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Horovitz, Leah

(fl. 18th century), scholar and liturgical poet. Leah Horovitz (her entire first name was Sarah Rivkah Raḥel Leah) was a descendant of a family that had had distinguished rabbis and scholars in its ranks for centuries. Her father, Ya‘akov ben Me’ir Horovitz (1680–1755), was the rabbi of Bolechów and later of Brody, where he was also a member of the elite kloyz (circle) of scholar-mystics. Three of Leah’s five brothers also functioned as rabbis. Leah was married twice, first to Aryeh Leib, son of the rabbi of Dobromil, and then to Shabetai ben Binyamin Rapoport, the rabbi of Krasny. It is not known if she had children.

While living as a young married woman in her brother’s household in Bolechów—he had succeeded his father as rabbi—Leah gained a considerable and an unusual, for a woman, reputation as a learned scholar among her contemporaries. The memoirist Ber Birkenthal (Ber of Bolechów) recounted how Horovitz regularly helped him with difficult Talmudic problems as he awaited his lessons with her brother. Most exceptionally, she left a literary legacy: an eight-page prayer, Tkhine Imohos (Supplication of the Matriarchs), to be recited on the Sabbath preceding the beginning of a new month (the attribution to her of another prayer, Tkhine Moyde Oni [I Give Thanks; recited after waking] is apparently erroneous).

The title Tkhine Imohos refers to the biblical Matriarchs and may also allude to its author’s full first names. The prayer has three sections in three languages: a Hebrew introduction, a rhymed hymn in Aramaic, and a Yiddish paraphrase of the hymn. The author’s names appear as an acrostic in the two latter sections. The use of Hebrew and Aramaic was very exceptional in a prayer explicitly meant to be recited by women; usually such prayers were written exclusively in Yiddish. Adding to the distinctiveness of the tkhine, and pointing as well to the learning of the author, is its drawing not only on Talmudic and rabbinic literature but also on kabbalistic sources, particularly the Zohar.

The central theme of the prayer is exile and redemption. In the introduction, Horovitz argues that women’s prayers, in particular, have the power to bring redemption because, as kabbalistic sources indicate, tears have redemptive power and are common among women. Because the true purpose of prayer (as opposed to personal petition) is redemption, and because women were felt to have a special power and duty in this regard, Horovitz argues that they ought to pray twice daily in the synagogue as only there are such prayers heard on High.

Horovitz’s assertion of women’s special spiritual powers was extraordinary for its time and, perhaps because it was written in languages that few of her female contemporaries could read, evoked little response. In most later editions of her tkhine, only the Yiddish paraphrase was printed.

Suggested Reading

Ḥayim Liberman, “‘Teḥinat imahot’ u-‘teḥinat sheloshah she‘arim,’” in Ohel Raḥel: . . . Mi-saviv la-ḥasidut, pp. 432–441 (New York, 1980), also in Kiryat Sefer 36 (1961): 112–122; Chava Weissler, Voices of the Matriarchs (Boston, 1998), chap. 7.



Translated from Hebrew by Carrie Friedman-Cohen