Saturday, August 04, 2007

Bias in Siddur Editing

What do the editors of siddurim bring to the table?

R' Arnold Lustiger has issued a set of errata for the first edition of his machzor based on the extensive teachings of [The] Rav YB Soloveitchik zt"l. I have a small issue with it, although he does say that the siddur is supposed to represent standard nusach [the prayer recension of] Ashkenaz, while the Rav's modifications to the nusach can be found in footnotes.

One place he corrects is in the introduction to the long Vidui (confession), which was printed with what today is called "nusach sfard". Three phrases describe the Creator's role in atonement, and they are given in different orders in nusach Ashkenaz (pre-Chasidic European text) and nusach Sfard (post-Chasidic European text, modified by some patters from Spanish and Middle Eastern texts).

The order in our siddurim is:
  • shetislach lanu al col avonoteinu
  • vetimchal lanu al col pesha'einu
  • utechaper lanu al col chata'einu
The order that you say is "nusach sfard" turns out to be "old Polish", long before the rise of Chassidism brought Nusach Sfard to the world. See the siddur Eizor Eliyahu (3/e, p. 387), which is nusach haGra, whose notes give a lot of information on what the "original" Ashkenazi nuschaot were.

It seems that a lot of the old Polish and Eastern European siddurim from the 16-17th century have the same order as nusach Sfard (techaper, tislach, timchal), while the order that we mostly use today in nusach Ashkenaz (tislach timchal techaper) is found only in the Western Ashkenaz traditions (i.e.. German). So it seems possible, perhaps likely, that the Rav, following the Gra and early Eastern European (rather than German) traditions, would have said this passage in this order.

I wonder to what extent current Nusach Ashkenaz siddurim are based on Heidenheim's machzor, which reflects a more German-influenced tradition. There were Heidenheim machzorim issued in "Nusach Polin", which are probably the basis of our current text (real German versions differ, a lot on Yom Kippur, less on other days). One's background, as well as one's conscious program, does affect how one edits a siddur text.

For example, in the first bracha before Shma, there is an ambivalent text: this is the praise of Seventh Day, on which rested the Almighty from all His work, the Seventh Day praises and says, "Singing a Song for the Sabbath Day (Ps. 91)". It can either be read as "the praise of the Seventh Day, on which the Creator rested, is that it and we say the Psalm" or with a minor edit, which some Ashkenazi siddurim take, following Heidenheim's emendation as "of the day", "shelayom" instead of "shel yom". That makes it read, "this is the praise of the Seventh Day, that on it rested the Creator; this is the song of praise of the Seventh Day, "Singing a song..." Two separate ideas, rather than one with a bit of elaboration.

The Eastern text, however, disambiguates it differently, making the second phrase say, "this is the song of praise of the Seventh Day, and it says "Singing a song..." Alternatively, Seligmann Baer notes (Siddur Avodat Yisrael) that the Roman and Spanish siddurim say, "This is the song and praise for the Seventh Day, on which the Almighty rested from all His work, this is the praise of the Seventh Day, which says, "Singing a song..."

When R' Dr. David de Sola Pool, the long-time rabbi of the Spanish-Portuguese Synagogue in New York, edited the Siddur for the Rabbinical Council of America, as an Ashkenazi siddur in the 1960s, he recognized the ambiguity in the text, and put in a more Sephardic version to disambiguate it, one which is not, as far as I know, attested in Ashkenazi texts. The second phrase reads "this is the song of praise of the Seventh Day, and it says ..." This text appears in other modern Eastern siddurim.

So Heidenheim had a conscious program of emending texts to make more (to him) grammatical sense. de Sola Pool had a less-conscious tendency to regard his native (Spanish) nusach as normative. To what extent do other contemporary siddur editors adopt Heidenheim's texts, under some possible presumption that "the Germans were medakdek (precise), therefore we accept his version as correct"? Clearly, according to the editor of Eizor Eliyahu, what is precise is not always the most accurate.


Anonymous said...


I am impressed with your extensive research here. Of course, as you indicate, the point is to have the nusach of the machzor match that of "standard" Ashkenaz machzorim. With the exception of these two cases in Chazaras Hashatz, it is.

Parenthetically, I am also amazed at your extensive knowledge of what I have published in the Hirhrim talkbacks - I myself would have missed the Jewish Action review as another reference for the story in the 1975 Teshuva Drasha, had you not mentioned it.

Thanks again,


thanbo said...

The Jewish Action review turned up in a Google search. I didn't remember it.

I searched for some key words (thunderstorm Soloveitchik wife) and your 1994 teshuva drasha came up in several contexts.