The engrossing historical series of three sisters living in eleventh-century Troyes, France, continues with the tale of Miriam, the lively and daring middle child of Salomon ben Isaac, the great Talmudic authority. Having no sons, he teaches his daughters the intricacies of Mishnah and Gemara in an era when educating women in Jewish scholarship was unheard of. His middle daughter, Miriam, is determined to bring new life safely into the Troyes Jewish community and becomes a midwife. As devoted as she is to her chosen path, she cannot foresee the ways in which she will be tested and how heavily she will need to rely on her faith. With Rashi?s Daughters, author Maggie Anton brings the Talmud and eleventh-century France to vivid life and poignantly captures the struggles and triumphs of strong Jewish women.
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. That was the start of a lifetime of Jewish education, synagogue involvement, and ritual observance. In 2006, Anton retired from being a clinical chemist in Kaiser Permanente's Biochemical Genetics Laboratory to become a fulltime writer.
In the early 1990's, Anton learned about a women's Talmud class 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. Much was written about Rashi, but almost nothing of the daughters, except their names and the names of their husbands. 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 trilogy of historical novels about them was born.
After the success of "Rashi's Daughters" Anton started researching the lives of women in 4th-century Babylonia, where the Talmud was being created. Surprised by the prevalence of sorcery among rabbinic families, she wrote "Rav Hisda's Daughter: Bk 1 - Apprentice," which was a 2012 National Jewish Book Award Fiction finalist and a Library Journal pick for Best Historical Fiction. This was followed by its sequel, "Enchantress: A Novel of Rav Hisda's Daughter."
Anton's then turned her attention to nonfiction, with the publication of "Fifty Shades of Talmud: What the First Rabbis Had to Say about You-Know-What," a light-hearted look at sexuality in the Talmud.
Her latest work is The Choice: A Novel of Love, Faith and the Talmud, a wholly transformative novel that takes characters inspired by Chaim Potok and ages them into young adults in 1950s Brooklyn. Since 2005, Anton has lectured about the research behind her books at hundreds of venues throughout North America, Europe and Israel. She still studies women and Talmud, albeit mostly online. Her favorite Talmud learning sites are Daf Shevui and Mishna Yomit, provided daily via email by the Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem at https://www.conservativeyeshiva.org/l....
Again, another great story about Salomon's family, particularly his middle daughter, Miriam. I loved this book because of its historical character and because of its depiction of what the daily life of a jewish family in the 11th Century France was. Besides, the author opens the discussion about homosexuality in this time, in the jewish community, and the discussion about what was the role of women in the public life (Miriam becomes a mohelet and a midwife) but also in the private life of the family. Great story, told beautifully. I became really attached to these characters and I'm looking forward to read the next one.
This book is the second in the Rashi's Daughters trilogy. It's historical fiction, based on a Jewish scholar and his family, who lived in Medieval France. I think I liked the first book (Joheved) better. This one seemed way too long. And I started to get bored with the religious discussions.
I enjoyed learning more about the people and customs of that time period. It's interesting to consider just how important religion was to people (and perhaps still is to some) - every decision they made (from when to leave on a journey, to social behavior, to setting a date for a wedding, etc) was based on some religious rule or superstition.
There were also some interesting discussions about homosexuality. Apparently it was considered normal for the male study partners to become enamored with each other, but it was forbidden for them to act on it, of course. Even so, people seemed to ignore it as long as nobody was getting hurt.
I almost abandoned this book halfway into it, but I hung in there. I really did want to find out what happened to the characters. And I might also read the third book about Rachel, who traveled a lot with her husband. I'm curious to learn how her life was different than her sisters, who stayed very close to home.
I love this book even more than the first one. It's very different structurally, in that book one followed the expected art of traditional romance, despite its extensive historical research and accuracy. The relationships between the people, especially men and women and particularly Miriam and her husband Judah, are much more complicated and realistic. I really love that these books are historical fiction which feature intelligent, self-possessed female characters who do much more than moon about men. All the women feel so much more real than I am used to in even literary historical fiction. I can't wait to read the third one now.
Liked it. Didn't love it. It was about Miriam at first but the second half was really more about her gay sexually frustrated husband. He loved deeply 3 different men and somehow even in the end he never got to experience sex with a man. It was a total tease and very frustrating. The real romance story of the book was on this closeted husband of hers. The history was ok. I never really felt like I was transported into the time or place which is a pretty big failure as it was supposed to be historical fiction. It also failed as a romance novel because I think the author couldn't decide who she was really focused on. In the end the lesson learned was...if you can't be with the one you love...love the one your with. So eh...for me it failed as romance and as historical fiction but the Jewish info was interesting. Learned a lot there and I am Jewish.
Fascinating look at more of Rashi's time period in history. The author brings up (again) the mundane, the provocative, the surprising issues of the era. She weaves in many aspects of Jewish life (this is fiction, though, so some of the characters and their professions are just that...fiction) into a tale of love, sorrow, and Talmud. I loved it as much as the first, and I can't wait to read the 3rd in the trilogy (Rachel). Highly recommended for those who've read the first (Yoheved), and for those who want to learn more about life in the year 1000 in France.
I was really turned off by the topic of supposed homosexuality of Miriam's husband and am concerned that it will go down in history as 'fact'. I felt it really distracted from what should have been a good story of Miriam's personal development.
I read the first book of this trilogy a couple of weeks ago focusing on Rashi's daughter, Joheved, based on true characters. I loved it and could not wait to read the next book!
Rashi's Daughters : book II, Miriam, by Maggie Anton.
Again I got fully engrossed in the story of this family whose members felt very familiar! Rashi educated his daughters in the study of Talmud in the 1070s. This was no exception for Miriam who also learned to be a midwife as well as succeeded in being allowed to perform circumcision, extremely unusual for a Jewish woman in those times. Married, she will also have children.. What I particularly loved about this novel is that I could immerse myself in the very interesting world of a community who stood up for each other, who tried to live according to their beliefs as much as possible through their strengths and also (or particularly?) weaknesses. I was again fascinated by the extensive account of the study of Talmud with so many thought provoking debates as part of this novel! It was not overbearing at all, it wonderfully worked with the story! A prominent part of this second book is about how openly homosexualty was approached, but up to what degree though? A very rich and beautiful novel I highly recommend! It won't be long before I read the third book!
I very much enjoyed this second book in the series of Rashi's Daughters. Miriam is a strong, independent woman who, in addition to being a Talmud scholar like her sisters and their husbands, is a mohelet as well as a midwife. The story covers the challenges she faces as a female in a traditionally male role; the town's acceptance of her in this role was much more than I would have expected for the times.
The story also emphasizes the challenges that Miriam faces with her husband Judah, who is bisexual. The book goes into great detail regarding the difficulties that both Miriam and Judah face due to his sexuality as well as his effect on her family and includes Talmudic commentary and guidance on homosexuality, all of this very interesting.
As with the first book in the series, Joheved, this story depicts the ways of life in the Jewish community within the medieval city of Troyes, including the customs, superstitions and integrating Talmudic guidance and laws governing how the Jews lived.
Book two in a trilogy about Rashi's three daughters. Amazing research of 11th century Jewish life in France and beyond. Anton is also a sex researcher and she weaves that into these books. In book one it was pretty heavy handed but worked. Here it gets rather overwhelming. Her focus in book two is on male homosexuality with characters that either "give in" to their desires or who resist them (or some of both). On and on and on. Breathing a sigh of relief that in our time people can marry as they wish and don't have to force themselves to settle for someone they can never be attracted to (thus ruining the life of their spouse as well).
Miriam's story with midwifery and ritual circumcision is well done. I also loved reading about the everyday lives of the people, including their sex lives, to a point. A lot of time passes in this book and all three daughters grow up and have independent lives, learning trades.
This is the type of book that if produced in a creative writing class would get failed I think. The language and syntax are basic in the extreme. There is often no build up in dramatic tension and precious little description. Nevertheless the author managed to hold my attention somehow. Perhaps it was the comparative originality of the topic and the fact it was an easy read. I got confused with all the characters but somehow managed to care a bit for some of them. I felt we were taken often to cliffhangers which never quite materialised especially regarding the various male relationships. Would they or wouldn't they? I wouldn't read another book in this series. One is enough but I guess I quite liked it for its originality and unexpected twists.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Surprisingly entertaining for a 2nd-in-series book, mostly because it focuses on very different aspects of medieval French Jewish life than Joheved's volume: sexual relations in and out of marriage, including homosexuality among the yeshiva students. Miriam is more interesting as a midwife than her sister Joheved is as a manor lady. It's refreshing to read about medieval women who aren't nobility. While I rooted for Miriam's love match with Benjamin, it made a more realistic story they way it turned out. I found Miriam's volume a pleasant summer page turner and look forward to devouring the next book #3, Rachel.
The only thing I don't like about historical fiction is all the nonsense about humors and bile and blood letting etc. The things about certain plants and herbs being beneficial is interesting though. About 360 pages in there was suddenly a lot of the stuff that kind of drives me crazy so I did some skimming and skipping and finished the book eager to move on to the third book about these people I have really come to care about. Sometimes find a lot of the names are hard to keep track of... some of them are very similar and of course babies being named after relatives.
I enjoyed reading this book very much and for various reasons! While reading it, I decided I did want to read Rachel, and Joheved less so. After reading some of the Comments, I think I may give the first book an eventual reading. So, thank you. It is interesting to see how everyone is rating this book, and view it. And, I would like to thank the Ms. Anton for her book. Thank you!
I found book 2 to be better written and more engaging than the first book. One major error is in chapter 33 where Sukkot precedes the Days of Awe. If you like historical fiction of the medieval times, this novel may interest you.
A continuation of Rashi's Daughters #1, this time centering on the second daughter Miriam. The information on homosexuality during the medieval times in this community will be of special interest to some readers.
One of the reasons I didn't give this book 5 stars may have been that I had such a great experience reading "Joheved" that another book couldn't have met them. I find this often happens to me where the second book in a trilogy will usually be fantastic but not as astonishing as the first or last books. Maybe it's like being the middle-child, to call on some overused pop psychology tropes. "Miriam" seems to be providing closure to Joheved's story and starting Rachel's story rather than just focusing in on her story. There were times reading chapters where I said "But where is Miriam in this?". When I read "Joheved", I wasn't as put off by sections that focused on other characters. "Miriam" feels like a waypoint rather than a destination.
Perhaps it was Miriam's overall ambivalence to her situation with Judah that came through to the reader but I never felt that strong emotional pay-off that I did when I read "Joheved". Some of this may be that I identified more with Joheved than I did Miriam, but by the end I was more reading to finish than reading because I was super emotionally invested in Judah and Miriam. I think I really wanted that big happy ending I got at the end of Joheved and, true to life, there are some situations that don't allow for that kind of closure. Miriam is content with her portion but is that enough? Is Judah really content wit his? I understand this is the modern reader in me who hates that even though Judah is "out" he's still not allowed to experience himself. And Miriam seems willing to admit that she's not really interested in sex either. Both characters feel like they are giving up what I feel as a modern reader are important parts of themselves. Sometimes it feels like Miriam has choices made for her more so than Rachel or Joheved, which may have been the theme given Benjamin's death early in the book.
I wanted more around the conflict with Miriam being a mohel. I didn't get the feeling about how conflicted everyone was about Miriam's position. Every character seemed willing to defend her status and other women were super supportive. I wonder if Troyes was a super Jewish feminist paradise or something because even though characters talk about nebulous consequences of women laying tefilin or being mohels or learning Torah, it seems to be the worst kept secret in Troyes.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
I am head over heals for this series. Each book is better than the last. Being a lover of histories and and historical fiction, I read them constantly and these books are by far the best historical fiction I have read to date. They are extraordinarily well-researched and accurate as far as is possible. I appreciate historical romances for what they are but I am often annoyed by their overt and often corny sexuality. Even though this series is subtitles "novels of love and the talmud in medieval france," the stories are as much about life as they are about love. Also, even though there are problems, devastation and grief interlaced within the story, the read never feels that doom that is often felt after reading sad, depressing stories. I have to commend the author for designing a series that does not read like a series but reads like a continuous story that is never finished. Each book is just as interesting, if not more, than the last. I will be greatly disappointed when I finished the third and final book in this series. I highly recommend this series to any lovers of historical fiction, especially medievalists and lovers of Jewish history. The amount of holy text that is quoted within the books can be onerous for those without interest in medieval religious life, so just beware of that.
Another excellent read. I really liked Miriam from the last novel, so it was great finding out more about her. Miriam suffers a terrible loss, and struggles through the book in recovering. She also meets a handsome man with many secrets. She also is finding her place in the community, both as its midwife and as someone trained to perform the ritual circumscision on infant males -- which is not without controversy. While the first novel touched more on the day-to-day, this book brings up more complicated issues such as homosexuality and the views on it in the middle ages -- which may be surprising to some readers. It also touches on disability, hemophaelia and (I think) cerebral palsey. I was a little surprised to see "diabetes" used -- I always thought this a more modern term (older references I've seen always just said "sugar in the blood," or just "sugar",) but I admit I don't know for certain. Regardless, this is minor, and not integral to the story. Can hardly wait for the third book now.
Enjoyed Yoheved's story, the first in the series, several years ago. This one was harder for me. Miriam's struggles as a midwife and then female mohel and those of her husband Judah with his yetzer hara are credibly described but very different from how a modern reader understands the same issues. Also, the contradictions between the scholarly Torah study and the superstitions about how to protect against the evil eye or Lilit are odd. Still, an engaging depiction of the rhythms of life in 11th century France for Jews and for the Christians (Edomites) they meet. Maggie Anton's research quality seems to rival Anita Diamant's in The Red Tent, so I am persuaded of the accuracy of this slice of life in an exceptional household. And it is lovely to see how she weaves in some classic commentary and midrash.