BRS Siddur Party: Why Are We Transitioning to the New RCA Siddur?
When R’ Yosef Mendelevitch was sent to a Soviet prison, among his most precious possessions was a small Rinat Yisrael siddur he smuggled in. He did not know the words of the prayers, and barely knew how to read Hebrew, but the siddur was his connection to God, and he consequently lived in constant fear that the siddur would be discovered and destroyed.
In his autobiography, “Unbroken Spirit: A Heroic Story Of Faith, Courage and Survival,” he writes:
Then I hit upon an idea. I would copy the prayer book into an inconspicuous notebook. I volunteered that night for the night shift, knowing that when I returned in the morning the barracks would be empty, giving me a few precious hours while everyone else was at work to do the copying. This I did eagerly, knowing that in the case of a search, I wouldn’t stand a chance. After several weeks of my new daily ritual, I finished copying out the daytime prayers, and began to pray properly. Still, I feared that notebooks full of Hebrew letters might draw undue attention, so I copied the prayers once more, this time to small pieces of paper that, like my vocabulary words, I could hide in matchboxes. I copied out two sets of prayers like this, wrapping the matchboxes in plastic and burying them.
And then something surprising happened. I discovered that I knew the prayers by heart – that in all this covert copying the words had become a part of me. The discovery felt like I had acquired another freedom; I could now pray anytime, anywhere, whether it be at work or in solitary confinement. Prayer could never again be taken from me.
While the recitation of Shema is a Torah commandment and the Shemoneh Esrei was adopted by the Anshei Knesses HaGedola around the time of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, the first formal siddur was curated by Rav Amram Gaon around 850 CE. In the 11th century in France, the siddur known as Machzor Vitry was printed based on the teaching of Rashi. The Rambam had his version of the siddur and appended it to the laws of prayer in his Mishneh Torah. Rav Yaakov Emden published a siddur, and we have siddurim based on the views of the Gra, Arizal, and countless others that reflect different times, places, traditions, and hashkafos, worldviews.
In 1984, the Rabbinical Council of America collaborated with ArtScroll to publish an RCA edition of its then-new, amazing siddur. Since that time, it has become a staple in many of our shuls and schools. Although our prayers and liturgy are essentially fixed, over time new commentaries emerge, and our community has particular observances and sensitivities that demand an updated edition of the siddur.
The RCA has just published a new siddur, this time in collaboration with Koren. R’ Basil Herring, the project’s editor-in-chief, did an outstanding job providing commentary throughout the siddur from Rav Soloveitchik, Rav Kook, Rav Lichtenstein, and many others. The detailed halachik instructions were written by our own Rabbi Josh Flug, and were reviewed and approved by Rav Herschel Schachter.
Just some of the features of the new siddur are:
A contemporary, relatable translation
Additional prayers for life cycle events
Prayers for the observance of Yom Hashoah, Yom Ha’atzmaut, and Yom Yerushalayim
Full Tehillim with translation
All five Megillos
Sensitivity to gender-specific prayers and practices
Essays on history, halacha, kavana and background to specific prayers
With the encouragement of the Rabbis, our board of directors voted to make the new RCA Siddur the standard at Boca Raton Synagogue and ordered 1,000 copies. As the new siddur was published, we had a special opportunity to print a BRS edition which includes a personalized dedication page and an embossed “Welcome to Boca Raton Synagogue” on the cover. I am deeply grateful to our sponsors who dedicated our edition of the siddur in memory of their parents and sisters; may their neshamos all have Aliyos through the prayers that will be offered and generated in their memory.
With so many minyanim throughout our campus, we have a continued need for most of the old siddurim. The bookcases in the lobby, however, will only contain the new siddur and the page announcements in the Rand Sanctuary will be based on its pagination.
Anyone who dedicated a siddur in the last few years will have the sponsorship sticker inserted in the inside cover of the new siddur. To sponsor a new siddur in memory or in honor of someone for $54, please contact Gloria at email@example.com.
At their Siddur Party, when children receive their siddur, there is a palpable excitement, energy and enthusiasm and we look forward to those same feelings at our BRS Siddur Party when we welcome the new siddurim on Shabbos Chanukah. That Shabbos, thanks to the generosity of George and Stephanie Saks, we will have the privilege of hosting world-renowned chazzan and singer, Shulem Lemmer, a Belzer chassid who recently signed a record deal with Universal Music Group, one of the country’s largest music corporations. We look forward to his magical voice leading us in tefillah from our new siddur for the first time.
Additionally, timed with the new siddur’s arrival, I look forward to beginning a new series called “Siddur Snippets.” Each day, between Mincha and Maariv we will spend a few minutes exploring the words of our siddur in an effort to better understand and inspire our prayer experiences. (The series will be recorded and shared in the weekly compendium of audio shiurim.)
The Gemara (Berachos 32b) says that four things need daily chizuk, strengthening, and one of them is prayer, which can easily become stale and rote. Unlike Yosef Mendelevich, we don’t have to fear that our siddurim will be confiscated. Nevertheless, we, too, can literally or figuratively annotate and personalize our prayers to acquire them and make them our own.
I hope and pray that the transition to our new siddur brings a renewed study of our tefillos and an reinvigorated excitement and inspiration to our prayers.