Shifrah of Brody

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SHIFRAH OF BRODY (fl. 1770s), author of a Yiddish *tkhine (supplicatory prayer) for women. According to the opening page of Tkhine Imrei Shifre (Tkhine of the Words of Shifrah), she was the daughter of the learned Rabbi Joseph and wife of Rabbi Ephraim Segal, a dayyan in *Brody. Quite exceptionally for a Yiddish work by a female author, her work contains something close to a rabbinic approbation (haskamah): an unsigned paragraph in Hebrew labeled "haqdamah" ["Introduction"] describes Shifrah as a "prominent, learned, and wealthy woman" who is planning to travel to the Holy Land with her husband. This introduction asserts that "several rabbis and sages agree [maskimim] that she should publish this tkhine." Residents of Brody were well represented among the approximately 300 Jews who accompanied several ḥasidic leaders to settle in Safed in 1777. Further, Brody, the home of the famed kloyz or study-house of mystical pietists, was rich in religious ferment and conflict, some of which is reflected in Shifrah's text.

Like most Eastern European tkhines published before 1835, Tkhine Imrei Shifre makes no reference to place or date of publication; internal evidence, however, places the text some time after 1770. In the first section Shifrah described the difficult contemporary conditions in the region of Brody. In the other parts of the book, she utilized kabbalistic, pietistic, and possibly Shabbatean/Frankist material to emphasize the significance of women's religious acts. The title of the tkhine alludes to the common book title Imrei Shefer (from Gen. 49:21, where it probably means "lovely fawn"), usually taken to mean "words of Torah." The four sections of the tkhine include a long tkhine on exile, repentance, and redemption; a daily tkhine, asking for assistance against distractions in prayer, help with livelihood, and protection for women in pregnancy and childbirth; a Sabbath tkhine which includes a kabbalistic interpretation of the women's mitzvah of candle-lighting; and a "Moral Reproof for the Sabbath," consisting almost entirely of material originating in the Zohar, which addresses proper Sabbath observance. The text is exceptional for its use of kabbalistic concepts, such as the divine shefa' (supernal abundance), its reference to the problem of devoted prayer, and its mention of the *Shekhinah as an object of women's devotion.


C. Weissler, Voices of the Matriarchs (1998), 89–103.

[Chava Weissler (2nd ed.)]