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Jewish Lit: Rashi's Daughters by Maggi Anton

abstract:

Rashi's Daughters (Banot Press 2005) is a new novel of historical fiction by Maggie Anton chronicling the lives and loves of Rashi's three daughters, Joheved, Miriam, and Rachel. The author took time to answer questions from Lisa Silverman, BookBuffet's Jewish Literature Editor, who is herself a book group leader, and Director of the Sinai Temple, Blumanthal Library in Los Angeles.

article:

November 19, 2005
— Before reading the interview, it would be useful to know that the Talmud is the collection of ancient Rabbinic writings consisting of the Mishnah and the Gemara, which constitutes the basis of religious authority in Orthodox Judaism.

Interview

Lisa Silverman: Who was Rashi and why was he considered the greatest Talmud scholar who ever lived?

 

Maggi Anton: Salomon ben Isaac, better known as RASHI (RAbii SHlomo Itzchaki), was an 11th century French Jewish scholar.  Rashi composed commentaries on almost every line of the Talmud, thousands of pages of succinct explanations on what would otherwise be a closed book.  His commentary is so authoritative that no other Jewish scholar has written another one, and for 500 years has appeared on every page of every Talmud ever printed.

 

 LS: What was it about Jewish life in the 11th century that compelled you to write a fictionalized account of Rashi and his family?  How long did it take you to research and write this book?

 

MA: It intrigued me that there were learned Jewish women in the 11th century, and that during Rashi's time women performed many of the men's mitzvot (commandments/obligations).  Also it was a good time in Jewish history (not at all like I'd imagined), when there was little anti-Semitism (some Jews and Christians even studied together), most Jews were prosperous merchants (not despised moneylenders), and women had a high status in society.

 

It took me 3 years (1997-2000) to write the first draft, and then 4 more years to edit.  All the while I've been doing research (I'm still doing research for Book Two - Miriam).

 

LS: How would you describe the plot of Rashiís Daughters?

 

MA: It is the story of three sisters who lived in 11th century Troyes, France.  Their father, was a great Talmudic authority, who unfortunately had no sons.  So, in an era when educating women in Jewish scholarship was unheard of, they were taught the intricacies of Mishnah and Gemara.

 

Joheved, the eldest, was a serious, practical and dutiful woman who held her own in a manís world.  Her passionate nature waited to be awakened by the right man.  Miriam was more lively and daring, determined to bring new life safely into to the Troyes Jewish community as their midwife.  Unlike her older sisters, Rachel, the baby, grew up after her father had achieved prominence and prosperity.  A great beauty, she was adored and spoiled.  Devoted to her father, she used her talents to successfully manage the family wine-making business.

 

This is the story of the sistersí relationships with their husbands, friends and children.  Talmud is an intregral part of this novel; readers will learn along with Rashi's students as he explains selected texts.  This is also the story of the French Jewish community, how they lived, loved, worked, ate, prayed and interacted with their non-Jewish neighbors.  This book is for people (both men and women) who love history, romance, and religion.

 

LS: What about non-Jewish readers? What has been their reaction to your book?

 

MA:  The book is a painless/fun way for non-Jews to learn about the Talmud.  I actually had a Church book group ask me to speak to them specifically about the Talmud.  There seems to be a great deal of interest in the subject.

 

LS: Do you have a Readerís Guide that would be useful for book groups?

 

MS: Yes, just go to my website: www.rashisdaughters.com and you will find the guide, lots of information about the Talmud, book reviews of my book, and also a list of all the places where I will be speaking about the book. I am also available for interviews and can be reached through the website.

 

LS: I really enjoyed the book and learned a lot. The research you did on France in the Middle Ages was very impressive.  Iíll keep my eye out for the next two installments of the series.  Thank you for your time.

Lisa Silverman has just been appointed Co-Editor of Jewish Book Magazine -- Congratulations Lisa! We look forward to learning about all the best new titles that come across your editorial desk!

Related Links & Resources

Introducing Jewish Literature Column to Bookbuffet

BB Links and Resources to Jewish Websites

 

 

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