The Farhi Siddur: Why Am I So Happy to
Receive It ?
By: Albert Elfaks
03 November 2003
Sass Anokhi 'Al Imratekha Kemotseh Shalal
I rejoice at your word, as one that finds great spoil. Psalms 119:162
This verse came to my mind when I received last week in the mail my copy of the newly reissued bilingual Hebrew and Arabic Farhi Siddur - (first published in Egypt in 1914).
From the moment I learned of this project (simultaneously from the Sephardic Heritage Update Newsletter and from Mr. Solly Darwish of London), I ordered my copy and was waiting for its arrival with anticipation.
I must say that the Siddur was worth the wait. I will not dwell on the nice graphics on the cover nor on the paper quality, nor on the text's clarity. Not that any of these important aspects is left wanting; quite the contrary, the paper is excellent, the graphics attractive and the printing nice and clear.
But the real value is in the contents.
There are several other prayer books with some prayers rendered in Shar'h i.e., colloquial Arabic in Hebrew script. This book is unique in delivering a beautiful translation in literary Arabic.
I consider myself lucky in some ways to belong to a generation where Lebanon (where I was born and brought up) was attempting to assert itself as an Arab country. The consequence for us was that we were comparatively &endash; to the generations just before ours and those just after Lebanese independence - fairly well drilled in the Arabic language and literature.
While in my parents' generation in Lebanon, few cared about learning Arabic, we had at our Jewish day schools to comply with the compulsory curriculum of both the French Government Education System - as required by the Alliance - and that of the Lebanese Government.
This left many of us with a profound admiration for the Arabic language (lughatu l'dadayn) and Arabic literature. Many of our friends and family continued studying the subject in Israel (including my elder sister) at the Tel Aviv University as students of such luminaries as Sasson Somekh, Shimon Shamir and others.
Unfortunately in our days due to the conditions in the Middle East and perhaps more so due to xenophobia, there is an atmosphere of hostility towards Arabic language and culture, as the Arabic culture has been deemed to be a personification of the enemy.
Our own Sephardim are not immune to this gross misconception.
I recall an incident where four of us were sitting at a JCC restaurant in the distant Far East conversing to our hearts content in Arabic. A nice Haredi lady (60-ish), a hard working Eshet 'Hayil that I barely knew by her Ashkenazi last name (Mrs. L.), came to our table and approached me as I was possibly the only resident she was familiar with .
She wanted to know why we do not get rid of this ugly language. Despite her age I felt rather upset and told her that we are bound by our tradition to speak in our 'mameloshen' &endash;mother's tongue in Yiddish .
Mrs. L. just smiled under her turban and went back to her seat. Relating this story to an elder acquaintance, I was informed that Mrs. L.'s maiden name was Syrian from an old Syrian family in Jerusalem and that she spoke Arabic probably as well as we did .
We later became quite friendly. Perhaps she saw that we were right.
I intend to use this Siddur at both the Sefardi and the Ashkenazi Synagogues that I attend; maybe it will help me in putting across that this language is the language in which Rambam (who Dr Farhi calls in Arabic, Al-Maymouni), Saadia Gaon and many others of our poets and authors wrote and that it is, much like Aramaic, a sister language to Hebrew . Also the fact that Allah is not some alien Arabic Deity but rather the name also used by us Jews since the Jahiliya (pre islamic period) as a valid name for God.
The Siddur's user is treated to the following:
An Arabic Preface that is:
(a) An introduction to the nature, history and the functions of Jewish prayers, drawing extensively on biblical sources and quotes from Genesis 18:23 , 20:17 through Kings 1 8:22 , 17:20 etc. to Jonah as well as the Talmud all relating to prayers.
(b) A listing of the various kinds and incidences of prayers in the Tanakh from the spontaneous to the ceremonial prayers, the nature of the Shema' and each of the 18 (really 19) benedictions of the 'Amida in detail.
(c) A listing of important Siddurim from those of 'Amram Gaon, Saadya Gaon, and R. Elhanan to the Ashkenazi Mahzor Vitry , without neglecting the Karaite ; along with a detailed summary of the printing history of Siddurim worldwide, what kind and where over the years.
The Siddur is quite comprehensive in the sense that it includes many special prayers that otherwise would not appear normally in most year-round Siddurim. These include:
(a) The 10 commandments, Maimonides' 13 principles and the 10 Zekhirot all translated into Arabic.
(b) 72 Pesukim: This is a listing I had never seen anywhere else. Dr Farhi attributes this arrangement to Nahmanides who would have received a tradition handed down to him from the days of R Nekhunia (Ben Hakana &endash; the author of Ana Bekoa'h ) and R' Shimon (presumably Bar Yohai).
(c) Arbit for week days it seems starts all year round with Psalm 27.
(d) The Purim pizmon , Mi Kamokha in its full text, which I haven't seen for some time now .
(e) Tikkun Hageshem and Tikkun Hatal .
(f) Several pages of Tikkunim for new house inauguration, prayers for the sick, those that undertake a voyage by sea and by land , name changes , viduy on death bed, full order of ritual washing of the dead, as well as readings required during and procedures for burial .
(g) A comprehensive listing of all parashiyot and haftarot.
(h) A Hebrew poem written by Dr Farhi "Shir Hamoadim" that lists in detail all special dates in the Hebrew calendar, in a style and cadence reminiscent of R Shelomo Ben Gebirol's Azharot.
(i) Detailed rules in Arabic on the mechanics of the Hebrew calendar complete with tables additions, deferments, cycles, and periods - to my knowledge never detailed before in an everyday Siddur.
(j) Several pages of Dr Farhi's various notes and comments on the Siddur.
(k) A historical timeline listing by year from Adam thru the Fathers, the Exodus, all of the Judges, the Kings of Judah and Israel, the Prophets, the leaders of the Great Assembly, History and Leaders of the Second Temple period , the Mishna, the Talmud, the Saboraim, the Geonim, the appearance of Christianity, Islam and 'Anan ben David founder of the Karaite movement , the Rishonim , the invention of printing, the discovery of the Americas all the way to the AR"I .
(l) A handy detailed listing of required studies and for each Shabbat Mishmarot to mark (Mi'ad or Yahrzeit ) determined by the particular week's Parasha which it seems very few if any &endash; at least here in Canada are aware of .
Dr Farhi gives the Mishkalim (wazn) of all poems in the Siddur.
When in doubt over the significance of some prayers Dr Farhi refrains from offering speculative comments. Such is the case of the AR"I's Shabbat poems which he translates from Aramaic (which he calls in Arabic Chaldean) to Hebrew rather than to Arabic explaining :
"...I did not translate this poem to Arabic as I do not know its true meaning &endash; considering that there are conflicting opinions as to its meaning ... I felt that the translation to Hebrew will better preserve the spirit of the text the author (the AR"I) represents here the Sabbath as a bride ...."
Similarly, the Pizmon Bar Yohai is not translated for the same reasons.
We all owe thanks to Dr Farhi z'l for a very nice comprehensive rich and educational Siddur which he has left us. In giving the reason why he saw the necessity to publish such Siddur, he explains that this is to make the Siddur usable by everyman. In the process, he also delivered a scholar's siddur. Farhi was a community leader, a physician (just like Maimonides), scientist, poet, philologian and accomplished "homme de lettres."
We also owe thanks to Mr Alain Farhi for recognising the tremendous value of the book and undertaking the blessed initiative of republishing it.