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.