More Than “The Lord’s My Shepherd”

Psalms can matter in our lives today

Psalms of the Jewish Liturgy (Aviv Press, $17.95) by Miriyam Glazer is designed to bring readers greater access to the many psalms that appear in weekday, Shabbat and holiday services.

The subtitle, “A Guide to Their Beauty, Power and Meaning,” aptly describes Glazer’s approach. The book’s down-toearth language and examples from daily life help the psalms feel relevant to contemporary readers, as in Glazer’s discussion of salvation in the context of Hallel (Psalms 113 – 118): “Indeed, what these ancient psalms most remarkably express is the ecstasy of salvation, both personal and collective: the salvation of the people and nation of Israel, and the salvation of every individual who has suffered poverty, serious illness, infertility, crippling fear, anguish, despair.”

Glazer delves into individual psalms of the liturgy, but also helps readers to understand the message of the each of the units of liturgical psalms: Psalms for the Days of the Week, Daily Psalms, Hallel Kabbalat Shabbat, Psalms for Shabbat morning, and so on.

Glazer also offers her own translation of all the psalms she discusses. Translating psalms today requires considerable boldness. Robert Alter’s 2007 Book of Psalms sets a high standard; as poem-prayers, Glazer’s translations are excellent, written in poetic, flowing English. At times ambiguities or ideas that may offend our sensibilities in the original text are obscured in Glazer’s effort to make a readable, pray-able, translation.

Glazer’s translations and commentaries by and large avoid discussions of the Hebrew text, focused as she is on an English-speaking audience. This is perhaps an asset for beginning readers, but a drawback for a more learned audience. Moreover, the book would be far more useful as a teaching tool if it included verse numbers in the Hebrew and English texts of the psalms. The book also lacks discussion of either traditional or modern critical commentaries of the psalms. In all fairness, though, these are clearly outside the scope of the purpose of the book, which is to provide access to the psalms for a contemporary, English-speaking audience.

Glazer is adept at directing readers back to the prayer experience of psalms, which is clearly close to her heart: “No summary of the themes of the opening psalms can convey the richness and power of the process is unique for each of us.”

Rabbi Gail Diamond teaches Psalms at the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem.