Maggie Anton, author of the dramatic trilogy Rashi’s Daughters, will speak at the Dave and Mary Alper JCC on Thursday, Jan. 10, at 7:30 p.m. In her latest novel, she follows Hisdadukh, daughter of the rabbi Hisda and one of the most frequently mentioned women in the Talmud. Her story, set in the household of the Third Century Babylonian sage, unfolds as this sacred Jewish text is being created by her father, his colleagues and their students. Her world is full of conflict. Rome, fast becoming a Christian empire, battles Zoroastrian Persia for dominance.
At the same time, a small group of beleaguered rabbis try to establish new Jewish traditions after Jerusalem’s Holy Temple is destroyed. Against this backdrop Hisdadukh embarks on the tortuous path to become an enchantress in the very land where the word “magic” originated, where some women draw on the occult to protect and heal, while others employ sorcery to injure and to gain power.
Growing up absorbing her father’s teachings intended for his male rabbinical students, Hisdadukh developed a great love of the Talmud and the Mishna, Jewish oral law. In a time when women were prized for their beauty and their ability to bear children, Hisdadukh was an anomaly, a woman who loved learning and spirited debate.
The conflict begins when her father brings his two best students before her and asks who she wants to marry. To everyone’s surprise, she replies, “both of them.” She marries the older youth, although it is apparent that his rival has not lost interest in her.
After the death of her young husband and the loss of her children, Hisdadukh flees to Eretz Israel to find solace. There she will face an evil sorceress who intends to destroy her, an old suitor she despises and a mosaic artisan who offers her happiness at the cost of repudiating everything her family values most.
“A lushly detailed look into a fascinatingly unknown time and culture, and a most engaging heroine,” says Diana Gabaldon, author of the bestselling Outlander novels. Anton is the award-winning author of the historical fiction trilogy, Rashi’s Daughters. She is a Talmud scholar, with expertise in Jewish women’s history.
Anton was raised in a secular, socialist household in Los Angeles, reaching adulthood with little knowledge of her Jewish religion. That changed when her future husband, David Parkhurst, entered her life and they both discovered Judaism. That was the start of a lifetime of Jewish education, synagogue involvement and ritual observance.
In the early 1990s, Anton learned about a women’s Talmud class taught by Rachel Adler, now a Rabbi and professor at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. Nearly every Wednesday for five years, she and six other women met around Adler’s dining room table to study. Teachers, tractates, locations and students changed, but Wednesday remained Talmud night for serious Jewish women scholars. Now Anton continues her learning individually and with a study-partner.
The evening at JCC will include a book signing and refreshments. General admission is $5.
For more information, call 305-271-9000, ext. 268, or log on to www.alperjcc.org