Rashi's Daughters, Book I: Joheved: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France

Rashi's Daughters, Book I: Joheved: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France

by Maggie Anton

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Overview

Rashi's Daughters, Book I: Joheved: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France by Maggie Anton

The first novel in a dramatic trilogy set in eleventh-century France about the lives and loves of three daughters of the great Talmud scholar

In 1068, the scholar Salomon ben Isaac returns home to Troyes, France, to take over the family winemaking business and embark on a path that will indelibly influence the Jewish world, writing the first Talmud commentary, and secretly teaching Talmud to his daughters.

Joheved, the eldest of his three girls, finds her mind and spirit awakened by religious study, but, knowing the risk, she must keep her passion for learning and prayer hidden. When she becomes betrothed to Meir ben Samuel, she is forced to choose between marital happiness and being true to her love of the Talmud.

Rich in period detail and drama, Joheved is a must read for fans of Tracy Chevalier?s Girl With a Pearl Earring.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780452288621
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/31/2007
Series: Rashi's Daughters , #1
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 384
Sales rank: 281,862
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.83(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

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.

Reading Group Guide

INTRODUCTION
The first novel in a dramatic historical trilogy set in eleventh-century France, when—for a Jewish woman—knowledge was dangerous.

In 1068, the scholar Salomon ben Isaac returns home to Troyes, France, to take over the family winemaking business and embark on a path that will indelibly influence the Jewish world—writing the first Talmud commentary, and secretly teaching Talmud to his daughters.

Joheved, the eldest of his three girls, finds her mind and spirit awakened by religious study, but knowing the risk, she must keep her passion for learning and prayer hidden. When she becomes betrothed to Meir ben Samuel, she is forced to choose between marital happiness and being true to her love of the Talmud.

In Book I: Joheved, Maggie Anton introduces readers to the remarkable daughters of Rashi and brings eleventh-century France—the people, customs, and attitudes of society—vividly to life.

 


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. Who was Rashi?

A. Born in 1040 in northern France, Rabbi Shlomo Yizhaki (better known by his Hebrew initials, Rashi) was a great Talmudic scholar who studied in Worms and Mayence before starting his own school in his native city of Troyes. Because of his unique take on Talmudic study, students flocked to receive the benefits of his vast erudition and distinctive method of interpretation.

Q. Why is Rashi’s influence relevant today?

A. Rashi wanted to make being Jewish as easy as possible. His belief in finding the most lenient legal opinion without building “fences around the Torah,” and in permitting rather than forbidding, makes him a model rabbi for our times.

Q. How did you get interested in Rashi’s daughters?

A. I began studying Talmud with a group of women after my children grew up and left the house. The more I studied Talmud from a feminist perspective, the more curious I became about Rashi’s learned daughters and how they managed to study Talmud in the Middle Ages when such study was supposedly forbidden.

Q. Why was Talmud study forbidden for women?

A. This question deserves more than the brief answer I’ll give here. In Deuteronomy, Jews are commanded to teach Torah tobnaichem, a word that even the Orthodox translate as “your children.” But the early rabbis used its literal meaning, “your sons,” and decided that only men were obligated to study Torah. The Talmudic sage Rav Eliezer took this exemption of women one step further and declared that “he who teaches his daughter Torah, teaches her lechery.”

Q. So what were the consequences for women who studied Talmud?

A. All societies, Jews included, disapprove of those who don’t follow their norms. Women who wanted to study Talmud were seen as lacking in proper feminine attributes, and because women were thought to be light-headed, incapable of serious study, those who tried to study Talmud would only learn to be crafty and devious. Then, as now, since a man typically preferred to believe that he was more intelligent than his wife, the learned woman was left with a limited choice of potential husbands.

Q. What were the most interesting things you learned from your research?

A. The Shabbat lights blessing was based on the Chanukah lights blessing, not vice versa—and that in Rashi’s time, this blessing was the basis of a great controversy that wasn’t settled until years after his death. Also, Jewish women in Rashi’s time were able to demand a divorce from their husbands, while a man couldn’t divorce his wife without her consent.

Q. Were there any surprises?

A. I was quite surprised to learn that there was little anti-Semitism in Rashi’s time—the church was more interested in converting pagans and going after its own heretic sects than in persecuting the Jews. Ghettos and blood libels came centuries later. Also, Jews lived prosperous lives (even the poorest Jews had servants) and engaged in many occupations (Rashi was a vintner, for example). Some Jews were feudal lords with small fiefs and very few Jews supported themselves by money-lending.

Q. What do you see as the legacy Rashi’s daughters leave for modern Jewish women?

A. Rashi’s daughters recognized the value of Torah study in the Jewish world, and they wanted an education for themselves as well as for their husbands and sons. Like women today, they attended synagogue regularly and performed those rituals usually reserved for men. When modern Jewish women create new rituals and new blessings, we are following in the footsteps of Rashi’s daughters and doing what our female ancestors were already doing 900 years ago.

Q. Why did you choose to include explicit sex scenes in the book?

A. I don’t like historical fiction that closes the door on its characters, so I resolved to follow Joheved no matter what she was doing: eating, praying, using the privy, studying, dealing with menstruation, preparing a corpse for burial, and making love. Joheved is a young woman, newly married and hoping to get pregnant, so naturally sex is an important part of her life. I wrote the book I wanted to read, which is why the Talmud scenes are in there as well (and there’s a lot more Talmud than sex). But most important—so many books, movies, and TV shows today are saturated with casual hook-up sex that you’d never know how good sex could/should be between a loving couple in a sacred relationship, which is what Judaism teaches. Many parents have told me that Joheved’s wedding night is the kind of sex scene they want their teenagers to read.

 


DISCUSSION QUESTIONS
  • What tone does the opening scene set? What does it tell you about Joheved’s character?
     
  • Describe how the bond between Joheved and Salomon develops and changes with time? Discuss the pros and cons of Jewish childhood in medieval France.
     
  • Rashi’s Daughters is filled with carefully researched historical anecdotes that the author uses as inspiration for her own imagined scenes. Discuss this interplay of fact and fiction.
     
  • Rivka is upset with her daughters learning Talmud. Are her objections reasonable? Why would men not want women in a position of knowledge? What is threatening about educated women? Discuss the role of women in medieval society versus their role today.
     
  • Joheved and Meir have an arranged marriage, as do Salomon and Rivka. Compare Joheved and Meir’s relationship to Salomon and Rivka’s? To Miriam and Benjamin’s? Discuss the pros and cons of arranged marriage versus marrying for love. Why would Sarah prefer widowhood to remarriage?
     
  • Salomon’s decision to write down his kuntres is a controversial innovation. Discuss how a society is changed in a shift from oral to written tradition.
     
  • Relations between French Jews and Christians were fairly tolerant during this time. Was this lack of overt anti-Semitism surprising? What other myths about medieval times did Rashi’s Daughters debunk?
     
  • Which characters resonated the most powerfully for you? Were there others you would have liked to have known more about? Why?
     
  • What do you see in the future for Rachel? Are there any clues that indicate what might happen?
     
  • Religion was a powerful force for both Jews and Christians in medieval times. Is religion as powerful now? How does your religion, or lack of one, influence your life?
  • Customer Reviews

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    Rashi's Daughters, Book I: Joheved 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
    grandmaMG More than 1 year ago
    Rashi's Daughters, Book I, Joheved was chosen by my Book Club. To me it was very educational and I loved the historical background portrayed by the time. The book includes a timeline of the important things in history in relationship to the characters in this book, which made understanding this book so easy. It also included a glossary of Jewish customs and expressions so that anyone could understand and learn so much. Joheved, the eldest daughter was showcased in this novel. She was a girl/woman well beyond her years and practiced activities that were not to be done by woman according to custom. Read this book and see what this this young woman did and why. This book was so good, our book club is planning to read Book II, Miriam and Book III, Rachel.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    The plot is both intriguing and educational. It is engaging for those who have the background and those who have none. I highly recommend it as a warm, touching, human interest narrative based on historical and religious information. Finally, an authentic Jewish narrative from a sensitive Jewishly romantic point of view! Female characters are strong and positive role models.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This was recommended to me by my Rabbi. I read it and loved it. Could not wait for the next book to come out. I learned a ton about Rashi and life of women in France for Jews of that time frame. Really well written, wonderful and inciteful. Made me have even more respect for the hard times these people went through as well as the appreciation for how similar women are still today as compared to those of yesterday.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    I enjoyed 'Joheved' so much, the blend of Fiction an Non-Fiction, the wonderful Talmud passages. . .I enjoyed, I learned, I laughed, I cried, and I related. What a beautiful masterpiece you have created! My one complaint, was that I purchased 'Jehoved' as my vacation read, and it only lasted me a couple of days! I couldn't buy Miriam until I was home again! Which, of course I did, and I have started reading, and am in love yet again!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Couldn't put it down!
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    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    We had this for our book club. I ended up not finishing it because I just didn't care about the characters, what happened to them, etc. I am passionate about books, all kinds of books, and this one just didn't do it. I was in dread that we were going to be reading about the other sisters but luckily for me I wasn't the only one who didn't enjoy it!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Marvin-K More than 1 year ago
    Maggie Anton demostrates her erudition and scholarly prowess with her frequent references to "Rabbinic" texts. She keeps the interest of her readers with her exciting writing style. In general, this book is a wonderful introduction to the history of regions of northern France and southern Germany in the 11th Century, and a fascinating account of the religious and political practices of that time. It demonstrates that all people, Jew and non-Jew alike, had their own superstitions, and practiced the primitive science and medicine of that period in Western Europe.
    MzFashionista More than 1 year ago
    It brought to light some facts about Judaism that I wasn't aware of prior to reading this book.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    This is truly a classic of historical fiction. It is like being there. Great for anyone who wants to get a feel for the spirit and times Rashi lived in.