Maggie Anton’s highly original and carefully researched book, Rashi’s Daughters, is a compelling fictional account of the life of one of the great Talmudic scholars, Rabbi Shlomo Yizhaki, also known as Rashi. Born in France in 1040, C.E., Rashi, a winemaker by trade, operated a renowned school where students flocked from near and far to learn the Talmud from him. Rashi had no sons, but three daughters, Joheved, Miriam and Rachael, who displayed a keen intellect, and a thirst for learning the Talmud. In those times, it was unheard of for a teacher to instruct a woman in Talmudic law, whose study was limited to male yeshiva students. Rashi was a renowned scholar, his talents going to waste when he found himself without any students during a period of his life. On the day his wife Rifka was giving birth to her third child, Rashi’s daughter Joheved came to him with a question about Rifka’s birth which was best answered with a sacred passage from the Talmud. Although not technically forbidden, women did not study in yeshivas, were often illiterate and did not study the Talmud. Nevertheless, after introspection and study, Rashi found the Talmud itself mentioned learned women, often the daughters of scholars. From that day on, Rashi’s daughters, particularly Joheved, became some of his most adored students and their love affair with these sacred texts began to blossom.
Rashi’s Daughters is beautifully written, and often, with her detailed and piercing use of language, the reader feels as if he or she is learning the words from these sacred texts, in the company of the master, Rashi himself. Ms. Anton, who herself studied Talmud for ten years, took seven years to write Rashi’s Daughters, a book in which fastidious research and well-crafted writing are interwoven.