By Dovid Sears
A friend of mine recently asked me about the “Berditchever Siddur,” which he has decided to use, so I wrote the following in reply. Since this information may be of interest to others, we are posting it here. No doubt, a number of Breslover Chassidim past and present have used the Berditchever Siddur, but it has no “official” status within Breslov, which doesn’t put much stress on Nusach ha-Tefilah, aside from the few customs that have been preserved (as discussed in previous postings).
The editor of the new (2015) “Pe’er” edition of the Berditchever Siddur provides an Introduction (Hakdamah) that explains the origins of both the Nusach (text) of the Siddur and the accompanying commentary, “Keser Nehorah” (“Crown of Light”).
The Nusach is that of the illustrious Reb Michel of Zlotchov (AKA the Zlotchover Maggid), who was a disciple of both the Baal Shem Tov and the Maggid of Mezeritch. A Siddur with this Nusach was first published by the latter’s son Rabbi Mordechai of Kremenitz during the very early 1800s, and subsequently in Medzhibuzh at the instruction of the Apter Rov (author of “Ohev Yisrael”), who was the reigning Chassidic leader in that part of Eastern Europe at that time, and who revered the Zlotchover Maggid. These siddurim are no longer extant. However, we do possess a copy of the 1820 edition that was printed in Radvil as “Siddur Tefilah Yesharah,” and which states that it is the second edition on the title page (although it may have been the third if the siddur printed in Medzhibuzh was the same).
(See the facsimiles of the title pages of several early printings at the beginning of the Pe’er edition of the siddur.)
The commentary Keser Nehora was written by Rav Aharon Hakohen of Zhelichov (and Bilgoray). He was also the author of Keser Shem Tov, a classic anthology of teachings of the Baal Shem Tov gleaned from the works of his disciples, primarily the Toldos Yaakov Yosef of Polonoye, and Ohr HaGanuz LaTzaddikim, his original Chassidic teachings on the weekly Torah portion (which seems to strongly reflect the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings – at least the parts I have read).
Although written much earlier – the author, Rabbi Aharon Hakohen, was a contemporary of the Kedushas Levi and the Chozeh of Lublin and the Maggid of Kozhnitz, all of whom gave him enthusiastic approbations – Keser Nehora was first published in the Chassidic (Nusach Sfard) Siddur “Ohr LaYesharim” (1868). I don’t know if it was available prior to that.
I own a copy of the Ohr LaYesharim siddur, and it is more like the standard Nusach Sfard siddurim of today, except that it contains many more variant phrases in brackets. In today’s Nusach Sefard siddurim, by contrast, these brackets are omitted, so we have instead many “double versions” which people commonly recite simply as printed. In any case, the Nusach of the Siddur Ohr LaYesharim is not identical with that of the Siddur Radvil.
I was surprised to learn from the Hakdamah that the commentary Keser Nehora was not printed together with the Nusach of the Siddur Radvil until 1873 in Brody, again as “Siddur Tefilah Yesharah.” Subsequently, this siddur was reprinted in Berditchev (1891), which is where it gets its familiar nickname, the “Berditchever Siddur.” Since then it has been reprinted many times.
The Siddur Tefilah Yesharah now contains teachings and prayers and other additions from various Chassidic giants, such as the Yismach Moshe, Reb Elimelekh of Lizhensk, and the Be’er Lachai Ro’i commentary on a section from the Tikuney Zohar. Some of this material seems to have been added by the publisher, Pe’er, which is based in Kiryas Yoel, the Satmar enclave in Monroe, NY. I’d have to compare it with other, older versions, which I don’t own. However, I do have a 1989 edition of the siddur, which also includes the Tzetel Katan and some of the same material from the Yismach Moshe.
In addition to being the only siddur the Satmar Rov (Rabbi Yoel Teitelbaum), zatzal, would use, the Berditchever Siddur has long been the siddur of choice of numerous tzaddikim and chassidim, and remains so today. My Rosh Yeshiva, the Bostoner Rebbe of Flatbush, shlit”a, and yibadel bein chaim l’chaim, his late brother, the Bostoner Rebbe of Borough Park and Ramat Beit Shemesh, zatzal, also used this siddur, as did all of the Bostoner Rebbes. Since Bostoner Chassidus is an offshoot of Lelov, I assume it was used by the Lelover Rebbes, as well (although this would need to be confirmed).
From what I have read, both the Siddur of the Baal HaTanya and the Siddur Tefilah Yesharah date back to about the same time, shortly after 1800. This also seems to be when the commentary Keser Nehorah received its approbations (which are undated, at least in the printed versions). Thus, they are the two earliest PRINTED Chassidic Siddurim, or at least among the earliest. However, there were earlier manuscript siddurim such as those of Rav Yaakov Koppel (d. 1740; siddur first published in 1804) and Rav Shabsai Rashkover (d. 1757; siddur first published in Korets, 1797) that included the kabbalistic kavanos of the Arizal, and were used by early Chassidic masters such as Rabbi Pinchas of Koretz and the Rebbe, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov. Chabad also possesses a manuscript siddur that is said to have been written for the Baal Shem Tov according to his instructions. I believe it is part of the Chabad library in Crown Heights.
The early Chassidim must have used the common Nusach Ashkenaz siddurim, which they modified according to kabbalistic customs, as found in Pri Eitz Chaim and elsewhere, until the first Chassidic siddurim were printed.
From the original four Haskamos (Approbations) to the commentary Keser Nehora:
“I was shown a [commentary on the] Siddur in the name of Rabbi Aharon Katz, Rav of Bilgoray, according to the kavanah, ‘Shevisi Hashem Lenegdi Samid (I have set G-d before me constantly),’ and in my opinion, it is excellent and entirely desirable throughout. All kavanos of the various Siddurim are holy, but this kavanah of ‘Shevisi Hashem Lenegdi Samid’ is the ‘Holy of Holies’—for it is full of awe of G-d and acceptance of the yoke of G-d’s kingship and G-d’s exaltedness, thus to recognize G-d’s sovereignty in heaven and on earth and in all four directions of the universe. It is a two-edged sword to cut off the klippos (‘evil husks') and to purify the worlds…”
– Rabbi Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev (author of “Kedushas Levi”)
“In my view, these straightforward kavanos are good indeed, thus to fulfill ‘I have set G-d before me constantly’ at the time of prayer. [This commentary] is full of awe of G-d and acceptance of the yoke of G-d’s kingship, which one should uphold all through the day, and all the more at the time of prayer. I have studied it entirely, and it is good…”
– Rabbi Yisrael ben Shabsai of Kozhnitz (author of “Avodas Yisrael”)
“It is hinted in the Tikuney Zohar in several places that that a Siddur with [these] kavanos would appear in the world in the time preceding the Redemption (‘be-ikvos meshicha’)…
– Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchok ben Avraham Eliezer Halevi Horowitz (the “Chozeh” or Seer of Lublin)
“Not every mind is capable of contemplating the esoteric kabbalistic kavanos—but these kavanos of ‘Shevisi Hashem Lenegdi Samid,’ and fear of G-d and love of G-d, are incumbent upon all… Therefore, I say to [the author], ‘Yeyashar koach (More power to you)!’ [This work] is fit to be published, and is appropriate for every Jew, to provide help and support and to confer merit upon the many…”
– Rabbi Azriel Halevi Horowitz of Lublin