Hours of Devotion: A 19th Century Prayerbook for Women

Posted on October 18th, 2018 by

A blog post by Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

As often happens, I blithely signed up for a blog post without having any real idea of what I was going to blog about. The fated morning arrived – today! – and I got to work still without a clue. I have a handy list of possible blog-worthy artifacts, arranged by accession number, so I pulled that up: top of the list is 1965.2.5, a 19th century book of prayers for women in various circumstances. Aha, I thought – I heard on the radio this morning that October 18th is World Menopause Day!  That’s a day for women in a circumstance, for sure. Let’s investigate!

Stunden der Andacht, by Fanny Neuda. Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Maurice T. Annenberg. JMM 1965.2.5

Object number 1965.2.5 is Stunden  der Andacht, a small hardbound volume published by Jacob B. Brandeis in 1880. Fanny Schwiedl Neuda first published Stunden der Andacht: Ein Gebet- und Erbauungsbuch für Israels Frauen und Jungfrauen zur öffentlichen und häuslichen Andacht (Hours of Devotion: Book of Prayer and Edification for Jewish Wives and Young Women) in 1855, a year after the death of her husband Rabbi Abraham Neuda. Researchers note that it was “the first collection of Jewish prayers known to have been written by a woman for women, and the first collection of women’s teḥinot (supplicatory prayers) to be offered in German rather than Yiddish.”

Our copy is part of a small collection of religious texts related to Temple Oheb Shalom in Baltimore. Although we don’t know the circumstances – if it belonged to a congregant or was on hand in the synagogue for multiple users – it is well worn, and clearly was considered a helpful resource.

The table of contents shows a comprehensive list of Gebete (prayers) for the days of the week, various holidays, and various circumstances and events: for brides, mothers of brides, women about to deliver a baby (and shortly afterward), childless marriages, women with sons in the military, women with ailing parents, during a severe illness, taking a sea voyage, at the gravesite of a child or a parent… (And yes, I did have to pull out my trusty college-era Langenscheidt dictionary; my German is, ah, shall we say, eingerostet (look it up!)).

Alas, I can find no prayer specifically for menopausal women, at least not with my rusty language skills. The closest thing is the Gebet im höheren Alter, or prayer in advanced age. The actual prayer is beyond my quick-what-does-that-say abilities, but if it turns out it does in fact address the Wechseljahre, I’ll be sure to update everyone.

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Torah Mantles on a Field Trip

Posted on October 4th, 2018 by

A blog post by Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

This week, Trillion and I had the pleasure of taking some of our Torah mantles and binders on a little field trip, to help the Hinenu: Baltimore Justice Shtiebel develop ideas for a new mantle of their own.  As I told the group, our collections – fabulous as they are! – are not often called upon for general research purposes, so I was delighted for the opportunity to share some of our pieces with them.  We met in a cozy room at Homewood Friends Meeting and spent an hour poring over a selection of 19th and 20th century mantles, binders (or wimples), and other related Torah dressings – made of silk, linen, velvet, and cotton, and embellished with a wide variety of colors, materials, and symbols.

Annie Sommer Kaufman, a textile artist and member of Hinenu, will be making a mantle for their recently welcomed Torah scroll, loaned by Congregation Adath Jeshurun (Philadelphia).

After the show-and-tell portion of the evening, she and the other attendees ‘circled up’ to start discussing what they want on their mantle, inspired (at least in part) by the historical examples from our collection. To prepare for the visit, I took the chance to delve into these meaningful and beautiful pieces – so look for some Torah textile-related blog posts in the near future! In the meantime, here are a few glances at our collections field trip.

I can’t wait to see what the Hinenu members come up with for their own meaningful, beautiful piece.

Huge thanks to Annie, Rabbi Ariana Katz, and the whole congregation for inviting the JMM to participate in the process!

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You Should Update Your Headshot – 1910s Edition

Posted on August 30th, 2018 by

A blog post by Director of Collections and Exhibits Joanna Church. To read more posts by Joanna click HERE.

A large part of my research for “Fashion Statement,” from both primary and secondary sources, focuses on the issue of successful recognition of appropriate clothing: What is the ‘correct’ thing to wear for one’s gender, age, class, status, religion, and occupation? (Granted, how the ‘correct’ thing is decided, and by whom, is an important question… but we’ll set that aside for now.)  Wearing the right outfit at the right time helps to ensure we are treated with respect by those around us.

This is particularly true in the professional setting. “Imagine how unlikely you would be to engage the services of a professional who did not seem to embody the norms of his or her profession – for example a doctor who wore a chef’s hat and apron to the operating room?” writes Carrie Yang Costello, Assistant Professor of Sociology at University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee[1]. Presenting yourself appropriately can have an enormous, even if sometimes unconscious, impact on those with the power to hire and fire you.

Take, for example, a mohel: charged with the performance of a key ritual, one with both spiritual and physical implications for the baby under his care. A mohel who shows up for the ceremony in inappropriate clothing might well be turned away as a bad deal, no matter the reputation, expertise, and equipment he brings with him.

Here are two bris certificates, from 1915 and 1918.  Each features a photograph of the mohel – and though they look quite different, it is the same man.

Bris certificate for Charles Hamburger, June 14, 1915. Gift of Charles Hamburger. JMM 1991.91.6

Bris certificate for Lester Posner, October 27, 1918. Gift of Rona Posner. JMM 2008.94.425

Abraham N. Abramowitz, “Practical Mohel,” was born in Mogilev (now in Belarus) in 1882; he came to the US in the early 1900s, settled in Baltimore by 1905, and became a US citizen in 1913.  According to family history, “he performed his first bris [in] 1906, on his son S. Morris Abramowitz, and his 7451st bris on his grandson, Irvin J. Abramowitz on November 1, 1925.”

The 1915 certificate shows a traditional-looking bearded fellow in a bowler hat and a good suit; not much distinguishes him – at least professionally – from any of the other bearded, bowler-hatted gentlemen of the early 20th century whose photos can be found in our collection.  The 1918 photo, just a few years later, tells a different story: the beard has been trimmed down to a mustache and goatee, he sports a natty bow tie along with his formal suit, and his tall kippah is a sign of his training and skill as well as his faith.

The change in Rev. Abramowitz’s appearance sometime around 1916, demonstrating his acculturation, was not only a personal matter – it was also a professional one. Like many men in this line of work, he included his likeness in advertisements and on his official bris certificates; thus, his Americanized, modernized look had implications for his career.  Both the early and late images were intended to convey competence and trustworthiness (not unlike any professional headshot today) as well as his religious training, encouraging people to choose his services. While we don’t know how his clientele reacted to the updated photo, since Abramowitz performed 7,968 circumcisions over the course of his life (he died in 1926), it would appear that the change was a success.


[1] “Changing Clothes: Gender Inequality and Professional Socialization,” NWSA Journal, Vol. 16 No. 2 (Summer 2004)

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