Behind the Scenes at Koren

Mentioning the various works of Koren Publishers elicits reactions in the Jewish world:

“Those siddurim with English on the opposite side!”

“The Siddurim with the tefillot for Israel and its soldiers!”

“The Talmud with pictures!”

“That distinct Hebrew font!”

“Rabbi Steinsaltz! Rabbi Sacks!”

Okay, okay. You, the reader, have already reached the Koren blog so clearly you’ve heard of us and you obviously love our books and our distinctive features. But what is the publishing process?  What goes on behind the scenes of Koren’s works? Who decides on the layout?  How does a Koren book become a Koren book?

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A sample Koren Publishers collection

We asked our Project Manager Rabbi Avishai Magence to explain “what goes into publishing a Koren book that makes it so unique?”

“First of all”, Avishai says, “we use images and text, not just running text, which makes each project challenging.  The content is also unique and requires both in-house expertise and consultation with outside experts.”

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Koren NCSY Siddur. An example of the the precise placements and choice of images and explanations

Rabbi Magence also pointed out the various volumes in translation that Koren has produced: siddurim in English, Amharic, and Dutch with other languages in the works. Haggadot are published in Russian, English, French, Spanish, and Amharic. Each translation requires its own language experts, translators and editors.

To give a point of perspective, a standard book of fiction typically requires the author, an editor, a junior typesetter and a cover artist in order to prepare a book to go to the printers. In comparison, most books that Koren publishes are pretty complex. Even the basic layout can be complicated.

Take, for example, our latest work, The Weisfeld Steinsaltz Humash. Here, we have various elements: text of the Torah in Hebrew, literal translation in English, and the explanatory text that ‘fills in the gaps’ for the reader. Then we have images, discussion points, and the Rashi commentary. What is the best way to present this information in a visually-pleasing and accessible way? A way that will best serve the user? These are some of the questions that go on behind the scenes.

At Koren, our production department works in teams. A team consists of language experts, content experts, specialists who find the proper and accurate (and often very specific) images, typesetters, graphics experts, and managers.

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Example of the Koren Talmud Bavli layout and the detail paid to images and explanations.

Our siddurim typically have a modest team of editors (depending on the language), while complex, multi-volume projects, such as the Koren Talmud Bavli, have 50+ people involved at various levels.  Since the Talmud is 42 volumes, having consistency with regards to the layout, presentation, and language is crucial. We then have project managers and senior editors go through each project from cover to cover multiple times to ensure the highest quality.

Let’s now look at the Hebrew-Amharic Siddur. Koren worked with a rabbinical expert on the customs and prayers of Ethiopian Jewry, who then recruited a seasoned Amharic-Hebrew translator who was also highly familiar with the prose and meaning of the tefilot. They worked with our liturgy scholars in-house who had produced the Koren Siddur Sepharadim, on which the Amharic Siddur is based. Together, a group of editors combed through the text and made sure that all necessary and appropriate texts and explanations were published, along with special tefillot unique to the Ethiopian Jewish community. Like other Koren works, the translated (non-Hebrew) text is on the right, while the Hebrew is on the left.

Projects can take anywhere between a few months and a few years.  The Koren Talmud, the most complex and ambitious project to date, has taken six years to complete – pretty remarkable considering the scope of Shas – but there is also a set deadline: January 2020 also known as the 13th International Siyyum HaShas. “We arranged to complete each tractate about two-three months ahead of the Daf Yomi schedule, so the entire set will be finished by Fall 2019,” says Avishai.

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Koren Talmud Bavli. The full set is expected to be released by Fall 2019

Koren doesn’t always work alone. Over the past decade, partnerships have been established with other organizations such as The Steinsaltz Center, the OU, the RCA, The Temple Institute and Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Each organization comes to the project with its own team of specialists, so both groups must work together to create an efficient work flow and ensure consistency in order to produce a seamless product. The teams work together during the editorial process and approve the final proof  collaboratively.

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Avodat HaLev Siddur published in partnership with the RCA.

And what about the famous English layout? As most of you have noticed, most bilingual Siddurim traditionally print English translations on the left side with the Hebrew on the right side, but Koren does the opposite. Why? That is actually a historic fact. Our founder, Eliyahu Koren, first made an English/Hebrew translation of a Haggadah and, as a non-English speaker, found this layout to be intuitively more aesthetically pleasing.

The text on both sides reads away from the center so it creates an illusion of wings spreading out. Both languages start at the same place – in the center – and fan out which is easier on the eyes. Look below and see for yourself! Eliyahu Koren found it to be the best possible layout and we continue in his tradition for all translated works.

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The text on both sides reads away from the center so it creates an illusion of wings spreading out.

With the multitude of projects going on, Koren aspires to fuse elegant, sophisticated design and an easy to use layout to help users around the world understand and appreciate Jewish texts.

There you have it! A very general overview of what happens to a Koren book before it is sent to the printers and distributed. Have more questions about the publishing process? Learned something you didn’t know? Please comment and give us feedback!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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