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The first complete Siddur (prayerbook) I ever used was the 1949 edition of Hasiddur Hashalem, translated by Philip Birnbaum and published by the Hebrew Publishing Company.

I still love that prayerbook, despite its stilted English.

Since the Hebrew Publishing Company basically hasn’t existed since 2016, all of their works have entered the public domain through a combination of a lot of the works being published before 1975 and several more of the works having reached 75 years since the death of their authors, which automatically puts them in the public domain.

One of the things I always wondered about is why Birnbaum spends a significant portion of the introduction to HaSiddur HaShalem essentially trashing the work of every translator who came before him.

Why would you spend something like 5 or 10 dense pages basically subtweeting every other translator?

Since all these works have entered the public domain, now I know why.

Apparently this is a thing they all did up to a certain point. There are limits, (for example, everybody’s wives and kids are off limits, and nobody’s Jewish status is questioned), but other than that, everything’s fair game, personal or professional.

It is, (or was) apparently a long-standing tradition which seems to have been set aside for the most part after the Holocaust and then is completely gone by the 70’s.

And it apparently started around the first time the prayerbook was translated and edited in America.

Brittish translations, on the other hand, are on the surface more polite, however the insults are basically “bless your heart” to the Americans and a lot more backhanded to their fellows in Britain, specifically England.

The Scottish make the Americans look like they’re having milk and cookies together.

All of this is fascinating to me.


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