Chava Weissler papers
Held at: University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts [Contact Us]3420 Walnut Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104-6206
This is a finding aid. It is a description of archival material held at the University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts. Unless otherwise noted, the materials described below are physically available in their reading room, and not digitally available through the web.
Overview and metadata sections
Dr. Chava Weissler has been the Philip and Muriel Berman Professor of Jewish Civilization in the Religion Studies Department of Lehigh University since 1988. She has been immersed in the field of Jewish Studies since her undergraduate education at Brandeis University. Her areas of interest are women in Jewish history, Jewish folklore, classical Jewish texts, and Jewish and American popular religion. She has authored several seminal works within the field including, Voices of the Matriarchs: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women, and Making Judaism Meaningful: Ambivalence and Tradition in a Havurah Community.
In 1970, after earning a degree in library science, Weissler worked at the Library of Congress cataloging Hebrew, Yiddish, and Albanian books. In the summer of 1974, the Library sent her to the summer program in Yiddish language run jointly by Columbia University and the Yidisher Visnshaftlekher Institut (YIVO) for Jewish Research. In the fall of 1975, she began the doctoral program in Folklore and Folklife at the University of Pennsylvania, specializing in Jewish folklore. Weissler began to look at Judaism and Jewish life from the perspective of a folklorist, with attention to the religious lives of ordinary people rather than elites, ritual, food, narrative, devotional literature, and the aesthetics of everyday life.
Weissler completed her dissertation, entitled Making Judaism Meaningful: Ambivalence and Tradition in a Havurah Community, in 1982. She then accepted the position of Mellon Preceptor of Modern Judaism in the Religion Department at Princeton University, where she taught until 1988. While there, she began her next major research project: a study of the religious lives of Jewish women in Eastern Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. This pioneering project explored the devotional literature in Yiddish (the European Jewish vernacular) for women, a subject to which little previous attention had been devoted. Weissler began this research in earnest during the 1984-1985 academic year, when she spent the spring semester at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In the catalog of the Jewish National and University Library, she found over 900 cards for tkhines, prayers in Yiddish written for and sometimes by women. She returned to the United States with pounds of photocopied texts. Weissler then spent the 1986-1987 academic year as a research associate in Women's Studies in Religion at Harvard Divinity School.
In 1988, Weissler began working at Lehigh University as an associate professor in the Department of Religion Studies, serving as the Philip and Muriel Berman Chair of Jewish Civilization. She received tenure in 1990, and spent the 1990-1991 academic year as a fellow at the Center for Judaic Studies (then called the Annenberg Center) in Philadelphia. There she continued work on her study of the tkhines, in the company of other scholars working on issues of women's history in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Upon her return to Lehigh, she became chair of the Religion Studies Department, and the responsibilities of that position delayed all further thoughts of serious research until her term was over in 1994.
During a sabbatical leave in the fall semester of 1997, Weissler completed her book. Entitled Voices of the Matriarchs: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women, it was published by Beacon Press, Boston, in 1998. A paperback edition was issued in 1999. The book won the Koret Award for Outstanding Work in Jewish History for 1999, and was a finalist for a National Jewish Book Award. Weissler was promoted to full professor in 1999, serving as the Philip and Muriel Berman Professor of Jewish Civilization.
This collection contains writings by Chava Weissler, PhD., as well as her personal notes and research documents. The collection is arranged in two series: Chava Weissler research and writings and Published ephemera in Yiddish and Hebrew, with materials dating from 1982 to 1999. The bulk of the materials document the research and writing of Dr. Weissler's first book, Voices of the Matriarchs: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women, published in 1998.
The majority of the collection (contained in Series I. Chava Weissler research and writings) covers the evolution of Dr. Weissler's book Voices of the Matriarchs: Listening to the Prayers of Early Modern Jewish Women, with research, notes, and drafts of each chapter. The book focuses on tkhines, prayers in Yiddish written for and sometimes by women, for all different occasions. As such, many of the documents in the collection are copies of tkhines and academic articles about tkhines. There is also a great deal of academic writing on a variety of topics including Yiddish, Jewish life cycle events, women and religion, and Eastern European Jewry. These documents grant insight into how Weissler conducted her research, the context in which she wished to understand tkhines, and how she, eventually, formulated her book.
The collection also contains samples of Weissler's other writings from her career including lectures, reviews, and academic articles. Weissler has a wide variety of interests within the field of Jewish Studies, which are also represented within this collection. There are photocopies of articles, photocopies of excerpts from books and a few booklets touching on Jewish folklore, Jewish customs, women and religion, Yiddish writing and printing, Hebrew writing and printing, Sabbateanism, and Hasidism, to name a few. Although all of Weissler's research and writings date from the 1980s and the 1990s, the original documents from which copies were made date from the 16th to 20th centuries.
In Series II. Published ephemera in Yiddish and Hebrew, researchers will find a small group of materials from Weissler's collection of Yiddish children's ephemera. There are Yiddish coloring books, trading cards, story books, and stickers.
Gift of Chava Weissler, 2016.
- University of Pennsylvania: Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts
- Finding Aid Author
- Shevi Epstein
- Finding Aid Date
- 2017 August 11
- Access Restrictions
This collection is open for research use.
- Use Restrictions
Copyright restrictions may exist. For most library holdings, the Trustees of the University of Pennsylvania do not hold copyright. It is the responsibility of the requester to seek permission from the holder of the copyright to reproduce material from the Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare Books and Manuscripts.