Rav Hisda’s Daughter

Written by Maggie Anton
Review by Judith Starkston

Rav Hisda’s Daughter provides a wealth of historical detail about Jewish life in Babylon and Israel in the 3rd century CE. It depicts the daily life and coming of age of a prominent rabbi’s daughter rather than propelling its reader through a traditional arc of action with a crisis and resolution. Its interest lies in its portrayal of the sorcery, incantations, and women’s customs in this exotic, faraway period of time and place, sometimes against the backdrop of war.

Anton enjoys including the full text of each incantation Hisdadukh uses and the precise, convoluted rabbinic arguments over Mishna and Torah that she listens to in her father’s school. I found that slowed me down more than I would have wished, but it certainly shows Anton’s Talmudic research sources in detail. Anton puts us inside Hisdadukh’s character fully, and we feel her fears and hopes. Sometimes other characters of importance, such as Pushbi, Hisdadukh’s destructive mother-in-law, stay mostly off scene and we know them only through Hisdadukh’s and other’s appraisals. From the beginning, we are told about the two men Hisdadukh will marry in the course of her life, and thus our interest is held by revealing how these relationships come about rather than whether they will.

One of the engaging aspects of this book arises from following Hisdadukh’s growth from conventional young bride into a more experienced if confused woman. As this book is the first of a trilogy, we do not get to see the fully formed adult. This book closes with a somewhat wiser Hisdadukh at a new crossroad in her life.