Page 108 - Jewish Book Annual Volume 51

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100
JEWISH BOOK ANNUAL
Yiddish translation of the biblical text in the center o f the page
and various midrashim and Rashi, also in Yiddish, in different
type-face on the sides. The
Tsene-rene
departs from talmudic
typographical convention however, and integrates the biblical
and aggadic materials with the commentaries o f Rashi,
Nahmanides, Bahya and others. Also, books in Yiddish up until
the nineteenth century were printed in a different typeface
from the square type used for Hebrew. This more cursive-like
font was called
mashket
in the sixteenth century but came to
be called
vaybertaytsh
[women’s print] just as the
Tsene-rene,
a
book intended for less learned men and women, became known
as the “Women’s Bible.”12A number of editions of the
Tsene-rene
were illustrated with charming woodcuts.
The
Tsene-rene
didn’t only look integrated because it was
printed in a uniform font; it was integrated. For, while the au­
thor drew upon many different talmudic and midrashic sources,
used parables from the popular
muser
books to provide ethical
guidance and moral education and further enriched his text
with beguiling stories, he forged these various components into
an organic narrative with a distinctive voice. The pious readers
of the
Tsene-rene
had heard biblical parole in
loshn-koydesh
or
loshn ashkenaz
all their conscious lives, and most of them at one
time or another had heard sermons by preachers or
maggidim,
primarily in Yiddish. Part of the
Tsene-rene'
s appeal may have
been its familiarity. The readers had heard “the plot” and now
they could understand it and more readily identify with the
(here more domesticated) characters. They were also familiar
with the tone, also more domesticated, since it was read at home
instead of heard in a synagogue. Here is a work hallowed be­
cause it is full of traditional resonances, written in a Jewish lan­
guage and therefore proper for a pious family to read on the
Sabbath. At the same time it is also full of drama, adventure,
tragedy and sentiment in order to appeal to the imagination.13
Those particularly belletristic attributes of the
Tsene-rene
were
not universally approved and toward the end of the 17th cen­
tury there was a reaction and a call to return to a literal and
accurate Yiddish Bible text. The would-be reformers described
12. Weinreich, 275.
13. Joseph P. Schultz in his informative Introduction to the Hebrew
Tsene-rene
cited in note 3 illuminates the romantic-erotic appeal o f the text. 7-10.