Indie Yeshiva Pocket Siddur: a review

I’m about to be not very complimentary toward this siddur. You can read a defense of it by one of its creators here.

Crossposted to Jewschool.

Before I get to the actual review of the Indie Yeshiva Pocket Siddur, it bears outlining some basic of my basic beliefs about Jewish prayer and how to make Jewish prayer accessible.

What is beautiful about Jewish prayer is the structure-poetry. There is the micro-poetry of the words, which is all well and good, but what’s so amazing, is the coherent structure of Jewish prayer, the macro-poetry. If you teach a Jew the structure, you can hang whatever you want on it and they will see the beauty in any service in any synagogue in the world.

PunkTorah, the organization responsible for this new entry into the siddur market, the Indie Yeshiva Pocket Siddur, begins from a different premise. Apparently, they believe that what is needed to make the siddur comprehensible to Jews in the pews is a punkification. They have punkified the siddur in two detectable ways. First, they have put a silly punk-looking cover on it. Second, they have stated in the introduction that they are punkifying it:

Who Are We?

Indie Yeshiva is a project of PunkTorah, a force for change by creating open source Jewish education…

Let’s dispense with the notion that this siddur is truly “punk”  right from the start. If it were punk, it would be open source. Despite the above quote, the previous page says, “ALL TEXT © PunkTorah, Inc. 2010.”

Why “Punk” Torah?

Because the term “punk”, like “rebel”, “renegade” or “revolutionary”, is at the heart of the Jewish experience. We are a tribe of people who don’t take “no” for an answer. We survive and flourish because of our individuality, but also our collective responsibility for each other.…

I’ll let their salt shaker approach to quotation marks and the incomplete sentence in there speak for themselves and address the content. These claims about the inherent punkness of the Jewish people are useless without any support, arguments or evidence. I’m forced to conclude that the punkness of this siddur is just because its creators like a punk aesthetic and wanted a siddur with a punk-looking cover.

They continue:

What Is This?

This is a book or prayer. Plain and simple.

What would you say if you could actually talk directly with G-d?

Can you think of anything? Anything that G-d wouldn’t know or neede to hear from you?…

They go in this vein for some time.


We are unsatisfied with what is available to us….

Good. I once spent a year trying to make my own siddur for that reason. And there are two ways in which one can enter into the creation of a siddur. You either need to be learned enough to know what you’re getting yourself into or you need to know that you don’t know anything and approach it as a learning experience. I approached it in the latter way. Either way, it’s not to be taken lightly. My impression of this siddur is that it’s the fluffy creation of people who don’t know what they’re doing. I’m always curious to see a new radically bizarre siddur, but only if it can explain itself. Without footnotes or any explanation of what’s going on in this siddur, the whole thing comes off as specious at best.

I’ll summarize all the Hebrew in the book: the Shema, three or four lines in the Amidah, the Barchu, and some things that there are nice tunes for (Mi Chamocha, Lecha Dodi, Shalom Alechem), one instance of Hashkivenu and Veshamru. There is essentially less Hebrew in this siddur than in some nineteenth century Reform liturgies! None of this Hebrew is actually in Hebrew even. It’s all transliterated.

But, praise God, each service begins with it’s title in some infernal English-that-looks-like-Hebrew font!

A couple of other oddities spring off the page at me. At one point, this siddur describes tefilin as being made from wood (they’re made from leather). One piece, “Based on Psalm 30,” is titled “A PSALM BEFORE VERSES OF PRAISE.” I’ll assume that means it’s supposed to be read before Pesukei Dezimra, which would be lovely is this siddur had any Pesukei Dezimra section following “Based on Psalm 30!” Instead, it goes straight into Kadish Yatom and Shema!

I guess it’s punk to defy categorization, which this siddur definitely does. It looks pretty classical Reform at times, Reconstructionist or Humanist at others, all the while still including a section on sacrifice in Shacarit.

I’ll sum this up by saying that this little siddur makes no sense. It’s fine as a personal learning project, I guess, but I can’t imagine why it’s actually on the market and available for purchase. It’s a gimmick, being sold by the premier internet Jewish gimmick peddler, Modern Tribe. It also doesn’t fit in my pocket.

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4 Responses to Indie Yeshiva Pocket Siddur: a review

  1. Andrea Alfi January 25, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    You’re pretty harsh towards their use of quotation marks when you misspell structure twice in your second paragraph. Your spelling and grammar should be perfect at all times, but especially when you’re criticizing someone else’s writing.

    • David A.M. Wilensky January 26, 2011 at 12:44 pm #

      I don’t disagree with you on any point, Andrea.

      This blog is rife with spelling and grammatical errors because I often do only the most cursory of revisions before posting. It’s just a blog, after all.

      But I know that if I was going to have any of this blog printed and try to sell it to people for actual money that I would have another editor that I trust to be thorough go over the work.


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