The Women’s Prayers of 18th-Century Jewry, and the Women Who Wrote Them

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.

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Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Jewish history, Prayer, Women in Judaism

Salman Rushdie and the Western Apologists for Those Who Wish Him Dead

Aug. 17 2022

Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder and supreme leader of the Islamic Republic of Iran, issued a fatwa (religious ruling) in 1989 calling for believers to murder the novelist Salman Rushdie due to the content of his novel, The Satanic Verses. Over the years, two of the book’s translators have been stabbed—one fatally—and numerous others have been injured or killed in attempts to follow the ayatollah’s writ. Last week, an American Shiite Muslim came closer than his many predecessors to killing Rushdie, stabbing him multiple times and leaving him in critical condition. Graeme Wood comments on those intellectuals in the West who have exuded sympathy for the stabbers:

In 1989, the reaction to the fatwa was split three ways: some supported it; some opposed it; and some opposed it, to be sure, but still wanted everyone to know how bad Rushdie and his novel were. This last faction, Team To Be Sure, took the West to task for elevating this troublesome man and his insulting book, whose devilry could have been averted had others been more attuned to the sensibilities of the offended.

The fumes are still rising off of this last group. The former president Jimmy Carter was, at the time of the original fatwa, the most prominent American to suggest that the crime of murder should be balanced against Rushdie’s crime of blasphemy. The ayatollah’s death sentence “caused writers and public officials in Western nations to become almost exclusively preoccupied with the author’s rights,” Carter wrote in an op-ed for the New York Times. Well, yes. Carter did not only say that many Muslims were offended and wished violence on Rushdie; that was simply a matter of fact, reported frequently in the news pages. He took to the op-ed page to add his view that these fanatics had a point. “While Rushdie’s First Amendment freedoms are important,” he wrote, “we have tended to promote him and his book with little acknowledgment that it is a direct insult to those millions of Moslems whose sacred beliefs have been violated.” Never mind that millions of Muslims take no offense at all, and are insulted by the implication that they should.

Over the past two decades, our culture has been Carterized. We have conceded moral authority to howling mobs, and the louder the howls, the more we have agreed that the howls were worth heeding. The novelist Hanif Kureishi has said that “nobody would have the [courage]” to write The Satanic Verses today. More precisely, nobody would publish it, because sensitivity readers would notice the theological delicacy of the book’s title and plot. The ayatollahs have trained them well, and social-media disasters of recent years have reinforced the lesson: don’t publish books that get you criticized, either by semiliterate fanatics on the other side of the world or by semiliterate fanatics on this one.

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Read more at Atlantic

More about: Ayatollah Khomeini, Freedom of Speech, Iran, Islamism, Jimmy Carter