I've recently learned that Professor Aliza Lavie of Bar Ilan University in Israel, who compiled an anthology of Jewish women's prayers in Hebrew in 2005, including Hebrew translations of about a dozen of Fanny Neuda's prayers, is bringing out two new books: a bilingual edition of her anthology, titled The Jewish Woman's Prayer Book (available in November) and a Hebrew edition of Hours of Devotion (due out in August). At the same time, Ludek Stipl, director of Respect and Tolerance in Lostice, Czech Republic, has just received a grant to translate Fanny Neuda's prayer book into Czech! Ludek Stipl's work comes out of our work together, but Dr. Lavie's is completely independent.
This is remarkable and also to be expected, since, as my teacher Ronnie says, "That's how the world works." Amazing things are discovered by different people simultaneously all the time. Three people invented photography, for example, two of them in France and one in England, within two or three years of one another—because all the elements were present, and the time was right. So it seems to be with Fanny Neuda's book of prayers, which, after its tremedous popularity in the German language for 63 years, remained virtually unknown in English for nearly 120 years. We need Fanny's prayers so much now, and so they have returned to comfort and to teach us. Dr. Lavie has suggested holding a seminar or study day in Israel on Fanny Neuda's life and work in the near future. May it happen soon!
I've been busy lately preparing to lead a study session at the LimmudLA conference next weekend in Orange County. My talk is called "Calling Out from the Heart: Fanny Neuda and Jewish Women's Prayer." I'll discuss Fanny's book in the context of the evolution of Jewish women's prayer, beginning with Miriam and Hannah, ultimately giving rise to tekhines (supplications), written especially for women from the 16th to 19th century, in Yiddish, then in German and other European languages.
Chava Wiessler in her wonderfully researched volume, Voices of the Matriarchs: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women, tells us about the prayers of Sara Bas Tovim in the 17th century and other early women writers of tekhines. Their work tends to be limited to certain specific themes, such as the three mitzvah's for women (candle lighting, baking challah, and ritual hygiene), the holiday of Rosh Hodesh, of special importance to women, prayers for the High Holy Days, and others to be said during special cemetery rituals. These books were followed, in the 19th century, by collections of tekhines written by men disguising their identity with first initials only, or by anonymous sources. And then came Fanny Neuda, an educated woman from a family of rabbis, a young widow of the rabbi of Lostice, the mother of three young sons, bravely publishing a book of women's prayers all her own.
I'm looking forward to exploring the theme of women's prayer further with the participants at LimmudLA next Friday afternoon and perhaps leading them to compose new prayers of their own—because we need them so much!
Meanwhile, for your use, here is a short bibliography I'll be handing out to those who come to my session:
Suggested Reading on Tekhine Literature
Cardin, Rabbi Nina Beth, ed. and trans. Out of the Depths I Call to You: A Book of Prayers for the Married Jewish Woman. Jason Aronson, 1992.
A book of tekhines written in 1786 by an Italian man for his wife.
Kay, Devra, trans. and ed. Seyder Tkhines: The Forgotten Book of Common Prayer for Jewish Women. Jewish Publication Society, 1994.
Translation, with commentary, on a standard Yiddish prayer book for women compiled in 1648.
Klirs, Tracy Guren, Ida Cohen Selavan, and Gella Schweid Fishman, comps. The Merit of Our Mothers: A Bilingual Anthology of Jewish Women’s Prayers. Hebrew Union College, 1992.
Most valuable for its succinct introduction to the history of Jewish women’s prayers.
Weissler, Chava. Voices of the Matriarchs: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women. Beacon, 1998.
Detailed research on tekhine literature from the 17th to early 19th century, with a wealth of notes.
And, of course, my own Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda's Book of Prayers for Jewish Women. Schocken, 2007.