Bas Tovim, Sarah

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BAS TOVIM, SARAH (18th century), author of highly popular tkhines, women's supplicatory prayers. Bas Tovim was born in Satanov in Podolia (present-day Ukraine), the great granddaughter of Rabbi Mordecai of Brisk. Her works contain a strong autobiographical voice: She refers to herself as "I, the renowned woman Sarah bas Tovim, of distinguished ancestry," and tells the story of her fall from a wealthy youth to an old age of poverty and wandering. Sarah composed two works published in the 18th century, Tkhine shaar ha-yikhed al oylemes (The Tkhine of the Gate of Unification concerning the Aeons) and Tkhine shloyshe sheorim (The Tkhine of Three Gates). Like other tkhine authors, Sarah often includes portions of earlier works; these excerpts from other sources date her tkhines to the middle of the 18th century. Because 18th-century tkhines published in Eastern Europe only rarely contain a notice of place or date of publication, it is very difficult to establish the bibliographic history of her works.

Tkhine shaar ha-yikhed al oylemes (a title with kabbalistic overtones) contains one long tkhine to be recited *Mondays and Thursdays (considered minor penitential days) and on fast days. The work concludes with a tkhine to be said before making memorial candles for Yom Kippur, a theme which recurs in Tkhine shloyshe sheorim, her better-known work. This composition contains tkhines for the three women's mitzvot (the first "gate"), the Days of Awe (the second "gate"), and the New Moon (the third "gate"). The most distinctive material is found in the second and third "gates." Sarah's powerful tkhine calls on the forefathers and foremothers of the Jewish people to aid their descendents with a healthy and prosperous New Year, and also to bring the Messiah, the end of death, and the resurrection of the dead. The tkhine for the Sabbath before the New Moon contains a great variety of material to be recited at the Blessing of the New Moon, much of it drawn from kabbalistic sources.

The figure of Sarah bas Tovim lived on in popular legend and in the literary imagination of Yiddish authors. Because her works were so popular, 19th-century maskilim who wrote tkhines to sell often attached her name to their own creations. In addition, Sholem Yankev *Abramovitsh (Mendele Moykher Sforim) mentions Sarah's tkhines in his fictional autobiography, Shloyme, Reb Khayims (Ba-Yamim ha-Hem, "In Those Days"), which includes a description of women making memorial candles before Yom Kippur, reciting a version of Sarah's tkhine for kneytlakh legn. Sarah also became the subject of a short story, "Der ziveg; oder, Sore bas Tovim," ("The Match; or, Sarah bas Tovim") by I.L. *Peretz, in which she appears as a sort of fairy godmother, helping those who faithfully recite her tkhines.


Sarah bas Tovim, "Tkhine of Three Gates," in: T.G. Klirs et. al. (eds.), The Merit of Our Mothers: A Bilingual Anthology of Jewish Women's Prayers (1992), 12–45; Ch. Weissler, Voices of the Matriarchs (1998), 31–33, 76–85, 126–46.

[Chava Weissler (2nd ed.)]