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Rav Hisda’s Daughter, Book I: Apprentice
by Maggie Anton

Hisdadukh, daughter of the legendary Rav Hisda, is the youngest child in her large, prosperous family. Although a girl, her father allows her to sit in and listen when he teaches his students about Mishna and Baraita. One day, he turns to her and offers her a question: of his two best students, which would she like to marry? Startled, Hisdadukh answers “Both of them.” Shortly, she is engaged to Rami, the elder of the two boys, but as time passes it becomes clear that his rival hasn’t lost interest. Not only is Hisdadukh is clever and the daughter of a wealthy rabbi, she’s also training to become a sorceress who uses Talmudic magic to create amulets and cast protective spells. At a time when Rome is crushing Jewish rebellions and Christianity is on the rise, Hisdadukh’s world is in constant flux. But amidst the danger and tragedy there is always time for family, love and life.

I don’t know much about Judaism, but it’s supposed to be one of the big three monotheistic religions, right? I was surprised by the wide pantheon of demons and angels invoked by Hisdadukh and her family in her spells. Well, to backtrack a bit, I was surprised that women like Hisdadukh performed magical rituals in the first place – isn’t there a passage in the Old Testament about not suffering a witch to live? Anyway. The magical chants and ritual practices were fascinating.

Equally information-dense, but harder to get excited about were the endless debates during the lectures of Rav Hisda. He would introduce a topic and then his students would start defending and shoring up their views with passages from the Holy Book and teachings of Sages and learned men. The trouble for me, as a reader, was that many of these talks revolved around such minor, random details that it was hard to care what the final result would be. I’m sure it’s important to a scholar of the religion, but for someone who just wants to escape into a different world through a novel for a few hours…well, the debates really bog things down.

But the rest of the novel is so successful at resurrecting a long-lost time and place that I forgive it. Whether Hisdadukh was describing her father’s home in Susa or her long journey to Jerusalem, the sights and sounds around were conjured up as clearly as if I was walking by her side. The regular routines of life – brewing date beer, giving birth to children, mourning the dead – are all rendered so vividly that the great distance of time and space seemed to fade away. It was a great adventure, and I highly recommend this book.

4.5 out of 5 stars

To read more about Rav Hisda’s Daughter, Book I: Apprentice, buy it or add it to your wishlist click here.

Peeking into the archives...today in:
2012: The Mummy Case (Amelia Peabody Mysteries #3) by Elizabeth Peters
2011: Fashionista Piranha will be on hiatus for a while…
2010: Discussion Question: How Big Is Your Library?
2009: An Edible History of Humanity by Tom Standage
2008: The White Mary by Kira Salak


( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
Jun. 28th, 2013 02:52 pm (UTC)
Jews don't always interpret the verse to refer to a witch, but a poisoner. The bible actually has King Saul himself visiting the Witch of Endor.

And Judaism has a rich tradition of angels and demons, alongside monotheism. It's...odd.
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )


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