This past year, the Conservative Movement published a remarkable new Siddur, called Lev Shalem. This Siddur follows the highly acclaimed Lev Shalem Mahzor; published just a few years ago. The Mahzor ‘s creative commentary, translations and alternative prayer selections have enriched Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur prayer throughout the country. Unfortunately, the price of these wonderful books was just too steep for our community.
The new Siddur Lev Shalem is another story.
Because of our prayer book fund, we have purchased (so far) fifty Lev Shalem Siddurim; enough to use on a ‘typical’ Shabbat.
As creatures of habit, I know that we are resistant to change; especially when we just purchased a new Siddur within the past seven years. For now, we will still use the Sim Shalom Siddur for all special Shabbat occasions (B/B Mitzvah ceremonies, special simhas etc). Sim Shalom was a significant upgrade over previously Siddurim from decades past. However, with the publication of Siddur Lev Shalem, we now have a prayer book which is user friendly for everyone: For regular Shabbat attendees and for occasional worshippers; for Jews and members of other religious traditions. In additional to its contemporary and creative translations and alternatives, Lev Shalem offers explanations of almost every prayer and every prayer ritual. No previous Siddur is comparable. Below, I have condensed, edited and revised some of the comments about the new prayer book-written on the Rabbinical Assembly website:
- While Lev Shalem includes all the traditional prayers, psalms, and songs that are familiar from previous Conservative prayer books, it offers a wide array of readings, poems (ancient and modern), Hasidic wisdom, rabbinic homilies, and commentary on the history and diversity of the liturgy. The commentaries include selections authored by men and women. It incorporates Jewish wisdom from past and present; ranging from the prophets and rabbis of the Talmud to modern poets like Zelda and Marge Piercy.
- The Siddur presents a highly readable translationin contemporary language. The English is a more literal translation of the Hebrew, with similar line breaks in English and Hebrew so that you can easily go back and forth between the two languages. In addition, all of the blessings, psalms, and songs are transliterated to enable people from all backgrounds to fully participate. The extensive commentary is geared to both the novice and the learned, offering both historical insight and spiritual meaning.
- Those attending a service for the first time (perhaps for a B/B Mitzvah or to say Kaddish) will now feel comfortable with Jewish liturgy. Those congregants who know some Hebrew can easily go back and forth between the English and the Hebrew. Hebrew davennerscan better experience the flow of the service in a specially designed Hebrew type, whose clarity has been widely praised.
- Lev Shalem draws from Jewish practices all over the world. It includes all of the familiar psalms of the Friday night service, but also offers an earlier Friday night tradition from the Sephardic world where excerpts of Shir Ha-shirim (the Song of Songs) were sung. This allows for variety when praying and for expanding Jewish horizons during prayer.
- The prayer book offers some special, personal alternatives to standard prayers. For example, occasionally at the beginning of a Saturday morning service, we do not have a minyan to recite the Kaddish Lev Shalem includes a Prayer in Place of Mourner’s Kaddish When a Minyan Is Not Present. The Siddur also includes a section of personal prayers before the open ark. Today, as in the medieval synagogue, each community and individual can choose from the variety of texts offered, adding our own voices to the prayer.
- Siddur Lev Shalemis designed for use both in the synagogue and at home.
Again, I understand that change requires a little adjustment. When it comes to ritual however, our challenge is to do not just what is comfortable but what is meaningful. Too many people are turned off to prayer because it lacks any meaning or understanding. With the Lev Shalem, everyone will leave a service both inspired and better informed! Over the next two weeks, as we use the new Siddur, I will share features and insights from this long overdue prayer book; a Siddur which will certainly enrich and enhance our spiritual lives.