TKHINES (Yid., from Hebrew teḥinnot, "supplications"), private devotions and paraliturgical prayers in Yiddish, written by women and men, recited primarily by women. As texts in the vernacular, tkhines are important sources for the history of popular Judaism in the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, and are particularly useful in studying the history of women's religion. Most Jewish men attained basic literacy in Hebrew, and a significant minority went on to full mastery of the classic literary tradition. However, only a small number of women learned more than the rudiments of Hebrew, and those Central and East European Jewish women who could read were usually literate only in the vernacular Yiddish. Jewish liturgy and other devotional and scholarly works were written by men and were almost always in Hebrew or Aramaic, making them inaccessible to most women.
In books of tkhines, each individual prayer begins with a heading directing when and sometimes how it should be recited: "A pretty tkhine to say on the Sabbath with great devotion"; "A confession to say with devotion, not too quickly; it is good for the soul"; "A tkhine that the woman should pray for herself and her husband and children"; "When she comes out of the ritual bath"; "What one says on the Eve of Yom Kippur in the cemetery." Scholars are divided as to whether these prayers were meant as a women's substitute for the Hebrew liturgy, or as voluntary, supplementary prayers, recited when women wished. Although some tkhines were intended to be recited in the synagogue ("When the shofar is blown on Rosh ha-Shanah, say this"), and a few were for male worshipers ("A lovely prayer for good livelihood to be said every day by a businessman"), the majority were associated with women's domestic lives: prayers to be recited privately daily and on Sabbaths, festivals, fasts, and New Moons, for the three so-called "women's commandments" (*ḥallah, *niddah, hadlakat ha-nerot [candle lighting]); for pregnancy and childbirth, for visiting the cemetery; for private griefs such as childlessness and widowhood; for recovery from illness; for sustenance and livelihood; for confession of sins. Tkhines framed women's domestic lives and roles as sacred, and also connected them with grander themes from Jewish thought, especially the hope for the messianic redemption and the end of exile.
During the 16th and 17th centuries, new rituals and new genres of religious literature emerged, whose audience was a sort of intellectual "middle class." This parallels the emergence of similar literature in Christian Europe, enabled in part by the rise of printing. Works of musar, collections of hanhagot, tikkunim, and other new liturgies and rituals, often in abridged and simplified form, were published both in Hebrew, for an audience of men with a basic education in classical Jewish texts, and in Yiddish, the vernacular, for women and non-scholarly men. Many of these new publications (including Hebrew *teḥinnot, supplemental prayers for men) developed out of and popularized a mystical pietism originating among the kabbalists of Safed, Palestine, in the 16th century; others originated among secret Shabbetians. Tkhines were an important form of women's participation in this pietistic revival and its popular literature. By contrast, however, tkhines published in the 18th and 19th century show little evidence of influence from Ḥasidism.
History of the Genre
Although there are manuscript tkhines, this is primarily a print genre. The two main groups of tkhines comprise those that were printed in Western Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries, which, although published anonymously, were probably written or compiled by men for women; and those that appeared in Eastern Europe in the 17th, 18th, and early 19th centuries, often with named authors or compilers, some of whom were women. The geographical designation refers primarily to place of printing, rather than place of composition, which is more difficult to determine; it is also intended to suggest a rough periodization, with certain overlaps. The language of the tkhines (known from the 17th century on as "tkhine-loshn") is relatively fixed, rather like an increasingly archaic "prayer-book English," and displays few of the distinctive linguistic features of the developing East European varieties of Yiddish; thus, linguistic analysis is of little help in determining place of composition.
Other differences between Eastern and Western tkhines include the fact that West European tkhines were published in collections addressing many topics, either in small books or as appendices to Hebrew prayer books. The first major collection (containing 36 prayers), entitled simply "Tkhines," was published in Amsterdam in 1648; reprints (usually entitled Seyder Tkhines), expansions, and additional collections followed. In the mid-18th century, a comprehensive collection containing 123 prayers emerged, entitled Seyder Tkhines u-Vakoshes ("Order of Supplications and Petitions" (Fuerth 1762), although there may be one or two earlier editions) and was repeatedly reprinted, with alterations, over the next 150 years, first in Western and then in Eastern Europe. The West European texts depict the holiness to be found in the domestic and the mundane, in the activities of a wife and mother, but they also invoke the angels, the patriarchs and heroes of Jewish history, and the ancient Temple that stood in Jerusalem. The very earliest East European tkhines were published in Prague. Eyn Gor Sheyne Tkhine ("A Very Beautiful Tkhine," ca. 1600) is one of the first to claim female authorship: it is attributed to "a group of pious women." Two other Prague imprints, one from the turn of the 18th century, and the other from 1705, are attributed to women: Rachel bat Mordecai Sofer of Pinczow, and Beila bat Ber Horowitz. Like many other East European texts, all three of these Prague tkhines were short, and dealt with only a single subject each, such as a tkhine "to be recited with devotion every day." However, one notable work, Seyder Tkhines (Prague 1718), was written by a man, Matthias ben Meir, formerly rabbi of Sobota, Slovakia, explicitly for a female audience. "My dear women," he writes, "…I have made this tkhine for you in Yiddish, in order to honor God and … to honor all the pious women. For there are many women who would gladly awaken their hearts by saying many tkhines." This work contains 35 prayers, on a variety of topics. Many later editions, entitled Preger Tkhine ("Prague Tkhine"), were published without the name of the author.
Except for the Prague imprints, the East European tkhines were usually small pamphlets printed on bad paper with poor type, often with no imprint, making their bibliographic history difficult to trace. Books of tkhines originating in 18th-century Eastern Europe, especially in Galicia, Volhynia, and Podolia (now parts of Poland, Belarus, and Ukraine), tended to deal with a smaller number of subjects (such as the High Holidays and the penitential season), often by a single author, and were usually under 20 pages long. Because a significant number of these authors were women, these texts allow us to hear women's voices directly. Important examples include Tkhine Imohes ("Tkhine of the [Biblical] Matriarchs") for the Sabbath before the New Moon, by Leah *Horowitz (18th century), which argues for the power of women's prayer and quotes from rabbinic and kabbalistic sources; Tkhine Imohes fun Rosh Khoydesh Elul ("Tkhine of the Matriarchs for the New Moon of Elul" [and the entire penitential season]; Lviv, n.d.), by Serl daughter of Jacob ben Wolf Kranz (the famed Preacher of Dubno, 1741–1804), which calls on the four biblical matriarchs (Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah) to come to the aid of the worshiper and plead her case before the heavenly court; and Shloyshe Sheorim ("The Three Gates"), attributed to the legendary Sarah *Bas Tovim (she probably lived in Podolia in the 18th century), which contains three sections: one for the three "women's commandments," one for the High Holidays, and one for the Sabbath before the New Moon. Some East European tkhines suggest that women should take part – in some fashion – in such traditionally male activities as synagogue prayer and Torah study.
By the mid-19th century, the genre had undergone significant change. Jews in Central and Western Europe had largely abandoned Yiddish; books comparable to tkhines were published first in Germanized Yiddish, then in German in Yiddish characters, and finally in German. However, these texts exhibited an entirely new sensibility, influenced by the rising ideal of the bourgeois family, with its stress on sentiment and emotional family ties, and its new definition of gender roles. Similarly, in Eastern Europe, the ideal of the bourgeois family came into play, but in a somewhat different fashion. Maskilim wrote tkhines to reach the "benighted" traditional women with their reform program. Unlike earlier tkhine authors, female or male, they scorned their audience and the genre. Often, because they thought they could sell more books, they attributed their works to female authors, either those who had actually written tkhines a century earlier, or to creations of their own imagination. (Because the maskilic practice of using female pseudonyms was well known, earlier scholars were skeptical of any attributions to female authorship. However, many 17th and 18th century women authors can be authenticated.) Alongside these newer maskilic tkhines, older texts and collections, both those originally published in Western Europe and those originally published in Eastern Europe, continued to be reprinted in Eastern Europe in numerous editions, often revised or garbled by the printers.
The tkhines reveal a whole world of women's religious lives, concerns, customs, and settings for prayer. The women (and men) who composed these prayers for women addressed the spiritual issues of their day, whether on the level of domestic piety or national redemption. The tkhines themselves are at home in the literature produced for the intellectual "middle class" of this period; they belong among the guides to the upright life, books of customs, condensations of guides to pious practices, and digests of mystical teachers that were read by householders and artisans. Indeed, the tkhines show just how much women were a part of this intellectual and spiritual world.
As the use of Yiddish declined among emigrants from Eastern Europe in the late 19th and the 20th centuries, and the Yiddish-speaking heartland was destroyed by the Holocaust, the genre of tkhines nearly disappeared, except among Ḥasidim and other isolated traditional Yiddish-speaking populations. Since the 1980s, however, the tkhines have aroused new interest both in scholars and in members of the Jewish public in Europe and North America. Jewish women, in particular, have sought to find a "usable past" in which to root themselves. Orthodox women have turned to the historical tkhines as a direct expression of "traditional" Jewish women's spirituality. This has occurred despite the fact that, unlike their European ancestors, many young Orthodox women in America today are well educated in the Hebrew prayer book and classical sources in Hebrew, and may not know Yiddish at all. Liberal Jewish feminists have sought role models in the tkhines uncovered by scholars, and some have also written and published new tkhines, some of which have been incorporated into recent editions of Conservative and Reconstructionist prayer books.
D. Kay, Seyder Tkhines: The Forgotten Book of Common Prayer for Jewish Women (2004); C. Weissler, Voices of the Matriarchs: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women (1998); B. Kratz-Ritter, Fuer "fromme Zionstoechter" und "gebildete Frauenzimme" (1995).
[Chava Weissler (2nd ed.)]