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Let My People Read! Hebrew Transliterated on the Web

Not too long ago, the common philosophy on transliteration of Hebrew in prayer books was that it is bad, bad, bad. It’s a crutch; it will make learning Hebrew obsolete; it sends the message that the Jewish community has “given up” on people learning Hebrew. But I sense that the tide has turned and that transliteration is now more widely accepted as one basic step in making Judaism more accessible. Transliterated texts are now available in many synagogues.

It has also made its way into my living room, and can make its way into yours too…

thanks to a website called Free Siddur Project. It’s nothing fancy, but the entire Friday night service texts are compiled (and can be found by clicking on the “text” section). The texts are displayed in grid form, line by line, with Hebrew on one side and transliteration on the other. The Hebrew is somewhat difficult to read because of spacing, but the transliterations are good. There is even bolded typeface for where the stress of the word should be.

Transliteration does not discourage people from learning Hebrew. It invites learning. In thinking about this question, I envisioned going to a physics class where intricate formulas and obscure scientific lingo were casually thrown about, where everyone else seemed (and I emphasize seemed) to understand. I would probably feel frustrated and have little desire to come back to the next physics class, despite my initial curiosity and excitement. Transliteration (and translation as well, but that’s another topic) is a way of making the service a more welcoming experience, one that encourages learning.



3 Comments

  1. Hey Julie - thanks for the info on this blog and for the info on the siddur transliterated website - very useful!
    We’ve been using transliteration a lot in the past years - and I consider them training wheels - required but annoying… The main question i have about them is the END GOAL. do we want people who dont know Hebrew and chances are they never will (as history proves) to get the vibe of their peers and sing/worship along? OR do we want to encourage people to learn Hebrew via gradual enthusiasm?
    Either way - as long as we use a lot of Hebrew in our rituals, sensetive welcoming is key, and intention - as opposed to ‘accuracy’ is a critical way to open the door for those who don’t know how to ask…
    to be continued…

    Comment by Amichai Lau-Lavie — April 5, 2006 @ 2:51 pm

  2. this is good work that need to be supported by every one in order to continue.

    Comment by bakrim mohamed — July 15, 2006 @ 5:37 pm

  3. Hi Julie,

    Just noticed that some of the hits to my site are coming from your message above. Thanks for the plug. I’ve always thought the transliteration in siddurim is less than appropriate and since Kabbalat Shabbat is my favorite service I started there. I don’t find much free time these days but whenever I do I try to build it out a bit more. I’m nearly done with a complete birkat (shabbat, chagim, weddings, brit milah, etc.). I’m hoping to add that to my site at some point in the near future. In the meantime, if there is something you think I could do to the texts I’ve already tossed on my site to make it easier for folks new to Hebrew, let me know and I’ll do my best to accommodate. Thanks!

    Ariel

    Comment by ArielZusya — December 30, 2007 @ 8:06 pm

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