The Tseno Ureno (צאנה וראינה, Tze'nah u-Re'nah), also spelt Tsene-rene, sometimes called the Women's Bible, was a Yiddish-language prose work of c.1590s whose structure parallels the weekly Torah portions of the Pentateuch and Haftorahs used in Jewish worship services. The book was written by Rabbi Jacob ben Isaac Ashkenazi (1550–1625) of Janów (near Lublin, Poland), and mixes Biblical passages with teachings from Judaism's Oral Law such as the Talmud's Aggada and Midrash, which are sometimes called "parables, allegories, short stories, anecdotes, legends, and admonitions" by secular writers.
The name derives from a verse of the Song of Songs that begins Tseno ureno b'nos Tsion (צְאֶנָה וּרְאֶינָה בְּנוֹת צִיּוֹן, "Go forth and see, O ye daughters of Zion", (Song 3:11). In modern Israeli Hebrew, the phrase is pronounced: "Tze'na ure'ena, bnot Tziyon".
The Tseno Ureno was common in traditional Jewish homes in Eastern Europe and followed its readers across the ocean. The work had a significant impact on the dissemination of knowledge of the Bible and its commentaries among those who had not mastered the Hebrew language — mainly women — and expanded their spiritual experience.
The nature of the source of the name indicates that the book was intended for women, who would have been less versed than men in Hebrew, the Jewish liturgical language. The title page of the Basel edition of 1622 acknowledged the book's sources as including the earlier popularizer Rashi (1040–1105) and the 13th century exegeses of Bahya ben Asher, as well as Talmudic sources.
Sol Liptzin describes the Tseno Ureno as "a fascinating, didactic book which could win the approbation of the strict moral leaders of Eastern European Jewry, and at the same time accompany women as their favorite literary and devotional text from girlhood to old age. For generations there was hardly a Yiddish home that did not possess a copy."
Because of its orientation toward women readers, the book is particularly focused on the biblical matriarchs, the various courtships mentioned in scripture, and the rescue of Moses by Pharaoh's daughter. Although there are vivid depictions of Paradise and Hell, there is an emphasis that righteousness is to be found in serving God willingly and wholeheartedly, rather than out of hope of reward or fear of punishment. Charity and almsgiving are also emphasized.
Editions and translation
There have been at least 300 editions of the book, starting in the 1590s. According to the 1622 edition, the first three editions - one printed in Lublin and two in Cracow - had by then not survived.
After the 1622 edition, which came out in two volumes (the Pentateuch; the Haftarahs and Five Scrolls), most were published as one volume and in a variety of formats (for example, each weekly portion together with its particular haftarah). Some editions were illuminated, and in the 17th century, a section of the first portion of Genesis was translated into Latin. At the end of the 18th century, publication of the Tseno Ureno shifted from Western to Eastern Europe. At this point considerable changes in the language of the writing became apparent. The book turned into a kind of living Yiddish-language laboratory, and had at the same time a significant influence on the development of Yiddish, both written and spoken. Some East European editions reflect the spirit of Hasidism or Haskalah. In the 19th century, versions appeared in Western Europe with different purposes or aims — mainly Germanization of the language, modernization or actualization of the contents, and structural rearrangement — alongside partial translations into different languages. The title Tseno Ureno was sporadically used for other similar books of sermons and teaching of the Bible, and also appeared on the title page of a number of copies of the 1822 Basel edition of Moses Mendelssohn’s Bi’ur. The 20th century saw full translations into English and Hebrew, as well as a partial translation into modern Yiddish.
A number of later editions of the Tseno Ureno include various supplements, such as Yiddish translations of Targum Sheni on the Scroll of Esther, the book Naḥalat Tsevi on the Torah portions and the Scrolls, the book Nofet tsufim on the haftarahs, and selected portions of Sefer ha-yashar and Shene luḥot ha-berit.
Parts of Ze'enah u-Re'enah were translated into German in 1910 by Bertha Pappenheim. Only the first part of her translation of the Women's Bible appeared (Bereschit, correspondending to the first book of Moses). The translations of the second and third books (Schemot and Wajikra) have apparently been lost.
The book continues in print today, especially for Hasidic communities. Artscroll published a two volume English translation in 1993 (ISBN 0899069258), under the title “The Weekly Midrash: Tz'enah Ur'enah the Classic Anthology of Torah Lore and Midrashic Commentary.”
- Liptzin, Sol, A History of Yiddish Literature, Jonathan David Publishers, Middle Village, NY, 1972. ISBN 0-8246-0124-6. pp.10-11.
- Katz, Dovid (2007). Words on Fire: The Unfinished Story of Yiddish (2 ed.). New York: Basic Books. p. 95. ISBN 0-465-03730-5.
- YIVO: Tsene-rene
- Zennah u-Reenah. Frauenbibel. Nach dem Jüdisch-Deutschen bearbeitet von Bertha Pappenheim. Bereschith. Erstes Buch Moses. Jüdischer Frauenbund (League of Jewish Women), Frankfurt. 1930.
- Norman C. Gore: Tzeenah u-reenah − a Jewish commentary on the Book of Exodus. Vantage Press, New York 1965