A Jewish Woman’s Prayer Book

A Jewish Woman’s Prayer Book,
edited by Aliza Lavie
New York, NY: Spiegel & Grau, 2008.

Check out this beautiful new volume, a compendium of women’s prayers from various times, places, languages and cultures. Lavie explains in her introduction that the volume is meant to present women’s prayers — reflecting their author’s “customs, beliefs, norms and values” — without “ignor[ing] or distor[ing] their voices and their message.” Lavie is preserving this heritage, she says, “before it recedes beyond our grasp,” to “redeem countless women…from oblivion.”

Lavie distinguishes the volume from both “contemporary universalistic texts” and more traditional prayer books. (This one will not replace a daily or Shabbat/festival siddur.) It is also distinguished from more academic volumes, such as Seyder Tkhines: The Forgotten Book of Common Prayer for Jewish Women and from contemporary and traditional volumes of “women’s prayers,” which contain many prayers written by men for women, such as Techinas: A Voice from the Heart, edited by Rivka Zakutinsky. Aura Press, 1992. (More on recent women’s prayer publications.)

Lavie includes prayers for particular situations in which women sometimes find themselves — as mothers-in-laws, agunot [bound wives], women in marriages without love, etc. Also prayers relating to women’s mitzvot — candles, challah and family purity — and to aspects of fertility and childbirth.

The volume also presents prayers women offered throughout the calendar year, especially at holidays; throughout the lifecycle, from birth to yarzheit; and at everyday moments, from dawn to bedtime.

Prayers are provided in English and Hebrew and/or, in a few cases, Yiddish and Ladino. (Lavie says the multilingual version is a “new creation,” based on the 2005 Hebrew version.)

An elegant compromise is used for notes and citations, with historical/explantory notes accompanying many prayers, in a readable green ink, while specific citations and general references appear at the end of the volume.
Here, as a sample, is a prayer of Crypto-Jewish women of Portugal, which Lavie says was discovered in transcripts of Inquisition records.

God–fill my mouth with laughter and my mouth with song
Fulfill my wishes, bless me from Zion
Hear, Loard, the prayer of Your servant
Let my heart not be proud, nor my eyes be arrogant
Grant me, my God, that I should understand [simple things]
Until I find a place for God; dwelling places for the Might One of Jacob
ad amtza makom l-” mishkanot la-abir ya-akov
For there God commanded the blessing–life unto eternity,
ki sham tzivah ” et ha-bracha chayyim ad ha-olam
There I shall spread my hands to [these]
I shall bless You, Lord, for You judge Your nation
And Your servants accompany You
Hear my cry in Your sanctuary

–pages 24-27, A Jewish Woman’s Prayer Book

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Virginia hosts "Conversations Toward Repair" on We Act Radio, manages WeLuvBooks.org, blogs on general stuff a vspatz.net and more Jewish topics at songeveryday.org and Rereading4Liberation.com

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