Review by Adina Bernstein
“A man who teaches his daughter Torah has taught her lechery (Sotah 3, 4)
Among the legends of Jewish theology and history, the sage known as Rashi is a shining star. His work continues to studied and debated centuries after his death. He is not only remembered for his contribution to the Jewish liturgy, but also for his unique take on education.
In an era when women’s education was rare or non existent, Rashi insisted on educating his daughters on both religious and secular subjects. In the first of a trilogy about those daughters, Maggie Anton delves into the world and the head of Rashi’s eldest daughter, Joheved.
The reader meets Joheved as a young girl who knows that marriage and children are in her future. She also understands that her father is defying the laws of Judaism and his wife’s sensibilities, when he insists on educating his daughters.
With her world expanded by newfound knowledge, Jocheved is torn. She finds joy in her education, but she knows that she must hide it. A young woman who flaunts her education is not likely to attract many eligible men. When Jocheved is betrothed to Meir ben Samuel, she decides to hide her learning from her future husband. Early in their marriage, when Jocheved and Meir face a crisis, she must choose between a happy marriage and her love of learning.
In the Bible, many women are nameless and/or simply known as the wife of ________ or the daughter of ________. Even in history, few women’s lives and experiences have received the attention accorded to their male counterparts. What Maggie Anton does so brilliantly is give life and a voice to Jocheved in this first novel, but and to her sisters, Miriam and Rachel, subsequent volumes.
Historical fiction presents certain challenges and difficulties. An author often walks a fine line between adhering to historical facts and writing a compelling narrative. Maggie Anton is one of those rare writers who is able to balance a compelling narrative with the historical research to make the temporal setting come alive.
As a student of history and a feminist, I found the entire series to be remarkable. Women have been slowly breaking the glass ceiling over the past few decades. We need strong role models to inspire and encourage us. In her books, Maggie Anton has done just that, in addition to writing a thoroughly engrossing series of novels. I recommend them.
Adina Bernstein is a Brooklyn-born-and-raised writer. Her favorite authors include Jane Austen, the Brontes, George Eliot, Philip Roth, Daisy Goodwin and Erica Jong.