Posted on | November 23, 2009 | By Ron Coleman | 50 Comments
Assuming I must have missed something — something that would be hard to miss, but stranger things have happened — I did a Google search before I wrote this article:
ARTSCROLL SIDDUR ANNIVERSARY — nope. Too narrow?
ARTSCROLL ANNIVERSARY … Nope.
For all practical purposes, at least as far as I can tell, the 25th anniversary of the publication of the first edition of the Artscroll Siddur has gone unremarked.
In a way, this is of a piece with the fundamentally restrained, dignified style of Mesorah Publications. It is also consistent with the central theme of their incredible endeavor, a perspective from which 25 years is, in the scheme of things, pretty small potatoes, and in which the publishers and authors of the Artscroll “series” (really an undertaking far greater than a “series”) see themselves as conduits of something far greater than themselves.
But we can do it for them, and not only because 25 years is, in our individual lives, a very significant amount of time, but because the publication of the Artscroll Siddur in 1984 literally turned a page in the history of the Jewish people.
In a time when more Jews were more ignorant of their heritage than ever before, and more in danger of disappearing from the nation of Israel as identifying Jews in no small part because of the inaccessibility, mystery and intimidation of the tradition, Artscroll fulfilled the dictum in Pirkei Avos, “In a place where there are no men, strive to be a man.” A man was needed; more than one, in fact; but fundamentally two — Rabbis Meir Zolotowitz and Nosson Scherman — stepped forward and took the responsibility to do the work.
For all the sweat, heart and brain that was poured into the Artscroll Siddur by these men and those who worked with them, I cannot believe that they could have had an inkling of just how phenomenal this work would be, and how much it would mean to people such as you and me.
Of course they must have realized that never before had the traditional Jewish liturgy — including the full range of responsibilities of a Jew besides “merely” understanding the words of prayer found in any bilingual siddur — become so completely accessible to so many seeking access. They knew that, even if it was not perfect, no more comprehensive, approachable siddur had ever been published in the vernacular for non-scholarly use in the home and synagogue. And they cannot have been unaware of at least the possible “political” impact this assertive broadside from the once-quiescent English-speaking community of strictly orthodox or “yeshiva” Jews would have on the course of Jewish communal and religious life for a generation.
But they could not have realized what it would mean to us to find out that, yes, there is one — there is a book — a siddur — there is one work you can buy that will tell you how to do it: How to go about being really Jewish in prayer and, in no small measure, throughout the day. When to stand in shul; when to sit; what to answer; when to bow, and in which direction — all those mysteries that, observed in our peripheral vision, kept so many of us, too self-conscious or proud to look like complete dorks in an orthodox shul or to require the embarrassing personal tutelage of an insider to even consider stepping through that door.
Now we could learn how to do it, and to some degree why we were doing it, and how much more we had to do, at our own pace; in private; and on an adult level.
This was a gift of freedom that I can hardly imagine Rabbis Zlotowitz and Scherman could have understood they were giving so many of us.
The Artscroll Siddur turned 25 last August, quietly. But the voices it enabled, empowered and amplified — hundreds, no, thousands of Jewish spirits — have not only filled the Heavens with a magnificent raash gadol [great noise] for 25 years, but have unleashed an eternity of song for which so many of us and our descendants will always be grateful.
Thank you, Artscroll.