Selecting a siddur for your Hillel

Crossposted to New Voices

I received an email today asking about siddurim for Hillels. I’ve anonymous-ized the email here:

I’ve followed your blog for a while–love it, by the way!–and read your post about Mishkan T’filah for Travelers.  Right now, I’m working for the Hillel at the [University of XYZ], and this is one of the siddurim we’re thinking about ordering for students.

I was wondering, after reading your post, what you think about using Mishkan T’filah in a Hillel setting.  I like it because it’s smaller and paperback, plus cheaper.  Plus I think MT allows for great flexibility for each service leader to do what s/he wants.

But I would welcome feedback!  Also, if you have any other suggestions for a Hillel siddur, that would be amazing!

There are plenty of reasons that Mishkan T’filah is the wrong choice and that the choice, in particular, of the travelers edition is a bad idea. And there are even more reasons to use another siddur in particular, which I’ll get to in a bit

If you order use MT in a Hillel setting, you’ll turn a lot of people off. Anyone who looks down their nose at Reform liturgy–and there are many–will not be enthused to see it in use. It’s true that it allows for great flexibility and it’s easy for an inexperienced service leader to use it, but MT’s lack of commentary explaining services are the way they are encourages service leaders with relatively little knowledge of liturgy to make bad decisions.

The travelers edition is a bad idea in particular because it is so flimsy. Unlike most siddurim of similar size–such as small versions of Koren Sacks, Artscroll and Sim Shalom–MT for Travelers is not made with a sturdy back for repeated use. It is made with a cheap cover of thick, glossy paper that will not last long. It may seem cheaper now, but you’ll waste money replacing them in a few years.

Luckily, there is Siddur Eit Ratzon, the creation of Rutgers math professor Joe Rosenstein. Eit Ratzon has a liberal mindset that will satisfy Reform students and a table of contents that will please students who prefer Conservative services. It is harder to use for leaders than MT, but it has such wonderful articles on prayer in the introduction and such an informative commentary, that a little bit of reading in Eit Ratzon will catch an inexperienced leader up in no time. It is fully translated and transliterated and it have the best commentary available on any liberal siddur anywhere.

The 2003 edition, with a yellow cover, is a Shabbat morning-only siddur. The 2006 edition adds services for other occasions, including Friday night. Hillels generally have much more going on on Friday night that Saturday morning, so the yellow version may be of limited use. But if you want it, Joe told me he will sell copies of the yellow Shabbat morning edition for cheap to Hillels and military groups. He also sends test copies out for people to try out.

Eit Ratzon‘s website is here and you can contact Joe at joer[at]dimacs[dot]rutgers[dot]edu.

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33 Responses to Selecting a siddur for your Hillel

  1. larrykaufman August 18, 2010 at 6:16 pm #

    I don’t disagree with David on MT not being the right choice for a Hillel that only runs one minyan, but I do disagree that MT is easy for service leaders, unless you are using the linear version that offers only the options of English or Hebrew. With standard MT (I’m not familiar with the travel version), the leader has to scope out when and if s/he will use one of the variations on the theme, rather than the basic prayer.

    My Hillel days were characterized by a Conservative siddur and machzor (probably Silverman) — and anyone who wanted Orthodox or Reform services went to the nearby congregations of those streams. Of course, that only worked because there WERE nearby congregations of the other streams.

    As a committed Reform Jew, and a pluralist, I think it should be a lot easier for a Reform student to deal with a Conservative service than for a Conservative or Orthodox student to deal with a Reform service…especially if the leader is sensitive to the support the Reform students might need.

  2. Simcha Daniel Burstyn August 18, 2010 at 11:11 pm #

    I would have to agree with Larry, though I haven’t seen the Eit Ratzon. In general, a siddur with more of the formal liturgy will allow more flexibility in the end, as long as you teach students what to do, how to make a creative service, where they can add or replace which sections – and give service leaders free access to photocopying (for the non-siddur texts they want to add), too. An archive for all those supplements is nice, too, especially for holidays and special occasions. Modeling a flexible approach is vital, as is training that will help student leaders get away from the adolescent position of “only one right way” to do things…

  3. Jesse August 19, 2010 at 12:52 pm #

    I’m not sure that a Hillel should have an “official” siddur. Shouldn’t there be a variety of options for students to choose from? (Yes, there should be).

    David writes: If you order use MT in a Hillel setting, you’ll turn a lot of people off. Anyone who looks down their nose at Reform liturgy–and there are many–will not be enthused to see it in use.

    Can’t the same be said for every siddur? If you order Artscroll, you’ll turn a lot of people off to those who look down their nose at Orthodox liturgy – and there are many. If you order Sim Shalom, you’ll turn off those who look down their nose at Conservative liturgy. As you well know, there’s no one-size-fits-all liturgy, and no one-size-fits-all siddur.

    To be as inclusive as possible to the variety of Jews that will walk through its doors, a Hillel should stock its shelves with a variety of siddurm, including the official siddurim of each movement, which many students will be most familiar with. It should also have

    Then the Hillel should invite students to try something new and not just stick with the familiar every time.

    • David A.M. Wilensky August 19, 2010 at 1:59 pm #

      I agree. However, a small Hillel that wants to create the most inclusive single service possible, or the potential for enough variation that everyone will get their week to be happy, will be well-served by Eit Ratzon.

    • Rich Furman August 23, 2010 at 12:22 am #

      I’ve looked at Eit Ratzon. I can see choosing it for a Hillel because it’s a traditional liturgy with a strong Egalitarian bent, and good notes. I would expect that any Jew who is likely to show up at a Hillel would be able to make peace with it – not fall head over heels in love with it necessarily, but make peace. I would not expect an Orthodox or Conservative Jew to do likewise with MT – It’s missing too much. Heck, I know REFORM Jews who can’t make peace with MT!

      I personally would not Daven out of SER. Study it, yes, but for davening from, it has many of the problems in terms of size and layout as the omnibus MT. At this point, my preference is Sim Shalom, which I think most people could also make peace with. But SER has transliteration, which I think is indispensible in a Hillel environment.

      • Jesse August 23, 2010 at 12:33 am #

        I would not expect an Orthodox or Conservative Jew to do likewise with MT – It’s missing too much. Heck, I know REFORM Jews who can’t make peace with MT!

        Rich, your statement that MT is missing things assumes that there’s such thing as an objectively “complete” liturgy from which MT has expunged things. If that’s the case, you’d be hard-pressed to find any siddur that’s not missing a whole lot.

        I imagine there are many Reform Jews for whom MT represents a full and complete liturgy. For me, it’s also true that MT doesn’t contain all of the prayers I’m always looking for. But that doesn’t mean as a siddur that it’s incomplete.

        A siddur represents an intensely communal and personal connection vis a vis theology. Finding the balance is clearly important, and recognizing how each siddur fits into the community for which it’s designed is important. So saying that MT is “missing too much” is a troubling statement to me, as when you consider the philosphy and theology that went into creating it, it’s really not missing anything at all.

        • David A.M. Wilensky August 23, 2010 at 9:17 am #

          Yes and no. There are some things that everyone agrees on about the service that MT doesn’t agree with. No Musaf. No middle paragraph of the Shma (and no tzitzit paragraph, except in the morning!).

          And as a representation of where the Reform movement is today, it’s incomplete.

          • Larry Kaufman August 23, 2010 at 10:48 am #

            David, as you well know, Mishkan T’filah is not only A Reform siddur, it is THE Reform siddur of the North American movement — and even in places where its predecessor siddurim may still be in use, it shares with them the absence of musaf, and of a shortened Shma. I have never heard of any disagreement with this from responsible Reform authorities so strong as to debilitate the use of the siddur. (Which is not to negate that there may be movement-affiliated congregations which use other siddurim, especially the movement siddurim from the UK.)

            Although I had thought I had a pretty good handle on where the Reform movement is today, I must have missed the discussion about where it(MT) is incomplete.

            It would be interesting, therefore, to have you cite data, not personal opinion, on where the movement is today.

            • Jesse August 23, 2010 at 11:00 am #

              Agreed, Larry!

              And as a representation of where the Reform movement is today, it’s incomplete.

              Wouldn’t there be some sort of mass uproar, then? It’s not like the CCAR threw the siddur down from on high… David, do you have any specific examples of how MT isn’t meeting the liturgical needs of the majority of URJ congregations these days?

            • David A.M. Wilensky August 23, 2010 at 4:42 pm #

              ” I have never heard of any disagreement with this from responsible Reform authorities so strong as to debilitate the use of the siddur.”

              Me neither.

              “I must have missed the discussion about where it(MT) is incomplete.”

              The discussion is here, all the time. It’s about 50% of what I blog about.

              The data I have is that I know Reform Jews who think it’s incomplete. I’m not talking about where the majority of the movement is. I’m talking about where the movement (period. all of us) is. As we talked about last year on this blog, I define the movement largely, as comprised of anyone who considers their own self to be Reform.

              So if there are people who want Musaf and the entire V’ahavta, where is the harm in including those things? The people who want them can use them and the people who don’t can skip them.

              • Jesse August 23, 2010 at 5:00 pm #

                “The discussion is here, all the time. It’s about 50% of what I blog about. The data I have is that I know Reform Jews who think it’s incomplete. I’m not talking about where the majority of the movement is. I’m talking about where the movement (period. all of us) is. ”

                – This is anecdotal, and largely a personal reaction. Careful, eh? When it comes to putting in print a theology, you’ve got to rely on something more than anecdotal evidence, which is why the CCAR and URJ went through an extensive (and painstakingly long) trial and vetting process for MT.

                “As we talked about last year on this blog, I define the movement largely, as comprised of anyone who considers their own self to be Reform. So if there are people who want Musaf and the entire V’ahavta, where is the harm in including those things? The people who want them can use them and the people who don’t can skip them.”

                Because the Movement can’t be all things to all people. Also, the CCAR and URJ are not amorphous organizations of just “anyone.” They are organized bodies with stated missions, theologies, and philosophies. So the siddur, as a publication of the CCAR, naturally reflects those “ologies.” MT isn’t wikipedia. You’ve got the Open Siddur project for that.

                By your logic, if there were men who wanted to include the blessings for thanking God for not making them women, and such… would there be harm in including those things?

                (Really enjoying this back and forth)

                • David A.M. Wilensky August 25, 2010 at 8:45 pm #

                  Certainly the URJ can’t be all things to all people. But it could be some things to all Reform Jews. And if MT can’t be for all of us, it shouldn’t be “A Reform Siddur,” it should be “A URJ Siddur, officially vetted by some big congregations and rabbis and stuff.”

                  And no, we shouldn’t include the blessing thanking God for not making me a woman, because that is a direct violation of some pretty sacrosanct Reform principles. But at this point, the principles keeping Musaf and the middle of the Shma out just aren’t universal Reform any more.

                  • Larry Kaufman August 25, 2010 at 10:14 pm #

                    This is so foolish that it’s almost not worth replying to. There is NO call among the mass of Reform Jews or among Reform rabbis for musaf, and to add a dollar in cost to a million books for the six people (if there are that many) who want a Reform musaf would have been wicked and self-defeating.

                    As you well know, the URJ is NOT the publisher or the editor of Mishkan T’filah, the CCAR is the publisher, and the siddur was prepared by a select group of rabbis who have the respect of their peers, and was vetted by an even larger group. It was thoroughly researched and field-tested to gauge how well it would meet the needs of its projected users, and all the many objections I have heard to the product as delivered have to do with weight, confusing format, and in a few cases durability, but if there are objections to content, it’s that there’s too much, not that there’s not enough. The degree of acceptance it has enjoyed among rabbis and congregations suggests that it is about as representative of “universal Reform” as anyone might want, other than that fringe that still pines for the UPB. Reform remains a big tent, and although it once was more universalistic than it is today, there never has been a universal Reform.

                    You say, The data I have is that I know Reform Jews who think it’s incomplete. That is not data, it is, as Jesse said, anecdote. How many? What are their qualifications to determine completeness? What are their qualifications to be identified as Reform Jews? (More on this below.)

                    I give you high marks for your knowledge of liturgy, but I am not prepared to accept that you know more about it than Rick Sarason or Larry Hoffman or Peter Knobel or Elyse Frishman. Nor do you own the word Reform, allowing you to determine whether the siddur is a Reform siddur (and it does not call itself The Reform siddur, although to all intents and purposes, today it is) or a URJ siddur (which it is not). It has, though, been purchased for use in a significant number of congregations which are part of the URJ.

                    I don’t know how many congregations there are in the U.S. that identify as Reform but are not part of the URJ. (I’ve heard rumors to the effect that the one such in the Chicago area is currently investigating affiliation. ) So the Reform movement and the URJ are not co-terminous, but they are pretty damn close to it. And there are a hell of a lot more Jews calling themselves Reform meaning I’m Jewish but don’t observe very much than there are Jews professing Reform ideology but rejecting Reform affiliation. (And adding musaf won’t get them back into the affiliated fold — that’s not primary to their not being in the fold.)

                    This in itself gives the lie to the statement you resurrected from an earlier blog post, suggesting that “all of us” are or should be in the same place, and that that place is different from where the majority is. You should have allowed it to stay buried.

                    • Jesse August 25, 2010 at 10:22 pm #

                      Larry, you said pretty much everything that I would have said in response to David’s response, so thanks.

                      You said something else which jumped right out at me, when you described a possible group under the umbrella of Reform:

                      “Jews professing Reform ideology but rejecting Reform affiliation”

                      I think that may be an accurate description of my relationship with Reform Judaism. Which has the potential to be odd and confusing, since I work for the Reform Movement…

                      But thanks, anyways, for putting to words something I’ve been trying to figure out.

                      (This will likely be the topic of some future post, given that it is only tangentially related to the rest of the discussion here)

                  • Jesse August 25, 2010 at 10:26 pm #

                    What is “universal Reform” ?

                    • David A.M. Wilensky August 30, 2010 at 9:52 am #

                      Avot v’imahot, for example.

                    • Jesse August 30, 2010 at 10:17 am #

                      It seems we’ve maxed out the depth of the thread here. I’m responding to your “avot v’imahot” comment up here.

                      So, I imagine you’re saying that egalitarianism both in prayer participation and content is a “universal Reform” concept.

                      To that, I absolutely agree.

                      So by that standard, how are musaf and the middle paragraphs of the Sh’ma “universal Reform”? What principles do they fit in with that are part and parcel of Reform Judaism?

        • Rich Furman August 26, 2010 at 12:20 am #

          Jesse,

          We’re talking about a Hillel environment. The person who walks in having been raised Conservative or MO is going to pick up MT and experience a WHOLE LOTTA “Where Is?” A Reform Jew can pick up SER or SS and skip what it is not his custom to pray.

          The theology and philosophy that went into creating MT is not, in fact, held by large swaths of Hillel participants; this makes it an inappropriate Siddur for the context.

          • Jesse August 26, 2010 at 12:30 am #

            Exactly! Which is why I said that I don’t believe any Hillel should have an “official” siddur, and that there should be a variety of options for students to choose from.

            Likewise to your statement, the person who walks in having been raised Reform or MO is going to pick up SS and experience a WHOLE LOTTA “Where IS?” and so on, and so on…

            Being intimately familiar with Hillel’s Millenial generation, though also being hesitant of making any sweeping generalizations without hard data on hand to back me up (I’ll see if I can find that tomorrow), I would say that the philosophies and theologies behind MT actually are in line with large swaths of Hillel participants.

            But I still believe that no Hillel should adopt one and only one siddur, and that no singular siddur is appropriate for this context. This is the same philosophy espoused by Hillel International at all of its gatherings and trips — they have multiple copies of different siddurim available.

          • Jesse August 26, 2010 at 12:45 am #

            “A Reform Jew can pick up SER or SS and skip what it is not his custom to pray.”

            This falls victim to the Frummest Common Denominator problem (see BZ’s 2005 post here for an excellent description and analysis), where one movement’s siddur, and thus their theology and standards of practice become the standard for the whole community in the belief that this is the most inclusive practice (which it is not).

            Ultimately, Rich, your argument that a Reform Jew can just “skip what… is not his custom to pray” assumes that MT represents just an absence of other liturgy, rather than the presence of its own unique liturgy. This reduces MT and Reform theology to a “less-than” status, and establishes a hierarchy of liturgy. That’s not fair.

            MT is a complete siddur with its own theological thrust. For those that find it meets their needs as a siddur, it is unfair to suggest in a sweeping statement that they could just pick up another siddur and be equally comfortable. You don’t know that. While it is probably now the siddur I use most frequently on Shabbatot, I was terrified when I used Sim Shalom for the first time, having grown up with GOP. I fell behind the rest of the group, and was utterly confused for much of the service.

            • Rich Furman August 26, 2010 at 11:23 pm #

              Jesse,

              The problem which David seems to be addressing in the original post seems to be that of a Hillel looking to buy a bunch of a single Siddur. You are concerned that I assert that ” they could just pick up another siddur and be equally comfortable,” but that’s not what I’m saying. I’m saying that I think that a Reform Jew would have an easier time “making peace with” SER or SS than a Conservative or MO Jew would have making peace with MT. “Frummest Common Denominator?” I don’t think so; that would be Artscroll or Sacks. Your suggestion of a variety of Siddurs makes the most sense, but it is not something the letter writer appears to be considering.

      • David A.M. Wilensky August 23, 2010 at 9:13 am #

        “REFORM Jews who can’t make peace with MT”

        Guilty.

        You’re right about the size of SER, which is why I tend to switch over to Koren for the Amidah when I’m in the community I go to that uses SER. And you’re also right about the wide swath that would be able to cope with SER. The thing that makes it so perfect for Hillel is that its commentary operates on many levels, allowing access to interesting new information for anyone, no matter what their level of knowledge already is.

  4. Larry Yudelson August 19, 2010 at 1:37 pm #

    A couple of years ago I picked up the Hillel Machzor from the ’70s. Very nice.

    • David A.M. Wilensky August 19, 2010 at 2:00 pm #

      I’ve seen it. It seemed like one of many similar siddurim to me, though I admit I haven’t spent a lot of time with it.

  5. threadzofblue August 19, 2010 at 10:14 pm #

    You’re from Austin? Cool – I blog out of Waco.

    You have a good knowledge of a wide variety of siddurim. I’m glad of that, and I thank you for posting some of that knowledge for those of us who are in the search for our favorite siddur for personal use.

  6. larrykaufman August 20, 2010 at 8:31 am #

    I’ve been thinking about this conversation and others about siddur use, and have recognized the elephant in the corner. Those who propose each davener choose his or her own siddur are contemplating a service where individuals pray as such but in a community, coming together at key moments — whereas we Reformis pray as a group, making it important for all to be not only on the same page but on the same line. I present this not as a value judgment, merely as a statement of pretty general fact.

    Maybe the Shuckle/Jewschool community takes this for granted, but we Reform AKs live in a different reality.

    • David A.M. Wilensky August 20, 2010 at 9:20 am #

      I don’t propose that everyone choose their own siddur. And I’m not sure where, in this conversation, that notion came from.

      I think it’s a good sign when many people in a community choose their own, but things do run more smoothly when the majority is using the same one. Kol Zimra, where I think more people bring their own that anywhere else I go, it’s still never more than a tenth of the population.

  7. Larry Kaufman August 26, 2010 at 11:00 am #

    Wow! Twenty-five comments, seven commenters, and we’re all on the same page of different siddurim.

    Thanks, Jesse, for steering me to Ben’s discussion of pluralism, and introducing me to the concept of Frummest Common Denominator. In a Hillel setting, I would see two available paths — synaplex if the community is large enough to foster multiple sub-communities, otherwise Broadest Common Denominator. Being relatively remote from facts on the ground, my surmise is that the best way to achieve BCD is a fully egalitarian service with a relatively comprehensive liturgy — it wouldn’t much matter to ME whether that was Art Scroll, Sim Shalom , or SER(but I would think that those who would insist on Art Scroll or Koren Sacks wouldn’t be there anyway if the service was egal).

    I still think that the core issue relative to adopting an “official” siddur is whether your goal is individuals davening IN a community or AS a community. In a situation like what David describes at Kol Zimrah, where 9 out of 10 are using the “official” siddur, the tenth is essentially making a statement, much as I do when I say mechayeh meitim while the kahal is saying mechayeh hakol. And that statement is not so much about the siddur as it is about the davener.

    • BZ September 6, 2010 at 3:37 pm #

      Larry Kaufman writes:
      (but I would think that those who would insist on Art Scroll or Koren Sacks wouldn’t be there anyway if the service was egal)

      Definitely not true.

      In a situation like what David describes at Kol Zimrah, where 9 out of 10 are using the “official” siddur, the tenth is essentially making a statement, much as I do when I say mechayeh meitim while the kahal is saying mechayeh hakol. And that statement is not so much about the siddur as it is about the davener.

      At Kol Zimrah, there is no “official” siddur, or rather, the “official” siddur is “bring your own”. Siddurim are provided for those who don’t bring their own, and as a result, most people don’t bother to bring their own, but the siddur that is provided doesn’t have an “official” status, and the service leader isn’t required to use it. (Also, the siddur that is provided gives multiple options for many prayers, e.g. mechayei hakol vs. mechayei hameitim, so everyone can pick their own.)

  8. Sue D. August 30, 2010 at 9:30 am #

    I’ve been davening weekday with SER when I’m without a minyan. It’s a great siddur and perfect for Hillel. It’s meatier than MT and that’s coming from a MT enthusiast. I had to do a lot of tabbing, pencil marks and highlights to follow SER, because it does offer so much, but any leader can do the same and will learn from the process.

  9. Bud Andrews June 28, 2011 at 9:03 pm #

    So I’ve been shopping for a new personal siddur and I’ve checked this one out and I’m almost sold on it. Would you’ve any advice or reccomendations?

    • David A.M. Wilensky June 28, 2011 at 10:14 pm #

      If you’re looking for a person siddur to carry around with you and use daily, Eit Ratzon is not what you want because it’s much too heavy. However, if you’re looking for a siddur to use around the house and bring with you to services from time to time, this is the way to go–especially if you’re relatively new to the liturgy.

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