Rashi’s Daughters, Book III: Rachel: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France, by Maggie Anton, is a lovely novel, filled with beautiful imagery, and imagery that is often brutal. The novel is filled with intrigue and historical data from the Medieval period, but also contains much information about the Jewish Talmudic scholar Salomon ben Isaac, otherwise known as Rashi.
From the moment I began the first page, I was enthralled, and continued reading until I was finished. It was difficult to put down, on the few occasions that I had to. Within the pages emerges a family tapestry of Rachel and her place within the familial unit. She was the youngest of three daughters…and according to much scholarly information, including the content in Rashi’s Daughters, Book III, she was not only the youngest, but Rashi’s favorite daughter. She had a way of winning his heart, and the heart of her beloved, Eliezer.
She and Eliezer marry, and settle in Troyes, France, near her father. Much to her dismay, Eliezer is constantly away for months on end with business dealings and ventures. This upsets her, and much happens during the course of his absences, such as giving birth and losing the baby, for one thing. It seems whenever he is away, something dreadful occurs, whether it be to her or her family, or to Eliezer. Rachel is a woman at odds with her husband’s departures, and although she is strong, it wears on her.
One of Rachel’s greatest traits is her strength, strength under adverse conditions, and strength under extreme pressure. Her courage and powerful mindset during the time when the First Crusade of the Middle Ages basically annihilated all the Jews in Germany, is unsurpassed, and vividly portrayed. She is forthright, passionate, and a woman of clarity and responsibility. Like her sisters before her (Joheved and Miriam), she studied and taught Talmud, during a time period when females who studied were frowned upon. She is a businesswoman, constantly seeking new ways of earning money in order for her husband to fulfill his business endeavors close by, and not have him traveling far from home.
She was a learned scholar in Torah, like her father, Rashi. She also is a passionate learner regarding wool and all that is entailed in its production. Anton fills the pages regarding Rachel’s interactions with those who can instruct her. She is an eager and avid learner (a trait that Rashi instilled in her)and she is constantly trying to find those who can teach her, and work for her. The book is filled with amazing word paintings. The images are incredible, and it is as if we are there witnessing the event/s. I was fascinated by the entire procedure, from mating of the sheep so the wool will be the finest, to the shearing of the sheep, to the finish of the final product…everything is detailed down to the minutest job and endeavor.
During the First Crusade, when the Jewish population was massacred and destroyed, Rashi and his family never thought it would come to the point that the Crusades would reach them in Troyes. But, alas, that wasn’t the case, and Rachel, along with other family members, constantly fought to keep Rashi’s Tamudic Troyes yeshiva safe. Her heroic actions fill the pages, and her willingness to do what is ethical and moral is never questioned. She is there every step of the way. Anton delivers the punches and the forcefulness of the time period vividly, and the book is historically compelling, and a masterpiece.
Rashi’s Daughters, Book III: Rachel, is an amazing accomplishment. Anton is overwhelming in her competence to write historical content, and in her ability to keep the reader’s interest. There are so many awe-inspiring moments, moments that shock the reader. The book flows, from one scene to the next with superb illuminations and brilliant descriptions. She is a master at portraying, not only the Medieval/Middle Ages time period, but in depicting daily life under the harsh conditions of the 11th Century. It was a struggle no matter how you perceive it, but add the Crusades to the structure, and life and what those around Rachel considered to be “normal”, quickly debilitates and diminishes.
Like father, like daughter, Rachel learned from a master, and she was no less a master, herself. During a time when women were kept on the sideline, she made sure she was in the forefront of current events. She watched them unfold before her eyes, and Rashi, her sisters and the other family members, were concerned for humanity, for the injustice that surrounded their environment. The pages flow with that very ideal.
Rashi’s Daughters, Book II: Rachel: A Novel of Love and the Talmud in Medieval France is the third, and the last sequel in a trilogy by Maggie Anton. It is a beautiful testimony to Rashi and his teachings, his care for all individuals. But, more than that, it a magnificent testament to Rachel and her endurance, fortitude, caring, and concern for humankind, during a crucial and horrific period in history. I highly recommend this well-written historical novel to everyone. It is writing at its excellence, and a brilliant novel, in my opinion. Bravo!
June 6, 2013 – 28 Sivan, 5773
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