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  • Meneket Rivkah: A Manual of Wisdom and Piety for Jewish Women by Rivkah bat Meir
  • Jerold C. Frakes
Meneket Rivkah: A Manual of Wisdom and Piety for Jewish Women by Rivkah bat Meir, by Frauke von Rohden. Translation of Meneket Rivkah by Samuel Spinner. Translation of Introduction and Commentary by Maurice Tszorf. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 2009. 360 pp. $45.00.

Little is known of Rivke bas Meir Tiktiner, who most probably lived in Prague in the late sixteenth century, probably the daughter of a learned father who was herself better educated than most Ashkenazic girls and women of the period. Two texts are attributed to her, the Meynekes Rivko (1609) and the Simkhes Touro Lid (1650), both published in Prague and both edited in this volume. While the former text (the primary focus of the volume) is by no means the earliest extant text written by a Jewish woman, nor the earliest example of the genre of a musar book (ethico-moral conduct guide) for women, or even the first book by a Jewish woman that demonstrates advanced knowledge of the Jewish textual tradition, it is nonetheless one of the most fascinating and culturally significant Jewish texts of the early seventeenth century, of signal importance for the fields of Jewish, Yiddish, gender, and religious studies.

This volume began as a dissertation at the Universität Duisburg and still bears some marks of that genre. While that dissertation was originally written in German about the Middle Yiddish text, this English volume has been [End Page 171] prepared by two translators: Germanist/Yiddishist Samuel Spinner's translation of the Middle Yiddish text forms the essential kernel of the volume and is exemplary, hewing close to the original in style and tone, while remaining insistently idiomatic in English; it is a model of scholarly translation in its clarity, precision, and cultural transparency. The translation of von Rohden's dissertation per se (i.e., introduction and notes), on the other hand, was produced by a non-native speaker of English from a commercial translation bureau (Maurice Tszorf ) and is consistently unidiomatic and frequently ungrammatical, which several times per page quite effectively obscures the sense.

In the "review of scholarship" mandated by the dissertation format, von Rohden surveys what little has been published over the centuries about the author, making a strong case for a lack of appropriate scholarly attention to both the author and the genre in which she wrote, unfortunately also exaggerating that case, which leads her to castigate even scholars active during the period when the text was, as she acknowledges, considered lost (p. xiii); likewise she ignores the edition (with apparatus) of a sizable excerpt of Meynekes Rivko and the whole Simkhes Touro Lid in Early Yiddish Texts (Oxford, 2004).

The volume includes an introduction (pp. 1–71), the Middle Yiddish text (pp. 211–280) and its English translation (with extensive explanatory notes, pp. 79–204), a bibliography (pp. 287–295), citation notes (here called "scriptural index," although it also includes Talmud, "Medieval Literature" and "Early Modern Literature," pp. 297–302), a Hebrew-alphabet Yiddish subject index (pp. 303–307), a general subject index (pp. 309–315), textual notes (pp. 205–207), two facsimile pages (pp. 72, 208), and a photograph of Rivke bas Meir's gravestone (p. 282). Von Rohden's Middle Yiddish text is relatively accurate: I find only four errors in her transcription of the two facsimile pages included; for some reason, however, she omits all vowel pointing in the text (of which there is much). As the page numbers indicate, readers who expect that the edited text and translation will be on facing pages, with explanatory notes, textual notes, and citation notes distributed on the page beneath the texts, so that the reader has a section of the text and its full apparatus in view at any given opening of the volume, as has long been standard and has recently even become technologically simple and convenient to produce, will be sorely disappointed with this volume, which fragments the whole, separating the translation from the Yiddish text, and printing the explanatory notes beneath and keyed to the translation, although they are most relevant to the...


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