This compelling first novel is based on the life of Rabbi Meir Ben Baruch. Rabbi Baruch, known best by his acronym, MaHaRaM, was a universally noted Talmud scholar who lived in 13th century Germany and France. While he wrote no one single large work, his commentaries on the Talmud were solicited throughout the Jewish world at that time. He was also a noted religious poet who wrote many piyyut (religious poems) for Jewish worship.
Cameron, a descendent of the MaHaRaM, has constructed a novel that blends history and private speculation on the life of Rabbi Baruch in a time of great anti-Semitism in Europe. Rather than revolve around the Rabbi, the story is a fictional account of his wife, Shira, who is portrayed as the daughter of one of Rabbi Baruch’s teachers and a scholar herself. Shira’s father teaches her to read and write and study Talmud, something not common at that time. But Shira finds her life constricted by Jewish tradition and must struggle with her primary role as wife and mother, and only serve as a helpmate to her husband. While she can never be his equal, she finds happiness in this secondary role. The author places Shira at the center of some of Jewish history’s great calamities, such as the burning of the Talmud on June 17, 1244 in Paris. We know from historical accounts that Rabbi Baruch witnessed the destruction of twenty-four cartloads of Talmudic volumes and through Shira’s eyes and heart we come to understand the pain of this crime against Jews.
The novel gives the reader a unique and personal view of Jewish life in the Middle Ages and the adversities Jews faced as the power of the Inquisition spread throughout the world.