Siddur Ba-eir Hei-teiv --- The Transliterated Siddur

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Pronunciation: How to Say the Transliterated Hebrew Words Print E-mail
Written by Jordan Lee Wagner   
Tuesday, 04 February 1997 19:00

There are two main Hebrew dialects, Ashkenazic and Sephardic.  Ashkenazic originated in Germany, and spread throughout Northern and Eastern Europe and then to America.  Sephardic originated in Spain, and spread throughout Southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East.

The Jews who speak these dialects are called Ashkenazim and Sephardim.  There are minor variations in customs, halacha (Jewish Law), and liturgical rites between them.  In America, most Jews are Ashkenazic.  But the trend in pronunciation is dramatically shifting toward Sephardic, because that is what is spoken in Israel.

In transliterating the prayers, I have adhered to Sephardic pronunciation.  But where Sephardic and Ashkenazic rites differ, the Transliterated Siddur follows Ashkenazic rite.  This will be the most useful method for most American readers. The differences between liturgical rites are slight, and are noted in the Transliterated Siddur.

If you are following a service with the Transliterated Siddur, and hear some of the congregants pronouncing some of the "T"s as "S"s, and some of the "ah"s as "aw"s, that is Ashkenazic.

There is no uniformly applied system for Hebrew transliteration. Here is a guide to my use of English letters:


a as in "Ma"
i as in "Bambi", or occasionally as in "pit"
ai as in "Shanghai", "Haiku", and "Jai Alai"
e as in "Ted"
ei as in "neighbor" and "Chow Mein"
o as in "Moe"
u as in "boot" and "dune".
' as in a neutral short vowel sound, like the "a" in "ago"
ch as in the sound you make when you get a hair stuck to your adenoids
This last sound is not usually found in English, but "Johann Sebastian Bach", "mach 6", and "Loch Ness Monster" are phrases that use this sound.
- I use hyphens to separate syllables. This clarifies pronunciation, and simplifies long word words.  For example: "Yotseir" is pronounced "yo-tseir", not "yot-seir".  And "vimnuchateinu" is not as easy to read as "vim-nu-cha-tei-nu".  I also use a hyphen to indicate a stop between two vowels.  For example: "Ma-a" is like "Mama" but missing the second "m".
Unlike English, the last syllable of every Hebrew word usually gets the emphasis (excluding suffixes).  Instead of sentences sounding like "one fish, two fish, red fish, blue fish", rhythms sound like "I went to dine on fish and wine".  In the Transliterated Siddur, underlining is used to mark accented non-final syllables.  I also occasionally underline an accented final syllable, if the word is one that many congregants accent incorrectly.

I also use a caret ^ to indicate a connection between two (or occasionally three) words that are to be sung as though they were a single word (i.e., a single trope).  In addition to facilitating proper chant, this preserves messages that are sometimes hidden in the poetic forms via gematria.

Last Updated on Sunday, 27 November 2011 00:25
A Guide to Using the Transliterated Siddur Print E-mail
Written by Jordan Lee Wagner   
Tuesday, 04 February 1997 19:00

I use color to show whether the text is said silently, or by just the Cantor, or by the whole congregation aloud. However, be alert to variations in local custom.

During the Torah-Reading section of the service, color is used to indicate which words are said by the Gabbai, which are said by the honoree, and which by the whole congregation aloud .

Headings and instructions are always in black.

Navy blue indicates text that is said by the mourners. Since this color may be hard to distinguish from blue or black in many browsers, I include explicit instructions wherever it appears.

I use square brackets [ ] around words that are included by only some congregations. For example: R'tsei [ na ] vi-m'nu-cha-tei-nu...

And in a few places I use angle brackets and a bar to indicate alternative paths used in different congregations. Some congregations recite only the word(s) between < and |, while others recite only the word(s) between | and >. (No congregation would skip both, nor would any recite both.) For example:

Sa-b'ei-nu mi-tu-ve-cha,

< sam-chei-nu | v'sa-mach naf-shei-nu > bi-shu-a-te-cha,...

I use parentheses ( ) to indicate traditional congregational interjections and responses that do not actually appear in the traditional Hebrew text. For example:

( A-mein )

Because a Siddur contains the Name of God, it is treated with reverence. Do not carry a Siddur with you into a bathroom. Do not put it on the floor. If you drop a Siddur, pick it up immediately. After dropping it, the tradition is to kiss it as you pick it up. Close the Siddur before leaving it unattended. Some people also kiss the Siddur as they finish using it, and take care always put it down with its front cover up. When a Siddur is worn beyond repair and has outlived its usefulness, it is not thrown away. It is buried respectfully, like a human corpse. Your nearest Jewish funeral home will be happy to help you dispose of it properly.

Last Updated on Sunday, 28 April 2013 21:41
An Overview of the Transliterated Siddur Print E-mail
Written by Jordan Lee Wagner   
Tuesday, 04 February 1997 19:00

The Transliterated Siddur is entitled "Siddur Ba-Eir Hei-Teiv --- The Transliterated Siddur".  The phrase, "Ba-eir Hei-teiv" comes from the Bible and means "clearly presented".

The Transliterated Siddur is good for Friday nights and Saturday mornings.  These are the most widely attended services, because they are Sabbath services. The Transliterated Siddur is not good for Sabbaths that are coincident with Festivals; only for regular Sabbaths.  The Transliterated Siddur also includes common daily blessings.  I plan to add the weekday services, Sabbath table-songs, common blessings, Festivals, and more. 

The Transliterated Siddur
differs from other Jewish prayer books in several ways:


  • It includes the complete Friday evening and Saturday morning services in transliteration.  This means that the sounds of the Hebrew are spelled out using the English alphabet.  This enables anyone to follow the service.  This is intended as a welcoming incentive to deeper study (and love of) Judaism, and toward participation in Jewish communal life.
  • Because so many prayers are common to several different kinds of services, and because some prayers even occur several times within the same service, most Jewish prayer books make the reader flip around the book to follow the service.  This reduces the number of pages that must be printed.  But "Siddur Ba-Eir Hei-Teiv --- The Transliterated Siddur" does not do this.  You can follow the service simply by "turning the pages" in order.
  • The Transliterated Siddur includes instructions for the traditional "body language" (standing, sitting, bowing, etc.), and includes the traditional congregational responses that aren't usually included in the printed text.  All this increases the worshipper's comfort and ability to participate.

Certain parts of the service require the presence of a quorum, called a minyan.  They are omitted in the absence of a minyan.  These parts of the service are noted in the Transliterated Siddur.  Links are provided for you to optionally skip over these parts.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 26 October 2010 09:24
How the Transliterated Siddur Got Started Print E-mail
Written by Jordan Lee Wagner   
Tuesday, 04 February 1997 19:00

Jordan Lee Wagner, Author of The Synagogue Survival KitA non-Jewish friend who was considering becoming Jewish was tempted to attend a synagogue service. I knew that an unprepared solo visit to a traditional service would be confusing. Although there are many books on the historical development of the liturgy, and many books of insights into the prayers, I found none that could function as a survival kit for those disoriented at a traditional synagogue service.

I set out to write my friend an "orientation letter" to make initial attendance comfortable and intelligible.  This letter developed into a lengthy document, plus a complete transliterated siddur for Friday evening and Saturday morning.  I also gave a few copies to individuals who seemed lost at services.  Awareness of the letter spread by word of mouth, and requests for copies began to come from many places.  I was happy to comply, but eventually I was unable to keep up.  I made a proposal to a major Jewish book publisher and they bought it. 

sskcoverThe reorganized and expanded version of that orientation letter has recently been published as "The Synagogue Survival Kit".  That book is addressed to:

  • Jews by Choice, and potential Jews by Choice
  • Jews by Birth, rediscovering their tradition from an adult perspective
  • Russian Jews, deprived of access to their heritage
  • Female Jews, many of whom were not taught about congregational prayer as children

It may also interest non-Jews that participate in some of the life-cycle events of their Jewish friends.  It enables them to appreciate what they witness in a synagogue.  A detailed description of that book and an author profile is available on the Web.  "The Synagogue Survival Kit" can be found in local bookstores, or ordered from on-line bookstores, or ordered directly.

My publisher decided not to incorporate my Transliterated Siddur into The Synagogue Survival Kit.  So I have converted the Transliterated Siddur to web pages and here it is!  Individuals may print or download my transliterations and use them as a companion to The Synagogue Survival Kit, or as a companion to your Hebrew-English Siddur, or you can just visit this site for occasional reference.  I hope it is helpful.  

If the spirit moves you, feel free to make a donation "in appreciation for The Transliterated Siddur" to my synagogue:  The Adams Street Synagogue, 168 Adams Street, P.O. Box 600371, Newtonville MA 02460 (U.S.A.). 

Please do not redistribute or modify my transliterations, nor remove my copyright notices, nor incorporate the transliterations into another work.  For permission to do these things, see my Special Publishing Agreements and Distribution Agreements

There is a Torah prohibition called hasagath gvul ( literally: "moving a [ neighboring farmer's ] boundary marker" --- found at Deuteronomy 27:17 ).  This commandment is understood and applied very broadly by the sages of our shared tradition, such that Judaism prohibits using or citing the intellectual efforts of another person without giving them credit. 

There is also a Jewish legal principle called dina d'malchut dina ( literally: "the law of the king is the Law" ) which makes adherance to some portions of secular law --- including secular copyright law --- mandatory under Jewish Law.  

The classic Talmudic example used to demonstrate that a mitzvah may not be performed via a transgression is the example of someone praying in stolen t'fillin.   This legal principle may also apply to using the transliterations without permission.  Thank you for respecting my copyright.  

Last Updated on Sunday, 31 January 2010 22:20

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