I received a review copy of the new Nehalel BeShabbat siddur a few weeks ago. Over the last few weeks I have been test driving the siddur.
For starters, I have never used such a beautiful prayer book. The pages are laid out very well. The typography is excellent and a pleasure to read, no italics thankfully. We are given basic instructions for the service throughout and I found them to be accurate and useful. The translation was decent enough. There were some odd choices, but it’s like a happy marriage between Artscroll and Koren. What sets apart Nehalel BeShabbat is the photos.
Many of us have seen their “benchers” with gorgeous illustrative photos. That concept has now been extended to the Shabbat siddur. It is not without careful consideration and considerable hemming and hawing that the photos were deemed appropriate. Several writers in the introductory remarks justify the inclusion of photos in the siddur. Personally, I think it’s an acceptable idea and found using Nehalel BeShabbat with its photos mostly a positive experience. Praying with Nehalel BeShabbat is an interesting journey and I appreciated the effort to explain the use of photos in the siddur.
What struck me most about Nehalel BeShabbat was that it does not idealize charedim. I know this sounds odd when talking about a siddur, but the photos editorialize the text. The ideals expressed in the photos are very Zionist, very religious, and very un-charedi.
For example, we photos of women learning gemara. We see young women IDF soldiers as we sing Eishes Chayil. The elderly man from Na’ar hayisi, v’gam zakanti is a non-charedi man as well. Where there are photos of young boys learning Torah, we have young girls learning Torah on the opposing page. There are even photos of women dancing. The photo for sefiras ha’omer is a field, not a sefirot or any other Zohar centric imagery. Even the Shabbos food in the photos is not charedi. No cholent and kugel here. It’s like a Mediterranean style feast.
There are scant picture of charedim. The photos of charedim that are in the siddur do not glorify the usualy hallmarks of charedi society. One photo of charedim is of a yeshiva boy dancing at a wedding. Another photo is the famous photo of a rabbi being leered and jeered at by Nazi officers as he stands in his talis and tefilin. It’s weird using a religious book with so little charedi influence. We are so accustomed to orthodox Judaism being a charedi centric religion. Nehalel BeShabbat turns that on its head. Religious Zionism is seen as the ideal in this siddur.
I took issue with a few of the editorial choices. First, the verse poseach es yadecha umasbia l’chol chai ratzon is illustrated in the siddur just as it is illustrated in the bencher. We see third world children with hungry eyes and smiling faces on this page. It’s disconcerting for two reasons. 1) There is tremendous hunger in third world countries. It is ironic at best to be using these photos for this verse. 2. It’s makes the African, Southeast Asian, and Indian children look like props. Almost everyone else in the siddur is Jewish. Why use these third world children here? It’s odd. It leads to another strange editorial choice. For the phrase yakiru v’yedu kol yoshvei tevel they show Buddhists and some Asian people looking upward as if to imply they now see God. I don’t like this choice either. We have fellow Jews who have yet to discover or believe in God, why are we shifting the focus to these other people?
Another quirk is that almost all the liturgy about the Exodus and redemption is reinterpreted to refer to the Holocaust and the State of Israel through photos. In other words, as you are reading about our bondage in Egypt you see Holocaust photos. And as you read about the redemption and ancient entry to the Land of Canaan, you see Zionist pioneers in the modern Israel. Non-Zionists might find this disconcerting. But I would hope that it could subversively influence skeptics about Israel to see the parallels and perhaps embrace the State of Israel more fully.
Of course more of the photos are of outer space and nature panoramas. These photos are not editorial at all and I believe greatly enhance one’s appreciation of the liturgy.
I think Nehalel BeShabbat is a great “change-up” siddur. I would not use it every week because I think the photos would fade into the pages and we would not even notice them anymore. But I certainly recommend buying at least one Nehalel BeShabbat siddur and sharing it with your family. Let a different family member use it each week and I am sure your appreciation for the Shabbos prayers will increase.
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