Warning: Artscroll Women's Siddur
That’s not my title. That was the subject line of an email I just received from JOFA condemning the new ArtScroll women’s siddur. Appended to the email is a review of the siddur and a letter that JOFA has sent to modern Orthodox day schools and other religious institutions. The letter declares that JOFA has “come to the realization that this siddur is inappropriate for a modern Orthodox institution or one that sees its role as encouraging women’s participation in prayer.”
It’s good to see a Jewish organization, particularly one that identifies as Orthodox, speaking out against ArtScroll’s tendency to present a single view as the only way to do things and the way things have always been done all the way back to Sinai. (Old joke: Why did the chicken cross the road? Because Artscroll told it to.) I get upset when I look around at egalitarian minyanim full of liberal Jews davening mostly from ArtScroll siddurim. I do understand that lots of people like ArtScroll because of its clear explanations and translations (which are more honest/literal in most cases than, say, Sim Shalom). But those clear explanations of practice are heavily biased toward certain viewpoints, and reductionist to the max. It drives me crazy to hear people telling each other what “the halachah” is based on what they’ve read in ArtScroll. (My upsetness is directed at ArtScroll, not the people using the siddur. The liberal world is in desperate need of a usable, well-translated, well-explained, well-footnoted, well-laid out siddur.)
ArtScroll’s perspective also irritates JOFA reviewer Jennifer Stern Breger. Excerpts from her review:
In general, the siddur ignores positions (many of them very mainstream) that run counter to the editors’ own positions and viewpoints. There is a range of halakhically acceptable positions on many aspects of tefillah, but the editors do not include them.
Every time Mourners Kaddish appears, rather than saying that there are different opinions, the notes say clearly, “Although reciting Kaddish is a comfort for the soul of the departed, even silent recitation by a woman is generally frowned upon.” For Birkat Hamazon, the notes say, “The accepted custom is for a woman never to lead zimmun even if only women are present.” In the text of Birkat Hagomel, the note says, “according to the prevalent custom, a woman does not say the Bircas Hagomel,” and in the background note, “The primary reason given for women not saying Bircas Hagomel is that it is immodest for women to take any part in a mitzvah that is typically performed in public.”… Regarding havdalah it states, “It is preferablefor a woman to hear havdalah from a man rather than make her own havdalah.”
In general the siddur takes the mother of young children as the norm, and the stress is on the least that a woman can get away with. Not only does the note for ma’ariv say, “For women, maariv is an optional service. If you choose to say maariv, it would be best to precede its recitation with the words “bli neder” without a commitment, to indicate that you are not accepting its recitation as an ongoing obligation”… While it concedes that women have a special connection to the Shmoneh Esrei because of Hannah, it does not quote the mishna that says clearly that women are obligated in tefillah— i.e., the amidah—rather saying that it is considered highest priority at shaharit and minhah when family obligations allow.