The Fruit of Her Hands: The Sto­ry of Shi­ra of Ashkenaz

Michelle Cameron
  • Review
By – October 27, 2011

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.

Bar­bara Andrews holds a Mas­ters in Jew­ish Stud­ies from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Chica­go, has been an adult Jew­ish edu­ca­tion instruc­tor, and works in the cor­po­rate world as a pro­fes­sion­al adult educator.

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