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Woman as high priest: A kabbalistic prayer in yiddish for lighting Sabbath candles

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  1. 1.

    The lack of female mystics is noted by Gershom Scholem as a distinguishing characteristic of kabbalah; see hisMajor Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York, 1956), 37.

  2. 2.

    See I. M. Lewis,Ecstatic Religion (Harmondsworth, 1971). In their study of medieval Christian saints (Saints and Society [Chicago, 1982], 228), Donald Weinstein and Rudolph Bell speculate that “the social powerlessness of women helps to explain the frequency of supernatural activity in their lives.” I believe the matter is more complicated. For a detailed examination of the reasons for and meanings of the related phenomenon of female asceticism in medieval Christianity, see Carolyn Walker Bynum,Holy Feast and Holy Fast (Berkeley, 1987). For a fascinating discussion of women's involvement in communing with spirits of a rather different kind, see Alex Owen,The Darkened Room: Women, Power, and Spiritualism in Late Victorian England (London, 1989).

  3. 3.

    As Scholem points out (Major Trends, 37), this is not an absolute obstacle to women's mystical activity. Few Christian or Muslim women were learned, yet this did not prevent them from strongly influencing Christian and Muslim mystical movements.

  4. 4.

    While women seem not to have played a significant role in the leadership of the Sabbatian movement, Eva Frank, Jacob Frank's daughter, was a leader of the Frankist movement. Frankist theology also gave a significant place to the feminine aspect of God. See Bernard D. Weinryb,The Jews of Poland (Philadelphia, 1976), 236–61. On women in Hasidism, see Ada Rapoport-Albert, “On Women in Hasidism, S. A. Horodecky and the Maid of Ludmir Tradition,” inJewish History: Essays in Honour of Chimen Abramsky, ed. Steven J. Zipperstein and Ada Rapoport-Albert (London, 1988), 495–525. Rapoport-Albert approaches the question of the position of women in Hasidism mainly from the perspective of elite Hasidic literature. As I suggest below, it is also important to take popular literature into account.

  5. 5.

    Rapoport-Albert, “On Women in Hasidism.”

  6. 7.

    What is needed is a full-scale analysis of which kabbalistic texts were translated, how they were adapted in translation, and what kinds of Yiddish texts they appeared in. Israel Zinberg,A History of Jewish Literature (New York, 1975), vol. 7,Old Yiddish Literature, 345–52, briefly discusses kabbalisticmusar literature; Zev Gries discusses kabbalistichanhagot (regimen vitae) in Yiddish in “'Itsuv sifrut ha-hanhagot ha-'ivrit be-mifneh ha-me'ah ha-shesh-'esreh uva-me'ah ha-sheva'-'esreh u-mashma'uto ha-historit,”Tarbiz 56 (1987): 527–81, esp. 531–32 and 578–79.

  7. 8.

    For a discussion of a case in which atkhine uses material fromSefer Ma'asei Adonai see Chava Weissler, “Women in Paradise,”Tikkun, vol. 2, no. 2 (1987): 43–46, 117–20.

  8. 9.

    Carolyn Walker Bynum, “ ‘⋯And Woman His Humanity’: Female Imagery in the Religious Writing of the Later Middle Ages,” inGender and Religion, ed. C. W. Bynum, S. Harrell, and P. Richman (Boston, 1986), 257–88; see also the more general discussion of the different uses women and men make of the symbolism of Christianity in Bynum'sHoly Feast and Holy Fast, chap. 10.

  9. 10.

    The worktkhine derives from the Hebrewtehinnah (pl.tehinnot) “supplication.” For an introduction to thetkhine literature, see Chava Weissler, “The Traditional Piety of Ashkenazic Women,” inJewish Spirituality from the Sixteenth-Century Revival to the Present, ed. Arthur Green (New York, 1987), 245–75; and idem, “Traditional Yiddish Literature: A Source for the Study of Women's Religious Lives,” The Jacob Pat Memorial Lecture, February 26, 1987, Harvard University Library (Cambridge, Mass., 1988). For an overview of the methodological problems involved in usingtkhines and other genres of Yiddish popular religious literature for studying the religious lives of women, see Chava Weissler, “The Religion of Traditional Ashkenazic Women: Some Methodological Issues,”AJS Review 12 (1987): 73–94.

  10. 13.

    I am not certain of the date of the first edition of this collection. Friedberg,Bet 'eqed sefarim, p. 1098, no.tav 1251, mentions a Fürth, 1755, edition; I have used the next one he cites, Fürth, 1762, which is in the collection of the Jewish Theological Seminary library. This work combines material from at least four earlier collections oftkhines.

  11. 14.

    See Solomon Freehof, “Devotional Literature in the Vernacular,”CCAR Yearbook 33 (1923): 375–474.

  12. 15.

    Weissler, “Traditional Piety,” 249–52.

  13. 16.

    Seder tkhines u-vakoshes (Fürth, 1762), no. 3. Thistkhine is an adaptation of a Hebrew prayer intended for men who were not learned in kabbalah. It was composed by Leib Pohavitser and appears in hisSefer Darkhei Hakhamim (Frankfort an der Oder, 1683), part 2,Solet belulah, hilkhot tefillah, 19c.

  14. 17.

    There is good reason to be suspicious of some attributions, especially in texts from the second half of the nineteenth century, whenmaskilim wrote large numbers of pseudepigraphicaltkhines. On the controversy abouttkhine authorship, see Shmuel Niger, “Di yidishe literatur un di lezerin,” reprinted in hisBleter geshikhte fun der yidisher literatur (New York, 1959), 35–107, esp. 82–85 and 88–94; Zinberg,Old Yiddish Literature, 251–53. For a different, older, view, see theJewish Encyclopedia (1904), s.v. “Devotional Literature,” esp. 551.

  15. 18.

    A few isolatedtkhines, printed in other works, have come down to us from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Chone Shmeruk,Sifrut yidish be-polin (Jerusalem, 1981), 61–65, 82–83 (#10), 114 (#62), is undoubtedly correct in stating that a much larger number of eastern Europeantkhines were already in existence by the sixteenth century; however, they have not been preserved.

  16. 19.

    On Sore bas Tovim (Sarah bat Mordecai, or bat Isaac, of Satanov), see Zinberg,Old Yiddish Literature, 253–56. Zinberg thinks she lived in the early eighteenth century. I have not found any early dated editions of theShloyshe she'orim, nor any independent historical verification of Sore's existence. However, it is likely that she was a historical person. On aspects of theShloyshe she'orim, see Weissler, “Women in Paradise,” and idem, “Traditional Piety,” 253–56 and 262–67.

  17. 20.

    Part of thetkhine for Rosh Hodesh in theShloyshe she'orim is a paraphrase ofSefer Hemdat yamim, 4 vols. (Jerusalem, 1969/70; photo offset of Constantinople, 1734/35), vol. 2,Rosh Hodesh, 12b–13b (Enqat Asir). On the history of this anonymous work, see Isaiah Tishby, “Le-heqer ha-meqorot shel seferHemdat yamim” and “Meqorot me-reshit ha-me'ah ha-shemonah-'asar beseferHemdat yamim,” both reprinted in hisNetivei emunah u-minut (Jerusalem, 1982), 108–42, 143–68. As Tishby and other scholars have shown,Hemdat yamim is a Sabbatian work, although it was not always recognized as such. As a rule, Sore bas Tovim relied on Yiddish instead of Hebrew sources. If she was consistent, she got the material fromHemdat yamim from a Yiddish adaptation, paraphrase, or excerpt, rather than from the original Hebrew text. The implications of the incorporation of Sabbatian material into thetkhine require further investigation. The material Sore incorporated is vividly messianic; in my view, this powerful passage contributed a great deal to the popularity of theShloyshe she'orim. Is it merely coincidence that Sore is said to be from Satanov, which seems to have had an active crypto-Sabbatian circle during the eighteenth century? SeeEncyclopaedia Judaica (1972), s.v. “Shabbetai Zevi,” esp. col. 1251.

  18. 21.

    See Haim Liberman, “ ‘Tehinnah imahot’ u-'tehinnat sheloshah she'arim,’ ” in hisOhel Rahel (New York, 1979/80), 432–54, esp. 432–33 and 437–38, and the references there. For additional discussion of this text and its use of kabbalistic material, see Weissler,Voices of the Matriarchs (Boston, forthcoming), chap. 4.

  19. 22.

    Tkhine Imrei Shifre (n.p., n.d.; eastern Europe after 1770?). The edition I use is in thetkhine pamphlet collection of the Jewish National and University Library, call no. R41 A460, vol. 6, no. 8. I compared it with a different edition, also published without a date or place of publication, in the uncataloguedtkhine pamphlet collection of the Jewish Theological Seminary Library. The differences between the two editions are many but small. The title of thetkhine could be a play on the common book titleImrei shefer.

  20. 27.

    In both editions, Shifre's husband's name is followed by an inconsistent string of abbreviations: n“y “'h p”h. The first one stands fornero ya'ir, implying he is alive; the second for'alav ha-shalom, implying he is dead. I examined the following sources in an unsuccessful search for some reference to Shifre's husband: Dov Evron, ed.,Pinqas ha-kesherim shel qehillat Pozna (Jerusalem, 1966); Meir Wunder,Me'orei Galizyah (Jerusalem, 1978–86);Pinqas ha-qehillot, Polin, vol. 2:Galizyah ha-mizrahit (Jerusalem, 1980); Raphael Halprin,Atlas ez ha-hayyim, vol. 7 (Tel Aviv? 1981); N. M. Gelber, “Aus Dem ‘Pinax des alten Judenfriedhofes in Brody’ (1699–1831),”Jahrbuch der Jüdisch-Literarischen Gesellschaft (Frankfurt am Main, 1920), 119–41. This lack of documentation does not necessarily mean that the author statement on thetkhine is fictitious. There were apparently many undocumented rabbis in Brody (Meir Wunder, personal communication conveyed by Shaul Stampfer). In addition, if, as is likely, thistkhine was published in the vicinity of Brody, its audience would have known whether or not there was adayyan named Ephraim Segal, which would have limited the publisher's flights of fancy.

  21. 28.

    Intkhine khadoshe le-khol yom Shifre writes: “And I pray you, dear Father, help me [resist] Satan, so that I may have no strange thought. Satan and his accusers hinder my prayer; I cannot overcome him. I pray you, dear God, help me to overcome him.” See M. Piekarz,Bi-yeme zemihat ha-hasidut (Jerusalem, 1978), chap. 6, in which discussions of the problem of “strange thoughts” during prayer are quoted from several Yiddish ethical works. These are Zevi Hirsh Koidanover,Qav ha-yashar, chap. 8; Isaac ben Eliakum,Lev Tov, hilkhot bet ha-keneset, 8; Yehiel Mikhl Epstein,Derekh ha-yashar la- ‘olam ha-ba’. Any (or all) of these could have been Shifre's source. Shifre also uses the termshefa' 'elyonah [sic]: “The supernal abundance has removed itself from us; the sages go around without a livelihood.” Again, this does not seem to be a specifically Hasidic usage of the termshefa'.

  22. 29.

    If the author of thistkhine were influenced by Hasidic teachings, it would have been by word of mouth or via a manuscript. The earliest published Hasidic work,Toledot Yaaqov Yosef, by Jacob Joseph of Polonnoye, first appeared in 1780.

  23. 30.

    The penultimate paragraph of thetkhine khadoshe le-khol yom is similar to part ofSeder tkhines u-vakoshes, no. 57. A passage in the middle of the third page of thetkhine khadoshe le-shabes resemblesSeder tkhines u-vakoshes, no. 49. Parts of a passage on the third page of thetokhakhas musar le-shabes resemble parts of Leye'sTkhine imohes. These similarities are not close enough to be certain that Shifre has indeed used the earlier works; there may be other sources. However, it seems that she was influenced by the literary tradition of thetkhines for lighting Sabbath candles.

  24. 34.

    See B. Shabbat 23b.

  25. 35.

    Tkhine Imrei Shifre, [6a–6b].

  26. 37.

    On the meaning of the Sabbath and its rituals in the kabbalah, see Elliot K. Ginsburg,The Sabbath in the Classical Kabbalah (Albany, NY, 1989).

  27. 38.

    There are a number of passages in the Zohar that contain similar themes concerning the High Priest, but none that correspond to the precise wording of thetkhine. Thematic parallels for this motif in the Zohar include correspondence between an earthly priest and tabernacle, and a heavenly priest and tabernacle (Zohar I 217a, II 159a, III 134b, 132b [Idra Rabba], 147a); the High Priest kindles the supernal lights (III 34b); and interpretations of the termbe-ha'alotekha (III 149a: “Come and see, at the time when the priest intended to kindle the lights below, and he would offer incense at that time, then the upper lights would shine”; and see the pages following).

  28. 39.

    The paraphrase was an expansion of a work begun by Hotsh's grandfather, Aviezer Zelig. Hotsh may have been a crypto-Sabbatian. See the (contradictory) statements on this in two articles by Gershom Scholem in theEncyclopaedia Judaica (1972), s.v. “Chotsh, Zevi Hirsh ben Jerahmeel”; and s.v. “Shabbetai Zevi,” esp. col. 1248.

  29. 40.

    Chava Weissler, “ ‘For Women and for Men who are Like Women’: The Construction of Gender in Yiddish Devotional Literature,”Journal of Feminist Studies in Religion 5 (2) (Fall 1989): 7–24. Nonetheless,Nahalat Zevi appears to have been popular reading material for women. In its intended audience,Nahalat Zevi is unlike the two other adaptations of kabbalistic material mentioned earlier in the article. The two compendia by Simon Akiva Baer b. Joseph were addressed to both women and men. In fact,Abbir Ya'aqov has a rather sweet little preface which recommends that husband and wife read the book together after they arise from their Sabbath nap.

  30. 41.

    Zevi Hirsh Hotsh,Nahalat Zevi (Amsterdam, 1711), Bereshit, col. 5b, also numbered col. 130.

  31. 42.

    Hotsh,Nahalat Zevi, Bemidbar, p. 8a, also numbered col. 281 (near the beginning ofBe-ha'alotekha).

  32. 44.

    Seder Tkhines u-vakoshes (Fürth, 1762), no. 47.

  33. 45.

    Sore bas Tovim [?],Shloyshe she'orim (n.p., n.d.; eastern Europe, late eighteenth century?), [3b–4a].

  34. 48.

    For a more theoretical discussion of this issue, see Weissler, “ ‘For Women and for Men Who are Like Women.’ ”

  35. 49.

    Scholem,Major Trends, 37.

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Weissler, C. Woman as high priest: A kabbalistic prayer in yiddish for lighting Sabbath candles. Jew History 5, 9–26 (1991). https://doi.org/10.1007/BF01679790

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