Aharon N. Varady

Aharon N. Varady

Aharon Varady is the founding director of the Open Siddur Project. A community planner (M.C.P, DAAP/University of Cincinnati.) and Jewish educator (M.A. J.Ed., Davidson School of Education/JTSA), his work in open-source Judaism has been written about in the Yiddish Forverts, the Atlantic Magazine, Tablet, and Haaretz. If you find any egregious mistakes in his work, please let him know. Shgiyot mi yavin, Ministarot Nakeni שְׁגִיאוֹת מִי־יָבִין; מִנִּסְתָּרוֹת נַקֵּנִי "Who can know all one's flaws? From hidden errors, correct me" (Psalms 19:13). If you'd like to directly support his work, please consider donating via his Patreon account. (Varady also transcribes and translates prayers, besides administering the Open Siddur Project and this website.)

https://aharon.varady.net/omphalos/hulloa

הַכָּרָת רִבּוֹנוּת הָאָרֶץ | Indigenous Land Acknowledgment for Cincinnati, Ohio, by Aharon Varady (2021)

Contributed on: כ״ה בסיון ה׳תשפ״א (2021-06-04) by Aharon N. Varady |

An indigenous land acknowledgement for Jewish communities in Cincinnati, Ohio. . . .


סֵדֶר סְפִירַת הָעֹמֶר | the Order of Counting the Omer in the Spring

Contributed on: ט״ו בניסן ה׳תשע״ג (2013-03-26) by Aharon N. Varady | Lieba B. Ruth |

Each day between the beginning of Passover and Shavuot gets counted, 49 days in all, 7 weeks of seven days. That makes the omer period a miniature version of the Shmitta and Yovel (Jubilee) cycle of 7 cycles of seven years. Just as that cycle is one of resetting society’s clock to align ourselves with freedom and with the needs of the land, this cycle too is a chance to align ourselves with the rhythms of spring and the spiritual freedom represented by the Torah. . . .


Scaling the Walls of the Labyrinth: Psalms 67 and Ana b’Khoaḥ

Contributed on: כ״ב באייר ה׳תשע״ב (2012-05-14) by Aharon N. Varady | Unknown Author(s) |

Psalm 67 is a priestly blessing for all the peoples of the earth to be sustained by the earth’s harvest (yevulah), and it is a petition that all humanity recognize the divine nature (Elohim) illuminating the world. Composed of seven verses, the psalm is often visually depicted as a seven branched menorah. There are 49 words in the entire psalm, and in the Nusaḥ ha-ARI z”l there is one word for each day of the Sefirat haOmer. Similarly, the fifth verse has 49 letters and each letter can be used as a focal point for meditating on the meaning of the day in its week in the journey to Shavuot, the festival of weeks (the culmination of the barley harvest), and the festival of oaths (shevuot) in celebration of receiving the Torah. Many of the themes of Psalm 67 are repeated in the prayer Ana b’Koaḥ, which also has 49 words, and which are also used to focus on the meaning of each day on the cyclical and labyrinthine journey towards Shavuot. . . .


דאנקסגיו אלע די בּוּנע | Tanksgiv All the Boona, an al hanissim prayer of thanksgiving on Thanksgiving Day by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, z”l

Contributed on: ז׳ בכסלו ה׳תשע״ג (2012-11-21) by Zalman Schachter-Shalomi | Aharon N. Varady |

A prayer for thanksgiving day in the United States by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. . . .


שִׁוִּיתִי | Shiviti: perceiving the world as an expression of divine Oneness

Contributed on: כ״ט בסיון ה׳תשע״א (2011-06-30) by Aharon N. Varady | Andrew Meit |

Given that the Torah forbids impressing our imaginations with illustrations of the divine, some other method is necessary to perceive divine Oneness. One method is found in the verse in Psalms 16:8, “I have set YHVH before me at all times.” . . .


סדור לבנת הספיר לקבלת שבת | Siddur Livnat HaSapir l’Kabbalat Shabbat, a Friday Night prayerbook arranged by Aharon Varady (2017)

Contributed on: ז׳ בניסן ה׳תשע״ז (2017-04-03) by Aharon N. Varady |

Siddur Livnat HaSapir l’Kabbalat Shabbat is a complete prayerbook (siddur) for welcoming the Shabbat on nearly all Friday evenings. This is the personal prayerbook of Aharon Varady, containing his idiosyncratic preferences in liturgical custom and aesthetic presentation. . . .


‘Make yourself into a maqom hefker’: Primary sources on open-source in Judaism (sourcesheet)

Contributed on: י״ז בשבט ה׳תשע״ד (2014-01-17) by Aharon N. Varady |

How does rabbinic Judaism value openness? What does openness mean? This sourcesheet accompanied the shiur “‘Make yourself into a Maqom Hefker’: Rabbinic Teachings on Open Source in Judaism,” a class I taught on Taz biShvat 5774 (January 16th, 2013) in partnership with the Sefaria Project for Parshat Yitro. The shiur discussed the concept of דִּימוּס פַּרְהֶסְיַא Dimus Parrhesia (δῆμος παρρησία) as a valued ideal in Rabbinic discourse: its cameo appearance in midrashic teachings on Parshat Yitro and its relationship to other relevant ideas and attitudes in the study of Torah and the Jewish stewardship of the Commons. . . .


SHARE WHAT YOU LOVE ♡ A Decision Tree for Choosing Free-Culture Compatible Open Content Licenses for Cultural & Technological Work

Contributed on: ה׳ בניסן ה׳תשע״ד (2014-04-04) by Aharon N. Varady |

Since we all live under the current terms of each of our respective nation’s copyright laws, simply making something available or accessible over the Internet doesn’t make it free under copyright for others to use and improve upon. That’s why open content licenses exist: to abrogate the restrictions imposed by copyright law. We rely upon these open content licenses here at the Open Siddur Project. . . .


Explanation and ritual for the Jewish New Year’s Day for Animals, Rosh haShanah la-Behemah on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul

Contributed on: כ״ט באב ה׳תשע״א (2011-08-28) by Aharon N. Varady |

Once upon a time when the Temple still stood, the Rosh haShanah la-Behemah celebrated one means by which we elevated and esteemed the special creatures that helped us to live and to work. Just as rabbinic Judaism found new ways to realize our Temple offerings with tefillot — prayers — so too the Rosh haShanah la-Behemah challenges us to realize the holiness of the animals in our care in a time without tithes. The Jewish New Year’s Day for Animals is a challenge to remind and rediscover what our responsibilities are to the animals who depend on us for their welfare. Are we treating them correctly and in accord with the mitsvah of tsa’ar baalei ḥayyim — sensitivity to the suffering of living creatures? Have we studied and understood the depth of ḥesed — lovingkindness — expressed in the breadth of our ancestors teachings concerning the welfare of animals in Torah?haShanah la-Behemah is the day to reflect on our immediate or mediated relationships with domesticated animals, recognize our personal responsibilities to them, individually and as part of a distinct and holy people, and repair our relationships to the best of our ability. . . .


Kavvanah before Shofar Blowing on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul for Rosh haShanah la-Behemah (the Jewish New Year’s Day for Animals), by Aharon Varady

Contributed on: ט״ו באב ה׳תשע״ו (2016-08-18) by Aharon N. Varady |

The text of this ritual shofar blowing for Rosh Ḥodesh Elul on Rosh haShanah La-Behemah developed as part of the annual ceremony taking place at the dairy barn on the campus of the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center beginning in 2009 under the auspices of Elat Chayyim Center for Jewish Spirituality and the Adamah Farm & Fellowship. The first Rosh haShanah ritual ceremony was co-developed by Rabbi Jill Hammer and Kohenet Sarah Chandler. My contribution of the kavvanah came a year later in 2010. The text presented here was built upon that ceremony and was presented first at the Hazon Detroit Jewish Food Festival in 2016. . . .


The Council of All Beings, an activity for all ages on the Jewish New Year’s Day for Animals, Rosh haShanah la-Behemah, on Rosh Ḥodesh Elul

Contributed on: ט״ז באב ה׳תשע״ג (2013-07-23) by Aharon N. Varady |

Domesticated animals (behemot) are distinguished from ḥayot, wild animals in having been bred to rely upon human beings for their welfare. As the livelihood and continued existence of wild animals increasingly depends on the energy, food, and land use decisions of human beings, the responsibility for their care is coming into the purview of our religious responsibilities as Jews under the mitsvah of tsa’ar baalei ḥayyim — mindfullness of the suffering of all living creatures in our decisions and behavior. Rosh haShanah la-Behemah is the festival where we are reminded of this important mitsvah at the onset of the month in which we imagine ourselves to be the flock of a god upon whose welfare we rely. The “Council of All Beings” is an activity that can help us understand and reflect upon the needs of the flock of creatures that already rely upon us for their welfare. . . .


תפילה על מת בהמה או חיה מחמד | Prayer on the Death of a Beloved Animal, by Aharon Varady (1994)

Contributed on: ז׳ בתמוז ה׳תשע״ט (2019-07-10) by Aharon N. Varady | Isaac Gantwerk Mayer (translation) |

A prayer for a beloved animal first compiled in English by Aharon N. Varady for Nethaniel Puzael, his family’s cat, in 1994. . . .


מי שברך על קבלת שם עברי | Mi sheBerakh on Receiving a Hebrew Name as an Adult

Contributed on: ח׳ בתמוז ה׳תשע״ח (2018-06-20) by Aharon N. Varady | Sarah Chandler | Mollie Andron |

The names of our ancestors reflect the diverse tapestry of experiences and cultures they encountered including the names of those who joined our families from neighboring people and regional societies. In giving and receiving Hebrew names, we honor the names of all our ancestors whose “names may be remembered for a blessing” (zekher livrakha). Of the ancestors mentioned in the mi sheberakh (“May the one who blessed our forefathers and foremothers…”), I wanted to make certain to include Mordekhai and Esther, names of figures distinguished in their being both native to their Diasporan roots (Marduk and Ishtar), as well as elevated by the heroic, brave action of their namesakes. If there are figures from the Tanakh that are important to you, that are a kesher (connection) between you and the identity contained within our stories, then please feel free to include them in your mi sheberakh. . . .


Adventures in Ancient Jewish Liturgy: the Birkat Kohanim

Contributed on: י״א בשבט ה׳תשע״ג (2013-01-21) by Aharon N. Varady |

The earliest artifacts recording Jewish liturgy (or for that matter any Hebrew formulation found in the Torah) are two small silver amulets, discovered in 1979 by Israeli archaeologist Gabriel Barkay. He discovered the amulets in a burial chamber while excavating in Ketef Hinnom, a section of the Hinnom Valley south of Jerusalem’s Old City. The inscriptions on these amulets conclude with parts of the Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing), the three-part blessing in which the Kohanim are instructed to bless the people of Israel in Numbers 6:22-27. The script in the amulets dates them approximately to the reign of King Yoshiyahu (late 7th or early 6th century BCE) predating the Nash papyrus, and the earliest of the Dead Sea Scrolls by four centuries. . . .


ברכת המזון | Ḥaveri Nevarekh: Blessing the Spirit of All-which-Lives after Eating and Feeling Satiated, a Birkon by Aharon Varady (2016)

Contributed on: י״א בניסן ה׳תשע״ו (2016-04-18) by Aharon N. Varady |

Unlike most plant and bacterial life, we human beings cannot process our own food from the sun, soil, water, and air. And so, as with the other kingdoms of life on Earth, we are dependent on vegetation to live, either directly by consuming plants, or indirectly by predating on other creatures that consume vegetation. Being nourished and seeking nourishment is so basic to us, that our practical desperation for survival undergirds most of our ethics relating to non-human life. But Judaism demands that our human propensity towards predation be circumscribed. Indeed, it is my understanding that the ultimate goal of Torah is to circumscribe and temper our our predatory appetites, and to limit and discipline our predatory behavior. In this way, our predatory instinct may be redeemed as a force for goodness in the world, and we might become a living example to others in how to live in peace and with kindness towards the other lifeforms we share this planet with. In 2010, while working with Nili Simhai and the other Jewish environmental educators at the Teva Learning Center, I began working on a Birkon containing a translation of the birkat hamazon that emphasized the deep ecological wisdom contained within the Rabbinic Jewish tradition. I continued working on it over the next several years adding two additional sections of source texts to illuminate the concept of ḥesronan (lit. absence or lacking) and the mitsvah of lo tashḥit (bal tashḥit). I invite you to include these works into your birkon along with other work that I’ve helped to share through the Open Siddur — especially Perek Shirah and other prayers that express delight in the created world and our role in it, l’ovdah u’lshomrah — to cultivate and preserve this living and magnificent Earth. . . .


שמע | An illustrated meditation on the unification of imagination and awareness through empathy

Contributed on: כ״ג באדר ב׳ ה׳תשע״א (2011-03-28) by Aharon N. Varady |

When works are printed bearing shemot, any one of the ten divine names sacred to Judaism, they are cared for with love. If a page or bound work bearing shemot falls to the ground it’s a Jewish custom to draw up the page or book and kiss it. Just as loved ones are cared for after they’ve fallen and passed away, when the binding fails and leaves fall from siddurim and other seforim they are collected in boxes and bins and brought for burial, where their holy words can decompose back into the earth from which their constituent elements once grew, and were once harvested to become paper and books, and ink, string, glue. While teaching at the Teva Learning Center last Fall 2010, I collected all our shemot that we had intentionally or unintentionally made on our copy machine, or which we had collected from the itinerant teachers who pass through the Isabella Freedman Retreat Center on so many beautiful weekend shabbatonim. While leafing through the pages, I found one and kept it from the darkness of the genizah. . . .


A prayer for the recovery of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (2018)

Contributed on: א׳ בכסלו ה׳תשע״ט (2018-11-08) by Aharon N. Varady |

A prayer for the recovery of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg after a dangerous fall she endured in her office on 8 November 2018. . . .


השמע ועשרת הדיברות | the Shema prefaced by the Decalogue, as found in the Nash Papyrus (ca. 2nd c. BCE)

Contributed on: י״ז בשבט ה׳תשע״א (2011-01-21) by Aharon N. Varady |

Once upon a time, according to the Mishnah, it was the nusaḥ (liturgical tradition) of the Cohanim in the Bet Hamikdash[ref]Priests of the Temple in Jerusalem[/ref] for the Ten Commandments to be read prior to the Sh’ma. . . .


האותיות של האבג״ד בעברית | A Periodic Table of the Hebrew Aleph Bet Emphasizing Phonetic Grouping, Symbolic Association, and Diversity of Letter Form

Contributed on: ט׳ בטבת ה׳תשע״ו (2015-12-20) by Aharon N. Varady |

Basic Hebrew letter and vowel lists adorn the opening pages of a number of siddurim published a century ago — evidence of the centrality of the Jewish prayer book as a common curricular resource. But the Hebrew letters are not only essential to fluency in Hebrew language, they are also the atomic elements composing the world of the rabbinic Jewish imagination. This is especially so for those who conceive in their devotional literary practices an implicit theurgical capability in modifying and adapting the world of language though interpretation, translation, and innovative composition. To create a world with speech relies on thought and this creative ability is only limited by the facility of the creator to derive meaning from a language’s underlying structure. This, therefore, is a table of the Hebrew letters arranged in order of their numerical value, in rows 1-9, 10-90, and 100-900, so that elements with similar numerical structure, (but dissimilar phonetic amd symbolic attributes) appear in vertical columns. Attention has been given to the literal meaning of the letter names and the earliest glyph forms known for each letter in the Hebrew abgad. . . .


יום קשת מ״ב בעומר | The 42nd Day of the Omer is Rainbow Day

Contributed on: כ״ה באייר ה׳תשע״ב (2012-05-16) by David Seidenberg | Aharon N. Varady | neohasid.org |

The time we are in now is a time to ask: are we so determined to undo God’s rainbow covenant? Will we truly burn the sea, chemically and literally, with the oil we unleash from inside the Earth? Will we flood the sea with death as the land was flooded according to the Noah story of so long ago? As the cleanup continues and the effects will continue for decades, what new floods will we unleash in the coming years? . . .


Testing Web browsers as Platforms for Hebrew Text Publishing

Contributed on: ז׳ בטבת ה׳תשע״ב (2012-01-02) by Aharon N. Varady |

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חנוכה מדריך | A Ḥanukkah Madrikh! by Noam Lerman & Aharon Varady (2011)

Contributed on: י״ח בכסלו ה׳תשע״ב (2011-12-14) by Noam Lerman (translation) | Aharon N. Varady |

Nomi Lerman and I were co-teacher’s this past season at Kolot Ḥayeinu’s religious school in Park Slope Brooklyn this past season, and as a Ḥanukkah present we made a Ḥanukkah Madrikh for our Kittah Gimmel class. I’m certain there are Jewish educators all over the world preparing curricular resources for Ḥanukkah right about now and hope that by sharing this they can take it and improve on it, or else we’ll save them some energy so they’ll be able to do even more mitzvot. . . .


שירת הים | Shirat haYam :: the Song of the Sea (Exodus 15:1-19)

Contributed on: כ׳ בניסן ה׳תשע״ג (2013-03-30) by Aharon N. Varady | R' Hillel Ḥayyim Lavery-Yisraëli | the Masoretic Text |

According to Rabbinic tradition, the 21st of Nissan is the day in the Jewish calendar on which Pharaoh’s army was drowned in the Sea of Reeds, and the redeemed children of Yisrael sang the Song of the Sea, the (Shirat Hayam, Exodus 15:1-19). The song, as included in the the morning prayers, comprises one of the most ancient text in Jewish liturgy. The 21st of Nissan corresponds to the 7th day of Passover, and the recitation of the Shirat HaYam is part of the daily Torah Reading. Rabbi Hillel Ḥayim Yisraeli-Lavery shares a performance of a melody he learned for the Shirat Hayam from צוף דבש Tzuf Devash, a Moroccan synagogue in the Old City of Jerusalem. If there is something about this tune that strikes one as particularly celebratory, it might be because the relationship between G!d and the Jewish people is traditionally described as a marriage consummated with the Covenant at Mt. Sinai. The passage of Bnei Yisrael through the Sea of Reeds towards Mt. Sinai thus begins a bridal march commencing in the theophany at Mt. Sinai, 42 days later. . . .


ט״ו באב | Tu b’Av: sources for study and celebration on the 15th of Av

Contributed on: י״ג באב ה׳תשע״א (2011-08-13) by Aharon N. Varady |

Since the Jewish calendar is not affixed to the sun, but corrected by a leap year to its seasons, Tu B’Av does not normally fall on the summer solstice. And yet, the relationship between Tu B’Av and the zenith of the summer is alluded to in Rav Menashya’s statement regarding Tu B’Av, “From this day onwards, he who increases [his knowledge through study as the nights grow longer] will have his life prolonged.” . . .


How to craft a small siddur or bentsher by Aharon Varady

Contributed on: י״א בסיון ה׳תשע״א (2011-06-13) by Aharon N. Varady |

Beginning late last year, I began a project to translate the Birkat Hamazon using Rabbi Simeon Singer’s English translation and the Nusaḥ ha-Ari as the basis for publishing birkonim (or in Yiddish, benchers). The original work was sponsored by the Teva Learning Center and its executive director, Nili Simhai, to be used in birkhonim specifically designed for use during weekdays during Teva’s Fall season. . . .


עַל הַנִּסִּים בִּימֵי הוֹדָיָה לְאֻמִּיִּים | Al haNissim prayer on Civic Days of Patriotic Gratitude, by Aharon Varady

Contributed on: ה׳ באייר ה׳תשע״ג (2013-04-15) by Aharon N. Varady |

Opportunities to express gratitude on civic days of patriotic thanksgiving demand acknowledgement of an almost unfathomably deep history of trauma — not only the suffering and striving of my immigrant ancestors, but the sacrifice of all those who endured suffering dealt by their struggle to survive, and often failure to survive, the oppressions dealt by colonization, conquest, hegemony, natural disaster. Only the Earth (from which we, earthlings were born, Bnei Adam from Adamah) has witnessed the constancy of the violent deprivations we inflict upon each other. The privilege I’ve inherited from these sacrifices has come at a cost, and it must be honestly acknowledged, especially on secular/national days of thanksgiving, independence, and freedom. I insert this prayer after Al Hanissim in the Amidah and in the Birkat Hamazon on national days of independence and thanksgiving. . . .


The afikoman hiding in plain sight: On Freedom and Roleplaying in Re-enacting Judaism’s Archetypal Hero’s Journey

Contributed on: ד׳ בניסן ה׳תשע״א (2011-04-07) by Aharon N. Varady |

How good are you playing this amazing, venerable role-playing game called Judaism? Playing your whole life? Grand. So is it fun? Is it worthwhile? Would you recommend it to your friends? No. All right… so why not? Oh. Yeah. Oh… true. Ok, yeah, those are all good reasons. But what if I told you there was a way to play it better. Not everyone will catch on at first, but it should satisfy the most conservative players AND the most innovative. The geeks will love it and it will lower the bar for entry to even the most simple of players. Ok, it does sound too good to be true. But hey, what’s the point of playing the game if you’re not willing to suspend the physics of the familiar and try on a new set of rules. Embrace the illusion. Try on a new reality. Help create a new one, together. I just want players to use their imagination, feel appreciated instead of alienated, and just improve the game for everyone. So what is it? I’ll tell you. . . .


תחינה לתחילת יומן חדש | Prayer on Beginning a New Journal, by Aharon N. Varady

Contributed on: כ״ב באייר ה׳תשע״ג (2013-05-02) by Aharon N. Varady |

May my thoughts seek truth and integrity, the humility that is commensurate with my ignorance, the compassion that arises from the depths of awareness, as depths speak to depths… . . .


הַתִּקּוּן הַכְּלָלִי שֶׁל רֶבִּי נַחְמָן | The Tiqqun haKlali (General Remedy) of Rebbe Naḥman of Bratslav

Contributed on: ד׳ באדר ב׳ ה׳תשע״א (2011-03-09) by Aharon N. Varady | Rebbe Naḥman |

Before our hands can fix, we need to care. Before we can care, we need our eyes open. But how can we remind ourselves to see, and sustain our sensitivity and capability for compassion? We can shy from the pain that comes with empathy, and we can shy from the pain that comes with taking responsibility for the suffering we cause. But there are consequences to shying away, to disaffection and callous disassociation. If there is any hope, it is as Rebbe Naḥman explained so succinctly: “If you believe that you can damage, then believe that you can fix.” In 1806, Rebbe Naḥman of Bratslav taught that the recitation of ten psalms could act as a powerful Tikkun (remedy) in a process of t’shuva leading to an awareness of the divine presence that permeates and enlivens this world but is alas, hidden though an accretion of transgressive thoughts and actions. Five years later, Rebbe Naḥman revealed the specific ten psalms of this Tikkun to two of his closest disciples, Rabbi Aharon of Bratslav and Rabbi Naftali of Nemirov. . . .


פֶּרֶק שִׁירָה | Pereq Shirah, a litany of verses spoken by the creatures & works of Creation (after the arrangement of Natan Slifkin)

Contributed on: ב׳ בניסן ה׳תשע״ה (2015-03-22) by Unknown Author(s) | Aharon N. Varady | Rabbi Natan Slifkin |

Talmudic and midrashic sources contain hymns of the creation usually based on homiletic expansions of metaphorical descriptions and personifications of the created world in the Bible. The explicitly homiletic background of some of the hymns in Perek Shira indicates a possible connection between the other hymns and Tannaitic and Amoraic homiletics, and suggests a hymnal index to well-known, but mostly unpreserved, homiletics. The origin of this work, the period of its composition and its significance may be deduced from literary parallels. A Tannaitic source in the tractate Hagiga of the Jerusalem (Hag. 2:1,77a—b) and Babylonian Talmud (Hag. 14b), in hymns of nature associated with apocalyptic visions and with the teaching of ma’aseh merkaba serves as a key to Perek Shira’s close spiritual relationship with this literature. Parallels to it can be found in apocalyptic literature, in mystic layers in Talmudic literature, in Jewish mystical prayers surviving in fourth-century Greek Christian composition, in Heikhalot literature, and in Merkaba mysticism. The affinity of Perek Shira with Heikhalot literature, which abounds in hymns, can be noted in the explicitly mystic introduction to the seven crowings of the cock — the only non-hymnal text in the collection — and the striking resemblance between the language of the additions and that of Shi’ur Koma and other examples of this literature. In Seder Rabba de-Bereshit, a Heikhalot tract, in conjunction with the description of ma’aseh bereshit, there is a clear parallel to Perek Shira’s praise of creation and to the structure of its hymns. The concept reflected in this source is based on a belief in the existence of angelic archetypes of created beings who mediate between God and His creation, and express their role through singing hymns. As the first interpretations of Perek Shira also bear witness to its mystic character and angelologic significance, it would appear to be a mystical chapter of Heikhalot literature, dating from late Tannaitic — early Amoraic period, or early Middle Ages. . . .


A Tale of Two Codexes: The Aleppo and Leningrad Codex

Contributed on: י״ט בכסלו ה׳תשע״א (2010-11-26) by Aharon N. Varady |

Given that more than 50% of the Siddur is comprised of text from the תנ׳׳ך (TaNaKh) any project that seeks to rigorously attribute its sources depends on a critical, digital edition of the Masoretic text of the Hebrew bible. And such is the case for our Open Siddur Project. The entire history of the transmission of such a profoundly important sourcetext illustrates the degree to which we rely on each others most positive intentions to advance our love of the Torah through sharing — regardless of sect, creed, scholarly or theological inspiration. Moving ahead we are supported by each others gifts and by the preserved legacy of our cultural inheritance. . . .


An interview with Aharon Varady on Open Source Judaism (Radio613, 2010)

Contributed on: כ״ו באב ה׳תש״ע (2010-08-05) by Aharon N. Varady |

My struggle to realize this project is personal, but I never ever wanted my own dissatisfaction to overshadow what anyone else could bring to this project. We each have a unique creative light, and wow, does it ever grow bright when our light shines together. I knew this project was important because it came as an epiphany — an intersection of multiple passions each calling with their own creative, intellectual, and political genius. I just had to finally listen and take note. In the shadow of the Holocaust, a revitalized Jewish culture must be sought that does not rely entirely on ethnic nationalist movements to advance and preserve Jewish identity. Renaissance in all cultures, including Jewish culture, depends on the freedom of its participants, its cultural constituents, to be creative and expressive individuals, engaging with the meaning that culture broadcasts through its traditions. I said it in the interview but it bears repeating, the lingering dialectic that defines religion as somehow separate from culture relies on a notion that religion is no longer creative — a mere replication of viral memes, in Dawkin’s language. We liberate religion when we return it to culture, as a creative and relevant force for helping to shape our individual and collective consciousness. Religion in this way provides exercises, practices and other social technologies to help us evolve. If its creativity isn’t maintained, its relevance is ceded to other systems to function in its place — or it is ceded to social elements and authorities who might use it to sustain self-serving agendas. . . .


Publicly funded work of Jewish non-profits should be shared with Open Content licensing (Future of Jewish Non Profit Summit, 2010)

Contributed on: ט״ז באב ה׳תש״ע (2010-07-27) by Aharon N. Varady |

I invite you to think of the Torah as a free and open platform rather than a closed one, and to see your work similarly. The takeaway I have for you today is to adopt an open source strategy for your non-profit work in the manner that Maimonides, Hillel the Elder, or the Sfas Emes would. Express faith in your organizational mission by opening up the development of that which you are innovating to the broader community, maintain a low bar for entry and to cultivate a market for wide adoption, and eschew closed source development and proprietary licensing. When your actions are guided by your business model rather than your mission statement, it’s time to revisit your mission statement and rethink your business model. . . .


Our hearts are stirred to create and to share

Contributed on: ט״ו בסיון ה׳תש״ע (2010-05-27) by Aharon N. Varady |

For a relationship as intimate as that with one’s own spirit, we might assume that the only spiritual tools provided to individuals have this degree of personalization, but this of course, is not so. Printed siddurim were designed with other goals in mind. As a technology the siddur only became widely adopted by the Jewish public in the mid-19th century. Printers of siddurim have designed their siddurim to appeal to mass markets, each edition of the siddur representing a specific communal custom, and when translated, the specific language of a community. It’s no surprise then that for many Jews their spiritual identity is closely mapped to the liturgical variations represented by their Siddurim. . . .


נֻסְחָאוֹת | A Historical Map of Jewish Liturgical Influence and Variation, by Aharon Varady after Joseph Heinemann

Contributed on: כ״ד באייר ה׳תש״ע (2010-05-07) by Aharon N. Varady |

Maps showing the relationship between the nusḥaot are quite helpful to us. The Open Siddur Project is seeking to digitize all the extant nusḥaot witnessed in siddurim and other manuscripts, in order to show the evolution of individual prayers and blessings. This will helpfully represent at least the textual diversity of Jewish spiritual expression in the many geographically dispersed Jewish communities over the past three thousand years. I also hope that representing this diversity in t’fillah will be an inspiration to individuals engaging in davvening as an intellectually engaged and creative discourse speaking across generations. The extent to which we’ll be able to realize this vision will be limited to how many source texts we’ll be able to identify, transcribe, and share with open standards and free culture licenses. Seeing that the design of the map appearing in Hoffman’s book left much to be desired, I redesigned it for clarity while adding some additional nusḥaot. I hope that the following map based on Joseph Heinemann’s work will help inspire fellow researchers to contribute to this project. . . .


Thankful for the Internet Sacred Text Archive’s John Bruno Hare (1955-2010)

Contributed on: ט״ו באייר ה׳תש״ע (2010-04-28) by Aharon N. Varady |

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On the Open Siddur Project: A Brochure Presented at the Academy for Jewish Religion’s Spring Intensive 2010

Contributed on: ז׳ בניסן ה׳תש״ע (2010-03-22) by Aharon N. Varady |

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. . . .


Access, Sharing, and Innovation through Digitization and the Public Domain

Contributed on: ל׳ בשבט ה׳תש״ע (2010-02-14) by Aharon N. Varady |

Cultures, including our own, breathe creativity and exhale innovation. We rely on the creative works bequeathed to us by earlier generations to remain rooted in our cultural identity. Synagogue members and kids in day schools, summer camps, youth orgs, and creative Jews working on their own can all benefit from our educational, cultural, and spiritual institutions cooperating with one another in sharing the bounty of our cultural heritage. As Jews, are we not all collaborating on a grand project of Torah learning, spiritual improvement, and tikkun olam? It’s time our cultural licensing choices reflect these profound intentions. . . .


Preserving Public Domain resources from End User License Agreements in Proprietary Torah Databases

Contributed on: א׳ במרחשון ה׳תש״ע (2009-10-18) by Aharon N. Varady |

Often we are asked here at the Open Siddur Project why we cannot simply use the digitized texts of the siddur that are available from Davka Corporation. Our instinct was that Davka only granted permission for individuals to use their digitized Hebrew texts under fair use doctrine. To be certain, we sought to find the the text of Davka Corporation’s End User License Agreement (EULA) and failing to locate this information online, friends of the project provided us with the EULA included with the packaging and software installer for a Davka software product: DavkaWriter Dimensions II. From the language of these license agreements, it is clear that the text Davka is providing is not free for end-users to distribute or to create derivative works. Section 4(a) of the EULA reads: “You may not use the texts in the software to publish materials for sale without express written permission from Davka Corporation. Preparation of these texts has entailed considerable effort and expense. They are not shareware, and should be used by no one other than the purchaser.” . . .


Spiritual Alienation and the Siddur (PresenTense, 2009)

Contributed on: י״ב באלול ה׳תשס״ט (2009-09-01) by Aharon N. Varady |

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. . . .


Why, davka, an Open Siddur Project by Aharon Varady (PresenTense 2009)

Contributed on: ז׳ בתמוז ה׳תשס״ט (2009-06-28) by Aharon N. Varady |

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. . . .


Pirate Siddurim vs. Open Siddurim (PresenTense 2009)

Contributed on: ל׳ בסיון ה׳תשס״ט (2009-06-22) by Aharon N. Varady |

Culture hacking either respects copyright or ignores it. One of the pillars of the Open Siddur is its respect of copyright and its attempt to make available a digitized repository of Siddur content that is available for editing, mashups, and remixing, i.e., “derivative works” that may be redistributed without restriction. For example, we want you to have the freedom to take the nusaḥ Ashkenaz, borrow kavanot from the nusaḥ sfard, and piyyutim (liturgical poetry) from the nusaḥ Romaniote; add and edit existing translations of familiar psalms and contribute and share your own translation of obscure piyyutim; share the pdf you build at Open Siddur and give it to an artist to apply an even more beautiful layout than the one we provide; and even redistribute the siddur commercially. . . .


First Pitch from the Hotseat (PresenTense 2009)

Contributed on: כ״ז בסיון ה׳תשס״ט (2009-06-18) by Aharon N. Varady |

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. . . .


Digitizing Siddurim (PresenTense 2009)

Contributed on: כ״ה בסיון ה׳תשס״ט (2009-06-16) by Aharon N. Varady |

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.” . . .


PresenTense Institute Summer Workshop 2009

Contributed on: כ״ה בסיון ה׳תשס״ט (2009-06-16) by Aharon N. Varady |

The inaugural first post here at the Open Siddur Project website. . . .