I have been asked by my congregation to review the new edition of Siddur Lev Shalem for Shabbat & Festivals, published by the Rabbinical Assembly of Conservative Judaism. As I am not qualified to comment on the prayer content from a religious standpoint, I am limiting my comments to the linguistic and layout aspects.
- In general, it is clear that a great deal of effort and care went into this edition. It is handsomely produced, and a great improvement on the congregation’s existing siddur in its design and explanatory content. The chosen fonts—in Hebrew and in English—are pleasing to the eye and highly legible, and provide easy visual distinctions between texts of various types.
- I am heartened to see the effort put into the transliteration of Hebrew, which dispenses with the anachronistic and misguided Germanic use of “ch” in favour of the more illustrative under-dotted h (ḥet); is consistent in its use of k or kh for the Hebrew kaph; and even takes care to simulate the presence of the final héh in words such as madregah (instead of madrega). It is not flawless—נפלאותיו is rendered niflotav (p. 13) instead of niflaotav; כסאו is presented as kiso (“his pocket”, p. 15) instead of kis’o (His seat/throne); and the qamatz qatan in the word מְבָרָך is wrongly rendered like an ordinary qamatz (m’varakh, instead of m’vorakh—Kaddish Shalem, p. 54)—but by and large, it is good, and helps to mitigate the information loss that usually occurs in the transcription of Hebrew in Roman characters.
- The layout of the texts, with explanatory texts “wrapping around” the Hebrew prayers, is aptly reminiscent of Talmudic mishnayot.
- The use of Adonai for the Lord’s name is keeping with conventional (non-Orthodox) pronunciation
- The translation is generally good—albeit here, too, there are a few idiosyncrasies, or inaccuracies, e.g.
- The Song of Songs verse שחורה אני ונאווה (“I am black and beautiful”) is translated “I am sunburned, yet beautiful” (p.7)—as though God forbid that an Israelite woman should be dark-complexioned, or that “dark and beautiful” is an oxymoron
- בני עמי is translated “my brothers”, when clearly the intention is “my brethren” or “my compatriots”
- ולמקלליי נפשי תידום (p. 51) is translated “Help me ignore”, when it should be “My soul shall be silent”
- עלינו לשבח is “It is for us to praise” instead of “We must praise”
- על-כן is “And so” instead of “Therefore”
- There are elements of modern politically correctedness, e.g. the addition of the word ואימותינו (“and our mothers”) to the expression אלהינו ואלהי אבותינו (“our God and God of our forefathers”)—which are an appropriate reflection of modern Conservative Jewish values.
This review is by no means exhaustive, of course, and if I come across further issues I shall add them here. All in all, however, it is a worthy siddur for an Conservative congregation.