|Source (Hebrew)||Translation (English)|
אוי לי אמי ילידתיני בן זכר
הפסדתי הפסד מרובה ויצא כל שכר
שתום העין אטום הלב נוסדתי
ערל לב וערל בשר נולדתי
לשלשת ימים כרת שָרִי
ולשמנה ערלת בשרי
אך אמנה שתי אזני ולבי ורעיוני
לא קדמו לבא בברית יי׳
לא גלו חרפה מעליהם
ולא הסירוה מקרבם
ערלתם בהם מום בם
לשקר שמרו עד הלום ולריק עמלו
כי מיום צאתם לאויר העולם שכלו חשך
Woe to me, my mother, that you ever bore a son.
What a great loss and no gain!
I was created closed-eyed and hardhearted.
Uncircumcised of heart and flesh was I born.
At three days, they cut my umbilical cord,
and at eight days my foreskin.
However, my ears, heart, and mind [remained uncircumcised and]
were not ready to join Hashem’s covenant.
They didn’t take off their disgrace
Or remove it from their being.
Their foreskin indeed remains as a blemish.
For a lie they guarded hitherward, and for nothing they labored.
That from the day they were brought into the world lit: they went out to the air of the world that is all darkness,
they were not circumcised. CF. Joshua 5:5, in which the men born of the Exodus generation are said to have never been circumcised. Kalonymus is rephrasing this to suggest that being born male is equivalent to having been born in the wilderness. –Isaac Gantwerk Mayer
ארור האיש אשר בשר את אבי
יולד לך בן
חכם ועדיף מנביא
עבדת הקדש עליו כישמעאל בן פאביא
על הרי בשמים ירוץ למהר כאיל וכצבי
לא יטמא בגלולי עמו בהחלו
יבנה היכל המדע על תלו
נר דלוק על ראשו
ההולכים בחשך לאורו ילכו בהלו
דם יחשב לאיש ההוא המבשר קללה תחשב לו
כמה כתעותו נתיבות גלגלו
וכמה טעה באצטגניבות שלו
לשון שקר פי כסיל מתתה לו
כי הפך לראש משפט ושטה
שנה הדין והחליף השטה
Cursed be the one who announced to my father:
“It’s a boy! Jeremiah 20:15
He will be intelligent and superior to a prophet.
The holy work will be his as with Yishmael ben Pavia This is a pun. 1) Yishmael ben Pavi was a well-regarded high priest – see Yoma 35b’s description of his tunic and Mishnah Sota 9:15, where it says that when he died the splendor of the priesthood died. 2) Pavia is a town in Italy which was the home of several important Italian rabbis and a major beit midrash before their expulsion under the Spanish. –Isaac Gantwerk Mayer
Upon the mountains of spice he will run like the gazelle and like the deer Cf. Song of Songs 8:14
He will not be defiled from the start by the filth-idols of his people
He will erect the hall of science on its mound.
The candle will shine from his head Cf. Niddah 30b
and those who walk in darkness will follow his radiant halo.”
This messenger shall be held guilty of bloodshed; cursed be he.
How could he twist the course of the stars so much?
How could he have erred so in his astrology?
A lying tongue, a fool’s mouth it had given him
For he foolishly transformed justice to poison Cf. Amos 5:7
He altered the law and transposed the lines Reading וְשָׁטָה as a verb. Or if we read וְשִׁיטָה the translation could be “For he transformed justice and method to poison.” –Nir Krakauer
אוי למי שבניו זכרים:
הוטל עליהם עול כבד סיגים וגדרים
מהן בצינעה מהם בפרהסיא
מהן המראית העין
מהן בחדרי חדרים
חקים חוקים ומצות נוראות,
שלשה עשר ושש מאות:
ומי האיש הלזה,
שיקיים מה שכתב בזה?
והיך יוכל להנצח
זריז או עצל
שלא יכשל ויחת
ואף גם זאת
לא יצא ידי חובתו הרשמה
כי יצר תושיה ומזמה
אם לא יעסוק בתורה ויפלפל בחכמה
פירושי תורה ותעודה
ספרא וספרי תוספתא וכלא תלמודא
Woe to him who has male sons
Upon them a heavy yoke has been placed of restrictions and constraints.
Some in private, some in public
some to avoid the mere appearance of violation
and some entering the most secret of places.
Severe statutes and awesome commandments
six hundred and thirteen
who is the man who is capable
of fulfilling them all to the letter?
How will he escape
be he diligent or lazy?
How will he not stumble?
And even if he observed all these,
he is not yet done with his list of duties.
For the (wicked) impulse is resourceful and scheming Another pun. מְזִמָּה means scheme, and זִמָּה means lust. The evil impulse is resourceful in bringing about lustful behavior. –Isaac Gantwerk Mayer
If one cannot engross in Torah-study and analyze sharply
Interpretations of Torah and practice
Sifra, Sifri, Tosefta, and the entire Talmud
והחכמה עמודיה שבעה
אל על ינשאו מהר וגבעה
עמק עיון וגיא חזיון
וחדור חכמת המספר
לא יאמינו כי יסופר
לא ישיגוה ענוגי העם בשדה ושדות
בה ידע החוקר אם יהום
נבה שמים וחקר תהום
ולא יושבי במלונה
ואם גלגל חוזר ומזלות קבועים
אם הם נדים ונעים
וחכמת הטבע מעלות בסלם שבע
והמה עשרת שהן עשר ספירות
מי ימלל גבורות
Seven are the pillars of wisdom. a/k/a the Paideia. The seven classical liberal arts were the Trivium: Grammar, Dialectic (logic), and Rhetoric; and the Quadrivium: Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, Music.
They soar far above any mountain or hill.
Here is Logic;
[here are] the valley of Philosophy and the vale of vision,
and the secrets of Arithmetic and Geometry
They will not believe it can be told;
and the wisdom of Measurements…
they will not obtain it; the people’s pleasures in Field and Plane Possibly a reference to Genesis 4:12.
by which the seeker can measure
the heights of heaven and the depth of abyss.
Those dwelling in an observatory cannot (measure)
the extent lit. the edge of the Celestial Map
and if the wheel rotates yet the constellations remain fixed
if they are weary wanderers.
[Those are] the seven steps of the ladder.
And who will praise the prowess [needed for]
the study of the divine and the pure forms,
which are ten, namely the Ten Sefirot [of the kabbalah] –
who can express such fortitude?
כמה לקה באצבע
וכמה בחרפה ישבע
אשר במטבע הזכרים הטבע
טוב ישאהו עושהו
How badly was he stricken by the finger
how much shame must he put up with,
he who was minted in the coin die of men!
His field is blighted i.e, men lack breasts –Aharon Varady. Isaac Gantwerk Mayer: Possibly, but by no means certainly, a pun on שׂדה = field vs שַׁד = breast – “that which gives him nourishment has run dry.” re: נסתחפה – I believe this was a typo/scribal error for the rare but legitimate Mishnaic word נשתדפה, which means “blighted” and comes from the same root as שדפון. See the Rambam’s nusach for Mishna Bava Metzia 9:6 – המקבל שדה מחברו ואכלה חגב או נשתדפה (One who buys a field from his companion, and it is locust-eaten or נשתדפה…) Our standard text says נִשְׁדְּפָה instead, but Rambam’s did not and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to suggest Kalonymus’s didn’t either – elision of ת was common in Mishnaic Hebrew, especially near sibilants and dentals (and this one is between a sibilant and a dental)
Better who carries him than creates him!
אלו בראני, אומן שעשאני, אשה הגונה –
היום הייתי חכמת לב ובעלת בינה.
בידיה טוו אני
ורעיותי מחזיקות בפלך מוזרת לבנה,
מספרות זו עם זו
פעם באור פעם באפלות,
ואולי בי חכמתי ביותר מהטויה
ואמרתי אשרי לדעת מעשה פשתים
שריקות ואורגים חורי
שפת כוס ופטורי ציציים כרובים ותימרות
וכל הני מילי מעליתא
צבע רקמתים ומחטא דתלמיותא
Oh, but had the artisan who made me created me instead – a worthy woman.
Today I would be wise and insightful.
We would weave, my friends and I
and in the moonlight spin our yarn
and tell our stories to one another
from dusk till midnight
we’d tell of the events of our day, silly things
matters of no consequence.
But also I would grow very wise from the spinning
and I would say, “How lucky am I” to know how to make linen,
how to comb [wool], and weave lace;
[to design] cup-like buds, open flowers, cherubim, palm trees,
and all sorts of other fine things,
colorful embroideries and furrow-like stitches.”
כדרך נשים כמשפט הבנות,
בתוך האפר אשכבה בין שפתים,
מקום שפיתת הקדרות בין תנור וכירים,
חוטבה עצים וחותה בגחלים,
וטועמת מיני תבשילים.
הנזם על אפי והעגילים
את התוף בידי מנענעים וצלצלים
in the way of women,
I would lie down on the kitchen floor,
by the hearth, among the pots between furnace and stove,
chopping wood, stirring the coals,
and taste the different dishes.
I would put on my best jewelry.
I would beat on the drum and my clapping hands would ring.
ולקץ ימים בהגיע פרקי ומזלי,
בחור טוב יעלה בגורלי:
יאהבני אישי יושביני בקתדרא,
יעדה עדי זהב על מעילי,
הנטיפות והשירות וגם כל חולי.
בעדן חדוה והכנסת כלה ובשבוע הבן,
תרבה שמחתי וגילי
והיה כי ארעב יאכילני פת עמלה
ולצמאי ישקני יין גדלי או יין חרדלי
And when I was ready and the time was right
an excellent youth (husband) would be my fortune.
He would love me, place me on a pedestal
dress me in jewels of gold
earrings, bracelets, necklaces.
And on the appointed day,
in the season of joy when brides are wed, for seven days would the boy
increase my delight and gladness.
Were I hungry, he would feed me well-kneaded bread.
Were I thirsty, he would quench me with light and dark wine
חוק ומוסר לא יפרע,
ועונתי לא יגרע:
שבת בשבתו וחדש בחדשו,
עלי יניח צדיק ראשו:
שלש אלה יעשה לי כמצות שוכן מעונה:
שאר כסות ועונה.
גם אני שלש כנגד שלש אשמור ואקים,
שלשה המה לא נפלאו ממני ולא רחוקים:
דם ואש וחלת לחם
מה נמרצו שלשתן מנפת ערבו מדבש מתוקים
עליהם אין להוסיף במספר ומנין,
אין לשאול אחריהן:
הני נשים במאי זכיין?
He would not chastise nor harshly treat me,
and my [sexual] pleasure he would not diminish
every Shabbat, and each new moon
his head would rest upon my breast.
The three husbandly duties he would fulfill
rations, raiment, and regular intimacy.
And parallel to [his] three wifely duties would I also fulfill three,
three things not beyond me and not beyond my reach:
[watching for menstrual] blood, [Shabbat candle] flame, and [taking dough for] ḥallah, Cf. a redemptive reading of Mishnah Shabbat 2:6 and also an allusion to Joel 3:3
Sweeter than honey are these three, so powerful, Cf. Iyov 6:25
and one is not allowed to add to their number,
or to inquire about them:
“Whereby do women earn merit?”
שעשית נסים לאבותינו באש ובמים
הפכת אור כשדים לבל תשרף בחימה
והפכת דינה במעי אמה
והפכת המטה נחש לעיני אלפי רבבן
והפכת היד הטהורה לבן
והפכת ים סוף ליבשה
וקרקע הירדן ארץ נגובה וקשה
ההופכי הצור אגם מים
חלמיש למעינו מים
מי יתן ותהפכני מזכר לנקבה!
אלו זכיתי לכך כמה חננתני טובה
גברת הבית הייתי
וחניתי לביתי מצבא
Father in heaven
who did miracles for our ancestors with fire and water
You transformed the fire of Ur Kasdim so it would not burn [Avraham]
You transformed Dinah in the womb of her mother [Leah, to a girl]
You transformed the staff [of Moshe] to a snake before a million eyes
You transformed (Moshe’s) hand to (leprous) white
and the Sea of Reeds to dry land.
and the sea floor into solid and dried-up earth
You transformed the rock into water,
hard flint to a fountain. Psalms 114:8
Who would then transform me from a man to woman?
Were I only to have merited this being so graced by goodness
I could have now been the lady of the house,
exempt from military service!
ומה אדבר ומה אמר
למה אבכה ולמה אתמרמר
אם אבי שבשמים גזר עלי
ונתן בי מום קבוע
אי אפשי להסירו מעלי
והדאגה במה שאי אפשר כאב אנוש וחבל
ולא יועילו בה תנחומין של הבל
אמרתי אשא ואסבול עד אגוע ואבול
ואחר שכך למדתי מפי השמועה
שמברכין על הטובה ועל הרעה
אברך בקול נמוך בשפה חלושה
ברוך אתה יי שלא עשני אשה.
What shall I say?
why cry or be bitter?
If my father in heaven has decreed upon me
and has maimed me with an immutable deformity
then I do not wish to remove it.
the sorrow of the impossible is a human pain that nothing will cure
and for which no comfort can be found.
So, I will bear and suffer until I die and wither in the ground.
Since I have learned from our tradition
that we bless both, the good and the bitter
I will bless in a voice hushed and weak:
blessed are you YHVH who has not made me a woman.
This prayer of רבי קלונימוס בן קלונימוס Ḳalonymus ben Ḳalonymus that appears in his ספר אבן בוחן, יג Even Boḥan (§13), was first published in a partial and free rhyming English translation in The Jewish Quarterly Review, Vol. 13, No. 1 (Oct., 1900), pp. 128-146: “Kalonymos ben Kalonymos, a Thirteenth-Century Satirist” by Joseph Chotzner (1844-1914). There, Chotzner writes, “One of the most humorous parts in the Eben Bochan is that in which the author makes merry over his unlucky fate that he was born a male child of Jewish parents.” More recently partial translations were published in reappraisals of Ḳalonymus’s poem. See Dr. Tova Rosen in her article, “Circumcised Cinderella: The Fantasies of a Fourteenth-Century Jewish Author” (Prooftexts, 20:1-2, Reading through the Lens of Gender (Winter/Spring 2000), pp. 87-110), and afterward in a separate translation by Rabbi Steven Greenberg in Wrestling with Gods and Men: Homosexuality in the Jewish Tradition (University of Wisconsin Press 2004) p.118-120. Rabbi Greenberg later published his partial translation online at Eshel to commemorate the International Transgender Day of Remembrance (on November 20) in 2015. The translation appearing below uses Rabbi Greenberg’s translation as a base which has been completed with a combination of new translations offered by the Open Siddur Project community and those from Dr. Rosen’s article.
If you find a line that can be improved or corrected, please contact us or leave a comment.
|1||lit: they went out to the air of the world|
|2||CF. Joshua 5:5, in which the men born of the Exodus generation are said to have never been circumcised. Kalonymus is rephrasing this to suggest that being born male is equivalent to having been born in the wilderness. –Isaac Gantwerk Mayer|
|4||This is a pun. 1) Yishmael ben Pavi was a well-regarded high priest – see Yoma 35b’s description of his tunic and Mishnah Sota 9:15, where it says that when he died the splendor of the priesthood died. 2) Pavia is a town in Italy which was the home of several important Italian rabbis and a major beit midrash before their expulsion under the Spanish. –Isaac Gantwerk Mayer|
|5||Cf. Song of Songs 8:14|
|6||Cf. Niddah 30b|
|7||Cf. Amos 5:7|
|8||Reading וְשָׁטָה as a verb. Or if we read וְשִׁיטָה the translation could be “For he transformed justice and method to poison.” –Nir Krakauer|
|9||Another pun. מְזִמָּה means scheme, and זִמָּה means lust. The evil impulse is resourceful in bringing about lustful behavior. –Isaac Gantwerk Mayer|
|10||a/k/a the Paideia. The seven classical liberal arts were the Trivium: Grammar, Dialectic (logic), and Rhetoric; and the Quadrivium: Arithmetic, Geometry, Astronomy, Music.|
|11||Possibly a reference to Genesis 4:12.|
|12||lit. the edge|
|13||i.e, men lack breasts –Aharon Varady. Isaac Gantwerk Mayer: Possibly, but by no means certainly, a pun on שׂדה = field vs שַׁד = breast – “that which gives him nourishment has run dry.” re: נסתחפה – I believe this was a typo/scribal error for the rare but legitimate Mishnaic word נשתדפה, which means “blighted” and comes from the same root as שדפון. See the Rambam’s nusach for Mishna Bava Metzia 9:6 – המקבל שדה מחברו ואכלה חגב או נשתדפה (One who buys a field from his companion, and it is locust-eaten or נשתדפה…) Our standard text says נִשְׁדְּפָה instead, but Rambam’s did not and it wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to suggest Kalonymus’s didn’t either – elision of ת was common in Mishnaic Hebrew, especially near sibilants and dentals (and this one is between a sibilant and a dental)|
|14||Cf. a redemptive reading of Mishnah Shabbat 2:6 and also an allusion to Joel 3:3|
|15||Cf. Iyov 6:25|
“תפילה להפך – מאבן בֹחן | Prayer for Transformation, from the poem “Even Boḥan” by Rabbi Ḳalonymus ben Ḳalonymus ben Meir (1322 C.E.)” is shared by the living contributor(s) with a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International copyleft license.
Works of related interest:
אשר יצר | Asher Yatsar prayer for recognizing the Divine Image in all our bodies, by Rabbi Emily Aviva Kapor
מִי שֶׁבֵּרָךְ לִמְקַבְּלֵי שֵׁם אֱמֶת אַחַר אִשּׁוּר מְגַדְּרִי | Mi sheBerakh for those receiving a true name after gender confirmation, by Isaac Gantwerk Mayer
I’m a bit confused by the choice to render יי as “YHVH” (unpronounceable) rather than “Adonai”, the way I’ve always heard it pronounced — I know it’s a stand-in for the tetragrammaton but I just don’t think it flows nearly as well or makes anything like as much sense, especially given what a big taboo trying to pronounce the tetragrammaton is. Any chance you could explain your thinking?
For translations, we want to be careful to indicate when certain divine names are invoked. Circumlocutions for the Tetragrammaton are thus only recommended for transliterations (and in specific cases in translations). For more information, find our style guide for contributing work.
I’ve heard this passage used as a validation for becoming transgender, in particular in a video I watched of Abby Stein. I’m not against the possibility that the author was grappling with homosexual tendencies, but I’m wondering whether those who wish to use this as a means to find to justify becoming poretz geder, in particular actively becoming transgender, are taking this literary work completely out of context. I am by no means qualified to interpret this, and I promise that I do not have an agenda or a bias against anyone, but it does seem to me that this was composed to vividly contrast the stark differences in levels of responsibility, and in accountability, between men and women in Jewish law. Is it possible that the author was simply making a mockery of the fact that under Jewish law women are not particularly responsible to do very much in order to be worthy? Is it really extolling the frivolous behaviors of the women he is depicting? Is he not perhaps suggesting that the challenges of remaining righteous as a man, with the responsibilities to fulfill all of the commandments, as well as withstanding the sexual and lustful tendencies of men in general, are overwhelming? Is it possible that he was in fact not declaring himself someone who wishes he was a woman because of something akin to gender dysphoria? I am not trying to be intolerant in any way, I am just wondering whether those who are seeking to use this as a means of validation are reading this too literally. In the context of his era and the presumed intolerance for any behavior remotely outside of accepted norms, it would be very unlikely that he would openly suggest something like this in such a frank and sincere manner. If anything, as he is apparently known to be a satirist, I think it is more likely that he is speaking sarcastically about the woman he is depicting and suggesting that she has a very easy ride in this world.
In my very ignorant opinion, my interpretation of the author’s intent is the correct one. I am not against the possibility that perhaps he had a double agenda to the extent that perhaps he hadn’t homosexual tendencies, but I do not believe it would be likely if there is no indication whatsoever among his other literature. Even if that were the case, however, I see no indication that he would condone transgender lifestyle and it is clear that he is saying one is responsible to accept their fate and not to challenge Hashem for it. The message is that a Jew’s responsibility is to accept the challenges that Hashem gives him and to rise to the occasion.
That this piece by Ḳalonymus is entirely satirical is the traditional explanation given for it. (Find J. Chotzner’s “Kalonymos ben Kalonymos, a Thirteenth-Century Satirist” in The Jewish Quarterly Review Vol. 13, No. 1 (October 1900), pp. 128-146, where this piece is shown as a prime example of his satire.) Recognition of this work as being something else (perhaps merely masquerading as satire) is a more recent reading in light of the life experience of queer and trans people today in which Ḳalonymus’s writing, read as earnest and heartfelt, resonates. While Ḳalonymus’s “true intention” will probably remain a matter of speculation (until historians are graced with time travel), it is that resonance today which is undeniable. My own reading of Ḳalonymus agrees more with that of Noam Sienna — that for those familiar with other literature of this period we would expect far less of a satirist of the 13th century. Kalonymus expresses far more empathy and far less crudity. And that marks this piece as exceptional and not easily reduced to “satire.”