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Devotional Literature

The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia

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Aside from the regular prayers, which are treated under see see LITURGY, there exists a literature of private devotions, prayers offered on special occasions. Such devotions are strongly recommended in the Talmud, where private prayers composed by individuals on various occasions are to be found. R. Eliezer (Ber. 4:4) says: "He who makes his prayer a fixed form ["ḳeba'"] has no true devotion." "This," say Rabbah and R. Joseph, "is because he fails to add thoughts or expressions of his own" (Ber. 29b). [Compare the so-called "Lord's Prayer," taught by Jesus (Luke 11:2-4; Matthew 6:9-13), and the parallels given in C. Taylor's "Sayings of the Jewish Fathers," pp. 128-129.—K.] Talmudic devotional prayers may be classified as: (1) general, (2) for forgiveness of sin, (3) when studying the Torah, (4) for the restoration of the Holy Temple. The following are examples of the several kinds:

  1. R. Eliezer said: "May it be Thy will, O Lord our God, and God of our fathers, that no personal enmity or envy enter my heart or the hearts of others. May the Law be our occupation through the days of our life, and may our words of devotion come before Thee." R. Ḥiyyah b. Abba added: "May our hearts cleave to Thy Name in reverence. Keep us from things Thou hatest and bring us nearer to those that Thou lovest. O favor us for Thy Name's sake" (Yer. Ber. 4:2).
  2. "Lord of the worlds, Thou well knowest that our aim is to do Thy will. But what interferes? The leaven in the dough [bad inclinations] and the servitude of the ruling government. O may it be Thy will to save us from these, that we may do Thy will with a true heart."
  3. R. Saphra: "O let peace reign between the heavenly and the earthly households, and between those who study the Torah for its own sake and those who study it for reward" (ib.).
  4. "O let Him reveal and show His kingdom over us speedily. O let Him build His house in our days. O let Him grace the remnant of His people Israel with peace, loving-kindness, and mercy. For the sake of His great Name" (Massek. Soferim, 14:12). The morning devotion of the house of R. Jannai was as follows: "May it please Thee, O Lord my God, to grant me a good heart, a good lot, a good companion, a good name, a good [unbegrudging] eye, a humble soul, and a devout spirit. May Thy Name not be profaned through us, and let us not be a byword among the people. Let not our remainder be destroyed, nor our hope shattered. Let us not be under obligation to a human being, whose gift is insignificant and its humiliation great. Let our lot be with the Law and among those who do Thy will. O build Thy Holy City and Temple speedily in our days" (Yer. Ber. 4:2,7d).Devotional prayers from various rabbis (ib. pp. 16, 17, 29, 60) are copied in the prayer-book, including a prayer against bad dreams, that they may presage good results (Ber. 55b), which was inserted in congregational responses to the priest's blessing on holidays.

In the geonic period private devotional prayers developed side by side with the liturgy; and private prayers were inserted in the prayer-book of Amram Gaon (846 C.E.), as well as in the siddur of Saadia Gaon. One of these is quoted in the collection of private prayers, "Ḳeri'ah Ne'emanah," by Samuel David Ottolengi (Venice, 1715), which contains also a prayer composed by R. Nissim to be recited before the morning prayer of Yom Kippur. Judah ha-Ḥasid and his pupil, Eliezer of Worms, composed devotional prayers which were published under the titles "Tefillot R. Jehudah Ḥasid" and "Yoreh Ḥaṭṭaim."

Midnight Devotion.

Regarding the midnight prayer, , for the restoration of the Jewish state and the rebuilding of the Temple (see Zohar, Wa-Yaḳhel; Shulḥan 'Aruk, Oraḥ Ḥayyim, 1), recited especially in the sixteenth, seventeenth, and eighteenth centuries, ḤAẒOT. Collections of such prayers were made by Ẓebi b. Ḥayyim of Wilmersdorf under the title "Liḳḳuṭe Ẓebi," Sulzbach, 1797; by David Tevele Posner, Hamburg, 1715; and by Aaron Berechiah Modena, author of the collection of devotional prayers for various occasions entitled "Ma'abar Yabboḳ," and of "Seder Ashmurat ha-Bo2er" (matins) for the society known as "Me'ire Shaḥar" (Early Risers or Vigilants), Mantua, 1624. This, under the title "Shomerim la-Boḳer," was translated by Mrs. Ellusch in 1724. Joseph Jedidiah Carmi is the author of "Kenaf Renanim" (The Singers' Wing; Venice, 1626), containing devotions and hymns for every day in the week and for holidays.

From a literary point of view, Carmi's devotions have no equal among the Hebrew collections, and yet, while they were approved by the Rabbis and adopted by several Early Risers' societies in Italy, they were contested as an innovation and a superfluity before a council of rabbis, who finally decided to allow them, not as an addition to the prayer-book but as an adjunct for voluntary devotionalists (see decisions in the Preface, 6a, 12b).

Some devotions are composed of words all of which begin with the same letter. Thus, א in the prayer "Elef Alafim" (A Thousand Alefs) by Joseph b. Sheshet Latimi, first published with the "Iggeret" of Isaac Akrish, Constantinople, 1570; a similar one by Moses Zacuto in his "Iggeret," Leghorn, 1870; the letter ה in the prayer "Baḳḳashat ha-Hehin" by David Ulma (Benjacob, "Oẓar ha-Sefarim," pp. 82, 329); י in a prayer composed of Biblical verses beginning with "Lord" ("Siddur" of Amram, 2:3a); ל in the "Baḳḳashat ha-Lamedin" of Meïr Hesse, Altona, 1829; מ in the "Baḳḳashat ha-Memin" of Jedaiah Bedersi, published with his "Beḥinat 'Olam," Mantua, 1556 (see "Ha-Sharon" to "Ha-Karmel," , No. 42); ש in Aaron Voltera's "Baḳḳashah Ḥadashah" (A New Petition) or ("300 Words Beginning with ש"), Leghorn, 1740. Some parts of these alphabetical devotions are in pure and fluent Hebrew, while the style of the others is cramped and forced.

Divers devotional prayers were composed for Friday night and for Saturday, day and night. They are known as "Zemirot." Regarding the Tashlik prayer on New-Year's Day, TASHLIK; and for a prayer on entering the sukkah on the Feast of Tabernacles, see TABERNACLES, FEAST OF

A petition before saying the Psalms reads: "May Thy mercy attend us in reading the Psalms, as if David himself—peace be to him!—had uttered them; to cleanse us of sin and to forgive us as even Thou hast forgiven David," etc.

There are prayers by Naḥmanides on crossing the sea, and for children ("Liḳḳuṭe Ẓebi," p. 97b, Wilna, 1817) and by Abraham Galicchi against epidemics("Moshia' Ḥosim," p. 33b, Venice, 1587). The "Ma'aneh Lashon," by Jacob ben Solomon Darshan, published first at Prague, 1615, is a collection of prayers to be recited for the sick, also on visiting cemeteries, and on similar occasions, which is very popular in Russia and Poland. Among other devotional prayers mention may be made of the following: Moses Rieti, "Ma'on ha-Sho'alim," Venice, 1550; Isaiah Hurwitz, "Refu'at ha-Nefesh," Amsterdam, 1672; "Yoreh Ḥaṭṭa'im"; Pinchas Monselice, "Magen Ḥayyim," Mantua, 1657; Nathan Naṭa' Hanover, "Sha'are Ẓiyyon," 1662.

Raphael Solomon's prayer against an epidemic among cattle in Italy in 1712 is found in the collection of Matthew Levi ("Zebaḥ Todah," Leghorn, 1829). Others are: by Leon Modena, for a prisoner, in David Sabibi, "Maẓẓil Nefashot," Venice, 1743; by Moses Zacuto, the poor man's devotion, in Nathan Benjamin of Gaza, "Ḥemdat ha-Yamim," 5:29a, Leghorn, 1764; by David b. Ḥassin, "Tefillah le-Dawid," hymns 4, 7, Amsterdam, 1807; by Abraham Danzig, "Tefillah Zakkah," on the eve of the Day of Atonement; Naḥman Breslov, "Liḳḳuṭe Tefillot," Warsaw, 1873.

Eliezer Papu's "Bet Tefillah" (Hebrew and Ladino, Belgrade, 1860) includes the following prayers: by a learned man for those who support him; for a bar miẓwah; for a matrimonial suitor; on the marriage day; at a circumcision; for a teacher; for a shoḥeṭ; for a preacher to be able to deliver his sermons fluently and to please his audience. The prayers in collection by Naḥman of Horodek ("Liḳḳuṭim," Korzec, 1809), all beginning with the words "Rab shel 'Olam" (Master of the World), are composed especially for Ḥasidim.

A modern Hebrew hymnal, "Zimrat Yah," by Moses Zele, Hamburg, 1857, intended to replace the old devotions, "which tend to degrade us in the eyes of the non-Jewish world," did not find recognition among the Jewish people, and is hardly known in devotional literature.

In the Vernacular:

For those who could not read Hebrew, devotional works were composed in the vernacular. In the geonic period the Aramaic was the substitute (see Ber. 3a, Tosef.). A few of the Aramaic devotions are still in use in the seliḥot, such as "Raḥmana Eddekar Lanu," "May the Merciful remember us of the covenant of Abraham, the beloved," etc.; and the soliloquy "Maran de-bashamaya," "Our Master in heaven, to Thee we beg, even like a captive to his master. All captives are ransomed with money; but Thy people Israel, with mercy and supplication. O grant us our request and prayer, and let us not return from Thy presence in vain."

Most of the vernacular devotions are in the Judæo-German dialect, beginning with the seventeenth century, and were written mostly by women to supply the religious needs of their sex on various occasions. The earliest, "Teḥinnot u-Baḳḳashot" (Devotions and Petitions) was published at Basel in 1609 (Zedner, "Cat. Hebr. Books Brit. Mus." p. 448). A German pastor, Willemer of Gelnhausen, translated the "Teḥinnah," published at Amsterdam in 1650. The "Seder Teḥinnot," for week-days and holidays, published at Frankfort-on-the-Main in 1723, contains also prayers for removing the priests' share of the dough ("ḥallah"; p. 5); for baking the Sabbath cakes; for putting on Sabbath garments; before the immersion ("ṭebilah"); for the state of pregnancy, and before childbirth; for a rich woman seeking divine guidance in disposing of her fortune in good deeds (p. 12). Another teḥinnah, of Sulzbach, 1733, includes a petition for pious and scholarly children (p. 17b). A "Teḥinnah for Jewish Women," Vienna, 1838, for Sabbaths and holidays, includes a prayer to be recited on lighting the Sabbath candles, and a blessing on occasion of the approaching new moon.

Yiddish Teḥinnot.

The teḥinnot written in Yiddish are of late origin, and most of them have been published at Wilna from 1870 to date. The popular ones are: (1) "Teḥinnot Immahot" (The Matriarchs—Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah), to be said during the month of Elul, composed by Seril, daughter of Jacob Dubno and wife of Mordecai Rapoport, Wilna, 1873. (2) "Teḥinnot Sheloshah She'arim" (Three Gates), by Sarah, daughter of Mordecai, former rabbi of Brest, Russia, for the following occasions: first gate, the precepts of , abbreviation of "ḥallah," "niddah," "hadlaḳah," for giving the priests' share of the dough, for observing the period of menstruation, and for lighting the Sabbath candles; second gate, for blessing the coming new moon; third gate, for the Penitential Days ("Yamim Nora'im"). The author's account of herself on the title-page reads: "Ich, Soreh, bass tovim, tuh es dem lieben Gott, boruch-hu wegen," etc. (I, Sarah, daughter of a good man, do this for the sake of the loving God, blessed be He) Wilna, 1873). (3) "Teḥinnot Sha'are Teshubah" (Gates of Penitence), for the month of Elul, by Mrs. Shifra, daughter of Judah Leib, rabbi of Lublin, Wilna, 1875. (4) "Ereẓ Yisrael" Telḥinnah, Wilna, 1875, credited to Deborah, wife of R. Naphtali, formerly chief (nasi) of Palestine. In other editions it is called "The Jerusalem Teḥinnot at the Wailing Wall."

The names of the authors are nearly all fictitious and high-sounding, and have been affixed in order to make the teḥinnot salable. It is known that some of the teḥinnot were written by indigent students of the Rabbinical Seminary of Wilna or Jitomir (among others, Naphtali Maskil le-Ethon), and by Selekowitz, for nominal sums, and that the publishers stipulated that the writers should fashion the composition in tearful and heart-rending phrases to suit the taste of the women readers. This forced cultivation of devotional feeling rendered the teḥinnot exaggerated and over-colored, and this did not escape the criticism and ridicule of the men against the women who were such devotees of the teḥinnot.

The first attempt made to edit the teḥinnot in a modern language was by Joshua Heshel Miro in his collection "Gebetbuch för Gebildete Frauenzimmer Mosaischer Religion," Breslau, 1833. This was in Hebrew characters; a later edition was transliterated into German type by S. Blogg.

Letteris' "Taḥnune Bat Yehudah," translated from the German into Dutch ("Gebeden voor Israelitische Vrouwen," Amsterdam, 1853), was dedicated to Lady Judith Montefiore. S. Baer published "Ḳol Bat Ẓiyyon" (The Voice of the Daughter of Zion), Rödelheim, 1856, prayers for every day in theyear and for all circumstances of life, for married and unmarried women. Devotions in Hungarian have been written by Immanuel Löw, M. Stern, and A. Kiss.

A very popular compilation is that of Fanny Neuda (née Schmiedel), "Stunden der Andacht," Brünn, 1859, for girls and young women. It was translated into English by M. Mayer and published by L. H. Frank, New York, 1866. The best-known compilations in English are Ascher, "Book of Life," London, 1861; Bresslau, "Devotions for the Daughters of Israel," ib. 1861; Cohen, "Prayers for Family Use," ib. 1884; Miss Montagu, "Prayers for Jewish Working Girls"; Baroness L. D. Rothschild, "Prayers and Meditations," ib. 1869; Alice Lucas, "The Jewish Year," ib. 1898, 1903; Gustav Gottheil, "Sun and Shield," New York, 1898, taken chiefly from non-Jewish sources; Annie Josephine Levi, "Meditation of the Heart," New York, 1900 (also drawn from non-Jewish sources), with introduction by Gustav Gottheil.

  • Michel Sachs, Religiöse Poesie der Juden in Spanien, Appendix, Berlin, 1845;
  • Leopold Dukes, Zur Kenntniss der Neuhebräischen Religiösen Poesie, Appendix, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1842;
  • Zunz, S. P.;
  • Steinschneider, Jewish Literature, §§ 19, 28, London, 1857;
  • S. Sekles, Poetry of the Talmud, pp. 19-25, New York, 1880;
  • Max Grünbaum, Jüd. Deutsche Chrest. pp. 328-335, Leipsic, 1882;
  • Nahida Remy, Gebet in Bibel und Talmud, Berlin, 1892, and English translation, New York, 1894;
  • A. Sulzbach, Religiöse und Weltliche Poesie der Juden, Berlin, 1893;
  • Winter and Wünsche, Die Jüd. Lit. p. 824, Treves, 1896;
  • S. Schechter, Studies in Judaism, p. 323, Philadelphia, 1896;
  • L. N. Dembitz, Jewish Services in Synagogue and Home, ib. 1898;
  • Leo Wiener, Hist. Yiddish Literature, 16:244-246, New York, 1899.
J. D. E.
Bibliography Information
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Devotional Literature'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tje/​d/devotional-literature.html. 1901.
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