With time, the latter category of Yiddish-language personal devotions came to form a liturgical genre unto itself known as tkhines. Modeled on the Hebrew-language tehinnot (supplications) authored by medieval mystics, as well as on the statutory prayers themselves, tkhines gave the petitioner the ability to express herself – tkhines were generally the province of women, although some men recited them as well – directly to God in a language she understood on a range of issues not necessarily addressed in the standard texts. Examples include prayers for an uneventful pregnancy and birth, for religiously observant children and grandchildren, and for protection against children’s premature deaths. Other tkhines constituted more general pleas for sustenance, health, happiness, forgiveness of sins, protection from anti-Semitic violence, and redemption, as well as meditations to accompany the performance of the three rituals most closely associated specifically with women, known by the acronym Hannah: hallah (removal and incineration of a piece of dough while preparing bread), niddah (immersion in a ritual bath following the onset of menses), and hadlakat ha-ner (kindling of a lamp at home before the start of the Sabbath and holidays). Still others were meant to supplement or substitute for the service conducted by the community in the synagogue or to be recited in any number of other spaces or situations, for example, when visiting the cemetery.
While at first tkhines were primarily written by men for women, several prominent female poetesses eventually emerged as well. The genre itself became immensely popular, and thus lucrative for printers, beginning with Tkhine zu (This Tkhine; Prague, ca. 1590) and Eyn gor sheyne tkhine (An Especially Beautiful Tkhine; Prague, ca. 1600). In 1648, the Seyder tkhines (Order of Tkhines) collection appeared in Amsterdam and came to constitute a kind of standard canon that went through multiple editions well into the nineteenth century, and even up to the present.
The present lot is an elegantly-calligraphed selection of tkhines for the penitential season of the Jewish calendar, comprising the month of Elul, Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and Hoshana Rabbah. Prayers composed for this period were the most popular subgenre of tkhines produced in Eastern Europe. The title page features an illustration of the Binding of Isaac, a prominent theme in the supplications of the High Holidays, as well as portraits of Moses holding the Tablets (right) and Aaron carrying a censer (left), both of them flanking a central archway. The book was copied in Paks, Hungary, by Jacob Segal and personalized via insertion of the name Pearl bat Phinehas (wife of Abraham Deutsch) at various points in the prayers (see ff. 2r, 5r, 10v, 11r, 12r, 16r, 21v, 22r, 25r-v, 43v, 47v, 51v, 52r, 53v). The colophon states that Segal completed the work on Monday [night], 24 Av 588 (August 4, 1828), i.e., about a week before the start of Elul.
Included here are twenty-three tkhines to be recited either at home or in the synagogue throughout the season, with a particular focus on petitions for forgiveness of sins, health and happiness in the coming year, the shaming of heretics, and the advent of the messiah. While some of the texts are basically Yiddish-language adaptations of standard Hebrew prayers, like the kapparot service (ff. 25r-26r), the meditations recited during the priestly benediction (ff. 44v-45v), and those said upon entering and exiting the sukkah (ff. 43r-44r, 48r), the vast majority have no easily-identifiable Hebrew parallels. Of particular note are the tkhines recited during the ne‘ilah (ff. 39r-42v) and yizkor services (ff. 48r-52v), as well as the expanded version of the alphabetical confessional for Yom Kippur, phrased in the first-person singular (ff. 54r-57r).
Tkhines were generally composed in what came to be known already in the seventeenth century as loshn tkhine (later, tkhine loshn), a specific literary form of Yiddish that owed much of its vocabulary to early Yiddish Bible translations. Our text certainly follows in this tradition, using the fixed lexicon and style characteristic of tkhines throughout the length of the volume.
Relatively few handwritten tkhines liturgies have come down to us, making the present lot a rare, aesthetically-pleasing witness to Jewish female religious practice in nineteenth-century Hungary.
Pearl Deutsch (first and final flyleaves, title, and passim)
David E. Fishman, “On Prayer in Yiddish: New Sources and Perspectives,” in Eli Lederhendler and Jack Wertheimer (eds.), Text and Context: Essays in Modern Jewish History and Historiography in Honor of Ismar Schorsch (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary of America, 2005), 133-156.
Devra Kay, “Words for ‘God’ in Seventeenth Century Women’s Poetry,” in Dovid Katz (ed.), Dialects of the Yiddish Language (Oxford: Pergamon Press, 1988), 56-67.
Devra Kay, Seyder Tkhines: The Forgotten Book of Common Prayer for Jewish Women (Philadelphia: The Jewish Publication Society, 2004).
Max Weinreich, History of the Yiddish Language, vol. 1, ed. Paul Glasser, trans. Shlomo Noble and Joshua A. Fishman (New Haven and London: Yale University Press; YIVO Institute for Jewish Research, 2008), 259.
Chava Weissler, Voices of the Matriarchs: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women (Boston: Beacon Press, 1998), 3-35.
Isaac Yudlov, “‘Sheyne tkhine’ ve-‘Oyrekh khayim’ – shenei sifrei yidish bilti yedu‘im,” Kiryat sefer 62,1-2 (1988-1989): 457-458.
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