☞   Essays, Documents, Art, and Craft

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

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.” . . .

List of Miscellanies

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Introduction [to the Siddur], by Rabbi Dr. Israel Wolf Slotki (1964)

An introduction to the Siddur, by scholar and translator Israel Wolf Slotki (1884–1973). . . .

An Introduction to the Open Siddur Project at the National Museum of American Jewish History (December 8th, 2019)

An event featuring a presentation by founding director Aharon Varady introducing the Open Siddur Project to attendees of the first annual Jewish New Media Festival. . . .

סידור קבלת שבת | A Kabbalat Shabbat Siddur, illustrated by Daniel Nebenzahl (2012)

There are many illustrated siddurim for children. This Illustrated Kabbalat Shabbat Siddur is an illustrated siddur (in Hebrew) for grownups. The purpose of this siddur is to inspire us during prayer, to help us create and maintain Kavana. I chose to create this siddur for Kabbalat Shabbat, since usually at Kabbalat Shabbat we are more relaxed and open. The siddur has all that is needed (Nusaḥ Sefarad) for the Friday night prayers (Minḥah, Kabbalat Shabbat, and Arvit). The drawings accompany Kabbalat Shabbat. . . .

שִׁוִּיתִי | Shiviti by Mashiah Asgari, circa late 19th – early 20th century Herat, Afghanistan

We are grateful to Andrew Meit for restoring a Shiviti from the Royal Library of Denmark’s Simonsen Manuscripts Collection. The image was slightly adjusted by Aharon Varady. All files including the vector art are shared with a Creative Commons Zero (CC0) Public Domain dedication. . . .

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

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. . . .

Musical Liturgy and Traditions of Colonial American Jews

Early American Jewry’s liturgies and rituals were conducted in a western Sephardi tradition which had developed in the late 16th and early 17th centuries in Amsterdam. Although most of the members of the first American Jewish communities were of Spanish and Portuguese origins, their worship evolved in the style of the Dutch Sepharadim. These oral transmissions led to adaptations and variations but Sephardi ḥazzanim (cantors) succeeded in passing their repertoire down to succeeding generations. These tunes are still identified with the American Sephardi tradition. . . .

“People of the (Open Source) Book” by Dan Mendelsohn Aviv (Key Publishing, 2012)

All of the individuals mentioned in this chapter—designers, bloggers and innovators—are engaged in a transformative endeavour. The digitization of seminal Jewish texts with the ability to remix, share and annotate them has changed the way in which they are perceived as texts. In the eyes of the Next Jew, these documents are no longer static artifacts to be passively consumed. They are vibrant, dynamic entities that grow with each user’s engagement. This engagement is also continual, ever-evolving and, though personal, also connects the individual to the broader Jewish learning community. In other words, every text is accompanied by a threaded discussion and more Jews are taking part, be it through creating their own religious texts or adding their voice to the emerging “Spoken Torah” of the Jewish blogosphere. Though Jewish community was historically maintained by the work of elites, be they the priests, soferim, or rabbis, the Next Jew no longer relies on scholars sequestered in yeshivas to carry the weight of the tradition. All one needs today is commitment and a stable Wi-Fi connection. . . .

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

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. . . .

שטרות לקישור נפשות | Documents for a Marriage from One Soulmate to Another by Raysh Weiss and Jonah Rank

If one were to accept that a kosher Jewish wedding needs some element of what the Mishnah calls “acquisition” (and, more or less, we accepted this to be the case), any wedding must be conscientious in rethinking the following questions: What exactly is “acquisition” in the Mishnah’s eyes? And, if “acquisition” is inherently offensive to our sensibilities, how can we lessen the role that “acquisition” plays in a kosher wedding? . . .

A Case Study on the Open Siddur Project by Gabrielle Girau Pieck (University of Basel, 2014)

The shift is not just about going electronic. It is about how the electronic form of the siddur is allowing for new theological functions. Like religious authority, where digital media can be used to either reinforce traditional forms or open up new landscapes for alternative visions of leadership, the Internet also offers both possibilities regarding the siddur, one of the most precious ritual objects in Judaism. The Open Siddur Project, as its name implies, is aiming to open up previous conceptions of the siddur by shaping and fine-tuning the possibilities of the Internet to make the siddur accessible and personalized for everyone. . . .

להבין את התפלה | Rav Amram Gaon’s letter to Rav Yitzḥok b. Shimon of Sepharad, circa 9th century

The opening letter of Rav Amram to a community in Spain from his 9th century order of prayer (Seder Rav Amram Gaon). . . .

פורים | Purim: Esther’s Global Leadership Proposal, by Dr. Bonna Devora Haberman

What are the inner workings of such an intricately crafted story that it devolves into so much gratuitous violence at the end? Haman’s racism follows imminently upon the heels of the king’s sexism. Indeed, the root of Haman’s wrath against Mordekhai and the Jews parallels the king’s fury against Vashti and the women. Both Vashti and Mordekhai refused to submit to degradation before authority. Disdain for and subordination of women are pre-conditions for the progression toward violent evils that threaten to prevail under the jester-king. One of the fundaments of feminism is that until we fix the basic gender dyad, there will be no resolution of other derivative inequalities, prejudices, and abuses—at personal, ethnic, national, and global levels. Core relationships between woman and man must embody mutual respect, dignity, and equality in our humanity. . . .

Masking the Liturgy: a pedagogy for learning the Siddur, by Rabbi Dr. Joshua Gutoff (2003)

I wanted my students to start thinking of prayers as expressions of an interior world, rather than as descriptions of the exterior one. I suggested to them that they think of a prayer as a kind of mask, much like the ones worn in religious rituals by many peoples. The job of the mask-wearer is to discover the reality on the “inside” of the mask and bring it to life. . . .

Primary sources in open-source Judaism: Rabbi Yitzchok Hutner’s Paḥad Yitzḥok, Rosh Hashana Ma’amar Bet

In our continuing effort to expose the foundations of Open Source Judaism in Jewish source texts, we have made a transcription of Rabbi Ally Ehrman’s shiur (lesson) explaining Rabbi Yitzḥok Hutner’s ראש השנה מאמר ב “Rosh Hashana Ma’amar 2” (circa 1950s) published in Paḥad Yitzḥok, (a compendium of Rabbi Hutner’s teachings from the 1950s until his death in 1983). The ma’amar is an explication of the verse in Proverbs and familiar to anyone that sings Eyshet Ḥayil before the Sabbath evening meal, “She opens her mouth with wisdom, and a loving-kind Torah is on her tongue,” (Proverbs 31:26). The ma’amar weaves ideas by the Maharal from Gevurot Hashem (6:4) commenting on the gemarah in Talmud Bavli Sukkah 49b that the meaning of Torat Ḥesed (loving-kind torah) is a torah learned with the intention of being retransmitted. Via the MaHaRaL, Rabbi Hutner teaches that this effort in giving is an act of loving-kindness whereby a new work is made freely and shared completely without any diminution of the source, the giver, or the recipient. . . .

סדר אושפיזין / אושפיזתא | Seder Ushpizin and Ushpizata: Inviting the Avot and Imahot into your Sukkah by Rabbi David Seidenberg (neohasid.org)

The essential idea of the liturgy of Ushpizin is to invoke the energies of the seven lower Sefirot in the proper order, so that Shefa, blessing and sustenance, can be drawn down into the world. This is the essence of Kabbalistic liturgy, and a liturgy of the imahot would only make sense if it were to follow that pattern. That means we have the playfully serious task of finding a stable order for the imahot where no clear order exists. . . .

ברכות | Bringing blessing to all life on Earth, a d’var tefilah on making blessings over foods by Rabbi David Seidenberg (neohasid.org)

The Talmud (Brakhot 35a-b) teaches that eating food without saying a brakhah (a blessing) beforehand is like stealing. A lot of people know that teaching, and it’s pretty deep. But here’s an even deeper part: the Talmud doesn’t call it “stealing”, but מעילה ׁ(“me’ilah“), which means taking from sacred property that belongs to the Temple. So that means that everything in the world is sacred and this Creation is like a HOLY TEMPLE. . . .

Teshuvah on Ketubbah Where Woman Acquires Man

A teshuvah (responsum) on, and text of, a ketubbah whereby a groom acquires a bride, and a ketubbah whereby a bride acquires a groom. . . .

Some thoughts on God’s proper, ineffable name, a d’var tefillah by Shoshana Michael Zucker

Some thoughts on the ineffable divine name. . . .

“On Prayer,” by Abraham Joshua Heschel (1969)

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel’s speech, “On Prayer,” delivered at an inter-religious convocation held under the auspices of the U.S. Liturgical Conference in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on August 28, 1969. His talk was printed in the journal Conservative Judaism v.25:1 Fall 1970, p.1-12. . . .

Reconstruction of a Greek text of the Shabbat Amidah preserved in the Constitutiones Apostolorum (circa 380 CE), by Dr. David Fiensy

This is a reconstruction of a sabbath liturgy for the Tefillah of the Amidah, at least in some variant of its public recitation, in Greek and preserved in an early Christian work, the Constitutiones Apostolorum (Apostolic Constitutions), a Christian work compiled around 380 CE in Syria. Several prayers derived from Jewish sources appear in the Apostolic Constitutions and they can be found grouped together and labeled “Greek” or “Hellenistic Syanagogal Works” in collections of apocrypha and pseudepigrapha. Because explicitly Christian references appeared to be added onto a pre-existing text with familiar Jewish or “Old Testament” themes and references, scholars in the late 19th century were already suggesting that as many as 16 of the prayers in the Apostolic Constitutions books 7 and 8 were derived from Jewish prayers. A more modern appraisal was made by Dr. Fiensy and published in Prayers Alleged to Be Jewish (Scholars Press 1985). Based on a careful analysis of the prayers, he concludes that the only prayers which can be identified as Jewish with certainty are those found in sections 33-38 of book 7. . . .

“The Spirit of Jewish Prayer,” by Abraham Joshua Heschel (1953)

“The Spirit of Jewish Prayer,” by Abraham Joshua Heschel was a speech given at the Fifty-Third Annual Convention of the Rabbinical Assembly of America which took place at the Breakers Hotel, Atlantic City, New Jersey from Tammuz 9 to Tammuz 14, 5713 (June 22 To June 27, 1953). The speech was subsequently published in the Proceedings of the Rabbinical Assembly of America v.17. . . .

“Prayer,” by Abraham Joshua Heschel (1945)

The essay, “Prayer,” by Rabbi Dr. Abraham Joshua Heschel, then Associate Professor of Jewish Philosophy at Hebrew Union College, published in Review of Religion vol. 9 no. 2, January 1945. . . .

“Das Gebet Als Äußerung Und Einfühlung,” von Abraham Joshua Heschel (1939)

Abraham Joshua Heschel’s essay “Das Gebet Als Äußerung Und Einfühlung” published in Monatsschrift Für Geschichte Und Wissenschaft Des Judenthums, vol. 83 (1939). . . .

Adventures in Ancient Jewish Liturgy: the Birkat Kohanim

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. . . .

Prayers that Hurt: Public Prayer in Interfaith Settings, by Rabbi Chaplain (Captain) Arnold E. Resnicoff, USN, Ret. (1987, 2009)

Suggestions for chaplains on offering public prayers in interfaith settings. . . .

Kavvana: Directing the Heart in Jewish Prayer, by Rabbi Dr. Seth Kadish (1997)

A comprehensive treatment on the praxis of Jewish prayer. . . .

תעודת גירות | Certificate of Conversion template for adults (Hebrew-English and gender-neutral), by Rabbi Jonah Rank

A gender-neutral Hebrew-English conversion certificate template for adults. . . .

תהלים כז | A D’var Tefillah on Zombies, Elul, and Psalms 27 by Rabbi Jessica Minnen

As the month of Elul wanes, we are preparing. We prepare for the new moon, we prepare for Rosh Hashanah, and we prepare for the zombie invasion. I have it on good authority, as do you, that the onslaught is imminent. The alarm blares every morning — a shofar blast and a warning… . . .

Gender Neutralizing Ketubbah with Instructions by Jonah Rank and Raysh Weiss

On [day of the week] of the [day of the month] of the month of [month] in the year [year], as we count here in [location], behold, the soul of [name of one member of the couple] and the soul of [name of the other member of the couple] wrote one to the other in documents indicating that the entirety of each soul is consecrated one to the other in accordance with the law of Moses and Israel. They both shall serve, cherish, sustain, and support one another, in accordance with the laws of the Jews. Behold, all that which is written above has been accepted upon these two souls in the valid manner of interconnecting souls. All of the above is in proper, good standing. . . .

בלוס פון חלה | How the Grateful Dead, Jewish Text, and Worship Explain One Another and Raise Interesting Questions, by Virginia Spatz

I believe that even those who actively dislike the Grateful Dead, or always happily ignored them, will find ideas worth considering in this comparison. “I guess they can’t revoke your soul for trying.” – Robert Hunter Some years ago, my husband and I dragged our kids (then 11 and 13) to see the Dead. The kids asked why the folks in the parking lot were staying outside, even though the concert was scheduled to start: “How do they know when to go inside? Or, is the band waiting for them?” My husband, a non-Jew, noted that he was often similarly mystified by worship services: “How do they know when to it’s time for….?” Not long after that I was part of a small havurah gathering waiting for a minyan, and we got to talking about when we might expect various regulars. This started me thinking about when, how and why Jews show up to services. I realized my husband’s sentiment about worship services – like my kids befuddlement about Dead concerts – is shared by many Jews, even regular service-goers…. Over the years, I’ve been thinking about ways that Jewish text and worship and the Grateful Dead parallel one another. The result is this chart. . . .

עשרה בטבת | The Tenth of Tevet on a Friday: Can one fast half a day? by Rabbi Ethan Tucker (Mechon Hadar, Center for Jewish Law and Values)

This Friday (13th December) is Asarah B’Tevet (10th of Tevet), one of the minor fast days in the Jewish calendar. Mechon Hadar’s Rabbi Ethan Tucker provides an overview of the various halakhic issues that are raised by a fasting on a Friday due to the upcoming Shabbat – how do we balance the tragedy of the fall of Jerusalem in 6th century BCE, which our fasting commemorates, with the joy of Shabbat? . . .

Pew Study of American Jewry: A Few Grains of Salt by Dr. Samuel Klausner

We are honored to share a paper of the eminent sociologist of American Jewry, Dr. Samuel Klausner. In this paper, Dr. Klausner presents his observations of the Pew Study of American Jewry (2013). Dr. Klausner writes: “Why have so many of my sociologist friends and leaders of the American Jewish community accepted the Pew report findings at face value? A Portrait of Jewish Americans has received wide attention. An article appeared in the Forward and Arnold Eisen discussed it in his blog. My list serv from the Association for the Social Scientific Study of Jewry (ASSJ) has had a running discussion of both findings and methods. Recently, I received a Board Briefing from the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture which describes the report as “important and impartial.” The subtext of “impartial” may account for some of the uncritical impact of the findings. Pew has published ‘raw’ numbers, unexplained summaries of interview responses. The results evoked skepticism in this reader. An examination of how these results were obtained, a methodological critique, confirmed my skepticism.” . . .

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

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. . . .

Fully Egalitarian Ketubah from Naomi & Beverly Socher-Lerner’s Wedding

This completely egalitarian ketubah uses nedarim, vows before God which bear the full weight of Jewish law, as the central act of marriage, and uses the rings as symbols of those vows. It also details the steps which would be necessary to dissolve those nedarim, an important and integral part of the ketubah. The Hebrew is written in the feminine plural and should be adjusted if the text is used for different gender combinations. . . .

על הניסים ליום העצמאות | Al Hanissim for Yom ha’Atsmaut: Theological and Liturgical Reflections, by Yehonatan Chipman (2003)

Every year on Yom ha-Atzmaut I feel a certain sense of frustration about its liturgy, and the failure of Religious Zionism to shape the holiday into one that would make a clear and definite religious statement. The “festive” prayer for Yom ha-Atzmaut is a hotchpotch of Yom Kippur, Kabbalat Shabbat, Shabbat Mevarkhim, and Pesaḥ. One gets a sense that there is an avoidance of hard issues. Even such a simple thing as saying Hallel with a blessing is not yet self-evident, but a subject of constant debate. Every year, there seem to be more leading rabbis, who adopt crypto-Ḥaredi stances, issuing pronunciamentos as to why one must not enter into the doubt of saying a brakha levatala, an unnecessary blessing, in this case. (As I was typing these words, I was interrupted by a phone call from a friend with this very question!) Bimhila mikvodam (no affront to the honor due them intended), but what on earth do they think the Talmud is talking about when it says that “On every occasion that Israel are in distress and then delivered, they are to recite the Hallel” (Pesaḥim 116a), if not the likes of Yom ha-Atzmaut? . . .

Source texts on Jewish Prayer and Spirituality, compiled by Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman

A few select source texts on prayer and davvenen of importance to Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman. . . .

אֵל בָּרוּךְ | the alphabetic acrostic piyyut El Barukh in the weekday Yotser Ohr blessing, with the song “Aleph Bass,” by Darshan

A song by Darshan including the alphabetic acrostic piyyut, El Barukh, part of the morning Yotser Ohr blessing made prior to the Shema at the official beginning of the Shaḥarit service. . . .

Adventures in Ancient Jewish Liturgy: The Ten Commandments and the Sh’ma in the Nash Papyrus

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

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 100-9000, 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. . . .

Line and letter art by Emily K (Feathered Hat Studios)

Some Jewish line art to aid in illustrating your siddur or other liturgy-related work. . . .

Transcribing Fanny Schmiedl-Neuda’s Sefer Tkhines: Stunden Der Andacht (1855)

LoadingUPDATE APRIL 2013: SECOND-PASS PROOFREAD COMPLETE!

We’ve transcribed and proofread our first collection of Jewish prayers!

If you can read German, we need your help.

We’ve transcribed Fanny Neuda’s Stunden Der Andacht, an important Jewish women’s book of prayers (tkhines) first published in 1855, and we need proofreaders who can read German, and who can . . .

הגדה לסדר פסח | The Ritual of the Seder and the Agada of the English Jews Before the Expulsion (1287)

Jacob b. Jehuda of London, the author of that valuable contribution to the literary side of Anglo-Jewish history, the Talmudical compendium Etz Chaim, so providentially rescued and preserved for us, never dreamt, when he noted down, in the year 1287, the Ritual and Agada of the Seder Nights according to English usage, that he was fixing a permanent picture of what was doomed to destruction, and was recording not a mere portion of the liturgy, but a page of Jewish history. Faithfully copying his great prototype, Maimonides, the English Chazan also embodied in his work the texts of the Recitations on the Seder Nights in the form customary among his countrymen, and appended the correlated rites according to Minhag England. . . .

STOP ACTA & TPP from Undermining Free Speech on the Internet

Keep the Internet as open as Avraham and Sarah’s tent. Help us oppose ACTA & TPP: — free trade legislation with specific language that will undermine free speech on the Internet. . . .

Testing Web browsers as Platforms for Hebrew Text Publishing

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Given that one important aspiration of the Open Siddur Project is the development of a web application for anyone to edit, maintain, and share the content of a personal prayerbook that they can craft online, I’m very concerned at how well web browsers today display the Hebrew language with all of its diacritical (vowels, cantillation) . . .

How to Annotate Your Siddur by Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner

Some rabbinic sourcetexts related to the topic of how to write in your siddur, shared with translations by Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner. . . .

Public policy, technology, and copyright in Halakha: a sourcesheet

Last Sukkot 5771 (2011), Efraim Feinstein shared the sourcesheet for his late night shiur (lesson) on copyright in Rabbinic Halakhah (Jewish law). Efraim’s research adds a great deal of important perspective to our work here on the Open Siddur Project. It provides relevant historical context for our work advocating the adoption of free culture principles and free-culture licenses to facilitate sharing (tachlis) within the Jewish world. . . .

Siddur Class: Sourcesheets from Amit Gvaryahu’s Shiur on Tefillah

We are grateful to Amit Gvaryahu for sharing his sourcesheets for his Siddur class at Yeshivat Hadar’s 90@190 Open Beit Midrash this past summer 5771/2011, and for sharing his translations with a CC-BY-SA 3.0 Unported license. . . .

הנני ☞ Hineni: Here I Am, a bookmark for your Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur maḥzor by Lieba B. Ruth

Lauren Deutsch designed a High Holy Days greeting card that is a yad (pointer) for all readers to use in their siddurim during services. It also functions as a place holder when one wishes to take a rest from following along. . . .

חנוכה שמח – מנדלה | Ḥanukkah Sameaḥ Mandala by Ḥatul Yehudi (Cat Jew)

A mandala for Ḥanukkah by Brazilian Yemenite Jewish artist, GatoJudeau . . .

How to craft a small siddur or bentsher by Aharon 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. . . .

Rules of Etiquette for Public Prayer, by Isaac Seligman Baer (1868)

The impetus for writing this monograph came from a long-time observation that most worshipers and, by extension Shalechei Tzibur [prayer leaders], are either generally unaware of certain basic Laws regarding Public Prayer and Conduct in the Synagogue or simply lax in their proper observance. As such, I felt that there is a need to refresh in the minds of the general public certain fundamental regulations in these areas. I have chosen to translate the prefatory pages relating to these matters from the classic Siddur Avodas Yisroel by Dr. Seligmann Baer, published in Rödelheim in 1868. His summary is terse, yet comprehensive, and very closely aligned with the accepted Halochoh. Although, in those instances where there is a difference from commonly accepted practice and custom, I have tried to augment his text with instructions found in the popular Siddur Tefilas Kol Peh (TKP, Shaliach Tzibur edition, published by Eshkol, Jerusalem, and which was prepared in accordance with the Mishne Berura) and other sources. . . .

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

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. . . .

It’s All Greek To Me–Praying in Languages Other than Hebrew (sourcesheet) by R’ Ethan Tucker

Language is simultaneously a portal and a barrier to prayer. Jews have prayed in Hebrew for millennia, yet our oldest sources also speak of prayer in other languages. Come explore the history of the language of prayer, how our linguistic preferences define what prayer is about, and how we might approach this issue today. . . .

Copyright and Commercial Use: the Problem with Creative Commons’ Non-Commercial Use Licenses

This post continues the series of advocacy posts directed at Jewish content creators and aggregators. Other parts of the series discussed the global communal benefit of free primary data resources and issues of copyright license compatibility and the connection between copyright licensing and remixability. While my previous post briefly mentioned the non-free Creative Commons licenses, this post details why you should choose a free culture license. In particular, it urges you to avoid the licenses with the non-commercial-use only (NC) terms. . . .

Feminist Influences on Jewish Liturgy: The Case of Israeli Reform Prayer (2009)

In Israel, the Reform movement, which is called the Israeli Movement for Progressive Judaism (IMPJ), dates back to the 1950s, but a serious concern for women’s role in liturgy is a relatively recent development, namely since the last decade of the 20st century. This paper examines the modes of liturgical change with regard to the role and presentation of women in Jewish ritual and worship within Israel: what they do to regain their voice[s] through worship and how they are depicted in contemporary liturgies. Today, gender-related issues are among the most heated issues faced by contemporary liberal, non-Orthodox Jews; discussions on the subject dominate the religious and academic spheres as well as the socio-cultural arena. This paper is based upon the assumption that the Israeli case is a distinct one compared to the North American treatment of gender in the liturgy, because Hebrew is not only the liturgical language, but also the vernacular for Israeli Jews. This makes it much harder to change liturgy, as it is perceived as holy matter. Another unique aspect of the Israeli liberal liturgy is the fact that it operates in a rather conservative religious environment: both Orthodox and secular Jews in Israel are less prone to experimental approaches toward liturgy and ritual. . . .

A Tale of Two Codexes: The Aleppo and Leningrad Codex

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. . . .

“Ten Commandments of Jewish Social Networking” (Jewish Journal of Greater Los Angeles 2010)

“The golden rule here is that when people share Torah,” said Aharon N. Varady, founder and director of the Open Siddur Project, “Torah is increased in the world.”

In my interview with Jonah, I explained to him the teaching of the Sfas Emes, the Gerrer Rebbe Yehudah Aryeh Leib Alter, who taught in his drash on parshat Terumah, the following.[ref]Translation is Rabbi Arthur Green’s from The Language of Truth: The Torah Commentary of Sefat Emet (JPS 1998, p.121, copyright all rights reserved, and here quoted through Fair Use.[/ref]

The Midrash Tanhuma quotes: “I have given you good lekaḥ (teaching)” (Proverbs 4:2). [Lekaḥ can also refer to something acquired by purchase.] It then offers a parable of two merchants, one who has silk and the other peppers. Once they exchange their goods, each is again deprived of that which the other has. But if there are two scholars, one who has mastered the Order of Seeds and the other who knows the Order of Festivals, once they teach each other, each has both orders. . . .

Openness, remixability, and free culture (Efraim Feinstein, 2010)

Advocacy for creative works’ freedom represents a paradigm shift in thought among content creators: In a free culture, a premium is not placed on the material as-such or even the particular rights associated with the material. Instead, it is on the users’ freedom, and it is that freedom that is the prerequisite to large-scale creative engagement with educational material. . . .

“Database Davvenen” by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (circa 1984)

The following work was published by a Havurah publication in the late 1970s or early 1980s by Rab Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. In it, Rab Zalman presciently describes a digital database of liturgy and liturgy-related work that havurah groups across the world could use to bring together custom designed and crafted works for use in communal prayer. We are grateful to Reb Zalman for bringing this work to our attention. . . .

“Color-Coded Prayerbook Devised by Rabbi” (Springfield Republican, 1972)

Religious books like the Bible and scholarly works have traditionally been printed in the manner to which everyone is accustomed. Page after page of type with footnotes or indices taking up a good portion of each sheet has long seemed acceptable. Now, within a year [1972/3], a book is expected to come out which will change not only the basic nature of such books but also indicate sources by color code. Rabbi Jacob Freedman of 68 Calhoun St., Springfield has already produced such a book which he calls “a sample.” A larger book is planned for which “90 per cent of the research is completed,” he said. The book called a “polychrome historical prayerbook” in Hebrew will be titled “Siddur Bays Yosef” in remembrance of Rabbi Freedman’s late father, the Rev. Joseph Freedman. . . .

Development Status (2010-08-15)

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Hello friends,

Check out our progress! This development status update chronicles progress on the Open Siddur made since our last update, February 15, 2010.

If you’d like to get news of Open Siddur Project development as it occurs, make sure to follow @opensiddur at Twitter, or join the opensiddur-announce email list. We also recommend following . . .

Technology is a “plus” not “or” proposition: thoughts after NewCAJE 2010 by Efraim Feinstein

In education, technology is a means to an end, not an end in itself. There are some problems technology can solve, and others it can’t. As Joel Grishaver said better than I can, technology is a “plus” not “or” proposition. Learners will have different success rates using technological solutions, such as distance learning, and the use of computers cannot take the place of a real-world social community. On the other hand, technology also has the potential to transform learning and learning environments and to make both learning materials and the teachers to guide their use accessible where they would not have otherwise been. . . .

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

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. . . .

Efraim Feinstein presents the Open Siddur Project at NewCAJE, 2010

At the beginning of the talk, the audience expressed some discomfort with the idea of copying from one website to another, even if the original author is attributed. The main concern seemed to be that the author potentially loses control of his/her message if he/she has no idea of the remainder of the content of the website. On the other hand, one audience member who posts reviews on book review sites had an innate sense of the concept of mutual benefit: she posts reviews of the books she reads in part because she reads reviews posted by others. . . .

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

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. . . .

The Limits of Liturgical Change: selections of halakhic discourse with translations by Rav Ethan Tucker (sourcesheet)

A sourcesheet on the halakhic opinions and attitudes towards praying in languages besides Hebrew. . . .

Our hearts are stirred to create and to share

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

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. . . .

Testing Our Transliteration Engine with help from James Strong’s Biblical Hebrew Dictionary

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The mark of a particularly valuable dictionary is how long it is still being used years after it’s introduced. Marcus Jastrow’s Dictionary of the Targumim, Talmud Babli, Talmud Yerushalmi and Midrashic Literature (1903), Brown-Driver-Brigg’s Hebrew and English Lexicon of the Old Testament (1906), and James Strong’s Concise Dictionary of the Words in the Hebrew Bible . . .

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

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We just learned that yesterday (April 27, 2010) that John Bruno Hare, founder of the Internet Sacred Texts Archive, passed away. John’s last decade of life was deeply invested in breathing life into public domain texts that had never been digitized. All this material was released back into the world as freely licensed content. Just . . .

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

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. . . .

Culmus Project’s Ancient Semitic Scripts Fonts Now Licensed GPL with “font exception”

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Think of a favorite book, or siddur, and think of the style of the letters in it. Fonts are used to forms the words and portray the liturgy, poetry, and other texts. More often than not, these fonts are not free. They are licensed from typographic designers for a fee or used with permission. Sometimes . . .

Development Status (2010-02-15)

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Open Siddur Project Development Status as of February 2010/Adar 5770

Friends,

The communal project of Jewish spirituality can only be improved through cooperation and collaboration. The creative work used in our traditional liturgies is the common cultural heritage of the Jewish people. Most of this work resides in the public domain. The Open Siddur is . . .

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

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. . . .

An Economic Argument for Open Data by Efraim Feinstein

Free, open data prevents the necessity of duplication of effort, which, in turn, prevents the community as a whole from unnecessarily wasteful spending. Particularly for organizations with a social mission, its use is a win for everyone. . . .

“Taking Prayer Into Their Own Hands” (The Jewish Week 2010)

In January 2010, the Jewish Week published a piece about the Open Siddur Project by Steve Lipman, entitled, “Taking Prayer Into Their Own Hands.” The article is no longer available online at the Jewish Week website or in any online cache. We have archived it here for posterity. . . .

Architecture of the Open Siddur

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Lead developer, Efraim Feinstein, recently contributed this helpful diagram of Open Siddur’s architecture.

“Prayer Unbound” (Hadara Graubart, Tablet Magazine 2009)

We’re honored to have our project the focus of an article in Tablet. . . .

Jewish Content, Free Culture and “Content Compatibility” by Efraim Feinstein

The free culture community has developed mechanisms to make sharing and collaborative development easier. The principles that define works of free culture are:

  1. the freedom to use the work and enjoy the benefits of using it
  2. the freedom to study the work and to apply knowledge acquired from it
  3. the freedom to make and redistribute copies, in whole or in part, of the information or expression
  4. the freedom to make changes and improvements, and to distribute derivative works

Note that these freedoms do not discriminate on the basis of endeavor, and all free culture works allow creation of derivative works and commercial use. . . .

Development Status (2009-11-11)

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Open Siddur Project Development Status as of 11/11/2009

Our third development status covers progress on the Open Siddur made since our last update 9/22/09. Email aharon@opensiddur.org if you want to include something we haven’t covered. For now we’ll be sending these out once a month but if you’d like to get news of Open Siddur . . .

Why all the software? by Efraim Feinstein

One question I’ve been asked a number of times about the Open Siddur Project is: why are you developing all that software? It’s a fair question. After all, the siddur is just text. There are other do-it-yourself siddur kits out there. They sell you (or, more accurately, license you) a text. You open the text in a word processor, make a few stylistic changes, and voila, you have your own custom siddur. The “advanced” ones may even hand you one copy of a “nusaḥ Ashkenaz” siddur, one copy of a “nusaḥ Sefard” siddur, and one copy of a “nusaḥ Edot Hamizrah” siddur, giving you some choices. All good, right? So, once again, why does the Open Siddur need so much software? . . .

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

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.” . . .

Development Status (2009-09-22)

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Open Siddur Project Development Status as of 9/22/2009

Our second development status covers progress on the Open Siddur made since our last update 8/23/09. Email aharon@opensiddur.org if you want to include something we haven’t covered. For now we’ll be sending these out once a month but if you’d like to get news of Open Siddur . . .

Spiritual Alienation and the Siddur (PresenTense, 2009)

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. . . .

Invitation to Young Technologists

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The Open Siddur Project is a free and open source software project founded around a community of folk passionate about the siddur. We are developing an online collaborative publishing platform for crafting custom siddurim, for preserving the diversity of Jewish prayer traditions, and for sharing translations, commentary, t’fillot, meditations, and art in the siddur.

The . . .

Development Status (2009-08-23)

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Open Siddur Project Development Status as of 8/23/2009

This is our first development status post. Normally, this post will try to wrap up what we’ve achieved in the past week. Since this is our first, I’ll be summing up some of the progress we’ve made in the last month or so. It will serve . . .

“Prayer a la Carte” (Haaretz 2009)

From the summer of 2009, the first article ever written about our project, the Open Siddur, in the pages of Ha’aretz. By Raphael Ahren. . . .

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

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)

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)

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)

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

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W00t! First post!

Over the course of the summer I will be in Jerusalem attending the PresenTense Institute‘s summer workshop. Before I arrived I set in mind an intention, (or kavannah, as it were) to achieve the following goals:

gaining expert understanding of the licensing and technical challenges for developing partnerships between creative projects . . .

Concerning Intolerance of New Practices in Jewish Prayer, by Reb Zalman Schachter-Shalomi (1989)

It is the responsibility of leadership in every generation to remove stumbling blocks from paths provided for seekers of Hashem. The needs of the faith community have dramatically changed. In our generation, many of the paths to Heaven that used to work very well in the past, don’t work any more. Why is that? For several reasons: . . .


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