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Roizl Fishels of Cracow

(16th century)

FISHELS, ROIZL OF CRACOW (16th century), printer/publisher. In 1586 Fishels printed a book of Psalms translated from Hebrew into Yiddish by R. Moshe Standl; this volume also included her own autobiographical Yiddish poem, which was printed at the front of the book. In this poem, the principle source of information about her life, she indicates the date of the printing and relates part of her genealogy as the granddaughter of Yuda Levy, who ran a yeshivah in Ludomir for 50 years. She modestly describes her father, Yosef Halevi, as having "not a bad reputation among the levi'im," but her husband, whom she calls simply R. Fishels, is only named twice, without any description of his activities or accomplishments. All the male relatives she mentions were already deceased in 1586. At the end of the book Fishels again gave the date of completion and signed her name as "Roizl the Widow, daughter of R. Yosef Halevi."

Fishels offers no further personal details in her poem, but she does write that she "taught [the psalms] to all who wanted to know / Until they began to come, one and all, to me." This suggests that Roizl Fishels was a teacher, most likely of girls and women. Another line of the poem, "Here in the holy city of Hanover I donated [the psalms]" implies that she funded the printing of this Yiddish book so that it would be available "in our own mother tongue." Based on the frequency of Hebrew words in her writing, and her allusions to biblical characters, it is clear that she had at least some knowledge of Hebrew and was educated in Bible.

Sources:A.B. Habermann, Nashim Ivriyyot be-Tor Madpisot, Mesadrot, Motzi'ot le-Or ve-Tomekhot be-Mehabrim (1932–33), 8–10; M. Spiegel and D. Kremsdorf, Women Speak to God: The Prayers and Poems of Jewish Women (1987), 17; E. Taitz, S. Henry, and C. Tallan. The JPS Guide to Jewish Women: 600 B.C.E.–1900 C.E. (2003), 136.

[Emily Taitz (2nd ed.)]

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