When my Rabbi mentioned a new Shabbat Siddur “with pictures” over Rosh Hashanah, my interest was immediately piqued. As a somewhat regular attendee at Shabbat and Yom Tov service, and as an occasional Shaliach Tzibur and stand-in when our Chazzan is away, I am familiar with the liturgy and attuned to the influence the Siddur can have on my approach to prayer. I regularly use half a dozen different Siddurim, and was curious about this new concept. While I was attracted by the promise that it is traditional in scope and content, I was also a bit skeptical of the role the pictures might play in distracting from the “business” of davening.
The Nahalel Siddur, devised (his word) by Michael Haruni, is published by Nevarech (Jerusalem). It is meant to be used on Shabbat, with the usual additions to allow its use on Chol Hamoed, Rosh Chodesh, and various other days that coincide with Shabbat; it is not a holiday Machzor, and not designed for use on the Shalosh Regalim. It is nearly traditional in its liturgy, although there are some concessions to egalitarian worship (for example, the morning Berachot offer modern versions for women). I also found myself surprised by the inclusion of some prayers that I was not familiar with, such as, “An Entreaty for IDF Soldiers in Captivity (Prayer recited as long as any IDF soldiers are held in hostile captivity).” The Hebrew and English fonts are serviceable, and the liberal use of color in the texts is quite helpful. It is printed on durable paper that gives it a nice feel. On these merits alone, the Nehalel Siddur is a worthwhile contribution.
Upon hearing about this Siddur, however, my skepticism was stoked by two overriding questions. First, would the Siddur be practical to use for davening, or would the pictures be so distracting and intrusive that it would function better as a coffee table book rather than as an instrument of prayer? Second, how would the inclusion of pictures effect the experience of for davening? The layout of the Nehalel Siddur immediately allayed both of these concerns. The pictures were chosen to exemplify a line in the text of a prayer; there is an additional visual link through the highlighting of the line of text in English and Hebrew to help the user make the intended connection. The pictures (all still life photographs or pictures of people or animals) are tastefully chosen, artistic, and almost unfailingly relevant. They are not distracting, and I found after only three days use of the Siddur that I looked forward to re-establishing the connection between the text and the photograph. For instance, the emotional and jubilant hug of a soldier returning from eight months captivity after the Yom Kippur War depicted on the facing page of the above mentioned Entreaty of IDF Soldiers in Captivity brings immediate meaning to the translated line, “and hastily return them to the embrace of their families.” The image of Mount Tabor adjacent to Psalm 114 in Hallel to highlight the line, “The mountains jagged like reindeer, hills like young lambs,” perfectly captured my preconceived images associated with that prayer. And when the photographs did not meet my expectations, they stimulated me to re-evaluate my understanding of the text. As one who is especially interested in ritual, and the use of ritual to generate the spiritual, I found the picture format of Nehalel Siddur to help me reconnect with the meaning and spirit of the prayers that I so cherish and enjoy.
My only concern regarding this wonderful Siddur is that it may indeed be distracting for those who are not familiar with the Shabbat liturgy. Might those less versed in the liturgy focus on the pictures and fail to appreciate the elements of the prayers that are not visually highlighted? That is a criticism, however, that could potentially be voiced concerning any format that goes beyond a mere presentation of the prayers. For instance, something as simple as a Siddur annotated with commentary (contemporary, traditional, or both) could lead naïve readers in directions that might not be productive or meaningful. However, because the layout of the Nehalel Siddur is so attractive and user friendly, I think it is more likely to stimulate less experienced daveners to seek out guidance, to ask questions and to seek meaning and involvement through prayer.
I wholeheartedly recommend the Nehalel Siddur to anyone interested in enhancing their prayer experience. It is both practical and stimulating. It will become a regular in the rotation of Siddurim I use for my davening.