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Wednesday, October 05, 2005

My Favorite Machzor

The search is finally over. I’ve found the perfect Machzor. A Machzor is a prayer book that is used on the High Holidays. The services on these days being as incredibly long as they are, it becomes very important to find a Machzor that is comfortable and convenient to use. For hours. And hours. And hours. I’m not kidding.

For the purposes of this blog, I’m going to limit the discussion to ArtScroll Machzors. Everyone knows ArtScroll has had the market for Jewish Prayer books wrapped up since the 80’s. There’s no sense in arguing about it. An ArtScroll prayer book brings with it all of the innovations that the company has brought to the Twentieth Century, or in Jewish years, the Fifty-Seventh Century. Like punctuation. And readable type. And ArtScroll has a consistent policy of including all the relevant prayers. So, while my wife seems to prefer prayer books that were last typeset in 1909, are usually missing pages or whole services, and often leave out individual prayers (instead leaving little place markers, like “kaddish” or “ledovid”, forcing you to start turning pages to try to figure out where these prayers are), the rest of the civilized world has moved on to ArtScroll. Boy, I bet I’m going to get a lot of ArtScroll Google hits now. ArtScroll ArtScroll. They should send me money. Or a free set of Haggadahs.

So let’s discuss the contenders:

Exhibit A: The Zichron Moshe Machzor

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This is the standard hardcover English/Hebrew edition used since the 1980’s. Yes, I know it’s Nusach Sfard. There are no Nusach Ashkenaz minyanim on the Milwaukee West Side. Deal with it.

Exhibit B: The Shirat Moshe Machzor

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This is the book I just bought, and to which I am composing this blog. I love you. Mmmmah! (that was a kiss sound)

Exhibit C: The mini Zicron Moshe Machzor

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This is the small, softcover edition of the Exhibit A that my son Curly was forced to use over the holidays.

OK, Exhibit B wins.

What, you want reasons?

Alright. First of all, Exhibit B has proportions that are thinner and wider than the other two. The advantage of that will be more clear in a moment, but suffice it to say that it is also more comfortable to hold as a result. You’re just gonna have to trust me on this.

Second, while Exhibits A and C have an English translation on every other page, Exhibit B is all Hebrew, which means that it has half the number of pages as the other two editions, and is therefore lighter. Well, not exactly half. The layout is different, because

Third, Exhibit B has NICE BIG LETTERS which makes it easy to read if you lay it on a table or shtender. Exhibit A has smaller, but still legible letters, which is fine, but if you spend a lot of time in front of a computer screen, and let’s face it, you all do, you’re going to need to hold this baby up to your face to read it. Exhibit C is a miniature version of Exhibit A, which means that anyone over 40 should not even consider considering it.

Fourth, and this is something that is very important to me, since I have a shtender (book stand). At least this time I did. That’s another blog. Anyway, there’s a real difference in the quality of these books which is related to the weight, proportions, and paper quality. It becomes apparent when you lay the book down on a table or shtender. Why would you want to do that? Well, the service can last six or seven hours. Believe me, you’re going to want to put the book down.

So if you put Exhibit A down, and open the page to, let’s say, Ashrei

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It looks OK as long as you’re holding the page open. But if you take your hand away…

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…the pages start turning…

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…all by themselves. So that you can’t leave the book alone for a minute. NOT ONE MINUTE! This can be both physically and mentally taxing.

Now let’s observe what happens when you open Exhibit B:

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…and leave it alone for a while:

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See? It stays put! So you can open your TorahGram or Gemorah or whatever reading material you brought along to the service and the book will be open to the exact page where you left it ten minutes ago, no doubt where the Chazzan is still kvetching away.

Now, just for completeness, if you were foolish enough to leave Exhibit C alone on a table, this is what you get:

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Exactly. Never put it down (sorry Curly).

And that brings me to my fifth point. There are a lot of extra piyutim (poems, or extra prayers) in place in Exhibit B. Normally I would consider this a detriment. Why not just exclude the extra prayers that nobody ever says? But in this case, for the High Holy Days, I consider it a plus. Why?

Let’s say you are stuck in shul staring at the same page for about 20 minutes while the Chazzan drones on, and on….and on…and ON…AND ONNNN…GOOD GRAVY GET ME A GUUUUNNNNN!!!! Huh? Where was I? Oh yeah, the Chazzan is kvetching arain for a good 20 minutes on the same page, and you feel like you’re not getting anywhere. Then suddenly, you see some unfamiliar small type on the next page:

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And you realize that it’s something that your shul (or any other that you’ve ever been in) never says. You start turning page…

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…after page…

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..after page! Suddenly, you feel like you’re making progress! The feeling of elation you get from rapidly turning pages after you’ve been stuck on the same one for half an hour cannot be described! You have to experience it!

So for this and many other reasons that I can’t remember, I highly recommend Exhibit B. And although Rosh Hashana is over, Yom Kippur is right around the corner. Now go out there and buy one!


Anonymous said...

Personally, I prefer the Metsudah machzor.

Mirty said...

It seems there's always a lot of whispered
"Where are we?"
"I think we're here"
"In the middle of the paragraph"
"Is that possible?"
"I'm afraid so..."

So I think I understand the joy of flipping through many pages at one shot... Progress is being made! There will be food, eventually! After a speech and a thousand announcements!

Shana Tova!

Essie said...

The vivid way you describe the machzor's difference and the pictures just made me crack up. I didn't know there was a Hebrew only Artscroll machzor-does it come in nusach Ashkenaz?


we now see where pt gets her "P" from

GregoryT said...

Baruch Hashem, I spent RH at Kollel Torah Mitzion. No "chazzan droning" and a lot of group singing. It was almost as good as a Moshe Skier Band concert. Just extra turning of the pages to skip the piyutim.

Jaime said...

If you can't understand the hebrew, then how does it offer any meaning? And when the Chazan is "droning on...." one's mind starts to wander. Again, how does one keep concentration and truly become focus on why we are suppose to be there? It can be quite boring and difficult.

Personally, I find it more meaningful when I am not in services. A walk in the woods, etc...where beauty, complexity of life and quiet is all around. This to me is more moving and a valuable teaching tool for children.

MC Aryeh said...

Rosh HaShanah without a machzor filled with thys and thous and doeseths?! Bordering on heresy there, PT. And yet....after the visuals you provided, I feel compelled to go out and purchase Artscroll machzor B...the pages really didn't turn at all? did you try blowing on them or aiming a fan in their direction?

Mirty said...

I think you're too young for a shtender.

PsychoToddler said...

I apologise to everyone for the lack of pictures. Photobucket seems to be down. I could try to move the pictures, but I think they'll be back up soon.

any: I never liked the metzuda siddurs. The interlinear stuff is too distracting. But that's just me. Obviously if you don't know or understand hebrew, this particular machzor won't be for you. The regular English/Hebrew Artscroll would be the next one I recommend. I don't care for the one where they put the hebrew in backwards on top of the english (the socalled "intralinear" version). That one makes me hallucinate.

Mirty: it's a major catharsis, is it not?

essie: I don't know. They don't sell those kinds around here. Look at their web site.

amshi: was there ever any doubt?

gregory: I abandoned the big shul a few years ago and now go to the shteeble for RH and YC. I daven much better there. And you could have heard a Moshe Skier Band concert there if you had come, because I did the Haftorah (and mincha too, but that was less impressive).

McAryeh: for the sake of scientific purity, i should say that if you sit next to a large blowing fan, there is a chance the page will turn. Put a kleenex box on top of it.

Mirty: I'm too young for a bad back too!

DovBear said...

My favorite machzor is the zichron lipa (http://www.artscroll.com/Books/mprh.html) a pocket size ashkenaz machzur that goes with me even when I have the misfortune of davening with the sefardim.

Pocket size is better (for as long as my eyes last) because I can hold it in my hand, easilly and comfortably. And if it closes by itself, you know what I do? I take THREE SECONDS and flip it back to the right page. THREE SECONDS.

I'll happily pay those three second as often as needed if it means I get a machzor that is light, and can be held easily with one hand.

Pocket sized rules.

PsychoToddler said...

Dovbear, you're a young whippersnapper, you are. I'd need a microscope for that one.

My son used one very similar to it, and he indicated on multiple occasions that he was not happy with it.

DovBear said...

I love the Lipa. I've davened out of it for 15 straight years and it wouldn't be RH without it.

If your son had a SOFT COVERED mini, that might be the problem. I agree: the soft covered machzarim are no good.

My Lipa has a hard cover.

PsychoToddler said...

Jaime, I wanted to comment separately on what you said. I had this conversation with my wife yesterday (who davens in the big shul). Her point was, if people hate listening to chazanus so much (as I contend), why do they keep bringing him back? Obviously, it must be meaningful to most of the people there.

I still think that it may be meaningful to people who either a) love opera, or b) are over 70. Most people my age sit there and tolerate it. There may be a few sections where the tune is pretty and you get a certain feeling from it. I'd probably say that adds up to about 15 minutes. The rest is just shlepping, and my mind wanders and starts to remind me that I'd rather be just about anyplace else. That to me is not a holy experience.

And I imagine to many once-a-year jews, it confirms to them why they don't step foot in a shul for the other 364 days of the year.

Give me a good brisk davening that keeps the pages turning and my mouth moving and the blood pumping, and I'll have a great spritual experience.

PsychoToddler said...

Dovbear: yes, he has the softcover one. I love the soft cover siddur, which I've used for the last 18 years, but for a long service like RH or YC, it's really not too comfortable. The hardcover one is similar to the large scale one, or exhibit A in my post, and has all of the shortcomings of that one plus small print. But i guess it's ok if you have small hands. It is the lightest of the hardcover editions and quite portable.

If you're happy with what you've got, hey, stick with it. I just love my new one. I'm going to hug it and call it George.

Ezzie said...

That George thing is a bit scary. I gotta agree with DB, prefer the pocket-sized. Think about it this way - you're not reading from 3 feet away - when you're sitting, it's about 1 foot away; when standing, either it's on a shtender or you're holding it. The larger type will hurt your eyesight in both of those cases, because you're trying to read faster even though the words aren't all in front of you (so you're moving your eyes the whole time to compensate). I'm not a doc, but I know what hurts my eyes more...

And why can't the shul have any Ashkenaz siddurim? People are only required to be the same on 'public' parts of davening (kedusha, etc) - so why not have a few in case someone like me shows up, and doesn't have a siddur. I never understood that, and it always bothered me a bit on the West Side.

Jewish Blogmeister said...

What about This Machzor Truly my favorite!

PsychoToddler said...

Ezzie: there are a handful of Ashkenazic siddurim in the shul. You have to know where to look. Also a few Chabad ones.

JB: That one gives me a headache. But I guess it's good if you really want to know what each and every word means. In real time. And you're good at multitasking. And reading backwards.

Ezzie said...

Sorry... you said above you 'left the big shul and went to the shteeble'? Eisenbach's davens Sfard, or am I lost?

PsychoToddler said...


Jordan Hirsch said...

If you are uising an all hebrew one, why not go with the more carefully edited Koren or Rinat Yisrael Machzorim. for crying out loud, must we continue to stuff dollars into Artscroll;s pockets every time they sneeze. Isn't it bad enough that they get "Gv'irim" to finance production of their new books, and then charge lots of money for them, so that they can insanely increase their profit margins?

Shmiel said...

anybody still use the old "Kol Bo" I don't they are in print anymore but they were the end all and be all before AS came along with a "Chareidi" translation.

Anonymous said...

English translations mean that one progresses twice as rapidly through the pages. Even if said translation is really, REALLY pedantic.

- Moishe Potemkin

Frummer????? said...

Artscroll ROCKS!

Mirty said...

I'm going to hug it and call it George

For the life of me! I remember the voice, I can hear it in my head, but I can't place it. Help me out.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...


how about this one?

I shall call him squishy and he shall be mine and he shall be my squishy.

People Talking about Hhazans:

The shul i grew up mostly at's old hhazan retired a few years ago. Then they got for us (the 'alternate' minyan) the son of the famous hhazan who leads the main minyan. I can barely stand davening there anymore. He uses so many tunes that are just similar enough to the old tunes to make me remember the old tunes and then disappoint me with his oh-so-wrong variants on them. Everything was much better in Israel, where i had no reason to expect my old hhazan's style of doing things, and they had a completely different semi-hippie/carlebach singalong style with completely different (but good) tunes. Now all i can do is feel guilty about spending Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur thinking horrible thoughts about the new hhazan and how much i want him to go away :-P . I don't think i'm going home to my parents for Yom Kippur next week... need to find a new random shul, preferably Israeli-like.

PsychoToddler said...

Jordan: Nothing beats ArtScroll for clarity of text, consistant layout, and completeness. I haven't been impressed with the others. Before ArtScroll came around we used the Birnbaum ones, which were decent.

Shmeil: I have very vague memories of the Kol-Bo ones. For some reason, they remind me of the Tikun Mayer Siddur that my wife loves so much. That's the one where, to conserve space, they omit certain prayers that are printed elsewhere in the book, like "Shmoneh Esrei". Did Kol Bo do that?

Moishe: How right you are! But that was only one of the criteria. If you don't understand Hebrew, some kind of translation is a must, even if it's pedantic. Otherwise you're just mumbling gibberish. Like I do when I say Piyutim.

Hey Frummer! I mean Frummer?

Mirty: Of Mice and Men, as channeled through Bugs Bunny.

Steg: I think you got what I was trying to say, on a few levels. I'll agree with you about the tunes too. I hate hearing a tune and then having them be a few notes wrong. I noticed that in NY we learned the tune for "Adoshem Adoshem Kel Rachum" (before taking the torah out) one way, but in the midwest, they seem to sing the harmony part instead. I find if I still sing it my way, it blends.

But anyway, your point about how you feel when you're sitting in shul hating the davening is exactly how I feel. I don't want to 'suffer' through the yomim noraim. And I don't want to associate the services with something that's unbearable. And that's what I feel like in the big shul, and that's why I started davening at the shteeble. I enjoy my davening there. I'm an integral part of the minyan and I feel useful. And I can daven at my pace and not feel bored.

I wish some of the other people around here would understand that and get off of my case.

Steg (dos iz nit der šteg) said...

When I lived Out On The Island for a few years when i was little, we sang the end of "Uvenuhho" for putting back the Torah with the following tune/phrase breaks:

...derakhéha / darkhey no‘am / vekhol nesivoseha / shalom / hashiveinu / H' eilékha / venashuva / hhadeish yameinu, keqedem.

But it seems as if everyone else on the planet sings it:

... ... / shalom / hashiveinu H' / eilékha venashuva / hhadeish yameinu / keqedem.

I have the same problem with ‘Aleinu. No one seems to sing it the same way as i learned in kindergarten. Oh, and Bentshing, too. I can't stand that almost-but-not-quite-right tune my friends who went to Conservative summer camps use :-P .

I also find Feeling Useful an important part of the davening experience. In college i used to hhazan and lein all the time, but that just doesn't work in the Grown Up World where shuls have professional hhazans and Torah-readers.

Shira Salamone said...

Well, obviously, given my Hebrew comprehension skills, I'd be the last one in line for an all-Hebrew siddur, though, nes gadol hayah sham, last week I actually managed to finish the silent Musaf, almost completely in Hebrew, just barely in time to catch my beloved Un'taneh Tokef.

Re harmony bimkom melody, bingo! There's a certain tune for Adon Olam for which people seem to have forgotten the melody altogether. As a former synagogue-choir singer who's been singing harmony since my teens, it amuses me no end that I actually find myself the only person in the entire room singing the melody, for once.

Conservative Apikoris said...

Oh, you think ArtScroll is hot stuff? Well machzorim with legible typeface date from at least 1939 when the Silverman (Conservative) Machzor. The last reprinting was about 10 years ago, I think the're still selling them. We still use it.

Actually, the Hebrew text is the same as the Orthodox (1939 Conservative Judaism was like modern Orthodox is today).

And the C's are finally getting around to publishing a replacement for the 1970's era Harlow monstrosity (there's a reason we still use Silverman), that over slimmed-down version with no piyyutim and unreadable purple typefaces. I got to see an advance edition, and I think the C's are about to knock the socks off of Artscroll, with a good translation and a commentary that a modern person can read without gagging or giggling.

They will have to eliminate the horrible orange typeface thy're suing for the headings and transliterations, however.

The other problem is that they will need to price t competively, something that the USCJ/RA seems to have a problem with. (You thing Artscroll price-gouges? Go check out the price for Etz Chayim, the Conservative Chumash and see out to compare with that of the Artscroll Stone Chumash. The Reform, by the way, know what they're doing, the Plaut Chumash is competitvely priced.)

JoeCool said...

If you really want to see a truly abominable and unusable mahzor, take a look at Art Scroll transliterated mahzor. It makes the interlinear one seem like a model of clarity.

PsychoToddler said...

For those of you who still haven't figured it out, this post was tongue-in-cheek.