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  • Tehinnat Hanashim Levinyan HamikdashA Conversation
  • Yael Levine (bio) and Chava Weissler (bio)

CW: Yael, it is fascinating that you have become so involved with the tehinnah form. You have written many new tehinnot in Hebrew. Can you tell me something about how and why you began to write tehinnot? Were you inspired by the Yiddish tkhines such as those I wrote about in Voices of the Matriarchs?

YL: The word tehinnah, which I used in the titles of two of the prayers I have composed—Tehinnat hanashim levinyan hamikdash and Tehinnah la'ishah kodem talmud torah (Prayer for a Woman Prior to Torah Study)—is synonymous with tefillah, prayer. The midrash enumerates various biblical synonyms for tefillah, including tehinnah.1 Alongside Hebrew prayers which bear this word in their rubric, the word tkhine was used historically in the titles of Yiddish prayers, a genre with which I was acquainted at the time in general terms only. This may have had an external influence on my choice to employ the word tehinnah in two of the early prayers I wrote, but the form and content of my compositions were not influenced by the Yiddish prayers.

I composed the first of my prayers, Tehinnah la'ishah kodem talmud torah, in the late 1980s, after completing my M.A. in the Talmud department at Bar Ilan University.2 My sense of the need for such a prayer was rooted in my personal experience of learning. To an extent, I drew the notion of composing an occasional prayer from my acquaintance with the compilation Likkutei tefillot by Rabbi Nathan, disciple of Rav Nachman of Breslav, based on the writings of his Master. From time to time I would learn of women who recited Tehinnah la'ishah kodem talmud torah.3 Tehinnat hanashim levinyan hamikdash was the second liturgical piece I wrote, in the early 1990s, in response to a Call for Papers from the Jerusalem-based literary journal Mabu'a inviting submissions of material of various literary forms for an issue on Jerusalem.4 [End Page 135]

I have since written several additional prayers. Tefillah lemetzi'at bat zug (Prayer for Finding a Wife) and Tefillah lemetzi'at ben zug (Prayer for Finding a Husband) were both published in 2001. For several years, I had taken a scholarly interest in the topic of prayers for finding one's mate. I had collected a considerable amount of material, yielding two academic articles, one on prayers from Yemen for finding a wife, found in various manuscripts;5 and the other on segulot and prayers for finding one's mate in the writings of Rav Nachman of Breslav.6 The composition of prayers on this topic, to address and reflect the concerns facing contemporary Orthodox Jews seeking their mates, was a possibility I had contemplated for some time. Then I was approached by the editor of the journal Marot, aimed at young Orthodox women doing National Service, to contribute to an issue devoted to the topic of finding one's mate in the National Religious community. When I suggested writing prayers, I already had in mind a general outline of the themes worthy of inclusion. The prayers were accompanied by an article discussing the motifs they contained in relation to those found in traditional prayers of this kind.7

In 2001, I composed Tefillah al benot yisra'el shenirtzehu biyedei benei zugan (Prayer Concerning Jewish Women Who Have Been Murdered By Their Spouses).8 In the latter part of 2000 and the beginning of 2001 there had been an escalation in the number of women in Israel who were murdered by their spouses. For several months I walked around with the feeling that this terrible phenomenon should find its Jewish spiritual expression, and I read large portions of Likkutei tefillot to draw inspiration for a prayer. The actual writing took only a few hours.

Towards the beginning of 2002, I took up the piyyut (liturgical hymn) Vayehi bahatzi halailah (It Was in the Middle of the Night), traditionally sung at the seder, and composed two additional stanzas referring to events involving female figures that took place on the Eve of Passover.9 The topic of women...


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