Books for Women
Professor Salo Baron has suggested that the best measure of
the degree of a Jewish community's assimilation in its host culture is the
extent of its use of the vernacular for sacred purposes. The publication of Mitzvot
Nashim (Laws for Women) with an Italian translation in Padua in 1625,
points to the high degree of Italian Jewry's cultural integration and
linguistic assimilation at the beginning of the seventeenth century. The
Library's volume would not only be of interest to the cultural historian, but
would also be an important source for the historian of religion for a
consideration of which laws are stressed and how the subtleties of translation
might suggest the nature of the assimilation. It might also serve the student
well to compare this collection with another published in Italy a century and
a half later, also with an Italian translation, Sefer Eshet Hayil (Book
for the Woman of Valor), Livorno, 1782.
An edition of an oft-printed handbook for Jewish women on
the laws pertaining to the menstrual cycle, to Sabbath hallah (bread)
preparation and candle lighting, and "becoming conduct," translated
into Italian. This Padua, 1625 edition is dedicated to Signora Miriam of
Montagnana. It is opened to the laws pertaining to the baking of Sabbath
Mitzvot Nashim (Laws for Women), Padua, 1625. Hebraic Section.
A collection of tehinnot (penitential prayers)
published in several places at various times, sewn together by a pious Jewish
woman for her personal use, is an anthology of liturgical works written by
women. Consider one, Tehina Kol Bekhiya (A Penitential Prayer: Sound of
Weeping), "brought from the Land of Israel." The prayer is in
Yiddish. "Written in the Holy Tongue, it was translated by the
God-fearing and virtuous Henna, daughter of Rabbi Judah, of blessed memory,
wife of the rabbi and sage, Aryeh Leib Shapiro of the city Brod." It is
to be said the whole month of Elul (the month preceding the High Holy Days)
"to arouse the hearts to repentance and to purify the thoughts, and
should be recited especially on the Day of Atonement":
Lord of the Universe. In your holy books it is written
that you have given us the month of Elul, so that we may repair what we have
destroyed by sinning during the year. You took Moses, our teacher, peace be
unto him' into heaven and kept him till the Day of Atonement, and informed
him that the forty days [between the first day of Elul and the Day of
Atonement] is a time when the sins of those who repent are forgiven. In
these days I rise as one ready to do battle with the evil inclination, and I
see myself as one who owes money and is brought to court, and the court
grants him thirty days to help himself by paying the debt. Dear Father, if I
would stand before an earthly tribunal, how my body would shiver, how my
mouth would remain shut, how I would not be able to lift up my eyes. How
much more so, when I stand on the Day of Atonement, on Yom Kippur, before
the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He!
A simple, direct statement to a stem judge who is yet an
The Sound of Weeping is the name of this penitential
prayer for women, originally composed in Hebrew and translated into Yiddish by
Henna, daughter of Rabbi Judah and wife of Aryeh Leib Shapiro. Note that it
was brought from the Land of Israel, the Holy Land, to be said in preparation
for the High Holy Days, the Days of Awe.
Tehina Kol Bekhiya (A Penitential Prayer: The Sound of
Weeping) n.p., n.d. Hebraic Section.
A liturgical publication of a different order is a Frauen-Machzor (Holiday Prayer Book for Women), published in Berlin, 1841. "Newly
translated into German" and bearing the approbation of the Berlin
Rabbinical Organization, it is in the proper, if staid language of public
worship. Each of the above is appropriate to its audience: The Sound of
Weeping for the unsophisticated pious Yiddish- speaking women of Eastern
Europe, Frauen-Machzor for the wordly, linguistically assimilated
ladies of the West.
Title page of volume 1, "Prayers for the New Year and
the Day of Atonement" of a Frauen Machzor (Holiday Prayer Book for
Women) specially prepared for women, translated and published by Moritz
Frankel and Dr. G. Kleefeld, with the approval of the Rabbinical Association
Frauen Machzor (Holiday Prayer Book for Women),
Berlin, 1841. General Collection.
The women's book par excellence, a retelling of the
Pentateuchal narrative in Yiddish, made vivid by the use of midrashic tales
and medieval commentaries, is the Ze'enah U-re'enah (Go Out and See).
Written by Jacob ben Isaac Ashkenazi at the end of the sixteenth century, it
has since gone through well over two hundred editions. (The second edition was
published in Cracow in 1620; the place and date of the first edition are
unknown.) It became standard reading for Jewish women in Central and Eastern
Europe, who became acquainted with biblical tales and persons not through the
Bible text but from this exegetical retelling of it. It was one of the very
few religious books to have illustrated editions, and its woodcuts, especially
those of the Sulzbach printings-the Library has both 1798 and 1836 illustrated
editions-conveyed directly to generations of Jewish women who saw them, and
children to whom they were shown, how people of the Bible looked and acted.
This illustrated Sulzbach edition of the Ze'enah Ure'enah (Go Out and See) is one of the very many printings of the retelling of the Humash narrative in Yiddish for women. The Bible text is simplified and enlivened by tales from the Midrash and medieval commentaries. Open to an illustration of Isaac blessing Jacob, with Rebecca, the wife and mother who manipulated both, looking on. In the far distance is the rejected son, Esau the hunter.
Ze'enah U-re'enah (Go Out and See), Sulzbach, 1836. Hebraic Section.
Sources:Abraham J. Karp, From
the Ends of the Earth: Judaic Treasures of the Library of Congress,
(DC: Library of Congress,