No doubt the new Koren Sacks Rosh Hashanah Machzor is a deal for us Jews in the pews - 1000 beautiful pages for $22.
The typesetting by Koren Israel is immaculate. No printer we know of surpasses the aesthetics of the Koren Hebrew prayerbooks.
The theology of Rabbi Sacks is without peer. No interpreter we know of surpasses his ability to portray the graces and meanings of Jewish religious ideas.
Yet, we have two issues with the new book.
One, we have not adjusted to the in-to-out result of having Hebrew on the left and English on the right. That set up forces both pages to read from inside the binding to the outside of the page. All previous editions, before Koren-Sacks, had Hebrew on the right and English on the left. That resulted in reading both from the outer edge of the page to the inner edge at the binding.
Issue number two, we do not accept the status quo in Jewish thought, where mainly dry theological approaches are applied to the readings of the liturgy. In many synagogues, it is common to hear that worshipers are bored with the services or alienated from them. In our new book, we criticize previous approaches to the prayer book because they offer no solution to this state of affairs. And that includes the Chief Rabbi and his eloquent but mainly theological introduction to his Siddur and to the present volume.
Liturgy is not dry theology. Instead, we show in our new volume how the traditional Jewish services are filled with colorful pictures, evoking sentiments and passions of diverse personalities, and full of exhilaration.
Rabbi Sacks makes many statements about the grandeur of the prayers. And he does recognize the complexity of the compiled prayerbook.
But then he goes on to tell us what it all means. To be specific: he tells us what he thinks it all means in theological terms.
We need more opportunities to do liturgy as liturgy. We need books that help provoke the thinking that will make readers stop to find their own personal threads of liturgical meanings and discover the energy and excitement of the prayers.
The prayers of the days of awe are widely diverse, emotionally resonant classics of many competing forms of religious expression.
The harmonization of the prayer book into smooth theological tropes that describe the deity does not serve sufficiently to expose the grand dramatic interior impact of our Jewish liturgy. Discussion of the historical origins of the prayers does not begin to illuminate the emotional power that our services have, first to raise, and then to resolve the essential spiritual needs of the Israelites in the sanctuary.
Indeed, the prayer process needs to be much more about us, the Jews in the pews.