Jew­ish Text

Hours of Devo­tion: Fan­ny Neu­da’s Book of Prayers for Jew­ish Women

Dinah Berland, ed.; M. Moritz May­er, trans.
  • Review
By – March 2, 2012

Emi­ly Dick­in­son, arguably one of America’s great­est poets, could not get pub­lished dur­ing her life­time, but a woman named Fan­ny Neu­da, who wrote a book of prayers for Jew­ish women, did man­age to get her book pub­lished in Aus­tria in 1855. Hours of Devo­tion, recent­ly released in Eng­lish trans­la­tion, con­tains poems for every stage of a woman’s life. 

One poem calls for sex­u­al equal­i­ty in edu­cat­ing women in learn­ing the Hebrew lan­guage as well as Juda­ic his­to­ry. Anoth­er one — in the sec­tion on per­son­al psalms for each day of the week — has a prayer for begin­ning the day: 

…let peace and har­mo­ny Reign with­in my home. Light­en my spir­it So I might earn the love and regard Of my fam­i­ly and friends…” 

One of the rea­sons she speaks about her need to earn her family’s love and respect was that her hus­band had died at the age of 42 and she was left alone with three chil­dren at the age of 35. With­out bit­ter­ness, Neu­da reach­es for spir­i­tu­al sup­port for her new bur­den. Sin­gle moth­ers might ben­e­fit from read­ing this section. 

She has a sec­tion on women’s approach to the hol­i­days, with spe­cif­ic atten­tion to Sim­chat Torah, where­in she grap­ples with the Ten Com­mand­ments as they relate to her inner demons. And then she includes prayers from daugh­ters to par­ents, for brides, and for preg­nant women. For expec­tant moth­ers, she writes: 

Grant me also the con­stan­cy, dis­cre­tion and restraint To refrain from any­thing that might harm or endan­ger My unborn child… Nev­er allow­ing myself to become over­whelmed By fear, anger, grief, sorrow.” 

Neu­da does not omit prayers for the moth­er of a bar/​bat mitz­vah, or a bride/​groom, or those a moth­er might say wish­ing for her children’s safe­ty and suc­cess. She even includes prayers for an unhap­py wife:

Where true love is lack­ing, Noth­ing remains but arti­fice And grief that con­sumes the heart Noth­ing but sor­row that erodes feel­ing Beneath a frozen, icy breath of apa­thy and indifference.” 

She ded­i­cat­ed this book to her dead hus­band and includ­ed prayers relat­ed to that, for mak­ing a liv­ing and for deal­ing with sick­ness of fam­i­ly mem­bers, and last of all, with end of life issues:

I shall always cling to this hope and promise The thought that death can­not have com­plete­ly destroyed The bond of our hearts.” 

This is a book which suc­ceeds in pro­vid­ing spir­i­tu­al sus­te­nance for women of any age. 

Eleanor Ehrenkranz received her Ph.D. from NYU and has taught at Stern Col­lege, NYU, Mer­cy Col­lege, and at Pace Uni­ver­si­ty. She has lec­tured wide­ly on Jew­ish lit­er­a­ture and recent­ly pub­lished anthol­o­gy of Jew­ish poet­ry, Explain­ing Life: The Wis­dom of Mod­ern Jew­ish Poet­ry, 1960 – 2010.

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