The Fruit of Her Hands

Written by Michelle Cameron
Review by Suzanne J. Sprague

Shira’s upbringing is different than other Jewish girls’ childhoods in 1224. Her widowed father, the esteemed Rabbi Shmuel ben Solomon and great Talmudic scholar of Falaise, allows his only child, Shira, to study the Talmud in the same manner he teaches his male students. Eventually, the rabbi is convinced to remarry so that Shira has a female influence to curtail her so-called wild behavior and teach her womanly skills. Shira manages to learn household duties while continuing her studies, becoming more learned than the average Jewish man. These skills serve her well when she marries one of her father’s students, a man who will build his own reputation as a great scholar. This education and her b’shert (loving husband who is her soul mate) will help her cope with the hardships that are to come.

This novel follows Shira’s life from childhood through old age, but her narration is more a conduit for the story of Cameron’s famous relative, Rabbi Meir ben Baruch of Rothenberg, the Maharam, Shira’s husband. Through the fictional character of Shira, Cameron personalizes events like the burning of the Talmud, mock trials intended to legitimize genocide, and the exploitation of the Jewish community’s hard-earned wealth. Anti-Semitic thoughts and actions were encouraged by officials, who did everything they could to keep the Christians suspicious of the Jews. Arguments among Jewish scholars added further turmoil.

Finely written, The Fruit of Her Hands imparts an impressive amount of historical information in a pleasing fashion that contains romantic elements, demonstrating the author’s expertise and passion. A glossary provides definitions for unfamiliar terminology. Readers desiring a realistic look at Jewish life during the Middle Ages will thoroughly enjoy this book.