Geek alert - sefer barrier stuff
Rabbi David Ingber at Zeek

Ivrit & francais

On a recent trip to a bookstore in Brookline, I picked up a tiny present for myself: a mini-siddur (travel-sized, for easy davenen on the road!) which is different from any of the other siddurim I own: it's printed in Hebrew and in French. (It's a mini version of this livre de prières.) I was fluent in French fifteen years ago, but I'm awfully rusty now; I figured it would be fun to daven from time to time with a siddur where the vernacular translation was in another tongue, and it might even improve my French.

When I first picked it up I was tickled to see familiar language in, well, unfamiliar language! Béni soit à jamais le nom de son règne glorieux, for instance, for "Blessed be His glorious name, forever and ever" (or, in Reb Zalman's rendition, "Through time and space Your glory shines, Majestic One.") Or Louez l'Éternel. Il est seul digne de louanges in lieu of "Blessed is Adonai, the blessed One."

I've used it a few times, and I've discovered a couple of things. One is that I don't actually need the vernacular side of the page. I often daven some in English when I'm using Kol Haneshamah, the Reconstructionist siddur (currently my favorite), because some of the English text is just so good! (And I love that there's a Mary Oliver poem as a footnote on the page with Yishtabach, at the end of the preliminary service of songs and psalms -- I read it every morning.) But given a siddur where the vernacular doesn't draw me, I can stick to the Hebrew pretty comfortably. That's a nice feeling.

Another is that I have different liturgical needs in English than I do in French. It's clear that this translation is a much stiffer, more gendered version than I'm used to using...but because it's in a language not my own, I don't object to the stilted language, the lack of poetry, or the relentlessly masculine references to a Holy Blessed One I know to be beyond gender. It's not in English, so I don't feel I have to "believe" this exact version of the words in front of me.

This shouldn't feel like a revelation. I often use Hebrew text that isn't gender-neutral, that draws on metaphors for God which aren't necessarily satisfying to me or sufficient for me in English. Then again, when I daven in Hebrew I'm looking for poetry and rhythm, and for connection with the old words we've been saying for centuries. In the vernacular, I'm looking for something slightly different.

Really the oddest thing for me about this prayerbook is all the stuff about the akedah, the near-sacrifice of Isaac, in the early part of the service -- which I'm aware is in Artscroll, but has never been a part of my morning worship. And I'm finding that sometimes when I glance from ivrit to francais, and then reach mentally for a word, I find it in the language I wasn't looking for. But otherwise, using a Hebrew-French siddur doesn't really change my experience much. Go figure.

Technorati tags: , , .