Rav Soloveitchik Kinot and Other Books about Prayer
The hottest new publication in the Orthodox book world (I admit we’re not exactly talking about a NYTimes best seller, but nonetheless…) is clearly the Koren Mesorat Ha-Rav Kinot published by Koren and OU Press and edited by Rabbi Simon Posner. It features a running commentary of the kinot based on the teachings of Rav Soloveitchik zt”l, as well as a new English translation by Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch Weinreb and a basic halakha section prepared by Rabbi Gil Student. It is also includes the English translation of the siddur by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, and the English translation of Eikha found in the Koren Bible.
The commentary from Rabbi Soloveitchik is largely based on material previously published in The Lord is Righteous in All His Ways: Reflections on the Tish’ah be-Av Kinot (2006), edited by Rabbi Jacob J. Schacter, where it was presented thematically and conceptually. The challenge (and novelty) of this work was to find a way to present the insights in a consise and simple enough manner to make it user-friendly for siddur readers, without diluting the sophisticated material. To make this work, the page must be aesthetically pleasing without the commentary cluttering the flow of the texts, especially if one wants to preserve the poetic nature of the text in both the original and the translation. (After all, not everyone is going to read the Rav’s comments everytime, especially as they recite the kinot in shul). However, the commentary cannot be so detached from the kinah that one cannot match the text with the comments.
To a certain extent, the editors of this work were stuck between a rock and a hard place. Nonethless, the final result is rather impressive, even as a preference was given to making this a user-friendly kinah for the casual user. Each kinah is presented without commentary, giving the page a clean feel that makes it easy to follow the translation on the opposite side (as with the Koren Siddur, the Hebrew page is on the left side) as well as to recite the prayer. At the end of each kinah, the reader is then directed to the page number of the next kinah, as the Rav’s commentary (which can include several pages) is included after each kinah. I found it occasionally difficult to find the text to which the commentary was referring (and then of course one has to flip back and forth between the text and the commentary), but overall I prefered having the material remain substantive and coherent.
The kinot also feature a Reshimot section which includes halakhic and philosophical insights related to Tisha Be’Av that are not directly connected to the kinot. This section is a very successful consise presentation of some of the Rav’s central themes about the day and its meaning, even as I miss the drama, eloquence, and development of the oral shiurim that have been transcribed in Rabbi Schacter’s volume and elsewhere.
The volume was dedicated in honor of Rabbi Haskel Lookstein, who included an interesting introductory essay that recalled a 1968 shiur by the Rav explaining why we still commemorate this day after the Six-Day War.
I like the fact that they included kinot related to the Holocaust, even as the Rav objected to them (as noted in the introduction), as their recitation has become standard in most shuls. In addition to the kinot composed by Rabbi Shimon Schwab and the Bobover Rebbe (known from their inclusion in the Artscroll kinot), the editors also included “Eli, Eli” by Yehuda Leib Bailer and a kinah written by Rabbi Abraham Rosenfeld (whose own kinot are distributed by Soncino Press).
I did not have the opporuntity to thoroughly examine the accuracy of Rabbi Weinreb’s translation (nor do I see myself as qualified to pass judgment). I will note, however, that whatever its accuracy (which is incredibly difficult, given the poetic nature of the original), the text flows and reads nicely, and will be enjoyed by those who read the text primarily in English.
Overall, this work is a significant accomplishment, and the editors and publishers should be saluted for this contribution to our community and the legacy of the Rav.
Other books of interest about prayer: By now, most people have seen the Koren Siddur with the translation and commentary by Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Since I reviewed the contribution of Rabbi Sacks when the British version of the siddur was published, I won’t repeat what I said there, except to reitterate that the introduction to the siddur remains, in my mind, the best (concise) introduction to Jewish prayer currently available.
In case you missed it, Koren/OU also published a Hebrew-only siddur (“Talpiot“) with English instructions and halakha section. I enjoy using it on a daily basis – the print is clean and sharp, it is light and compact, and the halakha section is done well.
Coming Soon: The Koren Mesorat HaRav Siddur and the Revised RCA Artscroll Siddur (no, it will not say Sefer Zichron Ploni on it!). Once these two volumes are published, the current revolution of modern Orthodox Hebrew-English siddurim will be complete. I hope that this will begin a new stage in modern Orthodox, My suggestion for the next project: A new Chumash for shul use.
Also of Interest: Siddur ha-Tefillah: Philosophy, Poetry, and Mystery [Hebrew] (Yediot Sefarim). Prof. Eliezer Schweid, an Israel Prize Laureate and long-time professor of Jewish philosophy at the Hebrew University, has written a commentary to the siddur, with additional thoughts on prayer as a whole.
Yud Gimel Midot Shel Rachamim by Rabbi Ezra Bick. A thorough analysis and interpretation of each midat rachamim. I hope to discuss this book further in Elul, but you should order ahead in time for Selichot.
A Time To Speak: Controversial Essays that Can Change Your Life by Martin Stern (Devorah Publishing). (Despite its subtitle, the bulk of the book is a commentary to the siddur and synagogue life).