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A new Sefaradi Egalitarian Siddur

By Rabbi Adam Zagoria-Moffet

A Sefaradi egalitarian siddur. To some, that would seem to be a contradiction. However, not only are these two categories not in conflict, they complement each other. Here in the UK, all of our Masorti communities follow Ashkenazi rite prayers, all use German trope and European melodies, and most assume that Ashkenazi approaches to halakhah are the only valid ones. Why? Are we an Ashkenazi movement? The answer, of course, is yes and no.

Masorti Judaism has always been a de factoAshkenazi institution in Britain, but it isn’t a de jure identification and, I would suggest, it wouldn’t be a good idea to make it so. The Jewish Theological Seminary (JTS) in New York was founded in 1886 by two Sefaradi rabbis (Sabato Morais and Henry Pereira Mendes), and for the first twenty years or so, the Seminary was dedicated to being a place of Torah learning which would represent what Morais called the ‘enlightened Orthodoxy’ of his native Livorno.

Meanwhile, from the opposite angle, many Sefaradi hakhamim of the 18th and 19th centuries sound as though they are dyed-in-the-wool Masorti Jews. They were flexible and open with society around them, eager to adapt halakhah to the needs of peoples’ lives, willing to create space for women’s participation in ritual Jewish life, etc. To this day, a majority of Sefaradim in Israel identify themselves in demographic surveys as masorti. By that they typically mean that they are traditional, but modern; they go to synagogue in the morning and then to the beach in the afternoon.

So our Masorti™ movement has deep Sefaradi origins, and much of the Sefaradi world has values and practices in consonance with Masorti Judaism today. If so, then why aren’t there more Masorti Sefaradi communities? That reason has, unsurprisingly, more to do with community politics and boundary-policing than anything else. But despite those things, I believe there remains an essential overlap between Masorti Jews and Sefaradi ones.

It was as a result of this conundrum that I applied for a JTS grant three years ago now to create a Sefaradi egalitarian siddur, one that would be masorti as in Sefaradi identity and masorti as in Masorti Judaism. That effort has come to fruition, thanks to the help of many collaborators, chief among them Noam/EAJL’s Isaac Treuherz, and will be released on 3rd November as the aptly-named Siddur Masorti.

Siddur Masorti is a weekday siddur, with traditional liturgy from a variety of Sefaradi communities, along with a complete English translation and a complete romanisation/transliteration. It uses gender-neutral language for God (the singular ‘They’), and includes gender-inclusive versions of the prayers. It features custom artwork based on calligraphy from medieval Sefaradi manuscripts and beautiful full-colour illustration throughout.

Our hope has always been that a project such as this can prove that Masorti Judaism is not an Ashkenazi movement per se, and actually that there is a great deal of overlap and exchange which is fruitful both for Masorti Jews hoping to diversify their experience of Jewish ritual as well as for Sefaradi Jews hoping to experience Jewish life outside the confines of Ashkenazi-defined ‘Orthodoxy’. I am so proud that this mad idea has become a reality and look forward to sharing more about the Siddur with you at our launch on 3 November at SAMS.

Posted on 29 October 2019