Book Review: Nehalel beCholBy
Edited and translated by Michael Haruni, introduction by Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cordozo
Nevarech Press 2016
Reviewed by Rebecca Klempner
The new Nehalel beChol adds an unfamiliar twist to the prayer book: photos.
Many readers may recall the outstanding Nevarech bentcher; loaded with color photographs connecting the verses of Birkat Hamazon to life in Israel, it has sold over half a million copies since its release nearly two decades ago. (Confession: my husband and I selected Nevarech to use for our wedding.) Now its creator, Michael Haruni, has created a set of siddurim (Nahalel beShabbat for Shabbos and Nehalel beChol for weekdays) that build on Nevarech’s unique appeal. When offered a free copy to review, I leaped at the chance.
Firstly, any user of Nehalel will have to adjust to its weight. Due to the large, glossy pages and sturdy cover, Nehalel weighs more than most prayer books. Those who use it will be most comfortable if they pray at a shtender or table.
Flipping Nehalel open, I immediately found a photo of the Kotel on the frontispiece; a photo of sunrise at Masada illustrates the title page. These images set the tone in two ways: by uplifting the soul to connect to higher aspirations, and by setting Nehalel apart as a quintessentially Zionist siddur. The Zionist theme continues all the way to the end of the siddur, where Haruni includes special prayers for Yom HaZikaron and Yom HaAtzmaut.
Well-known scholar Rabbi Dr. Nathan Lopes Cordozo wrote introduction. Although Rabbi Cordozo has a reputation for edginess, I found his words here simultaneously erudite, moving, and instructive. My favorite line: “The prayer book is meant to be a volume not of words, but of musical notes. When a great musician plays Mozart, he doesn’t actually play ‘Mozart;’ rather, he borrows Mozart’s notes and plays his own music on these notes. He releases Mozart’s musical notes from their confinement and carries them beyond themselves…The praying man plays his inner symphony on the musical notes of Israel’s great composers, its Sages (pp. xix-xx).”
Haruni took particular care in choosing the photos for Shemoneh Esrei – where they are fewer, and show only the sky or the landscapes of Eretz Yisrael – and in Shema – where he illustrated only the later paragraphs. Clearly, he wanted to avoid any direct conflict between the words of the prayers – directed to a bodiless and invisible Being – and concrete images. Elsewhere, we see not only photos of inspirational moments of Jewish history – the liberation of the Kotel in 1967, the release of prisoners following the Shoah, Operations Magic Carpet and Solomon – but Jews of all ages, colors, and levels of ability (a couple photos highlight Jews in wheelchairs or otherwise disabled). Opposite the conclusion of Birkat Hamazon, for example, we see a silver-haired, smiling woman who illustrates the words “Naar hayiti gam zakanti, v’lo ra’iti tzaddik ne’ezav, v’zaro mvakesh lachem – By the time my youth is passed and I have aged, I should never see a righteous person abandoned, his children begging bread.”
That passage also highlights another quality of Nehalel: its translation. Haruni did the translations himself, and they definitely vary from what I’ve seen in other prayer books. According to the preface, he based his translation not only on the literal meaning, but on commentaries, and added a somewhat contemporary spin on certain parts of the text. Two examples: Since some opinions hold that the statement I quoted above from bentching is prophetic, not reflecting our current state of affairs, that’s how Haruni translated it. Similarly, in the blessings before Shema, he translated, “yotzer or u’voreh choshech, oseh shalom u’voreh et hakol,” as “Inventor of light and Creator of darkness, Producer of peace and Creator of everything,” in an attempt to distinguish between the three different words yotzer, voreh, and oseh, which is not usually apparent in other translations of this text.
The font used by Haruni is clear, and neither too large nor too small, most similar to the Koren siddur. He provides useful explanations, written in blue type wherever necessary.
How people respond to Nehalel beChol will depend on many factors. Some less Modern readers might find the images of women discomfiting, as well as the presence not only of Zionist prayers but of other additions, such as services for Yom HaShoah and Zeved HaBat. On the other hand, these characteristics will add to the appeal for many in the Modern Orthodox/Daati Leumi audience.
Two of my children found the photos enhanced their kavanah, but the other two found the pictures very distracting. Personally, I found that even though I loved the images of skies and fields of grain and flowers, the depictions of people and historical events pulled my head out of my tefillos. I got a great deal of pleasure from the truly inclusive photos, but they also made me want to look up their context rather than pray!
My suspicion is that Nehalel siddurim will have their lovers and their haters, filling a niche for many while being left by the wayside for others.
To see more images from the Nehalel or to place an order, visit www.nehalel.com
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