Navigate to News section

Birnbaum Siddur, Philip Birnbaum (1977)

The prayer book we think of when we say ‘prayer book’

by
Menachem Butler
September 17, 2013

One downside to the explosion of prayer books published over the past generation by each denomination is how the Birnbaum edition has fallen into near disuse. Forgotten, though often found tucked away on the back bookshelf of legions of synagogues, are tattered copies of prayer books for daily, Sabbath, festival, and High Holiday use translated and edited by the late Philip Birnbaum (d. 1988), a man who was justly described by The Hebrew Publishing Company as “the most obscure bestselling author.” Polish-born Birnbaum studied at Dropsie College in Philadelphia and made it his life’s mission to translate and publish works into English to popularize Jewish liturgy for a uniquely American audience. His ability to balance sensitive literary translation with a thorough and unfaddish understanding of the way tradition works in practice helped to raise a generation of Jews for whom daily and weekly prayers made sense in both Hebrew and English.

Menachem Butler, a contributing editor at Tablet Magazine, is the program coordinator for Jewish Law Projects at The Julis-Rabinowitz Program on Jewish and Israeli Law at the Harvard Law School, and a co-editor at the Seforim blog. Follow him on Twitter @MyShtender

Menachem Butler, a contributing editor at Tablet Magazine, is the program coordinator for Jewish Law Projects at The Julis-Rabinowitz Program on Jewish and Israeli Law at the Harvard Law School, and a co-editor at the Seforim blog. Follow him on Twitter @MyShtender.

Support Our Podcasts

In addition to Unorthodox, the world’s No. 1 Jewish podcast, and Take One, our daily Talmud meditation, we’re hard at work on exciting new Jewish audio series.