As an American I have noticed that Christians often take notes in their prayerbooks or Bibles. Sometimes they do this to an extent that it becomes an art form, Bible journaling.
But growing up I never saw any Jewish people do this. Many of us assumed that it was אָסוּר asur (prohibited) to highlight or make annotations in our Siddur or Tanakh.
But since then I have been informed that it not only is מותר permissible, in many ways it is traditional. That’s why our rabbinic Bibles and Talmud are written in the format that they are in – primary texts in the center of the page with commentaries and notes around it.
Do you have a siddur or Tanakh with notes in it? What does it look like?
Why do this? Why write notes about what tefila means to us? For some people it may help us concentrate on what the words mean.
A new, popular siddur is made just for this: The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur (Weekday and Shabbat) has a lot of white space at the bottom of pages explicitly for the purpose of writing notes for oneself!
Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner writes
It’s a way to corral ourselves during our distracted moments, and draw ourselves back.
It’s a way to personalize our davening, by highlighting elements that matter to us.
It’s a way to remember the items that catch our eye or ear and inspire us once, for the next time we daven.
Here is a shiur from Yeshiva University – How to Write in Your Siddur, by Rabbi Mordechai Torczyner, along with a PDF source sheet
“A manuscript prayer book used by the second leader of the Chassidic movement, Rabbi DovBer of Mezritch (?-1772), will be exhibited this week in Jerusalem, along with other artifacts dating from the movement’s infancy. This manuscript is of particular interest to scholars and to the wider public, as it is privately owned and not normally available for study. Even more interestingly, the manuscript contains two sets of marginal notations. One set has long been attributed to Rabbi Yisrael, the Maggid of Koznitz, but the identity of the author of the second set had long been forgotten.”
This image from A Groundbreaking Discovery in Early Chassidic Prayer Book
I found this – Chumash Mikra’ot Gedolot, Venice, 1548 – Many Handwritten Glosses from Time of Printing
“Volume of Talmud, Tractates Rosh Hashanah-Yuma. Berlin, 1864. With notes handwritten by R. Yisrael Meir HaKohen of Radin, the Chafetz Chaim.
The volume of Talmud the Chafetz Chaim learnt from and annotated in his own handwriting. 9 notes, most lengthy, appear in the margins of the book, in a handwriting identical to that of the Chafetz Chaim. The contents of the notes were found equivalent to writings in his books.”
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