Wednesday, April 15, 2015

זה היום עשה ה

I've been using Koren's books for decades- I think my first ever was their Tikkun, with which I prepared for my bar mitzvah- and I've become a huge fan of theirs in recent years. So when they asked me to review their new Yom Haatzmaut Machzor, I was very happy and honored to accept.

Celebrating Yom Haatzmaut back in the old country- more on that below- I remember a somewhat limited selection of printed materials to follow along the tefillah chagigit. YU would have a tekes every year that combined Yom HaZikaron and Yom Haatzmaut, and the tefillot were generally handed out as a photocopied sheet that literally copied and pasted various segments of the tefillah together. At best, there would be an actual printed and stapled pamphlet that would do pretty much the same (using selections from Siddur Rinat Yisrael and printed by the WZO), but usually with directions that essentially read, "Turn to regular Maariv in your siddur now, and turn back here when you're done." The next morning we were pretty much on our own. (YU's official minyanim all say Hallel without a bracha, but I once went to a renegade minyan that said the bracha, layned the haftarah, the whole nine yards.) It was enough, I guess, but obviously lacking. Of course, both Rinat Yisrael's and Koren's regular siddurim had all the material, but in much the same way as they had, say, the amida for Chol HaMoed.

There were some full, or almost full, siddurim for the day. The WZO produced one, again based on the Rinat Yisrael, that was also available with an English translation. They were still not much, but much better than the alternatives- the whole tefillah for night and day, together with some notes and an essay or two. The Kibbutz HaDati had its own version of the tefillot, as opposed to the "standard" one set by the Rabbinate. Still later, much more complete works began to appear of late- there's a work called "Goel Yisrael," a siddur with lots of extra material, and a siddur that came out recently called "Beit Melucha." There have, of course, been many more (and better quality) pamphlets similar to those described above released in the last few years, as well as Yom Haatzmaut tefillot as appendices to works on Zionism, and the like.

Last year, however, Koren released its Yom Haatzmaut Machzor, and this year has released the English/Hebrew counterpart. I will review these here.

As I wrote above, I'm a big fan of Koren. First, it's clear from their products that they put a lot of thought into each book, not just in terms of content but also into layout, presentation, appearance, and so on. This is not a minor issue- it's very nice to be able to use something attractive, and of course a huge help to both tefillah and general reading and learning if the print is easy on the eyes, the text is easy to follow, and so on. And here, I think it would be very hard to argue that Koren excels over most if not all other publishers. It's probably a major key to their success, and it shows in these machzorim, which of course adapt the texts from their siddurim and Tanachs.

I suppose if that was all, it would be enough to establish Koren's machzorim as a gamechanger in this field. No more sheets, pamphlets, or small books, but a respectable sefer that makes no apologies and makes it easy to say the tefillot. But, of course, these are much more than that.

The sheer amount of content puts me in mind of something I thought of only last week, during Pesach, as I considered the many haggadot we have (and, of course, the huge number we don't): There isn't enough time in the seven-day chag to digest it all, let alone in one (or, I suppose, even two) seder nights. That doesn't mean you can't start reviewing this material from, say, the end of Pesach and keep going through Yom Yerushalayim (these machzorim cover both days, as well as Yom HaZikaron). We live the miracle of Israel every day, so why not? And, of course, there's always next year...

The Hebrew version (available in the three major nuschaot) is edited by R' Benny Lau and Dr. Yoel Rafel. It contains an introduction and extensive, Yom Haatzmaut-specific notes on the tefillot by the former, and appended essays by the latter as well as others. The essays deal with various matters related to the days celebrated, focusing on the tefillot themselves but covering much more as well. Each is a small gem, and again I only wish there was more time to digest them all fully.

The English/Hebrew edition, which I've just received (available in Ashkenaz for now; sponsored by World Mizrachi and other local organizations), is even more massive. Of course, the English translation (Rabbi Sacks', as in their siddurim) alone doubles the size, and there is again a chagim-specific commentary to the tefillot, this time by R' Moshe Taragin with contributions from the Hebrew edition authors. The tefillot, by the way, are remarkably complete- as Koren has done elsewhere, for example in its Chumash, you have pretty much everything you need, even Birkat HaMazon and Sheva Brachot. There are even multiple versions of Al HaNissim to add, if one's practice is to do so. (The propriety and history of doing so is also discussed, as we will see.) The Hebrew version even has zemirot for the day.

The translated version seems, logically enough, a bit chutz la'aretz-centric. I used the Sacks Siddur a bit before I made aliyah, but I will confess I find the format of a translated sefer a bit hard to follow now. That's just me, of course- many have told me that you get used to it quickly. The tefillot of the translated version are formatted for use in chu"l as well, with the minor differences between the American and Israeli Ashkenaz noted.

Of course, the tefillot are only one reason to use the Machzor, and even those in Israel who already have the all-Hebrew version handy will still want to use this sefer. There's the commentary, as said, but even more so, there are essays. There's an introduction by R' Riskin which I found very moving in a number of places (although he could have held off on including some less-universally held opinions, not that I necessarily disagree with him), and over 250 pages of essays on the other side of the book. (This brings the total size to close to a thousand pages. You get your money's worth.) These are arranged into two broad categories- "Eretz Yisrael and Medinat Yisrael" and "Yom Haatzma'ut and Yom Yerushalayim," and cover a very broad range of topics, and are written by a great range of luminaries, both past and present. Many have appeared elsewhere- including, of course, the all-Hebrew edition- but they are here gathered in one convenient location- and some seem to be original as well. I can't say that I have thoroughly read each one yet, but I have gone through them and see much to be delved into.

One topic, covered in an introduction, the commentary, and some essays, is the tefillah itself. The origins of the tefillot (and the religious nature attributed to the days) is gone into, but there is also a lot about what it is proper to say, what various opinions are, and so on. I will admit this (which I have seen almost predominate other Zionist discussions of Yom Haatzmaut outside of Israel, such as some of those published by YU) is a bit of a pet peeve of mine, especially after seeing the admirable lack of thought put into the question by many Israelis- Yom Haatzmaut is a chag, on a chag we say certain things, and that's it. (Although the Machzor makes clear there were and are such discussions in Israel as well, but they don't seem to affect the hamon am.) What put my mind to rest, however, was some of the content of the Machzor itself. The commentary, for example, at one point quotes R' Yosef Messas implying that this is an Ashkenazi (or galuti, or right-leaning) problem: Be a Sephardi, he says, and simply accept the miracles and pray as your heart tells you.

It's summed up even more nicely as part of the essay contributed by Dr. Erica Brown. She points out that the best way to experience Yom Haatzmaut is to do so in Israel. I imagine it's to be expected that the most commendable, but still somewhat constrained, celebrations in chu"l may lend themselves to such concerns. Here, as she writes, the natural and so much different celebration will put the foreign observer in a whole different state of mind.

Of course, that's a minor point. Considering that the alternative- as the publisher points out in his preface- is not people quibbling over a half-perek of Hallel here or there but people who prefer to ignore the State entirely or worse (I once heard someone bizarrely mocking the fact that observance, and Hallel, that year had been moved because of Shabbat, seemingly not noticing the obvious point of how much a miracle a State that does so as part of official policy is- although that reminds me that the Machzor could have used a clear statement of when the dates are moved, unless I missed it), the very existence of this Machzor is a huge leap forward. Even these discussions on the tefillah may be seen as part of the greater miracle- we are at a point where, yes, we have to discuss and decide such things, and we accept and embrace history rather than run from it. The addition of this Machzor to the bookshelf is a fine indicator of that, and hopefully will only add to the stature of these days all over the Jewish world.

As a side note, Koren, whether intentionally or not, seems to have become the model for such things. I remember when the Sacks Siddur first came out, people were actually happy simply to be using a Modern Orthodox siddur. (I imagine I don't have to spell out the history that led to those feelings.) The same seems to be true of their new Talmud and other projects. Of course, making an ideological statement wouldn't be enough of a reason for success, so it helps that the books in question are of such high quality as well. And the new Yom Haatzmaut machzorim are a worthy addition to that list in both senses of the word- very well done, useful, and informative works that will also contribute to a wider positive movement in Israel and the Jewish world.

Ah, here are the links. You can toggle between currencies and languages at the top. Also available at your local bookstore, as they say:
Hebrew (links below for other nuschaot)

And here's a video about the new Machzor:

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