By Ed Feld, senior editor, Siddur Lev Shalem for Shabbat & Festivals
As a kid, I watched my grandfather close a siddur after davening and then kiss it. It never ceased to be startling – our family was not generous with kisses, they were reserved for special occasions, they indicated special affection. Kiss a book?
This memory came to mind as the Friday night service, the First Fruits of the new Siddur Lev Shalem, went to press. I had several sleepless nights in anticipation. Over-stimulation I suppose – a feeling that so much was as stake. What is it to publish a book in an increasingly digital age? Will anyone ever kiss this book?
It’s a beautiful book. Martin Buber once remarked that Jewish book publishing began with beautiful Renaissance editions and then deteriorated, aesthetics no longer a consideration. Our designer Scott-Martin Kosofsky has tweaked the digital Hebrew font and made it into a compelling design element. Each line of Hebrew text and English translation is thought through – how long should it be? Where are the proper line breaks? How does each page convey meaning? This is a book which turns to the Renaissance for inspiration as it fosters a new Jewish renaissance.
It’s a book that represents the Judaism so many of us are committed to. Its commentary gives historical context to the siddur, which is after all, an anthology of Jewish spiritual life through three millennia. Customs and prayers from the Sephardic and Ashkenazic tradition, from Morocco and Italy, from Babylonia and the land of Israel find their place in this volume. Twenty-first century kavanot face first century prayers. It is a conversation through the ages, across the four corners of the Jewish world, one that beckons our souls to enter.
Recently, I was in the home of a friend. In the course of our conversation, I thought of something in the liturgy that was relevant to our discussion. I asked if she had a siddur and she said, “No.” Working on this new siddur, I am conscious that I want it to be a book both for synagogue use and religious practice at home. Each individual who wants to explore, to be a part of Jewish life, each person engaged in a spiritual journey should find nourishment for his and her soul here. I want Jews to treasure this siddur, I hope they will be moved to kiss it.
A rendering of pages from the First Fruits: Erev Shabbat preliminary edition [click to enlarge].