I asked a colleague why Jewish Action had symposia on controversial topics and Jewish Observer did not.He jokingly answered”Jewish Observer would discuss both sides of an issue if there were two sides to an issue.” Jewish Observer is out of business because it was boring. It had to toe a party line that would not offend any faction of the Agudah,especially the right wingers , who took offense at any suggestion that was counter to their version of reality. I hope that Jewish Action will continue to grow. However, the biggest “chidush” to me is Mishpacha Magazine. A yearly subscription is close to $ 200 and its circulation continues to grow. I know people of limited means who would not spend so much money easily who gladly subscribe to Mishpacha. In an age when print media is in rapid decline, Mishpacha and Hamodia are glaring exceptions.