The Yiddish Torah

"Tsene-rene" (Vienna, 193?). A perennial best seller, this “women’s bible” is less a translation than an explication.

Over the centuries, Yiddish writers have reinterpreted, recast, and re-imagined the Torah, the Hebrew bible, in ways consistent with their vernacular language and culture.

Tsene-rene is a Yiddish adaptation of the Torah that was originally written by Yankev ben Yitzhok Ashkenazi of Janów in the late sixteenth century. Intended primarily for women, the text combines midrash (supplemental stories), rabbinic commentaries, and practical advice. It has since appeared in at least 210 editions and remains one of the best-selling Yiddish books of all time.  

Early in the twentieth century, Yehoash (Solomon Bloomgarden) spent 20 years working on a modern Yiddish translation of the Torah. He managed to achieve a King-James-like solemnity through the use of daytshmerish, highly Germanized Yiddish.

A more irreverent Yiddish version of the Torah can be found in the bible poems of Itzik Manger, published during the 1930s. In his Khumesh-lider (Bible Poems), Manger reimagines biblical characters as Yiddish-speaking, everyday men and women. His matriarchs and patriarchs argue with one another in earthy Yiddish, eat gefilte fish, and prove themselves all too prone to human folly. In the Megile-lider (Songs of the Book of Esther), for instance, Manger invents the character of Fastrigossa, a tailor’s apprentice who is in love with Esther and heartsick at her opportunistic marriage to the king.  

Women using the "Tsene-rene" to Engage with the Torah and Jewish Religion

Professor Samuel Kassow discusses the "Tsene-rene," which served as a “women’s bible” and made the religious texts more accessible to women through the use of Yiddish. Kassow considers the "Tsene-rene"’s role for women and religious prayer and offers insight into the women’s section of the synagogue.

More about the Tsene-rene and the Yiddish Torah from our collections

A digital copy of Tsene-rene, written by Yankev ben Yitzhok Ashkenazi of Janów. 

In this excerpt from the Wexler Oral History Project, Jean Baumgarten discusses the evolution and importance of the Tsene-rene, which served as a "women's bible" and made religious texts more accessible to women through the use of Yiddish.

From our Steven Spielberg Digital Yiddish Library, a copy of Itzik Manger’s Khumesh-lider (Bible Poems), in which he creatively interprets stories from the bible. 

"Converts, Bible Scholars, and Yiddishists," A From the Vault article by David Mazower about 'the complex stories of missionary translations in Yiddish bibliography.'