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November 19, 2014

I’m posting this blog entry from my comfortable & cozy seat on my way from Sacramento to Bay Area for tonight's program in Pleasanton. Free wifi, electric outlet for my laptop, wide reclining seat with footrest and lots of legroom. Am I flying first class? No, I'm on Amtrak train 537. Even better, it takes less time than flying and there's no security hassle. Last but not least, it's way cheaper than flying [especially with senior discount].

I had a wonderful interview with Rabbi Doug for his TV show when I was in Chicago. We discussed how I became an author, and how the research I did into Jewish women's lives in 11th-century France and 4th-century Babylonia formed the basis for my historical novels about Rashi's daughters and Rav Hisda's daughter. Click to Watch it on YouTube

November 15, 2014

Starting Saturday night, I’ll be off on another book tour, this time shorter and closer to home as I spend 6 days in No California followed by 3 days in SD, OC and South LA counties. For those in the area, here’s my schedule:

Nov 16-2 pm. KOH Library at Mosaic Law Synagogue, Sacramento CA
Nov 18-7 pm. Rosh Chodesh group at Bnai Israel, Sacramento CA
Nov 19-7 pm. Congregation Beth Emek, Pleasanton CA
Nov 20-7:30 pm. Rosh Chodesh group at Temple Beth Am, Los Altos Hills, CA
Nov 23-4 pm. Temple Adat Shalom. 15905 Pomerado Rd, Poway CA 92064
Nov 24-11 am. Saddleback Hadassah, Laguna Woods CA
Nov 25-10:30 am. Hazak brunch. Tikvat Jacob-Beth Torah, Manhattan Beach CA

Here's a link to article in the Pleasanton Weekly about my talk. Headline is "Talmud expert to talk about magic of ancient Babylonia Wednesday -
Author to speak at Congregation Beth Emek on a world where spells were used in everyday life"

November 14, 2014

A fan pointed me to a Dvar Torah by Rabbi Cheryl Peretz on this week’s parasha that asks the following questions, “Do the dead know what we are thinking about or what we are feeling? Is my deceased loved one able to empathize with my travails? Can someone who has passed away see what I do? Can I communicate with the dead?”

She answers, “These are not new questions introduced by some new age spiritual revolution. These are the age-old questions asked explicitly by rabbis of the Talmud” and then continues by quoting several Talmud passages where the dead do interact with the living. I used these, and others, as the basis of scenes in ENCHANTRESS where my hero and heroine communicate with the dead.
Here's the link for Rabbi Peretz’s entire Dvar Torah

I had a wonderful interview with Rabbi Doug for his TV show when I was in Chicago. We discussed how I became an author, and how the research I did into Jewish women's lives in 11th-century France and 4th-century Babylonia formed the basis for my historical novels about Rashi's daughters and Rav Hisda's daughter.

November 12, 2014

Another question people often ask me is how I did my research into this obscure time and place of Third and Fourth Century Babylonia, and did I have any help. Yes, I had help – lots of it – from Jewish scholars around the world. Luckily for me, the Assn of Jewish Studies had their 2009 conference in my hometown of Los Angeles, shortly after I began my research. So I already knew which scholars were experts in my fields of interest, and as I’d hoped, quite a few of them attended.

I made of a point of introducing myself and to my gratification, nearly all were familiar with “Rashi’s Daughters.” I found it interesting that a common response from the Orthodox scholars was, “My wife loves your books.” In any case, they pretty much all agreed to help me, either by answering my questions via email, sending me pdf’s or links to articles they’d written about my subjects of interest, or both. Most university scholars have websites that list their works, often with the ability to download the ones I wanted.

So who were the biggest help to me in researching Babylonian and Jewry and how the Talmud was created? So as not to insult anyone, here they are in alphabetical order, along with a link to their institutions: Judith Hauptman at JTS , Catharine Hezser at Univ of London, Tal Ilan of Freie Univ Berlin, Richard Kalmin at JTS, Michael Satlow of Brown Univ, and
Shai Secunda of Hebrew Univ Jerusalem

There were also several Orthodox scholars who were extremely helpful, but who insisted that I never mention their involvement with my novels.

November 09, 2014

Those who have heard me speak know that I do not give a prepared speech, or even use notes, so every program is a little different. Now, after giving 26 book talks about ancient Jewish magic and the research behind ENCHANTRESS in the last 3 weeks, I’ve seen several questions come up again and again. I intend to answer them in the several blog posts this week, before I head off to another book tour in No California Saturday night.

First - what is the difference between Babylon and Babylonia? Short answer is that Babylon is a city on the Tigris River and Babylonia the ancient cultural region occupying southeastern Mesopotamia between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers (modern southern Iraq from around Baghdad to the Persian Gulf). Because the city of Babylon was the capital of this area for so many centuries, the term Babylonia has come to refer to the entire culture that developed in the area and rose to political prominence around 1850 BCE.

Longer answer: The final period of Babylonian supremacy occurred when Nebuchadnezzar (ruled 605–562 BCE) conquered Assyria and Judea; he is best remembered for the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BCE and the ensuing Babylonian captivity of the Jews. He also revitalized Babylon, constructing the wondrous hanging gardens. In 539 BCE the Persians, under Cyrus the Great, captured Babylonia from Nebuchadnezzar’s last successor. Thereafter, Babylonia ceased to be independent, passing eventually in 331 BCE to Alexander the Great. After Alexander’s death the Seleucid Greeks eventually abandoned Babylon, bringing an end to one of the greatest empires in history.

When the Sasanian Persians conquered the area in 224 CE, they renamed it Asuristan. However the Jews who lived there continued to call it Bavel after the Biblical tower destroyed in Genesis 11:4-9. The Talmud created there was called the Bavli [Babylonian in English], to distinguish it from the Talmud Yerushalmi [of Jerusalem] from Israel.

November 06, 2014

Whew! My 3-week Midwest book tour is down to my final event, keynote speaker for the Central District WRJ [Women of Reform Judaism] regional conference in Columbus OH. Starting Oct 18, I did 14 events in Chicago, including 2 TV tapings, before leaving for Munster IN Oct 27. This was followed by a week of driving those long lonesome highways to do 6 more programs from South Bend through Cleveland, Youngstown, Morgantown WV and Pittsburgh. Then I retraced my route back to Cleveland with stops in Akron and Canton. All in all, 26 gigs in 5 states in 20 days, plus 8 radio or newspaper interviews done by telephone.

I met lots of wonderful people, stayed in some beautiful homes, admired miles of magnificent fall foliage, and managed to sell a goodly number of books. Tomorrow/Friday I fly back to LA just in time to spend Shabbat with my patient and lonely husband. Hallelujah, going home at last.

November 02, 2014

More from the blog I quoted in my last post about the Biblelands exhibit on Jewish Magic, this time dealing with how sorcery was ubiquitous among the Jews of the first 6 centuries CE despite an apparent prohibition in the Torah.

“Belief that the world was filled with supernatural beings and forces such as angels, demons, spirits and the Evil Eye was common in the ancient world and, indeed, many people today hold to that conviction. These forces were attributed with many powers and thought to be responsible for many of the good, but especially for the bad, things occurring to people on a daily basis. It was (and is) generally believed that such forces can be coerced into acting on behalf of the applicant. Depending on whether the goal of this coercion was for evil or good, we can distinguish between witchcraft (black magic) and magic (protective magic, or white magic).

Biblical laws strictly forbid the Jewish people from having anything to do with witchcraft (black magic):
‘You shall not allow a sorceress to live’ (Exodus 22:17)
‘There must not be found among you anyone that … uses divination, a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer’ (Deuteronomy 18:10-11)

However, (white) magic - i.e. defense against the dark arts, the forces of evil and the damage they cause - was not forbidden in Judaism. This is clear both from biblical and rabbinical writings and from many of the preserved artifacts.”

October 31, 2014

I don’t have to remind you what day it is. In its honor, for those who want to learn more, a great deal more, about Jewish Magic, check out this blog post about a fantastic exhibit on the subject at the Biblelands Museum in Jerusalem a few years back. I was lucky enough to see it and it gave me quite a lot of background to weave into ENCHANTRESS.

Here’s just a taste of the excellent, and lengthy, article. “Magic permeates our daily (Jewish) lives to such a degree that life without magic is close to impossible. An interesting fact is that most individuals are unaware that many items in their daily life and many daily actions and beliefs are magical in nature. Examples of this are endless: knocking on wood, tfu tfu tfu, Evil Eye , not naming a child before birth, the amuletic power of the mezuzah, red ribbon bracelet, khamsas, jinxes… These and many more practices have ancient sources. Some have lost their meaning even though they are still used, for example, the magical formula ABRACADABRA, has its roots in the 3rd century CE, and is continuously used even today.”

October 28, 2014

Where I first started studying Talmud over 20 years ago, I became determined to discover if the daughters of the great medieval Talmudic scholar Rashi were as learned as legends said. Eventually I found that not only were the legends indeed true, but that their lives, and the lives of other Jewish women in 11th-century France, were far better than I would have imagined for the Dark Ages. I was so impressed by all this evidence, information no one seemed to know about, that I decided to write a trilogy of historical novels, Rashi’s Daughters.

Why novels? One answer is that I’m not a rabbi or professional scholar with the credentials necessary for a history text. But the truth is that I was always a voracious reader of fiction, so I wrote the book I wanted to read. A bigger truth is that if an author wants to delve into history from a woman’s perspective, she has to write fiction.

Let’s face it – for most of human history, nobody recorded anything. Then, up until only the last thirty years or so, history was men writing about men for men. As the saying goes, “They don’t call it ‘his-story’ for nothing.”

I, like most female readers, prefer a female protagonist, one unlikely to be found in war stories, political thrillers, and tales of adventure on the high seas. Give me a heroine who wields the power behind the throne or is caught up in historic events from within her household. Better yet, show me how women lived back in the old days – how they fit into society, how they struggled with or accepted their communities’ strictures, how they managed to cook, clean, sew, and raise children without our modern conveniences.

And of course, I want a romantic hero who is worthy of my heroine’s affection.... Who would have imagined that sorcery was once such an honored and prestigious profession for women? This is where the historical novelist can really shine – by not only writing a fascinating story from a woman’s perspective, but by also uncovering a piece of previously ignored women’s history.

Check out my entire guest post at History from a Woman's Perspective

October 24, 2014

You may be wondering I’m on vacation or, Heaven forbid, too ill or otherwise occupied to post anything. The good news is that I’m on a 3-week Midwest book tour, speaking about the research behind ENCHANTRESS at a variety of Jewish venues in 5 states: Illinois [Chicago], Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia [Morgantown], and Pennsylvania [Pittsburgh]. As you can imagine, I don’t have much free time, particularly in a place where I can set up my laptop and write. I’m also in the middle of a 3-week blog tour, with reviews and guest posts on all sorts of book blogs. Check it out at the HFVBT website

But now it’s almost Shabbat, and I’m happily the guest of my longtime friend and Talmud teacher, Rabbi Benay Lappe. I’m pleased to read a very nice review from Life With Angie . Here’s an excerpt: “… the extraordinary story of a 3rd century Jewish mystic in Babylon. I suppose it is technically fantasy (or religious, depending on your point of view) because magical things happen, but it reads very much like historical fiction, and based on the author's website, it's very much rooted in history. The author, Maggie Anton, has studied the history of Judaism in depth and actually based the novel on true characters from the Talmud. I'm not Jewish and I know nothing about Jewish history or the Talmud, but I really enjoyed this work of fiction.”
I consider this high praise indeed.

October 21, 2014

Had a great interview with Blog Radio host Cyrus Webb today. Here's how to listen:

Check Out Books Podcasts at Blog Talk Radio with middayconversations on BlogTalkRadio

Maggie Anton

More sites to read

Erika Dreifus

The Talmud Blog

The Forward Sisterhood

Jewish Orthodox Feminist Alliance

Whole Megillah