Book Report: Rashi's Daughters
18 August 2007, 2:38 PM
It was much, much trashier than I expected it to be. Which was good. Lots of sex, a fair amount of romance, lots of superstition and so on. There was a little Bible study, but not very much. It’s clearly written to be enjoyed by a reader who knows nothing about Rashi, the Talmud, or eleventh century France. Not that I learned nothing; my knowledge of the period and region, and of Rashi himself, is pretty scant. But on the whole, it’s not a book about learning, it’s a book about romance. Which is not chopped liver.
My main preoccupation, however, as I was reading, was looking for hints, preparations, foreshadowing or other indication of what was to happen about 270 miles from Troyes (where the book is set), and about thirty years or less after the events of the story. There is nothing. Perhaps it will appear in the second book, or the third, but nothing in this book. I know it’s a fair way from the Seine to the Rhine in the eleventh century, but Rashi was at the yeshiva in Worms in the 1060s, and when all the Jews were slaughtered there in 1096, it was a Big Deal not only in the history of the Jews, but in Rashi’s life personally.
The other thing that was missing in the book, possibly intentionally, was a sense of just how important Rashi was to become in Judaism. For hundreds of years, studying Talmud without studying Rashi (if only for the grammar) has been inconceivable. Students are taught, first of all, to ask themselves what does Rashi say? and then what does Rashi mean? This book makes Rashi human, but it doesn’t make him Rashi. Again, that’s probably to its credit as a novel, but it’s a hole in my experience of the novel.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,