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Rachel: Rashi's Daughters, Book III    by Maggie Anton order for
by Maggie Anton
Order:  USA  Can
Plume, 2009 (2009)
Softcover, e-Book
* * *   Reviewed by Barbara Lingens

The esteemed Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac, known as Rashi, was a real man who had three daughters, and author Maggie Anton has written about all of them. Rachel is the youngest, and in this story we learn how attached she is to both her husband and her father and what that means when her husband has to travel and her father is unwell.

The subtitle of the book is: 'A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France', and truly, nothing pleases the Rabbi and his family so much as the study of the Talmud. They discuss and argue about it while doing all the other tasks of their daily life. It was unusual for women to study Talmud in the 11th century, but the Rabbi was quite a liberal and forward-looking person who felt comfortable debating with the local Catholic priests.

Anton helps us understand quite a bit about other aspects of this period: the story takes place at the time when the new scientific knowledge being spread as a result of the Enlightenment excited everybody, which explains why Rachel's husband Eliezer was so tempted to remain in Spain to study astronomy. At the same time, the massacres of the First Crusade threatened all European Jews, as we learn from the accounts of Rashi's German friends and relatives. In this connection there is much of interest in the subject of forced converts. Rachel's desire to earn a good living from wool so that Eliezer wouldn't have to travel so much brings out wonderful details about how this became possible - the horizontal loom had just made its appearance, along with the first fulling mill.

This is a wonderful story of hard work, stubbornness, love and sacrifice. Readers not familiar with Talmud will enjoy it just as much as those who are. For those who are interested in Talmud studies, Anton thoroughly documents the passages being discussed. To my mind, she has quite successfully reached her goal of writing works about 'real, historical Jewish heroines.'

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