Rivkah bat Meir Tiktiner

Sixteenth century educator, author, & scholar.

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Reprinted with permission from The JPS Guide To Jewish Women, (Jewish Publication Society).

Rivkah bat Meir Tiktiner, referred to most frequently as Rebecca Tiktiner, was first and foremost an educator of women. Her book of ethics, Meneket Rivkah (Rebecca's nursemaid), was the first book written in Yiddish by a woman, and its main purpose was to teach ethical behavior.

Much of the book is taken up with advice concerning the care and education of children. She instructed mothers on how to encourage their sons to learn. Although the education of girls is not totally overlooked, daughters were placed firmly in the role of enablers. It is interesting to note that despite her own superior education, Rivkah does not advocate serious study for girls.

A Woman of Many Talents

Rivkah cautioned mothers not to expect too much from their children. She included a proverb, heard even today, advising the women: One mother can bring up ten children but ten children cannot feed one mother. In addition to being a writer and educator, Rivkah bat Meir was probably a preacher who may have traveled to other cities to lecture, teach, and preach. She may also have been a firzogerin, a leader of prayer for the women in the synagogue. It has been suggested that her book is made up of a collection of her lectures to women. Although Rivkahs work gives no personal information about husband or children, an item in the Sefer Hazkarot, a book of records from Prague, listed her husband as a donor to the synagogue. (Scholar Frauke von Rohden discovered this record in 2001 but could not decipher his name.)

Rivkah died in 1605 and is buried in Prague. Her book, Meneket Rivkah, survives in two copies, both published posthumously. A copy of the first edition, printed in Prague in 1609, is preserved in the library of the university at Erlangen, Cerrnany. A second edition, printed in Krakow in 1618, can be found in the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary in New York. Its title is a reference to the biblical story of Rebecca who brings her nurse (personal governess) with her when she leaves home to join Isaac, her new husband (Gen. 24:59, 35:8).

Learned & Practical

Rivkah bat Meir was familiar with both Hebrew and Yiddish literature. Her writing reflects her knowledge of many religious sources. These include Bible, Talmud, Midrash, and Yalkut Shimoni (a medieval midrashic anthology),as well as Hebrew ethical writings and Rashi's commentaries. She used these sources in her own style, transforming them into poems, sayings, and stories that provided ethical advice and a general behavioural guide for women.

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Emily Taitz

Emily Taitz has a PhD in medieval Jewish history from the Jewish Theological Seminary. She taught women's history at Adelphi University and is presently co-editor of The New Light, a literary magazine.