Question: My Grandmother used to tell me how devout her mother in Europe was, frequently praying to the Almighty in Yiddish, in connection with major events in her life, in addition to the usual synagogue prayers. Although my synagogue's prayerbook includes a selection of blessings for specific occassions, I somehow feel this is not what my Grandmother was telling me about. How can I find out more information (in English) about those prayers?
Answer: Your great-grandmother may have been reciting tekhines, Yiddish supplicatory prayers, very personal and intimate prayers, often written by women, and certainly meant for women. Tekhines were an important part of Jewish women's spiritual lives in central and Eastern Europe from the 17th to the 20th century; they were published both in small booklets and as apppendices to prayerbooks (notably the Korban Minchah Siddur).
These prayers were typically composed for women's life-cycle events, holidays, sabbath and other special situations, such as: various situations during pregnancy, childbirth and nursing; on the occasion of a son's circumcision or bar mitzvah; when one's child is ill; or when one's husband is traveling. Tekhines "offered women a direct pipeline to God. The tone of tehines is conversational, addressing God respectfully but as a Yiddish-speaking friend or neighbor who will listen in time of need" (Berger, 1992)
In the last 20 years there has been renewed interest in tekhines in the scholarly community, and many tekines have been reprinted and translated into English collections along with historical background and analysis. Below is a listing of some of these editions; also listed are scholarly articles about the genre of tekhinos.
Interestingly, in 2005 ArtScroll published Ashkenazi and Sephardi siddur editions for women: Ohel Sarah Women's siddur. These are full daily, sabbath and festival prayerbooks, each with the same appendix of "Additional Prayers and Supplications." According to the publisher, these siddurim are meant to be "a Korban Minchah [siddur] for today" p. xix.
Resources in English for the Study of Tekhines:
Berger, Shulamith Z. "Tehines: A Brief Survey of Women's Prayers" Daughters of the King (1992) 73-83
Breger, Jennifer "Women's Devotional Literature: an Essay in Jewish Bibliography" Jewish Book Annual vol 52 (1994-1995) p73-98.
Cardin, Rabbi Nina Beth, ed. and tr. Out of the Depths I call to You: A Book of Prayers for the Married Jewish Woman. (1992)
Kay, Devra, translator, editor and commentator. Seyder Tkhines: The Forgotten Book of Common Prayer for Jewish Women. (2004)
Kay, Devra "An Alternative Prayer Canon for Women: the Yiddish 'Seyder Tkhines' " Zur Geschichte der jüdischen Frau in Deutschland (1993) 49-96
Klirs, Tracy Guren, compiler and commentator. The Merit of Our Mothers: A Bilingual Anthology of Jewish Women's Prayers. (1992)
Salmon-Mack, Tami. [On] Devra Kay, "Seyder Tkhines; the Forgotten Book of Common Prayer for Jewish Women" Nashim 12 (2006) p. 289-294.
Scherr, Robert S. "Voices from the Balcony" Conservative Judaism 54:3 (2002) p. 89-94
Tarnor, Norman, translator and commentator. A Book of Jewish Women's Prayers (1995)
Weinberger, Rabbi Dovid, compiler and annotator. Ohel Sarah Women's Siddur. With Special Prayers, Laws and Customs for Women. (2005)
Weissler, Chava. Traditional Yiddish Literature: A Source for the Study of Women's Religious Lives. (Jacob Pat Memorial Lecture, 1987)
Weissler, Chava. " 'Tkhines' for the Sabbath Before the New Moon." Jewish Studies at the Turn of the Twentieth Century II (1999) 406-412
Weissler, Chava. "Women's Studies and Women's Prayers: Reconstructing the Religious History of Ashkenazic Women" Jewish Social Studies, New Series 1:2 (1995) p. 28-47
Weissler, Chava "The 'Tkhines' and Women’s Prayer" CCAR Journal 40,4 (1993) 75-88
Weissler, Chava. " 'Mizvot' Built into the Body: 'Tkhines' for 'Niddah', Pregnancy, and Childbirth" People of the Body (1992) 101-115
Weissler, Chava. Prayers in Yiddish and the Religious World of Ashkenazic Women" Jewish Women in Historical Perspective (1991) 159-181