Our new siddur strikes a blow for inclusivity

Liberal Judaism has created a new siddur, with a draft morning service already piloted in some congregations.

A question being asked of me, and my co-editor Rabbi Lea Mühlstein, is ‘why’?

The answer is that Liberal Judaism has published a new prayer book every 25 to 30 years “in order to satisfy the needs of the age” – a principle first articulated by Lily Montagu, one of the founders of our movement, in the Jewish Quarterly Review in 1899.

In 1967, our siddur Service of the Heart introduced modern English. The next 25 years saw huge changes in society, not least the emergence of the women’s liberation movement. So, in 1995, Siddur Lev Chadash introduced a gender-inclusive translation.

In the 20 plus years since then, things have changed again. Since the millennium, alongside Liberal Judaism’s championing of equality, the new watchword has been inclusion. A major focus of the new siddur is how the individual may be included and enabled to take part in the service.

Just as the titles of the 1967 and 1995 prayer books were significant, so is the title of the new one. The name Siddur Shirah Chadashah – ‘prayer book of a new song’ –reflects the desire to express the prayers we have inherited in new ways in order to ensure that they speak to as wide a range of people as possible, both those who have traditionally been members of synagogues, and previously disaffiliated or unaffiliated people who have begun to seek a Jewish home in Liberal Judaism’s congregations.

True to the spirit of creating ‘a new song’, the name Siddur Shirah Chadashah is in the feminine form and the siddur includes feminised Hebrew versions of some of the prayers.

For example, the second blessing of the Amidah, the ‘standing’ central prayer, known as G’vurot, God’s ‘powers’, is presented in feminised Hebrew to subvert the association of ‘powers’ with masculine attributes.

While feminised Hebrew is being introduced into the siddur, it was already pioneered in the Kiddushin-Covenant of Love anthology published by Liberal Judaism in 2005 to coincide with the Civil Partnership Act. Rabbi Mark Solomon crafted feminised versions of the prayers used in that anthology and is now doing the same as a member of the editorial group for Siddur Shirah Chadashah, a group which also includes rabbis Janet Burden, Dr Margaret Jacobi, Dr René Pfertzel and Alexandra Wright.

The siddur also looks very different. The layout of each double-page spread is intended to enable participation and a fuller comprehension of the service. Looking at the top half of the double-page spread, the Hebrew text is set out with a transliteration to the right and a translation to the left. And then, to the left of the translation, are explanatory points and questions for reflection.

Ultimately, the new siddur will reflect the input and needs of the entire Liberal Jewish movement for this age – which is exactly why we need it.


About the Author
Rabbi Elizabeth Tikvah Sarah has been the Rabbi of Brighton & Hove Progressive Synagogue since 2000. She is a pioneer in the area of lesbian and gay inclusion.
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