The new Rabbinical Council of America siddur

This new 1,452-page siddur, which includes 106 additional pages of essays, edited in chief by Rabbi Basil Herring, shows why it is beneficial to have more than one version of the siddur. This new version, with weekday, shabbat, yom tov prayers, and a host of additional sections, offers much that is not in many prior siddurs.

One of its many focuses is on halakhic practices and minhagim, respected customary practices, that are not inserted in the back of the siddur but in boxes where the prayers appear.

The siddur explanations are illuminated by a multitude of Jewish sources as well as recent scholarly research, anecdotes, physics, biology, psychology and literary classics because Maimonides taught “take the truth from whoever says it.”

The siddur shows sensitivity to women’s participation in the prayer service in many ways, including changing male-oriented language to inclusive wording, such as using “one” rather than “he,” “esteemed companions” in place of “rabbotai,” “head of the house” instead of “master of the house.” It also addresses zimmum for three women when there is less than three men present, explains exemptions for women, has an extended commentary on eishet chayil, “the woman of valor,” and more than a dozen similar much-needed commentaries.

Eishet chayil is a good example of the siddur’s many explanatory inclusions. The siddur gives a half dozen explanations of it from different sources, worldviews. and periods of time. Several ancient midrashim offer ideas such as: it refers to a virtuous wife, the book of the Torah, and a woman like Beruria, whose story the siddur tells; the sage Meiri of the fourteenth century suggests that it is extolling the allegorical foreign women mentioned earlier in Proverbs where these 22 verses appear; kabbala claims it is speaking about the feminine aspect of God; and there is the view of a modern commentator who wrote that Solomon is referring to his ancestor Ruth who is called an eishet chayil in the book of Ruth.

The translation is new, avoids archaic terms and uses clear modern English and modern English syntax rather than copying the order of the Hebrew words, which is appropriate for Hebrew but not for English.

The siddur contains supplementary prayers such as those relating to the holocaust, the State of Israel, and personal events such as thanksgiving and dedication of a home. There are forty pages of blessings for special occasion. The entire book of Psalms in includes rather than only selections, and there is a modern English translation of all the psalms. The complete books of Shir Hashirim, Rut, Eikha, Kohelet, and Esther, are included, although these five Megillot are not translated. The weekly Torah readings, tashlikh, kapparot viduy, marriage ceremony, pidyon haben, grace after meals in a shiva house, yizkor, and much more are also in this siddur.

There are also 106 pages of easy to read eighteen essays that explain much about Judaism, prayer, history, philosophy, kabbala, hassidism, Zionism, such as the historical and halakhic background of prayer, Rabbi J. B. Soloveitchik’s explanation of the shabbat prayers, the thirteen principles of Judaism, sacrifices, and more.

Some explanation may surprise readers, such as the kapparot practice, seeking atonement for misdeeds, not being attested until Geonic literature in the middle ages and “it was likely practiced on behalf of children, who are unable to express remorse and achieve atonement through conventional means. The practice is of the same nature as the symbolic foods on Rosh Hashana.” In short, it is not magical, but designed to make us think, act, and improve.

All in all, this new siddur is not only a prayer book; it is a collection of all essential prayers together with prayers that people would like to say, with readings from the Tenakh, the Hebrew Bible, with a wealth of explanations and other need to know and worth-while knowing material.

About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 40 books.
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