Rashi’s Daughters, Book lll: Rachel

Written by Maggie Anton
Review by Trudi E. Jacobson

Rachel is the third daughter of the 11th century French Talmud scholar Salomon ben Isaac, better known today as Rashi. Rachel’s story follows that of her elder sisters Joheved and Miriam. Rachel engages in a money lending business, but is trying very hard to develop a family-run wool business, from sheep through finished fabric, in order to allow her traveling merchant husband, Eliezer, to stay at home with her in Troyes and earn his living there. With the advent of the Crusades (we read of the horrendous effect of the First Crusade on Jewish communities in Germany) and the unruly followers of Peter the Hermit, as well as events in an unsettled Spain, this is not the best time for Jewish merchants to be traveling. However, Eliezer has found the excitement of secular study in Toledo to be overpowering, and is not interested in being in Troyes year round. This leads to continuing friction with Rachel, who does not want to leave Troyes, despite the unwanted attentions of a local count. Rachel’s extended family is growing and the older generation is aging, bringing a number of changes to their lives. It is interesting to watch this development through the series.

This volume brings fascinating practices to light, from those connected to developing wool fabric with existing or emerging technologies to marriage customs and laws amongst the Ashkenazi and Sephardic Jews. Jewish practices are tied into the teachings of the Talmud, allowing readers to enter this religious world more fully, as was the case in the previous books in the trilogy. An afterword that explains what is fact and what is fiction, maps, a timeline, and a glossary all aid readers. I am sorry that Rashi did not have additional daughters for Maggie Anton to write about.