The publisher's summary says:
Although Jewish liturgy has its roots in antiquity, it evolved and developed throughout the ages to emerge in its present, largely standardized form. However, in some aspects, it is archaic, containing passages and statements that apply more to past eras than to the present day. In some cases, these passages may even be offensive to certain segments of our society. It is for this reason that this book attempts to delineate the parameters of halachically permissible changes in Jewish liturgy -- changes that have precedents in traditional sources and that may correct anachronisms and defuse possible conflict, thus enhancing the experience of prayer for an ever-widening spectrum of Orthodox Jewry.The chapter headings of the learned short chapters will give you a clear picture of what the author covers and what are his perspectives on the subject.
• The Complexity of the Hebrew Prayer Book
• The constant Evolution of Our Liturgical Text
• The Variety of Liturgical Versions
• Blessings Offensive to Women
• Recommended Changes
• The Legitimacy of Change
• New Prayers and Innovative Creativity
• Talmudic Sources Forbidding Change in the Liturgy and Maimonides’ Understanding of Them
• Limits of Flexibility in Change
• The Dynamic Process of Change in Our Liturgy
• The Main Reasons for Change
• Examples of Internal Censorship
• The Talmudic Sources Revisited
• The Positions of Geonim and Rishonim
• Attempts to Fix a Single, Crystallized Version, and Their Failures
• Nusah ha-Ari and the Hasidic Position
• The Response of the Mitnaggedim
• The Impact of Printing on the Hebrew Prayer Book
• The Permissibility of Making Changes
The appendices cover interesting related topics that fall outside the main arguments of the book.
1. On the Liturgical Theories of Hasidei Ashkenaz
2. Seven Version of Birkat Nahem
3. The Ha-Siddur ha-Meduyak Affair
4. Corrupt Versions or Alternate Versions
5. The Piyyutim Controversy
6. The Avodah Prayer – An Example of the Complex Development of a Benediction
7. “For Your Covenant Which You Sealed in Our Flesh”
8. On R. Meir’s Three Benedictions
Also important to users for a book so rich in content, there are several indexes
1. Index of Primary Sources
2. Index of Prayer Books
3. Index of Prayers, Benedictions and Piyyutim
4. General Index
Sperber has read and mastered the entire range of scholarship on Jewish prayer. He draws liberally from primary texts going back to the Talmud and down through the middle ages to the present day. He knows the scholarly and halakhic literature inside and out. He translates the passages of all of these texts that he uses in his discussions with great facility and style.
Sperber argues his points with clarity and persistence. He clearly shows that prayers, over two millennia and across the Jewish communities of the world varied and that they changed. He also shows that rabbis of the past noticed and grappled with these dynamics.
The book includes many original Hebrew texts along with English translations of parts or all of them. There are photocopies of some of the prayers and commentaries from various manuscripts and printed books and other illustrations to illuminate the discussions.
The body of this book ends with this somewhat poetic paragraph:
The rich tapestry of our liturgy with its many themes can satisfy the variety of conflicting experiences to which Rabbi Soloveitchik refers. Indeed, just as "prayer does not proceed slowly along one straight path," so, too, out liturgy has leapt in a variety of directions creating that multicolored mosaic that is our prayer book.We cannot disagree with the poetry of this ending statement, especially since it quotes the words of our revered teacher, Rabbi Soloveitchik. Tapestry, paths, leaps and mosaics are all valid and pertinent to the metaphoric reveries that a devoted Jew may apply to descriptions of the act of prayer.
We are completing our own little, humble book that will add to the discussion of prayer a bit more -- the ability to speak of six independent and distinct categories of prayer and from that to generate a more accurate, analytical and discursive theological description and discussion of the contents of the siddur and of the acts of Jewish devotion that we call davening.