Brighton Reform is split on Siddur

By Yael Breuer, June 4, 2009

The editor of the new Reform Siddur has defended the prayer book against accusations of political correctness in the wake of criticism by the movement’s Brighton congregation.

An EGM at Brighton and Hove Reform voted to adopt the Siddur by a 36-14 majority with one abstention. Dissenters included vice-chair Debra Goodman, who claimed that many members were unhappy about the translation from Hebrew into English.

“Hebrew is not a gender neutral language, so in order to be politically correct, the translated text has been distorted,” she maintained. “For example, the second line of the Shema has been translated as ‘Blessed is the knowledge of God’s glorious rule forever and ever’, in order to avoid using the word ‘kingdom’, even though the Hebrew does not speak of ‘knowledge’ or ‘glorious rule’.

“Furthermore, the translation of the first line of every berachah has been changed to ‘Blessed are You, our Living God, Sovereign of the universe’ , so as not to use ‘Lord our God’ and ‘King’ as they are not gender neutral.”

It was agreed that when used at Brighton Reform, “the new Siddurim would contain an insert explaining the translation problem”.

Minister Rabbi Charles Wallach said the insert would be “very helpful. I always want people to have as much knowledge at their disposal as possible.”

Siddur editor Rabbi Jonathan Magonet said this week that “the charge of political correctness has unfortunately become a way of deflecting anxieties and even preventing debate about some important changes about the roles of men and women in society and the language we use. Nevertheless, a progressive religious movement has to address this issue and this was one of the tasks set for the Siddur.”

The previous edition had been “challenged about some of the translations, but the Hebrew is always there for the sake of comparison.

“Where individuals expressed concern about what they saw as the clumsiness of some of the new translations in draft form, these were ironed out thanks to feedback from congregations.”

The Siddur’s “wholesale acceptance” by synagogues suggested that most members were happy with it.

Last updated: 10:42am, June 4 2009