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Name : Margaret P.

My Reviews

 
Insightful, Epic, Brilliant
An excellent glimpse into the lives of medival Jewish women

This is the first novel in Maggie Anton's historical trilogy imagining the lives of the daughters of legendary Talmudic scholar Salomon ben Isaac, otherwise known as Rashi. The story opens shortly after the young scholar has left his studies at the academy in Mayence and returned to Troyes to run the family winemaking business. This novel focuses on Joheved, his eldest, who learns the art and business of winemaking, and secretly (with her mother’s disapproval) studies Talmud with her father as he starts his own yeshiva. Dozens of Talmud discussions, about everything from the Sabbath to sex, skillfully engage the reader and expose a thousand years of Jewish thinking in the process. Readers experience the rhythm of these Jewish women’s lives in this extensively researched novel as Joheved begins leading the women’s services at synagogue, negotiates with government officials and merchants on behalf of the family business, is betrothed to and then marries a promising young yeshiva student. "Rashi’s Daughters" brings to life an intimate portrait of medieval French Jewish family life, superstitions, traditions and scholarship, as well as a compelling romance that challenges all the learning and love that Joheved can muster. All is resolved, however, in an ending that satisfies.

 
Epic, Interesting, Insightful
Rashi's middle daughter challenges her community

Rashi, living in Troyes, France, in the latter half of the 11th century, was one of Judaism’s greatest scholars. Troyes at the time had a vibrant Jewish community, full of scholars, but also traders, vintners, and estate owners. Anton’s books (the first focused on the elder daughter, Joheved) immerse us in this rich culture, with a focus on Rashi’s three very learned daughters. There was debate at the time about whether girls should be taught Torah, and Rashi was not following the norm in teaching his daughters. Miriam, the central character of this volume, has trained to become a midwife, like her aunt. She also has the opportunity to train as a mohel, the person (almost always a man) who performs circumcisions, because no male in the community steps forward when one is needed. The text is liberally studded with writings from the Talmud, as characters learn and debate various teachings.

The text is also laden with knowledge and beliefs of the time, both general and religious. Miriam’s immersion into the medical world, both as midwife and mohel-in-training, allows the author opportunities to include the current understanding of medical matters, such as the characteristics of foods that should, or shouldn’t, be eaten given certain illnesses or medical conditions. Miriam’s husband is a Talmud scholar, and a theme throughout this volume is the relationships that form between study partners. These books (best read in order) provide a fascinating glimpse into another world.

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