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.

Read more at Jewish Review of Books

More about: Jewish history, Prayer, Women in Judaism

Why Egypt Fears an Israeli Victory in Gaza

While the current Egyptian president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, has never been friendly to Hamas, his government has objected strenuously to the Israeli campaign in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip. Haisam Hassanein explains why:

Cairo has long been playing a double game, holding Hamas terrorists near while simultaneously trying to appear helpful to the United States and Israel. Israel taking control of Rafah threatens Egypt’s ability to exploit the chaos in Gaza, both to generate profits for regime insiders and so Cairo can pose as an indispensable mediator and preserve access to U.S. money and arms.

Egyptian security officials have looked the other way while Hamas and other Palestinian militants dug tunnels on the Egyptian-Gaza border. That gave Cairo the ability to use the situation in Gaza as a tool for regional influence and to ensure Egypt’s role in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict would not be eclipsed by regional competitors such as Qatar and Turkey.

Some elements close to the Sisi regime have benefited from Hamas control over Gaza and the Rafah crossing. Media reports indicate an Egyptian company run by one of Sisi’s close allies is making hundreds of millions of dollars by taxing Gazans fleeing the current conflict.

Moreover, writes Judith Miller, the Gaza war has been a godsend to the entire Egyptian economy, which was in dire straits last fall. Since October 7, the International Monetary Fund has given the country a much-needed injection of cash, since the U.S. and other Western countries believe it is a necessary intermediary and stabilizing force. Cairo therefore sees the continuation of the war, rather than an Israeli victory, as most desirable. Hassanein concludes:

Adding to its financial incentive, the Sisi regime views the Rafah crossing as a crucial card in preserving Cairo’s regional standing. Holding it increases Egypt’s relevance to countries that want to send aid to the Palestinians and ensures Washington stays quiet about Egypt’s gross human-rights violations so it can maintain a stable flow of U.S. assistance and weaponry. . . . No serious effort to turn the page on Hamas will yield the desired results without cutting this umbilical cord between the Sisi regime and Hamas.

Read more at Washington Examiner

More about: Egypt, Gaza War 2023, U.S. Foreign policy