Maggie Anton discusses why Rashi's
daughters are significant
Q. Who was Rashi?
A. Born in 1040 in
northern France, Rabbi Shlomo Yizhaki (better known by his Hebrew
initials, Rashi) was a great Talmudic scholar who studied in Worms and
Mayence before starting his own school in his native city of Troyes.
Because of his unique take on Talmudic study, students flocked to
receive the benefits of his vast erudition and distinctive method of
Q. Why is Rashi's influence relevant today?
A. Rashi wanted to make being Jewish as easy as possible. His
belief in finding the most lenient legal opinion without building
"fences around the Torah,"and in permitting rather than forbidding,
makes him a model rabbi for our times.
did you get interested in Rashi's daughters?
A. I began studying Talmud with a group of
women after my children grew up and left the house. The more I studied
Talmud from a feminist perspective, the more curious I become about
Rashi’s learned daughters and how they managed to study Talmud in the
Middle Ages when such study was supposedly forbidden.
was Talmud study forbidden for women?
A. This question deserves more than the brief
answer I'll give here. In Deuteronomy,
Jews are commanded to teach Torah to "bnaichem,"a word that even the Orthodox translate
as "your children." But the early rabbis
used its literal meaning, "your sons,"and decided that only men were
obligated to study Torah. The Talmudic
sage Rav Eliezer took this exemption of women one step further, and
declared that "he who teaches his daughter Torah, teaches her lechery."
Q. So what were the consequences for women who
A. All societies, Jews included,
disapprove of those who don’t follow their norms. Women
wanted to study Talmud were seen as lacking in proper feminine
attributes, and because women were thought to be light-headed,
incapable of serious study, those who tried to study Talmud would only
learn to be crafty and devious. Then, as
now, since a man typically preferred to believe that he was more
intelligent than his wife, the learned woman was left with a limited
choice of potential husbands.
were the most interesting things you learned from your research?
A. The Shabbat lights blessing was based on
the Chanukah lights blessing, not vice versa - and
in Rashi's time, this blessing was the basis of a great
controversy that wasn't settled until years after his death. Also, Jewish
women in Rashi's time were able to demand a divorce from their
husbands, while a man couldn't divorce his wife without her consent.
there any surprises?
A. I was quite surprised to learn that there
was little anti-Semitism in Rashi’s time - the Church was more
interested in converting pagans and going after its own heretic sects
than in persecuting the Jews. Ghettos and
blood-libels came centuries later. Also,
Jews lived prosperous lives (even the poorest Jews had servants) and
engaged in many occupations (Rashi was a vintner for example). Some Jews were feudal lords with small fiefs
and very few Jews supported themselves by money-lending.
Q. What do you see as the legacy Rashi's
daughters leave for modern Jewish women?
daughters recognized the value of Torah study in the Jewish world, and
they wanted an education for themselves as well as for their husbands
and sons. Like women today, they attended
synagogue regularly and performed those rituals usually reserved for
men. When modern Jewish women create new
rituals and new blessings, we are following in the footsteps of Rashi’s
daughters and doing what our female ancestors were already doing 900
Q. How can I find out when the next book in the
series is coming out?
A. Book II: MIRIAM is will be published in
August 2007 and Book III: RACHEL is expected in 2009. For more
information, keep an eye on this website or join the Rashi's