The Koren Siddur. Thank God.

Crossposted to Jewschool

Koren, Israeli publishers renowned for Eliyahu Koren’s gorgeous fonts and refreshing layouts, have finally given us a sidur for the English-speaking world. And it’s everything I hoped it would be.

I’ll start with my personal impressions of this siddur and move on to it’s significance on the world’s liturgical stage second.

I’ve never opened a new sidur before and immediately felt its beauty above all else. As a font nerd, I’m still going nuts for Koren’s two similar fonts, used throughout the siddur for the Hebrew text. Parts of the liturgy that are direct biblical quotes are in Koren’s original tanach font and the rest of the text is presented in the similar, but sublty different sidur font. Both are elegant and totally readable.

Better than just having great fonts, the sidur is laid out with all the elegance we expect from Koren. See this opening page from Minchah for example. Rather than having Hebrew on the right and English on the left, with lines of text terminating in the center of the spread, the Hebrew is on the left and the English is on the right, with lines of text originating in the middle of the page.

Combine this with Koren’s sensical and elegant line breaks and blocks of text, and each two-page spread of the sidur is symmetrical, with the blocks of English and the blocks of Hebrew mirroring each other in shape like a rorschach ink blot test.

As part of their attempt to keep the page as uncrowded as possible, rather than frequent stage directions, this sidur has an innivative way of telling you when to bow and when the rise, etc. Next to words on which one is supposed to bow, there is a small equilateral triangle pointing down. In K’dushah, each instance of the word Kadosh gets a similar triangle pointing up to indicate that one should rise up on one’s toes.

According to one of the sidur’s several prefaces, “The prayers are presented in a style that does not spur habit and hurry, but rather encourages the worshiper to engross his mind and heart in prayer.” They have done that.

Now on to the significance of this sidur in the wider world. For all of my lifetime, the most popular orthodox sidur has been the family of ArtScroll sidurim. This is a family of sidurim with a very conservative agenda to push. They are ornate, over-designed and full of crowded pages, excessive instructions, and suggestive translations. (For more on ArtScroll and its agenda, see What’s Bothering ArtScroll?) Further, ArtScroll is under the impression that women need a seperate sidur.

At every turn, The Koren Siddur is ArtScroll’s opposite. Rather than being ornate and gilded, Koren is subdued. ArtScroll has crowded pages, where Koren has elegant pages without wasting any paper with excessive white space. Where ArtScroll beats you over the head with stage directions and choreography, Koren makes subtle suggestion with its innovative triangles. And where ArtScroll believes women need their own sidur, Koren offers, in an equal font, the word Modah alongside the word Modeh. The sidur has even been endorsed by JOFA, the Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance.

The Orthodox Union gets it and they like this sidur, which even has a little OU stamp of approval on the spine. There have also been reports of large Modern Orthodox congregation placing orders for complete sets of the Koren Siddur.

Goodbye, ArtScroll sidurim. Welcome, Koren. You’ve been a long time coming.

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22 Responses to The Koren Siddur. Thank God.

  1. Rich July 12, 2009 at 9:22 pm #

    Had a look at it today. Nice. Then I looked at the price. The fact that Artscroll gets heavy subsidies from donors (in exchange for having the edition named for them) means that Artscroll is going to get the sale from anyone who hasn’t figured out that they’re agenda driven. I do like it, though, that Sacks has decided to take them on.

    Putting the Hebrew on the left is great – it encourages people who read mostly English to read the Hebrew because that’s where their eyes fall.

    • David A.M. Wilensky July 13, 2009 at 2:51 pm #

      It’s also not that expensive, really. The small version I bought was about 12 bucks on Amazon.

      • Rich August 15, 2009 at 11:24 pm #

        Something I’m wondering. In Hashkivenu how is the line “chaser satan melifneinu ume’acharenu” rendered in the Koren?

  2. David A.M. Wilensky August 18, 2009 at 9:46 am #

    Rich, you mean how is it translated?

  3. Daniel January 3, 2010 at 6:58 pm #

    Which version do you have?
    What’s this whole Canadian version?
    I looked for it in the Old City before I left and I thought I found it but the Koren Siddur I found just seemed poorly laid out and underwhelming, perhaps I found the wrong the one?

    • David A.M. Wilensky January 4, 2010 at 12:12 am #

      I have the Hebrew-English uber-compact version. I bought it on Amazon. It’s often referred to as the Koren Sacks sidur because it has commentary from British rabbi Jonathan Sacks.

      The Canadian version includes a prayer for the Canadian government and armed forces. My friend Jesse has it.

  4. Shaun February 2, 2011 at 2:43 pm #

    Considering switching from MT to KSS (for the more traditional style that I’m falling in love with) but still learning Hebrew…slowly. Haven’t found one online, but has a transliterated copy ever been printed?

  5. Shaun February 2, 2011 at 4:28 pm #

    I’ve checked out the Eit Ratzon before and I’m not completely sold on it. I’m really not a fan of the layout (sadly, I like the presentation of MT better) and I hate the fact that it doesn’t have a compact/pocket edition (also prefer to buy things through Amazon…better prices and I get 2 day shipping). Not trying to sound cheap but I can get KSS (with OU’s branding on the binding) for a little more than $10 but have yet to find Eit Ratzon for less than $38 (and, again, not available in pocket-size).

    • David A.M. Wilensky February 2, 2011 at 5:49 pm #

      Yeah, the pocket size thing is an issue for me. I use Koren when I’m just on my own, but I think SER is just perfect for congregational use and for personal use by folks who want transliteration and enjoy commentary.

      And as for the price, SER is made by one guy on his own with no help from any other institution or organization.

  6. Shaun February 3, 2011 at 12:21 pm #

    Yeah, the more I think about it, the more I want to buy both. While I’m not a huge fan of SER’s three column layout, it’s probably the best format to include Hebrew/English/Transliterations (especially, in a format that allows you to relate all three and become more fluent in liturgical Hebrew). I completely understand the reason for SER’s price, but KSS seems so much more tempting with a pricetage of $16 (compact and hardcover).


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