What to read, ArtScroll’s Berachos or Koren’s Berachot? It is, of course, a choice between two religious sensibilities that have much in common but that will appeal to different readerships. Perhaps these notes will help you decide between the two or to use both to augment study of the primary document in its original languages.
Compare the definitions of blessings. ArtScroll is uncharacteristically poetic, defining a blessing as “an acknowledgment of God as the Creator of the phenomenon beheld, the Commander of the mitzvah performed, or the Provider of the benefit enjoyed.” Koren speaks of creating “total awareness in heart and mind that there is an everlasting connection between the Creator and man and that perpetual inspiration descends from the Creator to the world– inspiration which creates, generates and sustains.” I give the edge to ArtScroll on this one, for employing more concrete metaphors for the connection between petitioner and Creator.
On the other hand, as an am haaretz, I need Koren for its distinction between halakha and aggadah— the former, to concretize the abstract and to realize the sublime “in a practical and detailed manner”; the latter, directed “from the concrete to the abstract.” One would be hard-pressed to find acknowledgment of the value of aggadah in the ArtScroll. Nor would one find as elastic a definition of halakha as this: “As the structure and circumstances of life change, new forms and styles develop in order to actualize general, abstract concepts in those specific circumstances.” In other words, here is encouragement to be an active and critical participant in defining and refining the relationship between person, community, and creation.
Bottom line: I need both– ArtScroll for curating over a thousand years of commentary and Koren for permission to add our own.
Supplement: Jewish Ideas Daily on the phenomenon of Daf Yomi.