Rashi’s Daugh­ter: Secret Scholar

  • Review
By – January 16, 2012
The pop­u­lar adult nov­el Rashi’s Daugh­ter has been adapt­ed by the author into an engag­ing book for young adults. The set­ting is Troyes, France of the 11th cen­tu­ry, and the focus is the fam­i­ly of Rashi, the famous schol­ar. In addi­tion to devel­op­ing the plot, Anton spends a great deal of time famil­iar­iz­ing the read­er with both Jew­ish and non-Jew­ish cus­toms dur­ing that time and edu­cat­ing us about what it was like to live in this peri­od. Because Rashi’s fam­i­ly were wine grow­ers, the author pro­vides a lot of infor­ma­tion about how grapes are grown, har­vest­ed, and even­tu­al­ly made into wine. Addi­tion­al­ly, we repeat­ed­ly read of the many super­sti­tions sur­round­ing all aspects of dai­ly liv­ing. The char­ac­ters are well devel­oped, and we learn a great deal about the main char­ac­ter, Joheved. The author also devotes a large part of the book to descrip­tions of oth­er char­ac­ters who are close to Joheved, such as her sis­ter Miri­am, the girls’ suit­ors, her father Salomon, her moth­er Rif­ka, and her grand­moth­er Leah. Seen through the eyes of Joheved, the book estab­lish­es her sub­or­di­nate role as a woman and the many prob­lems this cre­ates. How­ev­er, even though her lifestyle is restrict­ed, Joheved is a very intel­li­gent and resource­ful per­son. For exam­ple, she can skill­ful­ly do women’s work, nego­ti­ate wine sales, and study Tal­mud. It is this last attribute that cre­ates spe­cial issues for her. Despite oppo­si­tion from her moth­er, Joheved’s father decides to oppose cus­tom and teach that skill to Joheved and her sis­ter. The book address­es all aspects of the family’s lifestyle — work,study, betrothal, mar­riage, birth, ill­ness and death. The author suc­cess­ful­ly depicts these life stages through the mul­ti­ple char­ac­ters, which engages and involves the read­er in very inti­mate ways. Some­times the descrip­tions of Jew­ish cus­toms are too fre­quent and detailed, but that is bal­anced by the oth­er sig­nif­i­cant and reward­ing ele­ments of the sto­ry. Ages 11 – 15.
Marge Kaplan is a retired Eng­lish as a Sec­ond Lan­guage teacher. She is a con­sul­tant for the children’s lit­er­a­ture group for the Roseville, MN school sys­tem and is a sto­ry­teller of Jew­ish tales.

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