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I tried to follow a service with my orthodox Portuguese siddur at a conservative congregation service and I couldn't. What is the difference between a conservative and an orthodox Sidur?

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    Almost any two different Siddur editions will have some differences between them. – Double AA Nov 23 '17 at 20:45
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    Do not forget that Portuguese (or even Sefard) siddurim will differ from the regular Ashkenaz siddurim. I think that Conservative was invented to move toward the Ashkenaz customs and they would have been changing from that. Thus they will have both sets of differences. – sabbahillel Nov 23 '17 at 20:48
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    Related (ma'ariv only and both siddurim involved are Ashkenazi nusach). – Monica Cellio Nov 24 '17 at 1:58
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    On a different topic altogether, Rav Moshe forbid one to daven in a Conservative synagogue. (Igros Moshe, EH 2:17) – ezra Nov 24 '17 at 19:44
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You mentioned that you prayed from an Orthodox Portuguese siddur. I am not an expert in the customs of Portugal, but I'm going to assume your siddur was in some form of Nusach Sepharad. (And possibly is a De Sola Pool siddur?)

If that is the case, then you might have difficulty following the service even within an Orthodox congregation, if the prayers there were Nusach Ashkenaz! (And many Orthodox congregations in America do indeed use Nusach Asheknaz.)

I do not have room text box (or time in general) to outline all the differences between Nusach Sepharad and Ashkenaz, but some differences include the orders of the morning blessings, textual differences throughout the prayers, etc. Additionally, there are differences between different siddurim all claiming to be of the Sepharadi nusach! Different Sephardic communities across the globe had different traditions regarding the prayers, so the Portuguese nusach might be different from the Syrian or Moroccan nusach.

As for the Conservative siddur, the Conservative nusach is entirely Ashkenazi in nature, although you can see the differences between an Orthodox siddur and Conservative siddur here.

And, if you are unfamiliar with the word "nusach", or what I mean when I say Nusach Sepharad, Ashkenaz, etc., then please see here.

  • Good summary. To OP, keep in mind that every shul has its own customs. This is across all denominations. Some prayers are movable even if they may be listed in a certain order in the siddur. Anim Zemirot - "Hymn of Glory" commonly said on Shabbat, is a typical example of something said in various positions in the prayer depending on cong. custom. Also, some prayers may be skipped. So, these factors could also add to the confusion even if you use the shul's siddur, but are unfamiliar with their customs. Just know that you needn't be shy and ask your neighbor to help you. – DanF Nov 24 '17 at 2:42
  • @DanF Thanks. It's very hard to summarize something so complicated into a clear answer. – ezra Nov 24 '17 at 2:48

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