Jewish Prayer Books 3: Paths of Faith, Chaim Stern

Siddur Netivot Emunah

SternPaths of Faith: The New Jewish Prayer Book for Synagogue and Home

for Weekdays, Shabbat, Festivals and other occasions

ed Chaim Stern

Rossell Books, 2003

American Reform rabbi Chaim Stern together with his British Liberal colleague, John D Rayner, were at the heart of progressive Jewish liturgy through the latter half of the twentieth century. Stern began working on a successor liturgy to Gates of Prayer, the 1975 official Reform liturgy in the States, the Reform movement took a different route and Paths of Faith is Stern’s personal contribution unencumbered by official committees. Stern died before this siddur was published and its publication is in part as a tribute to him.

Blending the Contemporary and Traditional

This version of the siddur like all 21st century editions opens in the Hebrew way. It shows the ‘return to tradition’ that is apparent everywhere, unlike the 1940 Union Prayer Book there are no pages that are entirely English. However, this is a siddur very much at the most progressive edge of Reform Judaism.

The Siddur as a work of art

This is functional volume that contains no art. The Hebrew text is clear and easily legible; the layout of the pages relatively uncluttered. Side panels contain additional notes on the liturgy Reader/Congregational parts are shown by use of italics. This is a low budget, personal edition rather than the siddur of a large congregational federation.

Worship beyond the Synagogue

The siddur’s subtitle states that it is for use in both synagogue and home, basic home rituals are provided as well as additional texts. There is not a large amount of material for such use or study and the side notes don’t provide much information on the prayers used.

Education: creating liturgical literacy

The liturgy is pared down to its basic structure which therefore becomes much more obvious; the side panel notes provide helpful illumination. No doubt if he had lived Stern would have provided more detailed notes and commentary on this text.

Diversity

There isn’t much diversity here; it’s a one size fits all liturgy which is in a way surprising given Stern’s contribution to the multi-vocal 1975 Gates of Prayer.

Inclusivity

The English text of this siddur is thoroughly gender neutral. In the English translations ‘Adonai’, Lord/Master , is used most frequently to indicate the unspeakable name of God, the tetragrammaton; “God’ is also occasionally used. The berakah formula is most frequently translated as “We praise …” this works quite well and by addressing God directly removes the need for a gender specific pronoun.

The additional readings include non-Jewish writings, a Walt Whitman poem forms one sidebar note and a quote from George Eliot precedes the Kaddish.

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Conclusion

As an admirer of Stern’s work in the official Reform and Liberal books I find this book a little disappointing, perhaps, had he lived he would have done much more work on it. There is a wordy rationality about the texts, and a slightly bland universalist theology lacking in richness and ambiguity.  Although it’s on my shelves it is not a book I would flick through for illumination or enrichment and have never used for prayer. Somehow it lack sufficient richness and ambiguity.

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