This journey really started with my time spent with the myriad of other folk who prepared for and showed up at Jews in the Woods gatherings. It was at one such retreat at the old Eilat Chayyim in upstate New York that I met Dan Sieradski who had worked on his own Open Source Siddur project and who afterward invited me to the advisory board of what was then called Matzat and which might now be called Jew-It-Yourself. I promised him that the siddur we would develop would be an important feature of the larger constellation of resources we were imagining, resources all complementary due to our use of free and open source licensing. . . .
Giving an individual a choice of how verses that are tripping them up are translated, or even how the ineffable name, YHVH, and other divine names in Hebrew are represented in a siddur, can make a difference in their experience of t’fillah (prayer) for someone engaging in individual or communal prayer. Giving someone a place to share their personally authored t’fillot, meditation or commentary, or else collaborate on a translation of a medieval piyut (liturgical poem) can connect Jews to each other in a meaningful way where before they were isolated in their passion and earnest devotion. Providing historical data revealing the siddur as an aggregate of thousands of years of creatively inspired texts can help a Jew understand that their creativity and contribution is also important in this enduring conversation. . . .
The Open Siddur is an online tool for individuals and groups to craft the siddur they’ve always wanted. The Open Siddur will provide content (translations, transliterations, art, tfillot, piyutim, and other source texts) from an archive of current and historic nusḥaot (both well-known and obscure) and enable users to adapt, contribute new content, and share the siddurim they’ve generated. Partnerships with on-demand printers enable users to print beautiful copies of their personally customized siddurim and machzorim. The Open Siddur benefits independent minyanim and trans-denominational communities, pluralistic institutions, teachers of Jewish liturgy, and Jews of all ages evolving their personal use of t’fillah in their own daily practice, both alone and within groups. . . .
For those of us interested in working with Jewish texts, the idea others claiming copyright on our foundational sourcetexts, digitized or not, seems like an absurdity. We enliven the works of our ancestors by studying their teachings, and meditating on and singing with their prayers. The inspired author or authors of these works gave their work freely to the Jewish people and to the world. All the tradition demands is correct attribution, as is taught in the Pirkei Avot chapter 6:6, התורה נקנית בערבעים ושמונה דברים. ואלו הן: (….)והאומר דבר בשם אומרו. הא למדת כל-האומר דבר בשם אומרו מביא גאלה לעולם, שנאמר “ותאמר אסתר למלך בשם מרדכי …the Torah is acquired by means of forty-eight qualities, which are: (….) [and lastly] what the student has heard from others she will quote in the name of him of whom she has heard it. For so you have learned: He who quotes something in the name of the person who said it brings deliverance to the world. For it is said: “And Esther said to the King in the name of Mordechai.” . . .
I began by explaining that in the experience of religion there is a contradiction between the individual’s desire for authentic experience and their need for relevant tools to engage individual growth vis-à-vis the project of Judaism. This contradiction is actually a design challenge for useful tools in Judaism’s toolkit of educational and spiritual resources for its participants. The imperfect present is expressed in many current expressions of the Siddur. Although a siddur’s nusaḥ is an authentic expression of a tradition, its utility as a static tool for engaging the creative improvisation required for sinciere spiritual expression (as well as its ability to serve as the traditional tool for educating Jews in sourcetext) is certainly questionable. Our solution is a siddur that is a Siddur that users can build for themselves. Ingredients from all available siddur texts (i.e., copyright permitting) will be available for building siddurim ranging from unchanged nusaḥ Ashkenaz, to mashups of different nusḥaot with additional prayers and art added by the user, with user edited translations they contribute to, and with commentary they share with other users. In this way, a siddur user becomes a sophisticated master of t’fillah, seriously engaged in the prayer authored and offered by Jewish tradition with the freedom to enrich the tradition from their own experience privately or publicly. . . .