Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Rashi's Daughters

Rashi's Daughters Book III: Rachael by Maggie Anton
I actually read the first two books in this trilogy about 2 years ago, and I loved them. So much that when I found up the final book was released two weeks ago I made a point to go out buy it. I'm glad I did because I loved this one as much as the first two.

The books are about the three daughters of Solomon ben Issac named Johevad, Miriam, and Rachel. Each book is named after one daughter and told from their point of view, but each follows chronologically after the next. Their father goes onto book a great Jewish scholar who is now know as Rashi. The book are based on fact, or as much fact as we can know considering they take place in 11th century France. What's interesting about Rashi is that he had no sons only daughters, so he taught the Talmud (Judaism's teachings on the Torah) to has daughters, which was not commonly done in those times. The children of his daughters grew up to be the next generation of Jewish scholars. What is interesting to read in epilogue is that a statistician from Stanford calculated that any Jew today with European Jewish ancestry is almost certainly descended from Rashi. I guess that means in a way I'm reading about my great-great-great-(times probably 30 or so)-grandmother and aunts.

One thing I really like is the amount of Judaism I'm able to pick up from the book. I do think I know a good amount about my religion, but there is still a lot of details I don't know. For example, I know the basic stories in the Torah and I know the story behind most holidays. But I don't know some more religious aspects, for example how the rules Judaism provides for the way husband and wife can interact (including that they aren't allowed to touch during her time of the month). And while I know certain prayers like the prayer over the Shabbat candles, I had no idea it wasn't actually written in the Torah and when Jews started saying it. All 3 of the books are filled with these types of details. Details you wouldn't know unless you're really religious (probably orthodox), and even then you may not have heard it before. All three books are filled with details like this.

An interesting aspect of the 3rd book is that it takes place during the first crusade. In school I only remember being taught about how European knights traveled to Israel to try to reclaim it for Christianity. What I didn't learn was that a the same time some of these knights decide that instead of traveling for months of even years to the Middle East, they could rid the world of heresy by starting with the Jews living in Europe itself. While the Middle Ages and Crusades weren't a great time for anyone in Europe, this was especially true from some of the Jews.

I would highly recommend these books to anyone who is Jewish and anyone who isn't Jewish. I do think the middle ages are an interesting time to read about, and the fact that Judaism is involved appeals to me as well. You'll enjoy reading these, and you'll probably learn something while doing so.



  1. "What is interesting to read in epilogue is that a statistician from Stanford calculated that any Jew today with European Jewish ancestry is almost certainly descended from Rashi."

    I will have to tell J this little tidbit!
    I think I have picked up the other books in the series before and considered reading them but worried they would be too far over my head. I'm going to give them another look next time I'm in B&N.

    It's refreshing that you admit that you don't know everything about your religion and that you are still learning. J considers himself to be pretty religious but I always call him out on that because he doesn't go through any of the religious motions associated with Judaism. (Other than keeping Kosher which is a pain in the arse but I'm learning to live with it). He is always trying to get me to learn more about Judaism since we are dating and while I'm open to it I feel like it's a double standard that I need to do all of this book learning while he is considered religious because he's Kosher and Jewish. I mean, we've never done Shabbat candles and he doesn't own a Menorah (this has more to do with his over-reliance on his parents than observance).

    Anyways, sorry to unload on you but what I was trying to get to was that maybe I can read these and not feel like I'm getting the short end of the deal when it comes to learning all things Judaism.


    Great review!

  2. Thanks for the comment! It is good to know your bf is in the same boat. J and I took this Intro to Judaism class at one of the synagogues in New Orleans (when I was actually living there short-term). It was supposed to be a year where half was spent with one rabbi and half with another. There was one other couple there who wasn't engaged/pregnant or ancient. Even though we kind of became friends I never got the feeling that the girl (who wasn't Jewish) felt the same way I did. Maybe her bf was laid back about it...Maybe she was more compromising than me. I don't know. i just felt really isolated in that class because it wasn't teaching me the things I wanted to know. I wanted to know how to be Jewish. I wanted to learn the motions that J and yourself, take for granted from growing up with it. (I took a lot of Jewish Studies classes at LSU and loved them so I already know alot of the "book smart" portion of Judaism).

    It didn't help that I didn't like the rabbi. In fact, I keep waiting for a Rabbi to come along who I WANT to get to know and learn from. Hasn't happened yet. J insists that once we move for his residency where there are more choices of synagogues, that I will find a Rabbi I love.

    I'm trying to give him the benefit of the doubt.

    Oh, we also have this divide over whether we will go Reform or Conservative. I'm for Reform and he was raised Conservative. Something about the singing in Reform just drives him nuts. I don't sing but I think it's nice.

    Anyways, I'm going to stop writing novella's on your comment form!

  3. You know what's another great book that involves a lot of Judaism. The Queens Fool. It's about a girl and her father who have to keep moving around and pretending she's a boy so people won't catch on that their jews and kill them. Check it out.

  4. Thanks for the great review. I guarantee that anyone who reads my RASHI'S DAUGHTERS novels will come away knowing more about Judaism when they started [including some things most rabbis don't even know], plus they'll enjoy a good read with a romantic theme and happy ending.

    I think there's enough depressing and nasty stuff you can read for free in the news. If you're going to pay money for something to read it should be entertaining, interesting, and have a satisfying ending.

    Maggie Anton