Rashi's Daughters, Book III: Rachel: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France [NOOK Book]

Overview

The dramatic final book in the epic historical trilogy about the lives and loves of the three daughters of the great Talmud scholar Rashi

Rachel is the youngest and most beautiful daughter of medieval Jewish scholar Salomon ben Isaac, or ?Rashi.? Her father's favorite and adored by her new husband, Eliezer, Rachel's life looks to be one of peaceful scholarship, laughter, and love. But events beyond her control will soon threaten everything ...
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Rashi's Daughters, Book III: Rachel: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France

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Overview

The dramatic final book in the epic historical trilogy about the lives and loves of the three daughters of the great Talmud scholar Rashi

Rachel is the youngest and most beautiful daughter of medieval Jewish scholar Salomon ben Isaac, or ?Rashi.? Her father's favorite and adored by her new husband, Eliezer, Rachel's life looks to be one of peaceful scholarship, laughter, and love. But events beyond her control will soon threaten everything she holds dear. Marauders of the First Crusade massacre nearly the entire Jewish population of Germany, and her beloved father suffers a stroke. Eliezer wants their family to move to the safety of Spain, but Rachel is determined to stay in France and help her family save the Troyes yeshiva, the only remnant of the great centers of Jewish learning in Europe.

As she did so effectively in Joheved and Miriam, Maggie Anton vividly brings to life the world of eleventh-century France and a remarkable Jewish woman of dignity, passion, and strength.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781101133330
  • Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/4/2009
  • Series: Rachi's Daughters Series
  • Sold by: Penguin Group
  • Format: eBook
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 229,987
  • File size: 899 KB

Meet the Author

Maggie Anton
Maggie Anton was born Margaret Antonofsky in Los Angeles, California. Raised in a secular, socialist household, she reached adulthood with little knowledge of her Jewish religion. All that changed when David Parkhurst, who was to become her husband, entered her life, and they both discovered Judaism as adults. In the early 1990's, Anton began studying Talmud in a class for women taught by Rachel Adler, now a professor at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. She became intrigued with the idea that Rashi, one of the greatest Jewish scholars ever, had no sons, only three daughters. Slowly but surely, she began to research the family and the time in which they lived. Legend has it that Rashi's daughters were learned in a time when women were traditionally forbidden to study the sacred texts. These forgotten women seemed ripe for rediscovery, and the idea of a book about them was born.
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Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
Rabbi Salomon ben Isaac’s three daughters are all married, adult women now, with babies to raise and businesses to run, in addition to helping their father with his vineyard and yeshiva. This is particularly true for Rashi’s youngest daughter, Rachel, who has long been his favorite and, as such, is used to getting her way. The world around her, however, is changing quickly, and Rachel soon meets with more adversity and challenges than she would have ever thought possible.

Her husband, Eliezer, must travel to Sephardic Spain in order to conduct his family’s business, and while there he becomes engrossed in the secular study of astronomy. Rachel, determined to bring him home to Troyes and back to study of the Talmud, takes it upon herself to start up a woolens business that would make enough money to support her family and keep her husband home. The venture is fraught with obstacles, however, and begins to test more than just Rachel’s wit and business acumen. It threatens to undo her marriage altogether.

In addition to the turmoil in her personal life, the whole of Europe is being taken up in a wave of new Christian fervor, as the pope calls upon rich and poor alike to fight in the First Crusade. This revival of spiritualism ends up doing more harm than good, however, as the poorly organized Christian masses wallow in poverty and chaos, while watching their Jewish neighbors prosper. Anti-Semitic rancor reaches a fever pitch when Jewish communities in the Rhineland fall under brutal attack and their great yeshivot are destroyed. In France, Rachel must strive with her family to keep peace with their Notzrimneighbors, while continuing to record her father’s commentaries, or kuntres, before his health fails completely and his great wisdom is lost forever.

Rashi’s Daughters: Book III: Rachel by Maggie Anton is the third installment of her trilogy about the fiercely talented progeny of “Rashi”, a widely revered Jewish scholar of the 11th century. Rachel picks up where Miriam left off, revealing the last years of Rabbi Salomon ben Isaac’s life and the fate of his famous school and large, gifted family. Just like the first two novels, the story of Rachel combines historic fact and Talmudic wisdom with romance and drama, and the result is a breathtaking, page-turning story that reveals Rachel to be, like her sisters, a woman extraordinary and ahead of her time.

ABOUT MAGGIE ANTON

Maggie Anton was born Margaret Antonofsky in Los Angeles, California. Raised in a secular, socialist household, she reached adulthood with little knowledge of her Jewish religion. All that changed when David Parkhurst, who was to become her husband, entered her life, and they both discovered Judaism as adults. In the early 1990's, Anton began studying Talmud in a class for women taught by Rachel Adler, now a professor at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. She became intrigued with the idea that Rashi, one of the greatest Jewish scholars ever, had no sons, only three daughters. Slowly but surely, she began to research the family and the time in which they lived. Legend has it that Rashi's daughters were learned in a time when women were traditionally forbidden to study the sacred texts. These forgotten women seemed ripe for rediscovery, and the idea of a book about them was born.

A CONVERSATION WITH MAGGIE ANTON
Q. You’ve gained quite a loyal following with your depiction of Rashi’s daughters. What is your favorite part, or what is the most rewarding part, of having inspired such devotion to your books, and to the story of these young women in particular?

The most rewarding part of having such a loyal following is when one of my readers becomes inspired to study Torah or Talmud because of my work.

Q. How much of your Torah study has influenced the direction of the novels? How much of your personal experience studying Torah were you able to draw upon when writing about Joheved’s, Miriam’s, and Rachel’s experiences? What was the most important aspect of Torah study that you wished to convey to your audience?

All the Talmud passages that Rashi’s daughters study are ones I have wrestled with myself, and I strove to make those scenes as exciting and interesting as Talmud study is for me. I hope to convey to my readers that Torah and Talmud study can be fun and fascinating, and that these texts are not merely boring, lengthy, and detailed debates that have nothing to do with a modern woman’s life.

Q. Did your own secular research for the novels ever create conflicts with your Torah study, as it did for Eliezer inRachel?

No. I was a scientist first, and then a Talmud student. I gave up chemistry for Torah study.

Q. In the acknowledgements for this book, you mention that you have no plans to write Rashi’s Granddaughters. Why? Have you discovered a new Jewish heroine to write about? What book or books can we expect to see from you in the near future?

For me, writing a book is hard work, an excuse for doing the research, which is what I truly enjoy. At this time I feel that I have mined the lives of medieval French Jews as much as I can and so I have begun researching a new historical setting. I do have a new Jewish heroine in mind, a nameless (for now) woman who lives around 300 C.E. in Babylonia, during the time when Persia defeats Rome to become the wealthiest, most powerful empire in the world, when Constantine makes Christianity the official religion of Rome, and when the Babylonian Talmud is being composed. This time period, crucial to Jewish history, yet one that very few people today are familiar with, will set the scene for my next historical novel.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

  • Discuss the ways that the opening scene of this novel foreshadows what will come in the pages that follow. What motifs dominate this book? What does Rachel’s life teach us about life and love (not just in medieval France, but in contemporary times as well)?
  • In the first two books of the Rashi’s Daughters trilogy, we don’t see much racism or bigotry between the Jews of Troyes and their Notzrim counterparts. Then, in Rachel, we see the advent of the Crusades and a wave of religious unrest across Europe. What were some of the more terrifying and/or significant examples of anti-Semitic behavior during the latter half of the 11th century? What kind of perspective did these scenes give to you about Jewish life as a whole, across the centuries?
  • In what ways did Jewish law allow women of the 11th century more freedom than their Christian counterparts? In what ways was it also very constrictive? Discuss how Rachel’s life especially parallels that of women today – did you ever forget you were reading historical fiction? What character traits made Rashi’s daughters, and the youngest in particular, seem ahead of their time?
  • Rachel is the only one of Rashi’s daughters to marry for love – both Miriam and Joheved entered into arranged marriages. What does Rachel’s marriage to Eliezer say about marriage based on love? Does it make any kind of argument for arranged marriages?
  • Early in the novel Rachel is almost forced to have sex with the count in order to protect her family. She postpones the act by engaging with the count in a drawn out game of courtly love (and escapes her predicament when the count is murdered). Joheved uses the rules of this “game” as well in order to retain the services of her estate’s talented steward without encouraging his infatuation with her. Discuss the sexual politics of the time as they are represented in these two situations, and in this novel in general (like Eliezer’s ability to have more than one wife under Muslim rule in Spain, but not under Christian rule in France). How else and where else is sex used as a means of power and control? What similarities exist in contemporary relationships between the sexes, and those of the 11th century?
  • While a lot of Jewish law is very practical and resists mysticism, and part of Torah study involves questioning and debating interpretations of that law, the Rashi’s Daughters trilogy does reveal a certain amount of rigid and unfailing devotion to superstition and mythology (concerning demons) in medieval Judaism. The Jews of Troyes often use stories about demons to explain common and uncommon illnesses or physical peculiarities. Discuss whether you think this use of mythology and superstition made occurrences like sudden infant death syndrome or the small pox epidemic easier to explain in a world where they were supposed to be protected by a God who loved them.
  • Do you think Rachel matures in this novel? Do we see her grow as a person? If so – what incidents throughout the novel really change her, and in what way does this change manifest itself? Consider in particular her position as Rav Solomon ben Isaac’s youngest and favorite daughter, as well as the deathbed wish of her mother regarding his care. Also discuss the ways in which her relationships with her sisters evolve over the course of the novel (and consequently, her lifetime).
  • By the time Rashi’s daughters are having children (and grandchildren), they no longer have to hide their knowledge of Torah study. Discuss the ways Joheved’s, Miriam’s, and Rachel’s daughters and daughters-in-law carry on the legacy that they began – in what ways do these young women defy tradition as female scholars and members of the Jewish community? (Consider Zipporah and Hannah in particular.)
  • What did you think of Eliezer’s attraction to secular study and his refusal to live in Troyes with Rachel? In particular, what did you think of his determination to prove that the earth orbited the sun? Evaluate the way the author integrated the prevalent theories and scientific discoveries of the time into this subplot.
  • Likewise, Rachel’s determination to establish a woolens business consumes her like few other things do – did you believe that she was doing it entirely with Eliezer in mind? What else may have motivated her to establish the business?
  • Because she has turned in her get to the beit din, Rachel is granted a divorce from Eliezer at the end of the novel. And when Solomon ben Isaac dies, Rachel is finally freed from the deathbed promise she made to her mother. She becomes, more or less, independent and free of familial and marital obligation. What did you think of her decision at the end of the novel to return to Eliezer’s side? She wouldn’t marry Dovid because of his missing brothers, but as a successful business woman, she was one of the few medieval women of France who didn’t need to marry for financial security. What does her decision to return to Eliezer say about her? What kind of tone does it set for the end of the novel, and for the end of the series?
  • Compare this book (and if you can, the entire series) to other works of historical fiction that you have read. What makes this book, and its prequels, stand out from the rest of the genre? What did you learn from this book, and/or the others, that was surprising, interesting, and valuable?
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Sort by: Showing 1 – 10 of 7 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted March 20, 2013

    BIOS

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  • Posted December 28, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Thought-Provoking Read, Particularly if You're Interested in Judaism

    I typically don't review historical fiction not authored by anyone named William Dietrich, and I definitely judged a book by its cover with this novel. I don't read romance, and this appeared to be that sort of story. When I hear the term "historical romance", I immediately think of the thinly-sketched historical settings that serve as paper-thin backdrop for Fabio-esque characters to sweep damsels off their feet.

    This is not that kind of novel.

    Rashi's Daughters III is a well-researched, historically-grounded novel that places the serious reader firmly in medieval Europe during the time of the crusades. Told from the perspective of a daughter of a Hasidic scholar, the novel explores the plight of Jews during a period in which history tends to focus on the conflict between Christians and Muslims. I found this point-of-view to be thought-provoking, and a new experience. Elements of intrigue and conflicts over family and religious obligations are woven into the plot. It grows a bit heavy on discussions of Judaism if you're not interested in such things, and thus the plot slows at points.

    Though not my genre, I still found Rashi's Daughters III: Rachel to be an enjoyable read. If you enjoy highly-detailed historical fiction, buy this book. It can be enjoyed as a stand-alone, but you might want to begin with the first book of the trilogy.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted September 12, 2009

    Rashi's Daughters - Book 3 - Rachel

    Maggie Anton gets into the history of this part of Western Europe during the last of the 11th century and the early part of the 12th. She describes,in detail, the hardships inflicted by the first Crusade on the Jewish communities in Southern Germany, and the utter destruction of the major centers of Talmudic study there. We also learn about the travels of Jewish merchants to Eastern Europe, the Levant, Spain, and North Africa.
    We learn a little bit about how the Jewish beliefs and practices differed among these areas. We learn more about the management of vineyards by Jews, and a lot about the Jewish merchants who dealt in woolens. This book was very interesting to me because of the variety of subjects that Anton chose for us learn.

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  • Posted September 1, 2009

    disappointed

    this is the first time i have reviewed a book...i have enjoyed maggie antons two previous books...i was looking forward to her third book of the series..while her first two books had wonderful story lines,this books storyline is too involved with the torah and the teachings of the jewish faith...the characters are confusing and it doesn't have the warmth that the past two books had..if i had read this book first,i would never had read the others.. while i am of the jewish faith and enjoy historical fiction...this book was not one that i would recommend..

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