Of Talmud and sorcery

Of Talmud and sorcery

Author of "Rashi's Daughters" to speak on her latest book

Historically, Jewish women have been prevented from studying religious texts and holding positions of power. But through her award-winning books, Maggie Anton has given Jewish women from history a voice.

Anton, author of the historical fiction trilogy, “Rashi’s Daughters,” will be speaking about her new book, “Rav Hisda’s Daughter” at a joint program sponsored by Hadassah’s New City and Rockland Chapters and the Metronorth Region of Women’s League for Conservative Judaism. Although based on the story of an actual woman who lived in third century Babylonia, the book imparts lessons for the Jewish woman of today according to Anton.

The program will be held on Sunday, April 28 at 10 a.m. at the Jewish Community Campus, 450 West Nyack Road, West Nyack. Brunch is included, and the event costs $25 in advance, or $30 at the door.

As an expert in Jewish women’s history and a scholar, Anton will be sharing the historical investigation that is behind her books. “My research is the fun part of writing,” says Anton. In addition, she wants women to know about the Talmud, what it is and how it came about, as well as its importance in Jewish life. As the story of “Rav Hisda’s Daughter” unfolds, the Talmud (a vast collection of Jewish religious and civil laws) is being written.

“Jewish laws were made by older men sitting around a table,” says Anton. Therefore, through her presentation, she is hoping to educate and empower women to want to become more active participants in Jewish studies and practices in today’s world.

Born in 1950, Anton personally faced many challenges as a woman. Although a bright young science student, she could not be admitted to the California Institute of Technology, her school of choice. Instead, she went to the University of California, Los Angeles. Graduating with a degree in chemistry, it was difficult for her to enter a man’s world.

When Anton became a writer, she was also a mother with a career, which made it hard for her to find the time to write. When she finally finished her first book, she had to self-publish because, there were more obstacles along the way.

Through her characters, Anton explores many of the challenges and obstacles that women have faced over time. In her research, Anton found a piece of the Talmud that described a young woman who was presented with two suitors by her father, Rav Hisda, a Jewish sage.

When asked, “Which of these two do you wish to marry?” the girl replied, “Both of them.” Fascinated by this response, Anton went on to develop the character of Hisdadukh who would marry both men, first the elder and when he died, the younger.

Because she was a woman, Hisdadukh could not participate in religious life. So instead, she went on to study and practice sorcery and magic. When Anton became aware of the historical significance of sorcery, it became her primary focus for the book.

“I discovered the sorcery and the magic as I was doing my research,” said Anton. Women had a very important role in this. “Incantations were used to keep away evil and demons,” she explained.

So at a time when men were writing the Talmud, women incorporated their own practices into religious traditions and became involved with sorcery, amulets, and incantations. Many of these incantations have become a part of our prayers today because they were real ones. When we say prayers such as the Mi Sheberakh for healing, it is with the mother’s name that we chant.

The program is being coordinated by Yael Holand, one of Rockland Hadassah presidents. “We are very excited to welcome Maggie Anton to speak at our brunch,” said Holand. Hadassah has two chapters in Rockland, representing approximately 1,400 members. Holand describes it as a multi-generational organization; one of the largest women’s Zionist organizations in America.

With a strong commitment to Israel and a sponsor of hospitals and colleges throughout the world, Hadassah also seeks to educate and empower women. Already, many women’s groups throughout New York and the vicinity, such as sisterhoods and book clubs, will be attending this function.

“We are providing the opportunity for many organizations to come to see Maggie Anton who otherwise would not get to see her,” said Susan Orlando, president of the Metronorth Region of the Women’s League for Conservative Judaism (WLCJ), a co-sponsor of this event.

The WLCJ, an organization that seeks to strengthen and unite women’s groups, is also a strong supporter of Israel. There are 25 branches across the United States and Canada, each seeking to perpetuate Conservative Judaism. The Metronorth region includes Rockland, Westchester, Orange, Putnam, Manhattan, and parts of Connecticut.

Both organizations, Hadassah and WLCJ, expect a large turnout for this event. “All are welcome; you don’t have to be a member of either of these organizations to attend,” said Holand. Proceeds will benefit both organizations. RSVP by April 19 to B. Mosner, 28 Continental Drive, West Nyack, N.Y. 10994. Checks should be made payable to Hadassah.

For more information, contact Yael Holand (845) 356-0681 or email yael@bokkerz.com. To read more about Maggie Anton, visit www.maggieanton.com.

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