Mishkan T’filah for Travelers–a bad message in a bad title

L to R, top to bottom: Koren Sacks, ArtScroll, Haavodah Shebalev, Seder Hatefilot, tiny MT given out for free at a NFTY convention, Mishkan T'filah for Travelers

I’ve been sitting on and not reviewing my copy of purple Mishkan T’filah for Travelers, the first manageable-sized edition of MT, for months. In services on Friday night, in honor of some high school students shortly departing for a summer in Israel, the rabbi took the chance to do a little study of T’filah Haderech, the prayer for travelers, with the congregation.

To do this, she passed out papers with a copy of TH on it, which I thought was weird. I figured it must be in MT, so why should he use handouts. I couldn’t find it in MT. I couldn’t even find it in my copy of Mishkan T’filah for Travelers that I brought with me! I was incensed and ready to blog! Luckily, I waited and later found TH hiding in both editions among the “Prayers for our Community” section, which is fine, I guess. I would have hoped that in a volume titled “for Travelers” it might be printed on the inside cover for the easy use of the eponymous users. That would have been hoping too much.

Which brings me to the main question of the post: Why is it for travelers?

It’s standard these days to produce a small size of any siddur meant for mass consumption. Sim Shalom, ArtScroll, Koren, and even Haavodah Shebalev and Seder Hatefilot–Reform siddurim from abroad–come in pocket size editions. But do any of these receive the label “for travelers”? No. Siddur publishers generally understand that in the audience for every siddur there will be people who bring their own with them when they come to shul, in some cases everywhere they go. The know that there’s a general market of some size for every siddur for a pocket edition.

“But of course, who can imagine such a Reform Jew? Why would a Reform Jew want a little siddur?”

I know that some Reform Jews will buy this just because they want a little siddur, but I can’t imagine who the target audience of this slim siddur was supposed to be.  If, as I assume the publishers assumed, no one would want this for daily use, who are these Reform Jews that don’t want a pocket siddur for daily use, but crave one for use while traveling? It makes no sense.

And, by the way, if you don’t know your way around MT already and you buy this to take with you to your Reform synagogue, you’ll be disappointed because they didn’t keep the same pagination!

23 Responses to Mishkan T’filah for Travelers–a bad message in a bad title

  1. Kelly June 20, 2010 at 1:39 pm #

    I’ll be honest, I bought it because it looks cute…and it’s the first Reform siddur I’ve held that I can hold in one hand.

    • David A.M. Wilensky June 21, 2010 at 10:01 am #

      Yes! But why would they call it “for Travelers”? Does that bother anyone else the way it bothers me?

  2. Isak BK Aasvestad June 22, 2010 at 8:41 pm #

    Wasn’t the Union Prayer Book quite small?

    • David A.M. Wilensky June 22, 2010 at 10:25 pm #

      It was. I considered mentioning that here, but decided not to because it was for a whole other set of reasons.

      The UPB was made to look like a hymnal, hymnals generally being small handbook-sized volumes in those days.

      By the by, hymnals, as far as I can tell from my limited experience with contemporary Protestant ones, have gotten bigger as well, but they tend to be slim and paperback.

      • BZ June 22, 2010 at 11:12 pm #

        Did hymnals not always include the sheet music?

        • David A.M. Wilensky June 23, 2010 at 11:03 am #

          I don’t know whether they did or not, but my point was one about size and outward aesthetic. Of course, UPB was still a siddur, but it was dressed as a hymnal.

  3. Rich Furman June 22, 2010 at 11:55 pm #

    I suspect one market for this will be anyone who looked at MT for the first time and said “Gah! It’s huge!”

    • David A.M. Wilensky June 23, 2010 at 11:02 am #

      Yes, my point exactly. So why would they call it “for Travelers?”

      • Rich Furman June 27, 2010 at 12:50 pm #

        Because it sounds better than “for the Gah! It’s Huge!” market?

        Seriously, I don’t think they could have printed it without first identifying a market for it, and we know that most Reform Jews have always longed for a Siddur for their daily davvening.

        • David A.M. Wilensky June 27, 2010 at 2:26 pm #

          They could’ve just called it the pocket version or something. The point is that travelers are an invented market. There isn’t a huge trove of Reform Jews out there who need a small siddur–but only when they’re traveling.

  4. threadzofblue June 24, 2010 at 7:24 pm #

    Where did you find a copy of Haavodah Shebalev? I’ve been looking for one here in the US, but fear that I may not be able to find one outside of Israel. And what are the measurements on that MT, if you don’t mind my asking? I can’t find them listed anywhere online

    • David A.M. Wilensky June 25, 2010 at 9:01 am #

      I bought Haavodah Shebalev in Israel. I don’t know where you could get it in the US, though you could surely just write to the IMPJ and see if they’ll send you one.

      I don’t have a ruler, but the Koren (top left) in that picture above is supposed to be 3.5×6″.

  5. Larry Kaufman July 4, 2010 at 7:01 pm #

    Mishkan T’filah is 9-1/2 inches by 7-1/4 by 1-1/2. I have seen copies of the Shabbat-only version, and my guess is that its thickness is about a half-inch.

    My 1940 printing of the 1932 Union Hymnal measures 8-1/2 x 6 x 1, and includes liturgy for the Sabbath and holidays — all English for the spoken parts, transliterated Hebrew for the sung. Considerably larger than UPB — 6-3/4 x 4-1/2 x 7/8.

    I was given a copy of Ha’avodah she-ba’lev in Israel a week or so ago, and was surprised to see that it was bilingual. My recollection of Progressive siddurim I had used on previous trips was that they were 100% in the vernacular.

    • BZ July 4, 2010 at 7:07 pm #

      Was it the edition published by Kehilat Kol Haneshama in Jerusalem? They’ve put out a version with English since they get so many English-speaking tourists.

      • Larry Kaufman July 14, 2010 at 12:12 pm #

        No, it’s issued by Maram and IMPJ, and acknowledges translation support from Har-El.

        I haven’t been to Kol Haneshama, but at Yozma and Mevasseret Tzion English-speaking guests are welcomed in English and then treated to an all-in-Hebrew service (OK, except for the Aramaic kaddish). I don’t recall what siddur was in use.

        T’filat HaLev, a start-up in central Tel Aviv, does not use a siddur, just a song sheet — but the leader, a second-year student at HUC, made some concessions to his American guests, explaining that most of the locals have some English. However, these were explanatory, not English liturgy.

        • David A.M. Wilensky July 14, 2010 at 3:42 pm #

          As with the flagship place of worship in any religious group, Kol Haneshama is to be avoided for its stuffiness and whatever. blah blah

          Mev.Zion is great, but Lotan and Yahel are the best in Israel for IMPJ prayer.

  6. Kyle August 25, 2010 at 11:12 am #

    I don’t konw if it is just because I’m from a crazy, rural shul, but we don’t have services every weekend so as Reform Jews, we usually get more prayer activity when we’re out of town but not necesarily with the siddur we prefer.

    And I’m about to study abroad so the ‘travelers’ edition will mean I can have something similar to what I have back home with me.

  7. Monique September 5, 2011 at 8:39 am #

    It is a bit odd that they didn’t just call the siddur a pocket-sized edition, as we have done for Siddur Hat’fillot (which I carry everywhere).

    If anyone has a suggestion as to how to easily get a copy of Siddur Ha’avodah Shebalev by internet order, I’d appreciate it. Can’t seem to locate it online…

    • David A.M. Wilensky September 11, 2011 at 11:57 am #

      Ah the little blue with the plastic cover! I like that siddur. And I love how durable it is. MT for Travelers on the other hand, is a very flimsy paperback.

    • David A.M. Wilensky September 11, 2011 at 11:59 am #

      And I’m pretty sure it’s impossible to get Ha’avodah Shebalev over the internet. Your best bet is to send a few shekels with a friend who’s traveling to Israel. And by that I mean, a friend who will be stopping at Beit Shmuel because I’m pretty sure it’s the only place in country you can buy them.

  8. the pilatesbiz February 9, 2012 at 12:11 am #

    Although Im slightly biased towards the former because I live here (in NYC), I still think the latter is just special in its own unique way.

  9. Michael Doyle February 14, 2012 at 12:37 pm #

    I think this post was a little myopic. There definitely are Reform Jews who daven more than once a week on Friday night. I’m one of them and I’ve been looking for this siddur locally in Chicago (though it looks like I’ll have to order it online.) It will make it easier for me to daven on a traditional schedule using a Reform liturgy without having to carry a hardcover MT with me.


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