Jewish Prayer Books 2: Siddur Lev Chadash – The British Liberal siddur

Siddur Lev Chadash, Union of Liberal and Progressive Synagogues, 1995

American Rabbi Chaim Stern and British Rabbi John D. Rayner, both now deceased, are the towering figures of Liberal/Reform Jewish liturgy; uniquely they span two generations of siddurim. I’ll look  at the American prayer books from the pen of Rabbi Stern at some future date. Published in 1995 Siddur Lev Chadash (SLC) was the first of the latest generation of reform liturgies. Stern and Rayner were responsible for the 1967 Liberal Jewish prayer book, Service of the Heart, the first siddur to abandon ‘thee’ and ‘thou’ forms in the English text. The title of this new siddur (‘new heart‘  Ezek.36:26) pays tribute to that volume.

This volume contains services for Weekdays, Sabbaths and other occasions; there is a companion machzor for the High Holy Days.

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Blending the Contemporary and Traditional

Comparing SLC with Service of the Heart  reveals the ‘return to tradition’. Unlike that earlier volume this book opens in the Hebrew way, the title is given in Hebrew (with no translation) and the book contains far more Hebrew than the earlier book. Unlike the Reform siddur SLC divides the traditional material between five forms of the service for the morning and evening of the sabbath.

The kind of additional material which in the Reform siddur is provided in the Study Anthologies and Reflections is here interspersed in the liturgies or is in the extensive section of  Themes. This extends a pattern of the 1967 book to provide sufficient material for each sabbath of the year; gently linked to the Torah reading for the day. This is the most interesting aspect of the book for me and is a rich source for meditation and thought. Co-editor Chaim Stern has published an even wider set of these meditations and quotations including far more poetry and literature from non-Jewish sources (Day by Day, Chaim Stern, Beacon Press 2000). The titles of the themes in SLC vary from Theodicy to Health; Doubt to Education; Individuality to Conservation.

Further innovations in SLC include the recitation of the appropriate section of the Genesis 1 account of creation over the six days of the week at the Morning Service. This is such an obvious way of having a ‘creation focussed’ liturgy that I am surprised it has not been more used by Jews or Christians. The only other example I can think of is in the Liturgie Chorale du people de Dieu of André Gouzes OP where he blends the account of creation with the Christian weekly triduum of cross, tomb and resurrection in his Proclamation du Jour available in English on this blog here.

The Siddur as a work of art

This is a well produced volume but it contain no visual imagery or art work. It is a ‘wordy’ looking book that perhaps reflects the rather rational approach of liberal Judaism. The finely bound edition has gilt-edged papers and book marks and a leather style cover. The Hebrew font is clear and easy to read with good spacing between the lines, but has a slightly skinny look about it. The English text contains large sections for responsive reading by the congregation and these are indicated by italic font. The real creativity in SLC is in the text itself and the translations are often very fine pieces of liturgical English.

Worship beyond the Synagogue

Although SLC contains the usual home services, and a variety of prayers for various occasions it feels more like a book of scripts for services than Forms of Prayer. The additional material is harder to access because it is interspersed within the liturgies.

Education: creating liturgical literacy

SLC contains an excellent section of Notes indicating sources of texts and the history of their use.  This is especially useful for understanding the development of the synagogue liturgy and the evolution of the Hebrew texts for Reform communities. In the history of Reform liturgy since the nineteenth century there has been much debate about those elements of traditional liturgy that should be reformed. Most excise references to the restoration of the temple cult and a personal Messiah. Beyond these notes however, and they are very much an appendix to the main text, the regular worshipper need not engage with this material. There is a sense in which this is a book for the worshipper who relies on someone else to have done the work of liturgical scholarship and who accepts the compilation of the liturgy they are provided with.

Published in 1995 SLC does not contain transliterations of the Hebrew although the machzor published in 2003 does. Many synagogues and communities provide transliteration sheets for those who need them.

A helpful musical companion to SLC is available from the Liberal Synagogue, St John’s Wood here.

In some ways the educative work of SLC is more embedded, the whole book has a didactic feel, often,  responsive passages and other texts are addressed not to God but to the reader. A good example, which I like very much, is the short responsive reading at the candle lighting in Sabbath Evening Service 5, written by Chaim Stern for Gates of Prayer:

There are days when we seek material things, and measure failure by what we do not own.

On the Sabbath we wish not to acquire but to share.

There are days when we exploit nature with reckless greed.

On the Sabbath we stand in wonder before the mystery of creation.

There are days when we think only of ourselves.

On the Sabbath we open our hearts to the needs and rights of others.

One feature of SLC that I especially like, and am impressed by,  is the translation of the acrostic psalm 145 to include an acrostic in the English version:

Always I will exalt You, my Sovereign God

and praise Your name for ever.

Beginning each day with praise,

I will extol Your name for ever.

Cause us to see Your greatness is beyond us,

Eternal One, for ever to be praised.



In the 1975 Gates of Prayer edited by Rabbis Rayner and Stern there was a deliberate attempt to provide services reflecting differing theological stances. No such attempt has been made in SLC and there is a strong sense that all of the services reflect the same ‘voice’ and theological pitch. Although, it should be said, this is in no sense a narrow voice; here, for example from Torah theme 16, ‘Faith’ is the wonderful sonnet by Robert Nathan:

Now from the world the light of God is gone,

And we in darkness move and are afraid,

Some blaming heaven for the evil done,

And some each other for the part they played;

And all their woes on Him are strictly laid,

For being absent from these earthly ills,

Who set the trees to be the noonday shade,

And placed the stars in beauty on the hills.

Turn not away, and cry that all is lost;

It is not so, the world is in His hands

As once it was when Egypt’s mighty host

Rode to the sea and vanished in the sands.

For still the heart, by love and pity wrung,

Finds the same God as when the world was young.


SLC has removed all reference to gender for God and in the English uses ‘Eternal One’ or even ‘the One’ to refer to God as well as ‘God’. The traditional blessing formula is translated “We praise You, Eternal God, Sovereign of the universe …”. Which works well and has a more dynamic feel than “Blessed are you …”. I’m less keen on the antique sounding ‘enjoin’ as the verb for God issuing the various commands to be observed.

The ancestors in the avot section of the amidah/tefilah  are clearly matriarchs and patriarchs.

Sometimes the problem of the gender of God is solved by addressing God directly, as in the rather fine metrical translation of Psalm 23 by Rabbi Rayner:

You are my Shepherd and my God,

Therefore no want I know;

You let me lie in pastures green

and where calm waters flow.


Siddur Lev Chadash is a very good source for prayer and reflection. For anyone wanting a version of traditional Jewish liturgy to reflect on SLC strays too far to be very useful. It does, however, show creative ways of using a religious tradition that speaks to our time. The thematic approach can tire but with such a large amount of material in one volume is likely to last a long time. The detailed notes provided by Rabbi Rayner are exemplary and would make the book worth owning for those alone. The introductory essay gives an excellent overview of the history of Jewish liturgy and the work, in particular, of the reformers.

The rich material on Torah themes suggests something that could be done for the three-year Sunday lectionary that the majority of Christian churches use. The Glenstal Sunday Missal already has for each Sunday a simple poem or prayer; there are collections of patristic readings for the lectionary and the excellent series of sonnets by Malcolm Guite for the Calendar. A powerful collection of material could easily be made.

Although I am not keen on attempts to transplant liturgical elements from one faith to another there is much to be said for Christians using these Torah themes when the equivalent reading occurs in the Daily Office or Daily Eucharistic lectionary. There might even be a case made for incorporating the weekly sabbath reading from Torah into the Saturday Office and using themes such as those in SLC and the many resources available on the internet to enrich our Christian understanding of the Torah.

Jewish communities observe a standard one year division of the Torah and Reform/Liberal communities tend to have a three-year cycle to divide this. The Liberal lectionary may be found here.

“Some may think it is easy to worship. Religions tend to encourage this impression by suggesting that worship simply involves reciting prayers sanctified by tradition. But although traditional prayers can serve as a means of worship … they do not constitute it. Worship is a directing of the spirit towards God, so that through it there comes to the worshipper a personal awareness of God’s presence.”

Torah theme 19. Worship, from a sermon by Rabbi Israel I. Mattock 1883-1954


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