In the 16th century, collections of extracanonical prayers—sometimes in Hebrew, but more often in Yiddish—began to appear in print and rapidly gained popularity among European Jews. Some of these tkhines (from Hebrew, t’ḥinot, supplications) served as supplements to the standard liturgy; others were made to accompany various rituals and calendar dates. Overwhelmingly, most of these were specifically intended to be said by women. While male rabbis wrote t’khines for women, women themselves composed a large number of them. Leah Sarna describes the work of the 18th-century writer Leah Horovitz, the most distinguished and learned of these authors—who, Sarna discovered, was also a distant relation:
Every historical source about Leah Horovitz underlines her scholarship—there is even a fascinating anecdote . . . about a learned argument between her and the chief rabbi of Berlin at a wedding. A story told about her in the [late-18th-century] Memoirs of Ber of Bolechow is perhaps even more revealing. Leah’s father had been the rabbi of Bolechow, in present-day western Ukraine. When he left for a new position, Leah’s brother Mordechai took over for him, and Leah and her husband lived with her brother. In his memoirs, Ber describes being tutored in Talmud by Mordechai as a boy.
Mordechai wasn’t healthy, and midway through the class he would often go to rest, leaving Ber to review the text on his own. The “learned and famous” Leah was there and would “notice how I did not understand the discussion in the Talmud and Rashi’s commentary.” Ber would tell her “some of the words of the Talmud . . . and she would begin to recite the words of the Talmud or Rashi by heart, in clear language, explaining it well as it was written there.”
Leah’s extraordinary talmudic prowess shines through in her great prayer Tkhine Imohos (Supplication of the Matriarchs), to be read on the Shabbat before Rosh Ḥodesh [the new moon]. First printed in Lemberg (Lviv) sometime between 1788 and 1796, her text begins with a Hebrew introduction arguing for her new prayer’s relevance and necessity. “Behold, I the seer have seen a bad thing among my people. Month in and month out when they bless the new month, the tkhines they say are non-canonical,” Horovitz begins. Therefore, a new, more halakhically and theologically appropriate tkhine, to be recited for the blessing of the new month, was essential.