ArtScroll’s borderline idolatry

I had a discussion a few days ago with someone from the iWorship listserve about how I think ArtScroll is pretty far to the right of most Modern Orthodox Jews. I told him that I think Koren is a much more moderate siddur and that it’s catching on because it is more in line with how more MO Jews think.

I just got the new Expanded ArtScroll Siddur Wasserman Edition. They go on and on about how the typesetting is more modern that old one. I find it just as obnoxious and crammed as the original. I got it because it has some new material in it to supplement the good ol’ stuff and it’s got a new introduction and overview section–and I go nuts for those things.

Anyway, I was just starting to digest it today when I discovered a case in point about the rightward lean of ArtScroll: pages and pages of prayer for holy places in Israel. I know that no one is with me on the Western Wall as idolatry issue, but this includes special prayers to be said at the Wall, Rachel’s tomb, the Cave of the Machpelah and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai’s tomb.

I don’t think prayer at the graves of the holy dead is mainstream. Unless I’m just fooling myself here. Which is possible. But seriously. Idolatry. I’m just saying.

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12 Responses to ArtScroll’s borderline idolatry

  1. Glenda September 26, 2010 at 4:23 pm #

    Aren’t we deprived of the knowledge of where Moses died to prevent such nonsense?

    • Theophrastus September 26, 2010 at 7:56 pm #

      The halachic problem is “loeg lerosh” — see the Ritva to Taanis 16a. Ordinary prayers are forbidden at graves — even kivrei tzadikim — because it mock the dead who can no longer perform mitzvos. Thus, it is forbidden to enter a cemetery with a Sefer Torah or Tefillin or even with Tzitzis out. However on the other side, it is meritorious, according to the Zohar (Acharei Mos) to daven at a cemetery because it inspires the souls buried there to inform the souls buried at Hebron (the Patriarchs and Matriarchs) who arouse Hashem’s compassion.

      Visiting kivrei tzadakim is certainly a widely observed Hassidic custom.

      I wish to correct your post on two points:

      (1) There are no prayers in the new Siddur “for holy places in Israel.” Rather there are prayers, each clearly addressed to God (not to some location or to some person) to be said at certain locations. This is no more idolatry than brachos such as “she’natan michvodo l’basar va’dam” on seeing a king or “shechalak me’chachmaso li’reiav” before a scholar or “shekacha lo b’olamo” on seeing a beautiful woman.

      (2) The prayers you mention start at p. 1013 and end at p. 1029 (and note that the prayer at page 1029 was explicitly requested by Breslovers who daven at Uman, Ukraine at Rabbi Nachman’s grave on Rosh Hashanah). I’m not sure I would characterize 18 pages as “pages and pages.”

      In any case, the entire question is a big dispute between Modern Orthodox and Hassidim, and with this new siddur, ArtScroll was trying to serve Hassidic audiences as well.

      However, like you, I was disappointed with the layout and the (slight) reduction in the notes of this new version.

      • David A.M. Wilensky September 27, 2010 at 11:30 am #

        It is meritorious, according to the Zohar (Acharei Mos) to daven at a cemetery because it inspires the souls buried there to inform the souls buried at Hebron (the Patriarchs and Matriarchs) who arouse Hashem’s compassion.

        And this is different from praying to them (or to saints, for that matter) how?

        There are no prayers in the new Siddur “for holy places in Israel.”

        Indeed, I have double checked and your are grammatically correct. They call them “prayers at holy places in Israel. I understand the intellectual distinction being made between praying in the presence of something and praying to that something. I still think this is something that ought to have a fence built around it. If, as my mother was reminding us above, the location of Moses’ grave is unknown so we don’t go overboard praying to him or to it, how is that not a concern with other “holy dead”?

        I’m not sure I would characterize 18 pages as “pages and pages.”

        OK, now we’re just quibbling over phrases.

        note that the prayer at page 1029 was explicitly requested by Breslovers who daven at Uman, Ukraine at Rabbi Nachman’s grave on Rosh Hashanah

        And ArtSroll endorsing the Bratzlavers’ way overboard adulation of their dead rabbi doesn’t worry you? Their obsession with him is as unhealthy as the Chabad obsession as Schneerson.

        Theo, I wanna take this opportunity to say that I’m glad you’ve become a regular commenter here.

        • Theophrastus September 27, 2010 at 11:52 am #

          “And this is different from praying to them (or to saints, for that matter) how?”

          Well, as I understand it — and I’m not the best person to ask — one prays to God, and the holiness of those prayers inspires the souls. So one never prays directly to angel or person.

          I appreciate that you are uncomfortable with it — and so are many people (ranging from secular Jews to haredi)! But this is also part of Judaism for some people — the idea of holy tzadikim — and it is especially important to Hasidim. It is part of the range of Judaism to me.

    • David A.M. Wilensky September 27, 2010 at 11:47 am #

      Word, Mom.

  2. Theophrastus September 26, 2010 at 8:37 pm #

    “I think ArtScroll is pretty far to the right of most Modern Orthodox Jews. I told him that I think Koren is a much more moderate siddur and that it’s catching on because it is more in line with how more MO Jews think.”

    This is absolutely correct, and I’m surprised that anyone would disagree with it.

  3. Larry Kaufman September 26, 2010 at 11:59 pm #

    I would have to agree there is a difference between praying to a wall and praying at a wall. And praying at a grave does not mean we are praying to or for the occupant of that grave. So why davka go there?

    But if there is a special prayer to be said at Rachel’s Tomb, and only at Rachel’s Tomb, it would certainly be greener to have copies of the prayer available on site than to print them into thousands of siddurim for people who are unlikely ever to need them.

    None of this, though, is what I would call idolatry — a better word would be hagiolatry. And another useful vocabulary addition might be the term I have heard applied to the guys who hang out at cemeteries in Brooklyn and Queens and offer for a few bucks to recite prayers on behalf of visitors who may not be conversant enough to do it themselves — El Molly Men, derived from El Malei (Rachamim).

    Meanwhile, though, Theophrastus has me confused — are we, or are we not, supposed to pray at a cemetery? Because if ordinary prayers are forbidden, then presumably we do need pages and pages of extraordinary prayers, especially if they have to wafted all the way from Podunk Memorial Gardens to Machpelah.

  4. Theophrastus September 27, 2010 at 1:40 am #

    “Are we, or are we not, supposed to pray at a cemetery?”

    Good question. It’s a machlokes.

    On the one hand, we have R. Yuval Sherlo saying visiting kivrei tzadikim is idolatry. On the other hand, we have the song Uman, Uman, Rosh Hashanah. There is a wide variety of opinion.

    There are many, many customs. For example, one custom says not to even visit a gravesite (except for erecting the tombstone and Shloshim) during the shneim asar chodesh (the belief of those following this custom is that the soul is judged during the period, and we should not add to its burdens).

    But for graves that are not tzadikim, we have the ordinary memorial prayers that are already in the siddur, and we have tehillim.

    • David A.M. Wilensky September 27, 2010 at 11:33 am #

      I’m not sure I can articulate why, but it seems that praying at the site of the grave of a close personal loved one is different from praying at the site of a “holy” person who the pray-er did not know.

  5. Theophrastus September 27, 2010 at 11:59 am #

    I like some things about ArtScroll’s siddur. One thing that I like very much is it includes a full Tehillim at the back. In ArtScroll’s case, it is in Hebrew only, which doesn’t really make sense to me for a Hebrew-English siddur — but it is incredibly useful to have the full psalms in a siddur for those who have the custom of reciting tehillim.

    I wish all siddurim would adopt this custom.

    • David A.M. Wilensky September 27, 2010 at 4:42 pm #

      I’d never thought about that. I pretty much always have a little JPS Tanakh with me as well as a small siddur so I never find myself lacking Psalms. Though I don’t have any custom of reciting them, I do find that it’s one of the most-referenced and most-quotes books of the Bible so it’s nice to have it around to refer to.