Jewish Literary Review

On the second day of Rosh Hashanah, I had the opportunity to daven with the Conservative movement’s new high holiday prayerbook.

A few copies of the Mahzor Lev Shalem were distributed among the crowd at my synagogue over the two-day holiday. Although we are officially part of the Conservative movement, our shul follows a more traditional approach to prayer and for as long as I’ve gone there (about nine years now), we’ve always used ArtScroll siddurim and mahzorim. On Rosh Hashanah this year, almost everyone used the ArtScroll mahzor and a few folks used the Mahzor Lev Shalem. This led to the rabbi having to call out the page numbers for both so that everyone could follow along during the service.

I should note that while we typically use the ArtScroll books, our synagogue service has begun to change over the last few years. In more and more places, we’ve begun to include women in the previously all-male proceedings, including the aliyot during the Torah reading. As you may well surmise, there are members of our synagogue who do not like the ArtScroll books because, among other things, the matriarchs are not mentioned alongside the patriarchs in the ArtScroll version of the Amidah.

And so, it is against this backdrop that I came to shul on the second day and a man in front of me handed me a copy of the Mahzor Lev Shalem. He went on to tell me that the new prayerbook wasn’t “too leftist.” I guess he was trying to reassure me.

In any event, I must say I was immediately impressed with the aesthetic features of the Mahzor Lev Shalem. It’s slightly larger than the ArtScroll version in height and width but it’s thinner because the pages are larger. (Check out sample pages from the Mahzor Lev Shalem)

As a result, the designers were able to make the book lighter (it weighs about two pounds) while inserting more white space on the page. The layout is almost ‘Talmudic,’ if I can use such a term. By that, I mean that the prayers are in a wide column on the interior while the commentary and notes fill a narrow column on the outside.

There are ample notes for beginners who may not be sure when to bow or skip a paragraph. The parts that are only read on the Sabbath are clearly marked in a maroon font that I found unobtrusive and clean.

Indeed, I thought the font choices throughout the Mahzor Lev Shalem were excellent and for that I should acknowledge the designer, Scott-Martin Kosofsky, who created the Hebrew typeface with the assistance of Rabbi Israel Seldowitz.

I’m no expert but from what I could tell the Mahzor Lev Shalem follows the traditional Hebrew text and includes the complete Ashkenazi liturgy for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. According to the Rabbinical Assembly’s website, the editors also included several piyyutim, or liturgical poems, that originated in Sephardi and Italian Jewish customs.

To satisfy some of the gender complaints people have with the ArtScroll version, the Mahzor Lev Shalem includes side-by-side gender neutral and traditional male-only versions of prayers such as the Amidah.

My only guess is that, like so many other things in Conservative Judaism, they are deciding not to pass judgment but instead leaving you with a choice of how you want to connect to G-d.

In my mind, that is a good thing.

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