Page 107 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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BILIK /
TSENE-RENE:
A YIDDISH LITERARY SUCCESS
99
insight into why the
Tsene-rene
was more successful than pre­
vious
taytsh-khumoshim
[Bible translations]. These were mainly
literal word-for-word translations that glossed the individual
passage but not the sense of the verse. They were soon super-
ceded by works which added legends and midrashic elements
to the biblical text, such as Jehudah Leib Bresch’s edition of
the Pentateuch (Cremona, 1560). This work was the model for
Rabbi Isaac ben Sampson’s
Taytsh-khumesh
(1610). He justified
the religious book in Yiddish by citing the practices of ancient
times: “In olden days our books that [were] most difficult....were
written in Hebrew only to a limited degree; mostly they were
written in the vernacular of the simple man.”9 These well in-
tentioned works never captured the imagination as did the
Tsene-rene',
nor did the stylistically more akin
Lange Megile
(Cra­
cow, 1589) by Leyb ben Moyshe Melir. But even this colorful,
folkloric and very free paraphrase of the Book of Esther never
achieved the overwhelming popularity of the
Tsene-rene.
10
INTENDED AUDIENCE
The euphonious title derives from the Yiddish pronunciation
of the first two words of the Song of Songs 3:11, “Go forth
O maidens of Zion and gaze....” And although the grammatical
structure appears to be directed at female readers, there is no
doubt, as the title pages of numerous editions indicate, that
Yankev ben Yitskhok Ashkenazi, like so many of his colleagues,
intended that his work be read by men and women.1 Notwith­
standing the author’s stated intention, the work has been known
for centuries as the “Women’s Torah .” Like the aforementioned
taytsh-khumoshim
, the
Tsene-rene
is also an exegetical retelling of
the Pentateuch, the
haftoyres,
and the five
megiles
along with sto­
ries from the Midrash and other aggadic sources. These other
works followed talmudic typographical conventions with the
9. Weinreich,
History,
277.
10. Zinberg,
Geshikhte,
146-9.
11. Max Gruenbaum in 1894 designated the older Yiddish literature as “wom­
en’s literature” and critics and scholars have cited title pages to show that
men also read Yiddish literature. Erik, Zinberg and Niger cite title pages
but also have a feminist ideological agenda. Niger writes in a famous it­
alicized sentence:
Yiddish literature is perhaps the only one among world literatures,
which until recent times depended on the female, rather than the male reader.