Out of the Depths I Call You: A Book of Prayers for the Married Jewish Woman

Out of the Depths I Call You: A Book of Prayers for the Married Jewish Woman
Edited and transkited by Nina Beth Cardin. Jason Aronson. 1992, $24.95

If there is a clear role for Out of the Depths I Call You, it is as a heartfelt gift for a newly pregnant friend. This elegant, slim volume is an English translation (plus full Hebrew text) of an 18th century Italian woman’s prayer book. Cardin stumbled upon the original (a gold embossed antiquity dedicated to a woman named Yehudit Kutscher Coen) while wandering around inhaling leather in the Rare Book Room of the library of the Jewish Theological Seminary.

Out of the Depths contains private, not communal, women’s prayers, more than half of which pertain (as if they were indeed one lifelong prayer) to childbirth; from a woman’s first pre-conception velleity through (many months or years later) her last post-delivery beatitude. Those readers who are mothers might well be stunned by the sheer proportion of prayers in this volume given over to one’s fertility calendar.

So, did Yehudit Coen actually use these extremely narrow-application prayers’? Like the one to be said when you kiss the mezuzah on those evenings when you are specifically heading out the door to go to the ritual bath, hoping to become pregnant later that night? Coen is instructed to intone Psalm 121 over and over to herself while she walks down the road on her way to the bath; to “earnestly” whisper to herself before engaging in sex (later the same night) a prayer that includes the words “select for me a seed that is pure and holy”; and to recite, finally, this gorgeously spiritual prayer (“God, 1 cannot stop my lips from praising You”) when, as a new mother, she first re-enters synagogue after the baby’s birth.

There are even instructions for the childbirth coach: “When a woman attends at the birth of a friend’s child she must show great devotion. She cannot allow trivial conversation or an obscene or malicious word . . . She must encourage the woman in labor to make a vow to perform some mitzvah, for example, spinning wool for tzitzit [prayershawl fringe], making wicks for use in the synagogue, washing tallitot [prayershawls], or being punctilious in observing Rosh Hodesh [the new moon].”

We at LILITH earnestly seek the prayer that will enjoin Cardin to return to the Rare Book Room posthaste for more intoxication.