The Open Siddur Project is a volunteer driven collaboration between folk passionate about Jewish spiritual practice. Some are interested in the Siddur as a technology for preserving and disseminating an evolving history of Jewish ritual, practice, and sacred poetry. Others are energized by the design challenge of crafting Siddurim that function effectively for nurturing spiritual, emotional and creative intelligence. All of us see the potential that creative engagement holds for empowering students and teachers to take ownership of those ingredients comprising their shared cultural inheritance.
Our mission is to liberate the creative content of Jewish spiritual practice as a collectively shared resource for students, scholars, artists, and educators to adopt, adapt, and redistribute. We do this by digitizing printed Jewish liturgy and liturgy-related content in the Public Domain and by asking creative Jews to share work they’ve created for communal use with licenses that permit its free adaptation and redistribution.
To this end, the Open Siddur Project is creating an online workshop for crafting, publishing, and printing Jewish prayer books (siddurim). Our intention is that the development of a free web application and digital library of liturgical texts (historic and contemporary, familiar and obscure) will preserve the diversity of Jewish traditions worldwide, encourage creative engagement and understanding in Jewish spiritual practice, and provide an urgently needed resource for Jews sharing and crafting new siddurim.
The Open Siddur is a non-prescriptive, non-denominational project whose only intent is to help revitalize Judaism by ensuring its collective spiritual resources — the creative content intended for communal use — remain free for creative reuse. The Open Siddur Project invites participation without prejudice towards ethnic heritage, skin color, nationality, belief or non-belief, sex, gender, sexuality or any other consideration. All we ask for is an intellectually honest commitment to the principles and sensibilities preserved in this mission statement, so please read on.
Free-culture, Open Content, and Open Source
We work to bring about a future where the content of the Siddur and the publishing technology Siddurim rely upon remain free (as in free-culture), open (as in open content), and open-source. By claiming our project to be “free-culture,” “open content,” and “open source,” we mean to work under the definition of these terms as defined and maintained by the Free Culture Movement, the Open Knowledge Foundation, and the Open Source Initiative, respectively. Setting aside contemporary translations and commentary, most of the source texts of the siddur, authored hundreds or thousands of years ago, reside in the Public Domain. Unfortunately, too many projects until now have imposed restrictions on the widespread dissemination of texts that are the common heritage of the Jewish people. In order to provide an online workspace for individuals and groups to craft, publish, and print Jewish prayer books without the onerous restrictions imposed by proprietary license agreements, all of the texts produced and disseminated though our efforts are shared under the framework of free culture licenses.
Since the texts that we are digitizing and the technology we are inventing are so valuable, we see the potential of our work extending far beyond the scope of this project. We want our efforts to benefit from and add value to other existing and yet-to-be-imagined projects. To this end, our project uses open source (as defined by the Open Source Initiative) as a strategy for developing and distributing our work. All the source code we produce is provided for download, and you are free to use it, share it, study how it works, and modify it to your needs. The free software commons also allows our project to leverage the efforts of other complementary free culture and open source projects operating under similar terms.
Keeping our effort maintainable and sustainable in concert with other active projects means that our effort relies on adherence to open standards. Where necessary we have authored extensions to these standards to accommodate the particular needs of this project and specifically, Jewish liturgy. These extensions are intended to conform to the defined methods for extending the standard. We actively seek to engage and cooperate with other projects using open standards and generating free content.
Fundamentally, the Siddur is a tool for engaging in an intimate, spiritual relationship through the traditions of Jewish liturgy recorded therein. Over the course of the evolution of Jewish liturgy in manuscripts and books in Jewish communities across Europe and Asia (and, more recently, in the Americas), a number of variations of the Siddur were innovated. The inclusion and exclusion of vowels, letters, words, phrases, sacred poetry and prose represent most of the differences between regional customs and philosophies that can be seen in printed texts. (Melodies and the performance of prayer represent other differences that are sometimes reflected in instructional text and the layout of siddurim.)
Traditionally, Jews engaged in spiritual practice are enjoined to accept their family’s custom and to thereby help ensure that lineage. A respect for diversity between Jewish communal custom was thus encouraged and emphasized. The Open Siddur is inspired by the respect accorded to communal custom in historical and contemporary Judaism.
Some of these regional traditions are well known and widespread, such as Nusaḥ Ashkenaz. Others, like the Nusaḥ Roma are more obscure due to the misery and depredation its practicing communities endured. Liturgical traditions, such as those preserved in the surviving fragments of the Cairo Geniza, are unknown except to a few scholars. Many prayers composed in the Middle Ages by or for women, have only made a reappearance recently in translation and have yet to be incorporated into contemporary siddurim.
The Open Siddur seeks to create the first digital library of all of these variations of Jewish liturgy and liturgy-related work (in every language Jews speak or have ever spoken) by digitizing them in machine-readable text. The Open Siddur’s online workspace would thus create for the first time an educational opportunity to see these traditions, separated by history and geography, displayed side by side. Communities all around the world will have a resource for crafting siddurim with translations in their language. For minority Jewish communities, the Open Siddur also presents an excellent opportunity for the preservation and strengthening of community (and family) traditions that are in jeopardy of being lost.
In the last 100 years, many communities have created their own siddurim based on one or more historic Nusḥaot. By excluding some liturgical texts and incorporating others, these creative siddur editors innovated new models for Jewish prayer books. These modern siddurim reflect the identity and sensibility of their particular synagogue, ḥavurah, kibbutz, and independent minyan. However, put together with scissors, glue, and copy machines, they were notoriously difficult to maintain and update for new generations. Wrestling with the complicated issues arising out of copyright, meant that these interesting siddurim remained in extremely limited distribution. The Open Siddur provides a resource to preserve and share these modern traditions as well, so long as communal work is contributed with our selection of compatible free culture licenses.
Many Jews lacking family traditions have adopted the tradition of their community. However, they remain curious about the traditions of other communities. Whether it’s a disappointment with a translation or with the exclusion of a particularly beautiful prayer, the best one could do was to try the difficult but rewarding process of creating one’s own siddur. The Open Siddur wants to make this process much easier by not having each individual reinvent the wheel.
We respect that the siddur can be a tool for engaging and improving one’s individual, and thus intimate, spiritual relationship. For this reason, our project and the online, collaborative workspace that we’re developing, respects individual privacy. Although we encourage reciprocity in the sharing of content included in siddurim, we understand that some will want to include personal poetry or other content reflecting and requiring a safe private space.
Jewish tradition emphasizes the beautification of the performance of mitzvot (commandments in the Torah). The Open Siddur providing individuals and groups with the resources to craft their own beautiful customized siddurim. But a siddur is more than text. The siddur is also typography, layout, paper, ink, glue, thread, end pages, cover, and spine. The Open Siddur seeks to provide an avenue for the application of font design and master crafted book artistry in this project.
Currently there is only one open source font supporting the full Unicode Hebrew standard that the Open Siddur relies on. Meanwhile, there are other fonts that could be updated to this standard and still more font faces yet to be designed.
Meanwhile, siddurim provide an amazing opportunity for book crafters to collaborate with Open Siddur users on the making of unique and solidly bound siddurim destined to last generations of use. Why have your siddur mass-produced when you can craft your own?
To Sum Up, with Bullet Points
The Open Siddur Project is committed to the following principles and movements which guide its vision:
- advocating free culture licensing for the sake of Jewish cultural vibrancy,
- adhering to open source development practices so that the entire community can cooperate on essential projects,
- developing with open standards so that raw linked data may flow between our projects and within the broader community,
- promoting awareness of the historical development of Jewish culture in general, and the text and traditions of the siddur in particular,
- collaborating without prescribing the ways in which individuals and communities engage tradition,
- understanding pluralism in a way that respects the multiplicity of creative expressions possible,
- advancing awareness of historical, geographical, and philosophical diversity in Jewish communities,
- respecting individual freedom and privacy in the creative expression of our users,
- reviving arts and craft in the design and production of custom tailored Jewish books.