Rabbi Leonard Matanky

By Ellen Braunstein, Special to Chicago Jewish News

The Rabbinical Council of America has published a new modern siddur for the 21st century Orthodox community, its first in 35 years, filled with new, groundbreaking commentary and inspiring essays from contemporary rabbis and academicians as well as classic rabbinic teachings, some being published in English for the first time.

Rabbi Leonard Matanky of Congregation KINS in West Rogers Park served as an associate editor for the prayer book, which was ten years in the making. During that time, Matanky was president of the RCA.  Rabbi Gedalia Dov Schwartz, a scholar and halachic authority with the  Chicago Rabbinical Council, contributed an essay about prayer.

Rabbi Basil Herring, who served as executive vice president of the RCA from 2003 to 2012, was the editor in chief of the Siddur Avodat HaLev, released recently by Koren Publishers. Dozens of well-known rabbis and scholars from around the Jewish world worked under his editorial leadership.

The siddur is directed toward modern Orthodox Jewry, which sees itself as fully halachic while also embracing secular knowledge. “It’s geared more toward a readership that has a stronger Jewish education,” said Matanky, who is also dean of Ida Crown Jewish Academy.

Everything in the siddur is traditional, Matanky said, but there are services for communal observances of national holidays such as Israeli Independence Day and Jerusalem Day. The siddur incorporates special prayers and services for Yom Hashoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Other unique features include: additional prayers for life cycle events and the entire Book of Psalms in Hebrew and English.

“Some tough decisions were made on what to include,” Matanky said. “There’s so much you want to teach when a person has the opportunity to pray. You are trying to maintain a balance between a usable siddur and one that contains the depth of commentary.”

There is a conscious effort throughout to be sensitive to women’s prayer experiences, Matanky said, reflected in inclusive and halachically-approved prayer text variants, instructions, translations, commentary and women’s scholarship. For example, instead of using the traditional male-oriented language which invariably uses the male pronoun “he,” the siddur uses the more gender-inclusive pronoun, “one.” Or, in the Grace after Meals, it uses the expression, “esteemed companions” in place of “rabbotai,” and uses “head of the house” instead of “master of the house.”

A prayer for the government of the United States allows in Hebrew for the president to be male or female.

“Everything was reviewed and approved by Jewish legal authorities,” Matanky said. “It isn’t meant to be a radical change. It’s meant to be an improvement and continued growth.”

Matanky’s synagogue ordered 500 copies of the siddur, now in its second edition. “I remember when I received word that the siddurim had arrived. I rushed over to the synagogue and opened the box to hold the product. Even though I had seen, read and reread and edited portions of the siddur for a very long time, to hold it in my hands was a very good feeling of accomplishment.”

Matanky believes that using the new RCA Siddur Avodat HaLev “our community will be uplifted and informed, inspired and challenged as they engage G-d in a conversation that began with our forefathers and will continue forward with greater feeling and kavanah (concentration and devotion).”

To purchase copies of the Siddur Avodat Halev, go online to Amazon, or call 203-830-8508. The siddur is also available at local Jewish bookstores.

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