7/18/2005

The ArtScroll Women's Siddur: Men and Women, Dumb and Dumber

Where to begin?

ArtScroll wants to have their cake and eat it, too. They've created an entirely new genre, an entirely new custom for women's prayer, and taken it upon themselves to present complex and disputed issues in a one-sided manner, ignoring age-old customs and halakhic positions, and yet market the thing as though it's something that your alter bubbe davened from. This isn't 'old wine in new vessels'. On the contrary (adderabbah!), it's new wine in old vessels.

The issue of women and zimmun is a travesty. They mention that it's 'not the accepted custom' for a woman to ever lead a zimmun. A full explanation of the issue is a separate post, but suffice it to say that the majority of Rishonim (Rosh, Ritva, R' Yonah) consider it an obligation. Ther are even several Rishonim (R' Yehuda Ha-Kohen and R' Simcha of Vitri, cited in the Tur and BY, OC 199) who hold that 3 Jewish men and women, in any combination, constitute an obligation to be mezamen. Rashi and Tosafot (Brachot 45b) consider it optional, with Tosafot giving specific examples of daughters of Ba'alei Ha-Tosafot who were mezamnot. The Ba'alei Tosafot give no indication that they 'frown upon' these women, but go out of their way to justify the prevalent custom of women who are not mezamen. If it's optional, then the fact that people choose not to doesn't mean that the custom is not to! Most people chose not to. Some women choose to. Why has ArtScroll taken it upon themselves to eliminate an optional observance simply because most people opted out? Why is that choice better than the other choice?

The majority position is that women don't say kaddish yatom. The minority position is that they may. ArtScroll 'paskens' that it's 'generally frowned upon'. They are adamant enough about this that it's mentioned at every opportunity. The thing is, there's this book that I have called the Torah. In it there's this commandment (Shemot 22:21-23) that God seems pretty serious about. It's called not tormenting widows and orphans. Isaiah (Chapter 1 - it'll be the Haftarah in a few weeks, and it's a pretty ugly one) had a lot to say about people who were concerned with their own personal worship (in those days, sacrifice; today, prayer) to pay too much attention to the widows and orphans. Isaiah compares their insensitivity and selfishness to that of the destroyed city of Sodom. I don't know about you, Reb Art, but I try to make it my habit not to 'frown upon' orphans. You want to take a position that women shouldn't say Kaddish? Fine. But to generate a sense that one who does is doing something wrong, and to insure that any woman who does will draw the glares and frowns of everyone in the women's section who happens to be using this siddur, well, read your own commentary on Chumash. I know, the Stone Tanach isn't up to Yeshayahu yet, so we can't expect your readership to be familiar with it.

In Temple times, will ArtScroll discourage women from offering a Korban Todah? In Israel, at least, women universally bentch gomel. Again, ArtScroll asserts that this isn't the prevalent custom. Why? Because American Orthodox women are ignorant of this Halakha? In my religion, that's called a minhag ta'us - a mistaken minhag. ArtScroll is canonizing stupidity.

All told, perhaps the most insidious problem here is the desire not to confuse people with reality If there are two options for a woman when it comes to zimmun, the ArtScroll generation starts having conniptions. 'BUT WHAT ARE WE SUPPOSED TO DO???'. So there can be no complexity, nothing left up to the reader's discretion, nothing left up to differing sensibilities, instincts, intuitions, or customs. ArtScroll seeks to treat adults as children.

I guess this is fitting now that they've finished their shas. The grand project to take all of the intellectual effort out of learning Gemara, of demolishing whatever shred of true ambition in Torah that was left in the typical American baalabus, they now embark on the next big project. Apparently, they felt that the dumbed-down men-folk were dangerously close to that of their balabustas. Thus, further dumbing down the women is a great service to Klal Yisrael, as it keeps the 'pants' where they need to be.

God help us all.

[UPDATE: The Siddur comes in 3 COLORS! Rosedale SiennaWedgewood Royal Blue,
Rosedale Sienna, and Ultra White.
Personally, I think it's very misleading for them to sell this siddur as 'Ultra White'.]

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