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

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

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by Dinah Berland

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Written in the nineteenth century, rediscovered in the twenty-first, timeless in its wisdom and beauty, Hours of Devotion by Fanny Neuda, (the daughter of a Moravian rabbi), was the first full-length book of Jewish prayers written by a woman for women. In her moving introduction to this volume--the first edition of Neuda’s prayer book to appear in English


Written in the nineteenth century, rediscovered in the twenty-first, timeless in its wisdom and beauty, Hours of Devotion by Fanny Neuda, (the daughter of a Moravian rabbi), was the first full-length book of Jewish prayers written by a woman for women. In her moving introduction to this volume--the first edition of Neuda’s prayer book to appear in English for more than a century--editor Dinah Berland describes her serendipitous discovery of Hours of Devotion in a Los Angeles used bookstore. She had been estranged from her son for eleven years, and the prayers she found in the book provided immediate comfort, giving her the feeling that someone understood both her pain and her hope. Eventually, these prayers would also lead her back to Jewish study and toward a deeper practice of her Judaism.

Originally published in German, Fanny Neuda’s popular prayer book was reprinted more than two dozen times in German and appeared in Yiddish and English editions between 1855 and 1918. Working with a translator, Berland has carefully brought the prayers into modern English and set them into verse to fully realize their poetry. Many of these eighty-eight prayers, as well as Neuda’s own preface and afterword, appear here in English for the first time, opening a window to a Jewish woman’s life in Central Europe during the Enlightenment. Reading “A Daughter’s Prayer for Her Parents,” “On the Approach of Childbirth,” “For a Mother Whose Child Is Abroad,” and the other prayers for both daily and momentous occasions, one cannot help but feel connected to the women who’ve come before.

For Berland, Hours of Devotion served as a guide and a testament to the mystery and power of prayer. Fanny Neuda’s remarkable spirit and faith in God, displayed throughout these heartfelt prayers, now offer the same hope of guidance to others.

From the Hardcover edition.

Editorial Reviews

Library Journal

Fanny Neuda, little known today, was the daughter of a rabbi left widowed by the death of her reform-minded rabbi husband in the mid-19th century. Following in the tradition of tkhines(women's prayers-see Seyder Tkhines: The Forgotten Book of Common Prayer for Jewish Women), author and editor Berland (contributor, Nice Jewish Girls: Growing Up in America) has selected prayers from Neuda's volume and adapted them into a kind of loose English free verse. Neuda's prayers are a wonderful discovery for modern audiences and should appeal to historians of Jewish life as well as to women of all faiths. Berland's introduction touchingly weaves her discovery of Neuda into her own life. For most collections.

From the Publisher
"Dinah Berlan has given us a treasure. Her English rendering of Fanny Neuda's book of prayers for Jewish women is elegant as well as capable of opening hearts. It stirred mine."
—Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi, coauthor of Jewish with Feeling

"Berland has been preparing all her life to re-create Fanny Neuda's deeply useful and soulful Hours of Devotion. She has given us a woman's book of illuminations, a compilation of prayers that moves from suffering to gratitude, a work that sanctifies life."
—Edward Hirsch, author of Lay Back the Darkness

"This rich, spiritually vital collection shines with integrity and wisdom. Contemporary Jewish life as a whole is immeasurably enriched by Berland's graceful restoration of Neuda's prayers—prayers that had long articulated the deep yearnings of Jewish women. A book every Jewish home should have, to be cherished and transmitted from generation to generation."
—Rabbi Miriyam Glazer, editor of Dancing on the Edge of the World

"Hours of Devotion is, among other splendid things, a book about fate: the fate of these prayers treasured by generations of Jewish women; the intersecting fates of Fanny Neuda and Dinah Berland, who has made the prayers available again; and how fate itself is shaped by prayer, which carries the wisdom of individuals and communities backwards and forwards through time. This is a remarkable book, one that will move the reader both to reflection and to prayer."
—Brigit Pegeen Kelly, author of The Orchard

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
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Random House
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2 MB

Read an Excerpt

On the Eve of the Day of Atonement

"As I live," declares ADONAI,
"I will do to you as you have spoken to me."
—NUMBERS 14:28

Most Holy One, in the midst of deep awe
At this most solemn hour
Our lips open to you in prayer—
At this hour that marks the beginning
Of the great Day of Atonement.
At this moment, your entire people
Rush toward their holy gathering places,
And our songs and prayers rise up to you
From contrite hearts.
Just as on the great Day of Judgment,
When those who have already returned
To the eternal journey of light
Stand at your heavenly throne,
So we all stand here today in your presence.
We lay open the book of our hearts,
Whose pages you read with all-seeing eyes,
Whose contents you regard with all-inclusive justice.
O God, even the angels of heaven
Are not pure before you.
We stand before you even less so,
Weighed down by guilt and aware of it.
Corruption dwells in our hearts,
And sin celebrates its triumph there.
Shouldn’t we tremble before you?
Shouldn’t our knees buckle and bend before you?

But you do not bring us here,
To this weighty recognition of our sins,
To break us down with guilt.
You do not bring us to this awareness
So we might falter in fear and anxiety
Before your anger,
Before the punishing hand of a strict judge.
You did not create this great, blessed day for that
But rather so you could, through it,
Bring back the despairing, the tired, the lost.
You created it so you could guide them again
To your loving heart, so you could make visible
For all who wander astray in the dark
The lights of your heavenly grace.
For this you have given us this day
And made it the holiest day of the year—
So we might, through solemn examination,
Through serious reflection on our inner lives,
Recover what so often eludes us
Amid life's demands and distractions
And what so often submerges
Under worldly pressures and influences:
Our better selves, our pious consciousness,
Our childlike hearts, our faithful way of being.

On this day the walls crumble
That separate the creations from the Creator,
That hold the innocent child far from the parent’s heart,
The child’s ear from the parent’s word,
The child’s gaze from the parent’s loving face.
No matter how gravely we have sinned,
No matter how deeply we have fallen,
No matter how far we have strayed,
Your grace and mercy clear the higher path
So we might return again
To the community of the true and righteous.
We turn to you in remorse and repentance,
Trusting in your hallowed words:
And on this day, God will forgive you,
So you shall be cleansed of all your sins before God.

Eternal Parent, may my tears accomplish that.
May my fervent prayers rise toward you,
And may you receive them.
In your compassion
May you lift all guilt and sin from me,
And may your grace surround me
As in the earliest days of my innocence,
So my soul might be free and joyous,
So it might lift itself up to you
In holy awareness of your love and mercy,
So your protection might rest on me
And on all my loved ones. Amen.

From the Hardcover edition.

Meet the Author

Dinah Berland is a poet whose work has appeared in The Antioch Review, Ploughshares, and The Iowa Review, among other journals and anthologies. She lives in Los Angeles, where she works as a book editor for the J. Paul Getty Museum. Visit her on the Web at www.dinahberland.com.

From the Hardcover edition.

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Hours of Devotion: Fanny Neuda's Book of Prayers for Jewish Women 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 2 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book I have found so meaningful I gave it as a gift to Jewish women who have especially touched my life. It offers prayers for Jewish occasions, for occasions traditional Jewish liturgy doesn't address (including childbirth!), prayers for women, prayers for both men and women. In today's world, in which men aren't 'precluded' from opening their hearts, many of the prayers originally written for women may be equally meaningful for men. As a woman, I find meaning in every prayer - even if the title doesn't suggest that it would be relevant to me (I'm not a mother, for example). Dinah Berland's introduction is just wonderful. It reminds me of a challah, in the way that it interweaves three stories: Dinah Berland's story, Fanny Neuda's story, and an overview of early modern Jewish history. It's dazzling, really.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago