Seyder Tkhines: The Forgotten Book of Common Prayer for Jewish Women

By Devra Kay | Go to book overview

Introduction

It was in Oxford in 1988 that I read the late, and much missed, Professor Chone Shmeruk’s classic book on Yiddish literature in which he wrote that “the many-faceted tkhines literature in Yiddish has not been accorded a detailed and comprehensive study.” I was delighted because I was in the middle of writing my doctoral thesis on that very subject. Some months later I met Professor Shmeruk in Jerusalem. He welcomed me with his customary shrug of the shoulders, wistful smile, head cocked to one side, arms beckoning, while he uttered what he considered to be a hilarious greeting: “Ah, di tkhines yidene!”, which means “the Tkhines woman.” This is a nickname that has remained with me. Unfortunately, the Yiddish word yidene possesses all the worst connotations of womanhood, including those of a harridan.

He was quick to tell me that I was not alone in my field of research. There was a woman in America who was also researching tkhines. I already knew this to be the case and, not long after, the person in question, Chava Weissler, arrived in Oxford for a few days. We met for lunch in college where we agreed that the field of tkhines was more than big enough for both of us to plow.

Tkhines are Yiddish prayers for women. The word tkhine, from the Hebrew, means “supplication” or “prayer.” This book deals with tkhines from their earliest period, which starts in 1648, lasts for three generations, and ends where Chava Weissler begins. My main character, deservedly so, is the Seyder Tkhines, a standard prayer book written especially for women that was printed with the synagogue prayer book, and whose significance goes well beyond supplication and requests to God. It has no equal at any other time in history. It represents strange and fantastic times when both Jews and Christians became intoxicated with a belief in the imminent arrival of the Messiah. The man who first brought the Seyder Tkhines into print was the same man who persuaded Oliver Cromwell to readmit Jews into England with the argument that until Jews were scattered everywhere

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