The Open Siddur Project envisions Jewish spirituality as a shared and collaborative project that is rooted in the wisdom of our traditions and which finds expression through the evolving diversity of our communities and the intimate experiences of our individual relationships. Much like the mishkan, the traveling tent of meeting (or tabernacle) was the focal point for those creatively inspired Israelites to share their work, כֹּל אֲשֶׁר נְשָׂאוֹ לִבּוֹ, as their hearts were stirred (Exodus 36:2), so too we see the Open Siddur Project as a kind of יִחוּד, a unification of holy כַּוָּנוֹת (intentions) for those sharing their חִדּוּשִׁים (innovations) in Jewish spiritual practice, in sacred liturgy, in meditations and exercises, and in understanding through translations and commentary. In an age when our עֲבוֹדָה avodah (intentional practice) is expressed by communities and individuals in a multiplicity of ways, it behooves us to take our avodah seriously, respect and reflect this diversity, and provide the means for crafting newly designed סִידּוּרִים Siddurim accordingly. The Open Siddur Project is a community, space, and licensing framework for sharing those designs and enrich our individual and communal avodah with each other’s creativity and insight.
The technology for engaging in a regular Jewish spiritual practice, like davvening for instance, only requires one to have an open heart, or the desire to have an open heart. No siddur is really necessary. And yet, a technology for accessing a set arrangement of techniques, formulations, exercises, and meditations can be very helpful for practitioners both adept and novice. Essentially, the סִידוּר Siddur is a bound reference book containing not only the established sequence of liturgy used by a ḥazzan leading communal prayer, but also many other useful arrangements for Jewish spiritual practice alone or at home. The great variety of extant siddurim is testament to the diversity of Jewish communal traditions. Until now, it was extremely difficult to create one’s own siddur, collecting an arrangement reflecting an individuals own evolving engagement in Jewish spirituality. By converting Public Domain print resources and newly composed contemporary works to digital resources encoded in standard open formats, we can create a powerful means by which individuals and communities take ownership of their practice and make meaning through direct engagement with the ingredients of Jewish spiritual resources. The scope of this digitization is immense: we seek to digitize every manuscript witnessing a formulation of a prayer and variations in arrangements and selection representing every liturgical custom or nusaḥ.
To accomplish this vast feat, it only makes sense that we use the best possible strategy for online collaboration: adopting open source and free/libre licensing for sharing our collective efforts. The Open Siddur Project is dedicated to providing the resources for crafting new siddurim, sharing siddur related content, and providing an innovative resource for studying the depth and breadth of Jewish liturgy and Jewish spiritual practice.
We are creating a framework for liturgists, translators, commentators, and Jews who simply want to pray from their heart to adopt, adapt, and redistribute each other’s work.
The Open Siddur Project’s Web Application
Our first effort is in building a free, online kitchen for users to prepare siddurim and other high quality Jewish reference works (such as haggadot and bentchers) to be printed out, shared online, or accessed via e-readers. We say a kitchen, since we are making available the ingredients, recipes, and arrangements which can be freely modified by anyone producing a reference work very similar to a cookbook.
In another sense, the resource we’re developing might be called a collaborative publishing platform: collaborative like a wiki but designed with the ultimate goal of generating print media. Online, the platform will provide a space for adapt, adapt, and redistribute all the components of a siddur including prayers, translations, commentaries, art, and layout templates for incorporation in new, custom designed siddurim. The application we are building could also be used simply as a novel educational tool for the study of Jewish liturgy.
In short, the work of project volunteers falls into the following general categories:
Collecting and preparing texts (liturgies, translations, commentaries, etc.), illustrations, and other siddur-related content
- Scanning Public Domain works,
- transcribing those materials,
- proofreading them for accuracy,
- and encoding them in our open source database.
Developing technology to facilitate sharing and creativity:
- specifications of the XML-based format in which we archive the project’s texts,
- transforms to convert the XML-encoded documents into print- or display-ready formats,
- the eXist-based native XML database that contains the data,
- and the web-based application infrastructure used by developers and end users for editing, retrieving and remixing the texts we provide.
and Communicating the principles of sharing as the basis of a vital, creative culture:
- Advocating the use of free/libre licenses to share resources across the span of Jewish cultural and educational projects
- Educating content creators on the benefits of licensing their work with standard free culture licenses
- Requesting authors, scholars, and artists to share their work
- Modeling best practices in sharing through the design and licensing of work we produce