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

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

by Maggie Anton


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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780452288638
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 07/31/2007
Series: Rashi's Daughters Series
Pages: 496
Sales rank: 524,054
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(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.

What People are Saying About This

Eva Etzioni-Halevy

[Anton] has surpassed herself. She offers Talmudic insights, true to life yet colorful characters and a riveting plot, which together make for a most informative and enjoyable read. Not to be missed! (Eva Etzioni-Halevy, Author of The Song of Hannah and The Garden of Ruth)

Elyse Goldstein

Miriam gives us a fascinating glimpse into the world of Jewish women long ago. A wonderful read! (Rabbi Elyse Goldstein, author ReVisions: Seeing Torah through A Feminist Lens )

David Shneer

Who knew that traditional Jewish life in medieval France could be so bound up in physical desire? In this compelling and well-researched historical novel, Anton shows us the love, family, sex and death that made up the daily lives of those surrounding the greatest rabbinic commentator in history. (David Shneer, Director, Center for Judaic Studies, Associate Professor, History, University of Denver)

Elliot N. Dorff

Rashi and his extended family become real people with very familiar challenges and triumphs.... Well researched and absolutely intriguing to read... what a wonderful story this is! (Rabbi Elliot N. Dorff, Rector and Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, American Jewish University [formerly the University of Judaism], Los Angeles.)

Jody Myers

Once again, Maggie Anton has delighted us with an engrossing story of the family and the circle of students around Rashi, the medieval commentator on the Bible and Talmud. [This] is a sensitive portrayal of a complex young woman, a conscientious midwife and healer, who strives for learning, love and inner contentment. (Jody Myers, Professor, Department of Religious Studies, Coordinator, Jewish Studies Program California State University, Northridge)

Reading Group Guide

In the latter half of the eleventh century, the renowned scholar Salomon ben Isaac (or Rashi) breaks with tradition by teaching each of his three daughters, Joheved, Miriam, and Rachel, the intricacies of the Talmud. When Miriam loses her betrothed and childhood study partner, Benjamin, she feels as if her life has come to an end. And yet familial and societal pressures demand that she move past his death and choose a husband. So when handsome Judah ben Natan appears in the French city of Troyes, seeking a wife who is both modest and a scholar, it appears as if fate, or Le Bon Dieu, has only good fortune in store for the apprentice midwife.

But while Judah is a devoted Talmud scholar and quickly becomes a valued member of Salomon’s yeshiva, he wrestles daily with desires that conflict with his religion and the vocation he adores. Meanwhile, Miriam faces censure from her community as she becomes the first woman in Troyes, and one of the first in Europe, to perform brit milah—ritual circumcisions.

Rashi’s Daughters, Book II: Miriam picks up where its acclaimed predecessor, Rashi’s Daughters, Book I: Joheved, left off. InBook II, Maggie Anton continues to follow this fascinating trio of sisters as they defy the expectations and opinions that confine them, all while studying and revering their heritage through their devotion to the Talmud. This second installment of the Rashi’s Daughters series raises intriguing questions about women, sexuality, and tradition, while presenting a vivid picture of medieval France, and giving us insight into the timeless nature of loss, and of love.


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.


Q. How did you gain your expertise on medieval Jewish life and, in particular, the lives of women during that period?

A. I started my research three years before beginning to write. However, I have been constantly doing more research and incorporating what I’ve learned into what I’m writing. I actually changed the ending of Book I: Joheved the month before it went to the printer because I learned something new about medieval brit milah.

Q. What scene (or scenes) came to you first when you wrote Joheved’s story, and what scene(s) did you first visualize when you began Miriam’s story? How did your experience of writing Book I: Joheved differ from your experience of writing Book II: Miriam?

A. I first visualized what came to be the opening scene, with Joheved in bed with the cat, and also the scenes where Leah accuses the servant of stealing and where Rashi’s family learns to make parchment. For Miriam, I first visualized the night where she seduces Judah and he thinks she’s a demon. I had never written anything before Book I: Joheved, so I had a huge learning curve and it took me ten drafts. Book II was easier; I knew much more about plot and character development.

Q. What is it like working on Book III: Rachel (which is due out in bookstores in 2009), knowing that this is the last of Rashi’s three unusual daughters, and therefore the end of the trilogy? How hard will it be to leave this particular cast of characters and their extraordinary narrative?

A. Actually, I’m still learning lots of interesting things about medieval Jews as I research Rachel’s story, perhaps more than I can use. So depending on how successful the trilogy is, I may decide to write Rashi’s Granddaughters. In any case, I expect to keep studying Talmud for many more years, so Rashi and his family will continue to speak to me.ence of Ruth Stone’s poem “Romance” that I found inspiring the summer I read it over and over. And of course Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen.

Q. What other subjects are you interested in writing about? Do you have any other historical figures or time periods, and any other projects, in mind?

A. When I first decided to write Rashi’s Daughters, I had in mind another possibility, a historical novel about a woman mentioned many times in the Talmud, Rav Chisda’s daughter, who was married, in turn, to scholars who headed the two great Talmud academies in Babylon. I think the time period (500 CE) when the Talmud was redacted is also a fascinating one that few people know about. So I still want to tell her story.


  • The author, Maggie Anton, opens her novel with a prologue that explains the social, political, and financial status of Jewish men and women in eleventh-century Europe. Also, it summarizes events that we might have read about, in detail, in Rashi’s Daughters, Book I: Joheved. For those who haven’t yet read Book I: Was this prologue enough? Did you find it difficult, or relatively easy, to jump right into Miriam’s story? (For those who have read Book I: Did you find any of Book II helpful in refreshing your memory?)
  • Similarly, Anton includes a glossary of terms at the end of her novel. Evaluate the glossary as a point of clarification—was it essential to your comprehension and enjoyment of the novel? Consider the ways in which Anton weaves the Hebrew words into her characters’ dialogue, and determine how many (and which) of the terms can be learned strictly through context
  • The Talmud is a collection of Jewish laws, followed by detailed commentary on those laws by different rabbis. (For more about the Talmud and the Torah, visit Anton’s website at www.rashisdaughters.com.) For readers unfamiliar with Judaism, how did the quotations from the Talmud’s tractates aid your understanding of the religion and its laws? Did any of the laws or customs surprise you? Which of these did you ascribe to the time period (eleventh century) and its tendency toward superstition?
  • While the narrative is set in medieval France, its subjects and themes are contemporary in nature. In particular, discuss Miriam’s multiple roles as midwife, mohelet, mother, and spouse, and Judah’s conflict between his homosexual feelings and his religious fervor. How can we, in the twenty-first century, relate to their predicaments?
  • One of the novel’s primary subjects is loss: loss of loved ones; loss of choice; loss of reputation; loss of property; etc. What is Anton saying about the nature of loss, based on the different ways she presents it in this novel? Develop a statement of theme by drawing on specific examples from the book.
  • Miriam’s marriage to Judah is one of compromise, but—as she observes at the end of the novel—out of her sisters, she is the only woman who is able to live in the same house as her husband throughout the year. In what additional ways is her marriage to Judah positive, if not ideal?
  • Additionally, consider whether you believe that Miriam was truly Judah’s bashert, or fated companion. Discuss also the betrothal of Isaac to Zipporah, daughter of Shemayah, and Joheved’s belief that if Isaac and Zipporah are bashert, there’s nothing she can do to stop them from marrying, and if they aren’t, there’s nothing that she needs to do. What does the rest of the book tell us about fate? In particular, does fate have anything to do with love?
  • Compare Judah’s relationship with Elisha to his relationship with Aaron, and discuss your reaction as each relationship progressed throughout the book. Did you expect Judah’s story to end differently than it did? Was there a point when you believed that Judah would act on his feelings? Do you think his final decision was made because of his strength of character, one of the trappings of God’s will, or simply a matter of chance?
  • Compare the eleventh-century attitude toward homosexual desire to that in the twenty-first century. People at the time considered the desire to be normal while acting on it was a sin. Did this surprise you? Why or why not?
  • Discuss the Notzrim, or Christian, characters in the book. How do Emeline de Méry-sur-Seine, Guy de Dampierre, Count Thibault (never seen, just mentioned), and the midwife Elizabeth help us understand the relationship between the Christian and Jewish communities in mid-eleventh-century Europe? How do these characters also serve to highlight the differences between these two cultures? How do their relationships help put history into perspective for us?
  • Discuss, too, the ways that the three sisters represent different female archetypes, in terms of physical appearance and in terms of character and spirit. Also, do you find any other uses of symbolism in the book?
  • All three of Rashi’s daughters are strong-willed, intelligent women, but Miriam appears to be the sister least ruled by her emotions, and yet, ironically enough, the most empathetic. Discuss the contradictory parts of Miriam’s nature, and how they combine to make her an interesting, vivid, and realistic heroine.
  • Finally, how does this book compare with other historical fiction you may have read? What makes it unique, and what have you learned from it?
  • Customer Reviews

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    Rashi's Daughters, Book II: Miriam: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 16 reviews.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I had heard about these books from a lady that was reading another series that i absolutely loved. Seeing that she and I likely had similar taste in novels, and ran to the computer to look up Rashi's Daughters. As usual I read through the reviews in earnest to see if I wanted to invest the $40+ to purchase the trilogy. In reviews for the first book 7 out of 8 people sang it's praises. Anticipating similar praises for the next book I was very disappointed to see that 50% of the reviews were negative. How can this be I asked myself. It was the same author and in so many of books that I've read they tend to get better with each book as the characters develop more and I become more entrenched in the story. I reread the negative reviews again to see why these 8 reviewers were so split and discovered a disturbing pattern. Each of the reviewers who rated the book poorly mentioned the sex and more specifically homosexuality in their review. Interesting that none of the positive reviews even touched on it. It became clear to me that those who disliked the book clearly were not comfortable with the subject matter of sexuality and completely put off by the homosexuality that was revealed. I don't know if anyone else noticed what I noticed but I felt compelled point this out in case anyone reads their reviews and decides against buying them based on those reviewers blatant prejudice. Before anyone thinks that this review of my own is self serving I feel it important to mention that I am Jewish and Hetero but have many friends that have found beautiful love and partnership with someone of their same gender. In this time in our history when finding a life partner is more difficult than ever, regardless of your sexual preference it boggles my mind that some have such a strong aversion to same sex couples when the majority of them are not directly nor indirectly affected by them nor do they associate with them anywhere in their lives. So what do they care? I think that those reviews should be stricken simply because, while they attempt to point to other things like historical accuracy for their dislike of the book, it is obvious what their real discomfort was all about. But since we fought for free speech and those reviews will likely stay up I thought I should point out what they really thought wrong with the books in case anyone missed it. Now, I'm going to go purchase this trilogy!
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    This is the 2nd in a series, and when I finished this, I couldn't wait for the 3rd (and final) book to come out. I found the book to be quite enlightening about life in the time depicted. The author did a lot of research prior to writing the series and does a wonderful job letting the reader know, at the end of the book, what is fact, what is based on fact, and what is totally conjectured for the sake of the story (not much). Each of the books has held my interest and I couldn't wait to get back to it at my next chance to grab some reading time.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Rashi¿s Daughters: Miriam Maggie Anton Review by Art Finkle This second historical novel of a trilogy continues with Rashi¿s 'a 10th century Jewish commentator on scared writings in what is now the Champaign region of France' second daughter, Miriam. The author brings realism of the 10th century social history, no small feat and places the emphasis on women in a patriarchal society. Although many may consider this book targeted to females, it should be read by all. Males should know that sacrifices their wives and mothers made for t heir education, a highly prized commodity during these times. That merchants, vineyard supervisors, jewelers and other what was thought to be traditionally male activities comes as a surprise. Moreover, not only is midwifery involved with the delivery of babies but they also had the very best of medical knowledge. Miriam, as the second daughter of the great thinker continues to involve herself in the study of Talmud, a Jewish process of learning insights 'from the Sages¿ writings from the 1st century onward', and making rulings on real-life situations. Such study was a male¿s role but since Rashi, a born teacher, only had daughters, he taught this arduous process to all of his daughters. There were also vignettes that bespoke the unique personality of Rashi, who collaborated with the Cardinal from the Christian community to interpret difficult passages from the original Hebrew the role of semi-annual Fairs that promoted commerce and communication of all kinds and the large role of superstition. Overall, this novel captures social history and the Talmudic process in an extraordinary way. Plus the book is a great read.
    JanicsEblen on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    This series continues to be a well written and great to read group. I have learned so much about life in general and Jewish life in particular in the 11th Century with the reading of the Rashi's Daughters series.
    maggieanton on LibraryThing 8 months ago
    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.
    nyj12 on LibraryThing 10 months ago
    This bok gives you a good idea of what life in medieval France was like for a Jewish woman. Her father, Rashi, has been documented very well from a historical perspective as his commentary on Torah and Talmud are widely published. In this book the author tries to give the view of what it was like to be his daughter, well versed in both Torah and Talmud (at that time teaching Talmud to women was considered taboo). Miriam deals with the challenges of midwifery, becoming a moile, and marrying someone who was not her true love. Its well written.
    debs4jc on LibraryThing 10 months ago
    Part of a series, though I hadn't read the first book and followed it well enough. This book focused on Miriam, the 2nd of Rabbi Rashi's daughters, who loses her first love to an accident and then faces the difficult question of if and who she will marry. As a woman educated in the Torah she is unusual in Medieval France. Lots of customs about Judaism, the time period, midwifery and such are shared which is combined well with a human story. I found myself reflecting on the story when I wasn't reading it, thinking about the unusual challenges Miriam faced in her day and age and wondering how I would have measured up to what she had to go through.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I have read and reread this series, I am in love!
    Susan Attili More than 1 year ago
    Interesting book especially if you are Jewish or know something about it. I really found all of the scholarly discussions refreshing.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Marvin-K More than 1 year ago
    This is the longest of the three books by Maggie Anton. I found it tedious to get through, because it was too much like a never-ending soap opera. Anton teaches us a lot about the role of women as midwives, about the known and mysterious medications that were universally in vogue in the 11th Century, about the practice of medicine by the physicians, and about the restricted role that Jewish women could play in performing some of the prescribed religious rituals. She spends a great deal of time dealing with the homosexual tendencies and practices among the Rabbis and their students.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    I enjoyed this book tremendously. It gives a glimpse into a life that I know nothing about. Detailing the every day life of this time period and the use of real characters give the book life. I can't wait to read the next book in the trilogy.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    What a disappointment after the excellence of Anton's first book, Joheved! This book began like reading a mediocre romance novel and never elevated to more. (Nothing inherently wrong with reading romance novels, included among my reading selections over the years one would find a goodly number of romance novels.....it's just not what I expected from this book and this author.) Where the first book is like a dense, well-woven cloth, this book was like cheap material...Like the difference between 800 thread-count Egyptian cotton bed linens and a set of 180-count cotton/polyester blend. Still, I will most likely read Book 3: Rachel just to see how the author finishes the trilogy. Sadly, it is only intermittently that something new to learn/know about was included in the fabric of the story. And I wonder why the author choose to bring to light certain social issues regarding yeshiva students that many may never have stopped to consider, but, overall, cheap, cheap, cheap! What a disappointment! Redundant and wearing.
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    Miriam is a wonderful continuation from Jehoved. Ms. Anton's writing style is captivating, as I read Miriam. . .I felt like I was right in the middle of the story. I would suggest this book for anyone to read. I learned, I laughed, I cried, I connected. Read this book, you will love it!
    Guest More than 1 year ago
    The first book in this series, Johoved, was a wonderful historical fiction book full of lots of Jewish character of the period and a bit of romance spice. Instead of continuing in the same fashion, this second book is focused on homosexual tension between yeshivah students. There was just enough new historical background 'much less than the first book' to keep me reading it to the end, but I was very disappointed in the book. I wish I had stopped at Johoved.
    Anonymous More than 1 year ago
    Although the writing style is engaging, the author uses sacred texts to drive a plot replete with graphic sexuality, misused superstition,Roman and Greek astrology and mythology and intense homosexuality. She had Rashi's daughter ingest a potion made from non-kosher beetles. Such chutzpah! This is definitely NOT for someone knowledgeable or someone who supports traditional family values. This is misinformation couched in research to create harmful fictional characters.