Wednesday, 16 September 2009

Thought on Machzorim for the Masorti Movement in Britain

The report that follows is a draft and I am grateful to its authros for permission to publish it here.
More information on the new Lev Shalem Mahazor, including PdF files suitable for download and use on Rosh Hashanah and, particularly, Kol Nidrei, can be found at

Shannah Tovah to all





                                                                                                              August 2009  



1        Introduction


At the AMS Council meeting in July Michael Rose (MR) drew attention to the disturbing situation that the Birnbaum and Routledge machzorim have disappeared from the market, leaving the benighted Artscroll as the only traditional machzor on sale in the UK.   Routledge has been out of print for many years and MR was informed that the publishers of Birnbaum,  The Hebrew Publishing Co., are due to close down this year.


The Council deputed MR and Chazan Jacky Chernett (JC) to investigate the position and report back to the Council, consulting as appropriate with the Rabbis and the service committees of the AMS congregations.  


As a first step we have prepared this interim report.  We have included information from Rabbis Jonathan Wittenberg (RJW) and Jeremy Gordon (RJG), and have been in touch  with representatives in the USA regarding the Rabbinical Assembly’s new machzor  Lev Shalem, scheduled for publication in May 2010.  


Is there scope for a UK Masorti machzor?


We have assumed that it is not a practical proposition for the AMS to create its own machzor.     In Rabbi Jeremy Gordon’s words,“The demands in terms of work involved are too great and the demand in terms of those who would wish to use such a creation is too small.  I am not even sure that one machzor is the right way forward for our various and varied communities.” 


2   Machzorim currently available


 The machzorim currently available or in use in AMS congregations are listed in appendix 1 to this report.


3          The new RA machzor Lev Shalem


3.1   The forthcoming  RA machzor, Lev Shalem,  would seem to offer the best way forward.  The editorial committee, led by Rabbi Ed Feld, has circulated to interested parties samples consisting of (1) the text of the Kol Nidrei service and (2) some extracts from Rosh Hashanah musaf.    We have permission to circulate the electronic files of these samples internally to those who will be considering this report  (not of course for general publication). Copies are therefore attached to this note.

3.2   We have also been promised a sight of the full text when it has been finalised and proof-read- expected early December 2009- with permission to circulate internally as above.


3. 3    Please see Appendix 2 for a summary of key features of Lev Shalem, based on the impressive Kol Nidre draft.


3.4      The list price will be $44 plus shipping- reduced to   $22 plus shipping if ordered before 30 January 2010



4          Some questions for consideration


4.1   Will the new RA machzor be close enough to the forms of service in our AMS synagogues to be enable it to be used by individuals to take part in our services?

4.2  Should AMS encourage the use of  Lev Shalem as the “preferred” machzor to be used by our shlichei  tsibbur?

4.3  Could there be  there other options, eg Rosenstein’s forthcoming Eit Ratson machzor? (see Appendix 1)



5        Proposed action


  •  This note to be circulated with the samples of Lev Shalem to AMS Council, Rabbis, principal chazanim and chairs of services committees
  • Obtain  comments and fix a preliminary review meeting this autumn
  • Circulate the full text of Lev Shalem when available (anticipated December)
  • Consider placing an order at the  special price of $22 before 30 January 2010
  • Plan future study groups based on Lev Shalem, eg for Ellul next year.


6        Omnam Ken- Rabbi Feld’s offer


The draft of the Kol Nidre service omits Omnam Ken, a favourite in England (perhaps not least because it was composed by the martyred Rabbi Yom Tov of York).    Rabbi Feld, recognizing this, has suggested that their designer might set this piyyut as a separate page in the same style and typeface as Lev Shalem, together with any translation or transliteration we would like to include as a supplement to accompany machzorim sold to UK purchasers.   If possible they would probably need a decision and the translation etc before the end of December 2009.  He says that there would be  no extra cost, which is most generous.  

 Do we want to pursue this suggestion and if so have we any Rabbinic or other volunteers to work on the translation of this untranslatable masterpiece?








In use in Masorti congregations


  • Routledge

This traditional machzor has been out of print for many years.   RJG lists its weaknesses as “Typesetting, age, ‘out of date’.


  • Birnbaum 

Birnbaum’s notes and source references are excellent.  Originating in 1951,  it is printed in an old form that is not too easy on the eye.  There are no transliterations, not even for the mourner’s kaddish.  Translation (not quite literal) aims at being more accessible and is a better option than Routledge- though still using “thee”, “thy” etc.  Hebrew font for main text is clear and a good size.  Easy to use and is a good recommendation for those who don’t need transliterations and who are familiar with the text.  RH and YK are in one volume which is quite weighty.


As indicated above, no more copies are being printed and the Hebrew Publishing Company is reportedly about to close down.


  • Artscroll


Traditional, well set out but as RJG puts it, “not ‘mishpocha’, with concerns regarding various theological and historical issues”


  • Silverman


The oldest American Conservative machzor  in circulation.   Traditional,  attractively laid out.    Used at SAMS (who acquired them from USA around the time when the Harlow machzor was introduced).


  • Jules Harlow


The current  Rabbinical Assembly machzor.    Used by Kol Nefesh.   RJG comments that it “works well in less formal settings”.   He describes it as  “clear, easy to access English, some transliteration.    A bit light (a number of piyyutim not included)….works well in less formal settings such as Minyan Chadash”


  • France


   Rabbi Krygier has edited a Masorti machzor for France and is to send us a copy for reference.  


NB    Other machzorim, such as the kabbalist Ari machzor, Reform publications and at least two  Reconstructionist  machzorim are outside the scope of this report.



  • Lev Shalem    -   See above
  • Eit Ratson

Jacky Chernett is impressed by the siddur Eit Ratson,  edited by Joseph Rosenstein and published by Shiviti Publications in 2003.   A machzor is now in progress.  Jacky writes that the siddur, with “traditional text, excellent poetic layout, full transliteration, good rubrics, commentaries, kavvanot and meditations”  has been well received by congregants of Kol Nefesh.   “Alternatives to difficult texts are offered alongside traditional ones, with explanations.   The siddur has brought meaning to many people, particularly those whose Hebrew is not fluent but are serious in seeking a meaningful experience in prayer. There are some omissions, however, and the author is open to all comments.   We need to see the completed machzor before commenting”.




1   General

   Lev Shalem is in no sense a revised edition or continuation of the current RA machzor  (Jules Harlow) but adopts an entirely original, though more traditional approach.    This is explained in the Preface and can be seen in the main sample received to date, ie the Kol Nidre service.  The committee of 10, chaired by Rabbi Edward Feld, comprises 8 Rabbis and 2 cantors.


The aim is to combine study and prayer, “always..intimately linked” in Jewish tradition.   There are  four elements:


  • The Hebrew text
  • The translation
  • A running commentary on the right of the Hebrew text
  • Readings and meditations-kavvanot-  on the left of the translation

There is  transliteration of everything the congregation might sing in Hebrew.  The typeface and page design are clear and attractive with intelligent use of colour and italics.  There are notational “signposts” for practices  such as bowing etc.


2        The Hebrew text

·         Basically the traditional Ashkenazic texts though adding some Sefardi and Italian prayers.

·         Some piyyutim omitted, notably Omnam Ken

·         Adds some contemporary prayers

·         “Matriarch inclusion” in alternative first Amida blessing

NB   We may want to make a note of  changes which have been introduced into American Conservative practice in earlier decades and carried over into Lev Shalem- eg in the Sim Shalom prayer and treatment of prayers for restoration of sacrifices.  Query to what extent further changes have been made.


Cross-referencing is used to avoid repetition of passages appearing more than once- check the extent of this as it can become disconcerting to the worshipper.


3        Translation

The translation is new and original

·         Designed “to reflect the Hebrew original as closely as possible, allowing the English reader to experience the text without a filter”

·         “Where the English text is jarring, which it sometimes is, the translation ought not to smooth over the difficulty.”   


Not “sanitised” or “Americanised”


·         Aims to convey Hebrew “prose poetry”

·         Aims to be prayerful- put the English reader in the mood for prayer.

·         Gender-neutral while conveying the intent and meaning of the original

·         Some expressions not translated- eg barukh atah Adonai and other basic words such as mitzvah.


4        The running commentary     (right hand margin) 


A modern commentary to explain such matters as

  • Historical origins of the text
  •  unusual vocabulary
  • difficult ideas, key concepts
  • context of prayers


5        Readings and meditations     (left hand margin)

  • Focus attention at key moments
  • Readings congregation may recite
  • Alternative renderings “that offer a different take on the original text than in the more literal translation”


6   Conclusion


The Kol Nidre sample is impressive.  The translations are thoughtful and measured, yet moving.  They and the commentary give every appearance of being based on careful scholarship.  The interpretative materials contain much that may attract the individual worshipper, particularly some of the alternative renderings.  


The machzor will provide an excellent basis for individual and group study.   Its effectiveness for leading and following services will be tested when the book becomes available in 2010.

                                                                                              Michael Rose

                                                                                             Jacky Chernett      



Woodrow/Conservadox said...

What about Koren? Surely Rabbi Sacks' work is an improvement over Artscroll (?)

Rabbi Jeremy Gordon said...

I presume you mean the newly published siddur?
We are looking for a mahzor. Koren did publish a Mahzor in 1988, but that's out of print.

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