Monday, December 28, 2009

Why use a siddur

First, a disclaimer: I don’t always use a siddur [prayerbook]. I normally daven at shuls which are nusach sfard, and I am an Ashkenazi boy. Nusach Sfard siddurim are a distraction, and I often leave my own pocket siddur in the wrong pockets.

Nonetheless, I believe that one should use a siddur, and particularly for the amidah. Aside from the halachic reasons favoring siddur-based prayer (see, for example, the Rama in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 99:3 and 100:1, and Mishneh Berurah 53:87), there are many other reasons why one should use a siddur. Among them:

A siddur guarantees that you don’t miss words or get lost in the middle of the Shir Shel Yom for Wednesday;

A siddur held before your chest can protect you from stray bullets, and earn you a wonderful story you can tell for decades to come, assuming your siddur has enough pages to do the job;

A siddur can assure that you won’t be interrupted during davening by a well-meaning friend who thinks you want to know the latest football score. Staring into a siddur clarifies for the world that, yes, you are davening;

A siddur of sufficient weight anchors you, keeping you from wandering too far across the shul and away from your makom.

A siddur – assuming you look into its pages and do not only hold it closed upon your heart, its shieldworthiness notwithstanding – can focus your eyes so that they don’t wander around the room and make contact with mine twice during your amidah, giving the false impression that you are daydreaming rather than davening.

And a siddur is an accessory, even a fashion statement, a way for you to affiliate with those who are like-minded. Artscroll, Koren, RCA, Birnbaum, Tikkun Meir, Shiloh, etc, all of these send important messages about your identity. Note that this is especially important in your shidduch years.

The classic, timeless, siddur: It’s the way to go.


  1. Along the same lines- Use a bentcher, so that you don't accidentally end up in Al Hamichya.

  2. I do use a siddur often, but I don't find that it helps all that much. I often lose track of the text in front of my eyes and lose my place the same way I would if I didn't have a siddur. I have never been shot during davening. (I agree that it wards off annoying friends, although it has no effect whatsoever on schnorrers). Heavy siddurim hurt my arms especially as I have some kind of carpal-tunnel thing going on. I often find that if I keep my eyes open and look around it actually increases my kavvanah. I know some people might be skeptical and I don't claim that it always works like that, but it often does. In fact the only time that I find a siddur really focuses my attention on the page is when I use a Sfard siddur ( I daven ashkenaz) it makes me focus better.
    I guess, I find it easier to concentrate when I'm distracted. I always hate working in a focused way and I guess davening in a focused way for me is also distracting. Does anyone else find that?

  3. There is an idea in Kabbalah and Chassidus that shapes of the letters (and even nekudos) have holiness which is actually higher in its source that the holiness of the contents. Therefore, just like it is necessary to verbalize one's prayers it is also a good idea to look at the letters while davening.

  4. Anonymous 7:35 PM-
    Good point, thanks.

    It increases kavvanah? How?

    Glad that works for you. For me, that additional layer would be more distracting...

  5. For a few years in college, i would routinely daven by heart while holding a Hebrew-English siddur and following the translation with my eyes as i was reciting the Hebrew words. I found it was great for my kavvana, but it only worked well with siddurs that have "less literary" translations that follow the Hebrew word-for-word (or at least phrase-for-phrase) instead of reshuffling the sentence elements into better-sounding English.

  6. Well, I just find that when I am forced to focus too much it make me lose concentration, but when I have slight distractions, I can concentrate better. I think that's why many people cannot study unless they are listening to music. It's why I always leave a blog, or game or something open in another window on my computer so that I can toggle back a forth every now and then instead of working straight. It's not a break, really, just a quick distraction. Same thing with davening. If all I can do is focus on the davening, my mind starts to wander even with the siddur in front of me. If I can notice, just at the periphery of my consciousness some of the goings on around me, it actually sharpens my focus. Or if I'm looking at a siddur with a different nusach I"m actually forced to think about the meaning of the words. In fact, this sounds crazy, but I have the best kavvanah when I'm driving.

  7. I think a lot depends on your mood. If you're in a rush, looking at a siddur can help you sow down and focus. On the other hand, all things being equal, I generally get more out of davening with my eyes closed for the Amidah. Many of the meditative techniques of our tradition can only be done this way. Praying with eyes closed creates a kind of space that separates you from the distractions around you, and helps to create a feeling of standing before the Shechinah.

  8. A siddur held before your chest can protect you from stray bullets
    I have a kevlar cover for my siddur just for this very purpose. ;)

  9. Steg-
    I hear, although I prefer the less-literal approach.

    Interesting. Do you think of this state as lechatchilah or bedieved?

    That sometimes works for me, too. Although if it's maariv or shacharis, I can fall dangerously close to sleep...

    Kevlar? You!? Why not just let them bounce off the emblem on your chest?

  10. Jack-
    Kevlar? You!? Why not just let them bounce off the emblem on your chest?

    Better to let the man upstairs take the credit.

  11. Please don't forget the benefit of isometric exercise derived from holding a siddur, besides, I find that I have to constantly work on my
    Hebrew reading skills - I still haven't caught on.

  12. Schvach-
    Yes, the isometrics are a good point; the siddur as a multitasking device!