Wednesday, July 28, 2021

I agree with Michael Feldstein (“My Love Affair With ArtScroll,” July 8, 2021) and feel somewhat similarly regarding ArtScroll. I have some reservations, however. ArtScroll is amazing in what they have accomplished. The breadth and depth of topics available is unprecedented, with various editions of siddurim, chumashim, Gemara and other texts.

In some respects, ArtScroll has made things too easy, and we should recognize that. In the interest of simplifying and reducing “mishing” (flipping) between pages, there is a quality that is lost. When one has to “find where we are,” the individual gains a better sense of context. For example, in the ArtScroll siddur, the leining (Torah reading) for Rosh Chodesh is printed sequentially, and the individual using the siddur may be unaware that the Baal Koreh (the one who reads the Torah portion aloud) must read one pasuk (verse) twice so that we have the minimum requisite of at least three pesukim in the aliyah.

When we have the special readings for Yom Tov or other special occasions, we have lost the concept of “where is this taken from?” in a greater context. There are times when we lein the Torah, that one section is read, the next section is omitted, and the Baal Koreh starts up again a bit later. The ArtScroll siddur prints those two parts contiguously in the interest of simplifying it for the one who is following the leining. The Kahal (congregation) is likely unaware this has occurred. Only one who has been a Baal Koreh is aware.

We say “Ashrei” typically three times a day, but the first two pesukim (verses) of Ashrei are from a different part of Tehillim than the central body of Ashrei. On Wednesday morning, the Shir Shel Yom (special chapter of Tehillim devoted specifically to that day) ends with the beginning verse of the next Kapitel (chapter) of Tehillim. There is obviously a reason for that, but without pointing that out, it goes unnoticed. Rabbi JJ Schachter shared a beautiful idea on that, but unless this is pointed out, the individual who is davening is unaware that this was taken from the next chapter in Tehillim.

There is an architecture to the tefillah and how it is formulated. Do we daven simply so we can place that check mark on our “to-do list” or is there a higher meaning? If we do it merely by rote, as admittedly I do at times, we lose the appreciation of the sophistication and logic to the sequence of tefillah.

Feldstein lamented that the Birnbaum siddur did not print Barchi Nafshi at the end of Shacharit and on Rosh Chodesh; he then had to “mish” and find that at the end of Shabbat Micha.

ArtScroll has done something similar. Before Kabbalat Shabbat, many shuls sing “Yedid Nefesh,” but did not print that between Mincha and Kabbalat Shabbat. If we want to read those words we need to “mish” to Shabbat Mincha in order to find it. Couldn’t they have just printed Yedid Nefesh before Kabbalat Shabbat so it would have been easier?

I would have liked ArtScroll to have printed Tefillah L’ishlom HaMidina (special prayer for the well being of the State of Israel) in ALL versions of the siddur, and not just in the special Rabbinical College of America edition. Obviously I understand that there are some communities that feel differently about saying that Tefillah and about Israel.

Clearly there are other parts of the frum community that value ArtScroll as well, but I imagine that it is primarily the Modern Orthodox community that particularly appreciates being able to read both the English and Hebrew, and it is the primary beneficiary of what ArtScroll has produced. Since the Modern Orthodox community benefits more from this siddur—and feels an affinity to Israel and the significance of that Tefillah—perhaps that should be the standard when printing most of the ArtScroll siddurim. Perhaps other communities should have a special edition that excludes that Tefillah if they are offended by it.

Again, my intent is not to detract from the amazing accomplishments ArtScroll has made. Rather, with each accomplishment and modification, there are concessions.

Moshe Roth
West Orange
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