Dinah Berland discovered the work of Fanny Neuda, a Moravian Rabbi's wife in the 19th century, in a used bookshop in Los Angeles; when she pulled out a small volume with an unmarked spine, a new period of Jewish study and personal growth began for her. Fanny Neuda's 1855 Hours of Devotion was the first book of Jewish prayers written for women by a woman, at a time when such daily prayer books were quite popular, since women in those days were generally not taught Hebrew but wanted to fulfill the rabbinic injunction to pray at least once daily. Neuda's book was a bestseller in German for many decades, containing prayers for each day of the week, for every Jewish holiday, and for many female occasions and rites of passage ("For a Bride on Her Wedding Day"; "For a Childless Wife"; "A Daughter's Prayer for Her Parents"; "For A Mother Whose Son Is In Military Service"). It was often a cherished gift from mother to daughter. Berland became fascinated by Neuda's role as a pioneer in advocating a religious education for young Jewish women, and her heartfelt, beautifully crafted prayers. In creating this edition, Berland, a poet and editor, made the choice to format the prayers as poetry. Fanny's prayers tend to follow the traditional pattern of the Psalms, Berland tells us, "flowing from the heavens above to the earth below, from the universal to the personal." She explains, "It should come as no surprise that the relationship of poetry and prayer is as old as Hebrew scripture itself. The Torah, or Five Books of Moses, is often referred to as shira, literally 'song' or 'poem,' and the last of the Torah's 613 commandments requires that every Jew study the Torah as a shira: 'Therefore, write down this poem and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, so this poem may be my witness...' " Today's selection is Neuda's prayer for the first days of Passover, an appropriate reading for tonight's seder.
Excerpt from HOURS OF DEVOTION. Copyright © 2007 by Dinah Berland. Excerpted by permission of Schocken Books, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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