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People might write this off as a matter of typeface and nothing more, but why do so many siddurim vary the font size within the tefillos? I used to think that they made the more important tefillos larger and the less important tefillos* smaller but in many siddurim there seems to be no order at all, they just change the font size randomly whenever they want. Is there a reason for the varying font size? Perhaps the publisher is trying to convey that certain portions of davening are more important than others?

*What even is a more important/less important tefillah? They're all important. I guess what I mean is that they make Baruch She'amar, Yishtabach, Shema, etc. large and things like various perakim from Tehillim small.

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    I assumed it was so that things can end at the bottom of the page as much as possible. – Double AA Jan 18 '18 at 1:55
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    I always thought it was to break up the page, and to make each page recognizable, so you can easily find the prayers you're looking for – Menachem Jan 18 '18 at 2:57
  • @DoubleAA That would seem likely. – ezra Jan 18 '18 at 3:01
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    I wish I could upvote this more than once. It's an excellent question, and you're far from the first person that has asked this. When Birnbaum published his Siddur, I believe he addressed this strange phenomena in the intro to his siddur. Thus, all the Birnbaum siddurim maintain a uniform font. I would debate, though, the assumption that all tefillot are equally important. IIRC, O.C. does state that a late-comer, for example, may skip certain paragraphs as clearly they emphasize Amidah Betzibbur. The Shema is D'Oraita. Other examples abound. But, overall, I agree w/ the font problem. – DanF Jan 18 '18 at 3:20
  • I'll see if I can borrow the Birnbaum siddur from my shul and paraphrase what he says. – DanF Jan 18 '18 at 3:21
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This answer is informed by my research and work in typography.

There is significance, but it's not specifically based on the importance of the passages. If you look in some older siddurim, such as Siddur Tefilat kol Peh (Ashkenaz, someone will have to verify for Sfard) Pss. 146 (הללי נפשי את ה׳) and 148 (הללו את ה׳ מן השמים) are set in relatively large type, compared with Ps. 147 (כי טוב זמרו ﭏהינו). The latter mizmor is significantly longer than the former ones. Similarly, Ps. 100 (מזמור לתודה) is often set in larger type than הודו and יהי כבוד.

In my own work, I have tried not to change type size based on verbosity, as it seems rather distracting for the reason mentioned in the OP.

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I believe a Siddur is a very different kind of book than any other. This gives editors of siddurim a very unique challenge; to make the prayer experience as intuitive and interactive as possible. I find that these changes are most prevalent in pesukei dezimra and shemone esrei.

To meet this challenge, the siddur must be usable at a glance, without the reader having to pay too much attention to instructions, and allow focus on the prayers themselves. I can see two functions for font changes, both of which may be real reasons.

1) Make each page recognizable. This gives the prayers a familiar feel, so after someone becomes accustomed to one siddur, they can go almost on autopilot (for the good or the bad).

2) Make rarely read passages obscure. This allows the prayers on a regular day to flow without having to find the end of the excerpts.

There may be other needs in a siddur that font size can be helpful with, but the notion that it is to indicate importance is surely faulty. I looked around in various siddurim, and found that there is no correlation in that regard.

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At times it is true that they will make one tefilla in a larger font if they feel it is important. Many times though, it is just a typesetting thing. The artscroll siddur actually seems to have a more or less equal font size, only making a larger font for the special teffilos. I don't think ther eis much more to this.

  • Hi Shlomo Simon. Welcome to Mi Yodeya, and thanks for bringing your answer here. – ezra Feb 7 '18 at 23:19
  • One of the biggest complaints that I have heard from people that don't like Art Scroll is their use of the gray background shading for those tefillot that are said on "special occasions" such as Ya'aleh Veyavo. It makes things hard to read esp. in some of the older shuls where lighting is poor. As far as I know, Art Scroll is the only siddur that uses that shading technique. I agree - it is a bit annoying. – DanF Jul 16 '18 at 14:32
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I wish I could recall which Siddur tended to reserve larger sizes only for responses that the congregation should say after the Chazzan. Was it an old Shiloh Siddur or Tikun Meir??

Examples of what I'm referring:

  • Barchu - after Pesukei Dezimra, beginning of Ma'ariv and for Torah (Cong. should respond)

  • Cong. responses in Kedusha

  • Cong. responses in Kaddish

  • Cong. responses in Anim Zemirot - interestingly, most other Siddurim have it the other way around - the Chazzan part is large and the cong. part is small. In some ways, the way this specific Siddur has it makes sense. After all, there's no Shaliach Tzibbur without a tzibbur!

Many other Siddurim reserve the smaller font for "occasional" prayers such as Ya'aleh Veyavo, Aneinu, ect. It's not that they're less important. I guess they want to indicate that these should not be said regularly as the other paragraphs are.

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