Texts – Part II

I was reminiscing here about the Kol Bo Machzor that I use for the holidays. But this year, on the first day of Rosh HaShanah, I turned to a brand-new copy of the Koren Rosh HaShanah Machzor edited and introduced by England’s Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. I received it as an unexpected but perfect gift from one of the people with whom I learn and I was looking forward to using it on RH.

As an aside: Last year, when it first came out, I bought the Koren Siddur and I adore it. It’s a beautiful piece of book-making, just as a physical object, with clear print in both English and Hebrew, lots of white space on each page, and two fabric bookmarks for keeping one’s several places as one davens.

And it is groundbreaking in providing the Hebrew on the left side of the page and the English on the right. This means that both sides of the page well up out of the book’s centre, which strikes me as correct–both in terms of the reading eye and in terms of the idea of a book. I find that I consult the English side more freely in this siddur than I do in others, not only because of its placement, but also because the new English translation is miles above that found in the Birnbaum or (even worse) the Artscroll.

And the introduction by Rabbi Sacks, discussing the nature and forms of prayer in Judaism, is indispensable. It is packed with information as well as spiritual advice (given in a non-obnoxious way) and ideas that can be used as focal points while praying.

Well, suffice it to say, I’m a fan of the Koren siddur. So I was delighted to receive the Koren Machzor. And it embodies many of the virtues of its cousin. It is a fine production physically, with a beautifully designed cover and format. It also incorporates new English translations and it too features the English materials on the right-hand side of the page. And its pages are beautifully spaced and open, without the intrusive dots and blobs and grayed-out bits that spoil the Artscroll for me.

Most importantly, it has another terrific introduction that, while it overlaps a bit with the essay at the front of the Koren siddur, also contains a lot of original material specifically for RH, Like the siddur, it also has long annotations interspersed at various critical points in the text. The first time the shofar is blown, for example, there is a brief essay discussing the nature and role of shofar that is worth rereading and working up the sources. There are also bonuses like the mishnah tractate Rosh HaShanah with excellent translation and notes. But it’s not quite the all-encompassing compendium that my Kol Bo is.

It is a lovely object and I will certainly use it as a reference and a resource in coming years. But I don’t think I’ll daven from it. If I were starting fresh, I might well make it my regular machzor. But sentimentalist that I am, I am still attached to my old Kol Bo, though the pages are crowded and yellowing, the print is tiny for some parts, and the cover is falling apart. (The masking tape attached to the scotch tape attached to the plastic is coming off.)

I know this copy was held by my parents or my grandmother for many yomtovim after their arrival in North America, and I enjoy davening with the Yiddish taitsch. Nowadays, I’m more likely to use the Hebrew text to figure out the Yiddish taitsch than vice versa, as my Yiddish fades through lack of use, But it still feels good to engage in that nostalgic expression of Yiddishkeit, in every sense, that using the Kol Bo gives me. And, aside from keeping up my Yiddish, I think the Kol Bo is important because every translation is also an interpretation. God’s mercy is different than His rachmonis which is itself different from His rakhmanut. And yes, I know, those words are linguistically equivalent but they’re culturally distinct. There is only one God but sometimes I think I’m talking into different ears!

Have a sweet and beautiful 5772.



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