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.