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Rivke bas Me’ir of Tikotin

(Tiktin; also Rebecca of Tykocin; d. 1605), the first female author of a Yiddish book; preacher and teacher of women. Rivke bas Me’ir was descended from a family whose roots lay in the town of Tiktin (Pol., Tykocin, near Białystok), as indicated by her father’s name, Me’ir Tikotin or Tiktiner. She may have been born and raised in Poland and her date of birth is also unknown, but she spent at least the last years of her life in Prague, where she died. Her headstone in the old Jewish cemetery of that city asserts that she “had preached day and night to women in every pious community.” Her epitaph also refers to her father as “morenu ha-rav rabi [our teacher and master, rabbi] Me’ir,” suggesting that she was the daughter of a scholar and had probably acquired her knowledge of Hebrew and rabbinical literature at her parents’ home. Presumably her husband was not a rabbi and therefore it can be assumed that the titles rabanit (teacher) and darshanit ve-rabanit (preacher and teacher) were honorifics bestowed on her out of respect for her activities in Prague and its surrounding communities.

Rivke bas Me’ir’s book Meynekes Rivke (Rebecca’s Wet Nurse), spanning 36 folios, is considered to be the oldest Yiddish-language book written by a woman. The work belongs to the genre of Musar (ethical) literature written in Yiddish, popular with women and uneducated men in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; other works in the genre include Sefer midos (1542) and Brantshpigl (1596). Meynekes Rivke was published in Prague in 1609, after her death; a second edition followed in Kraków in 1618. It is a particularly significant text because it was unusual for a woman to write a scholarly ethical book; its normative demands testify to Rivke bas Me’ir’s self-assurance in this field.

The first chapter of Meynekes Rivke deals with the behavioral ideals and commandments relevant to nidah and kashrut (menstruation and food). These subjects are categorized under the topic of khokhmas haguf, or wisdom of the body, while social and practical–religious commandments and ideals are termed khokhmas haneshama, or wisdom of the soul. Six additional chapters address the practices expected of a married woman in relation to her husband, her parents, her parents-in-law, her children, her daughters-in-law and sons-in-law, as well as servants and guests. The instructions, as formulated, reflect life experience and paint a lively picture of the domestic world of Jewish women in the early modern period.

Meynekes Rivke has an emphatically homiletic tone, mirroring Rivke bas Me’ir’s literary talent and demonstrating an erudition uncommon among women of her time. In long exegetical and homiletic passages, she provides Hebrew citations from the Bible, accompanied by Yiddish translations. The text also includes Yiddish adaptations of stories from the Talmud and midrashim, as well as citations from other examples of Hebrew and Yiddish ethical literature. Among its many sources are Seyfer midos (and its Hebrew original Orḥot tsadikim), Sefer ḥasidim, and Reshit ḥokhmah. The text also adapts terms and techniques of rabbinical exegesis while at times concluding with independent interpretations and points of view, reflecting Rivke bas Me’ir’s decisive attitudes toward the role of women and equality in marriage. The content and style of Meynekes Rivke probably reflect her actual instructions and sermons. Rivke bas Me’ir also wrote a Yiddish Simkhes Toyre lid (song for the holiday of Simḥat Torah; date unknown), which has survived in two versions.

Suggested Reading

Frauke von Rohden, ed., Rivkah bat Me’ir Tikotin: Meneket Rivkah; Introduction, Text and Translation (Philadelphia, 2007); Chone Shmeruk, Sifrut yidish be-Polin (Jerusalem, 1981), 56–69, 101–102; Emily Taitz, Sondra Henry, and Cheryl Tallan, The JPS Guide to Jewish Women, 600 B.C.E.–1900 C.E.B.C.E.C.E. (Philadelphia 2003), pp. 147–149.



Translated from German by Sonja Mekel