Author Maggie Anton grew up knowing very little about the Jewish religion and never dreamed of being a writer, but a women’s Talmud class in the 1990s changed all of that and the course of her life.
“I signed up for the class, I fell in love with Talmud, it became my passion—it’s still my passion,” Anton said.
It was in this class that she first learned about Rashi and his daughters. Having worked for more than 30 years as a clinical chemist, Anton who said she had never written anything before except letters to her husband while he was in the army, was inspired to write what would become her first trilogy, the popular Rashi’s Daughters.
“I realized there was a huge hunger among Jewish women for novels with Jewish heroines and with Jewish historical heroines, even better.” One of the lessons of her books, which all take place during Talmudic times, is to encourage more women—and more Jews in general—to study Talmud.
Author Maggie Anton.
Anton will visit several Chicago synagogues in October to talk about her second trilogy, Rav Hisda’s Daughter Book 1: Apprentice, A Novel of Love, the Talmud, and Sorcery (Plume Original), a 2012 National Jewish Book Award finalist.
This series tells the story of Hisdadukh, the youngest child of Talmudic sage Rav Hisda in third-century Babylonia. It is a story of conflict as Rome battles Zoroastrian Persia for dominance while Rav Hisda and his colleagues struggle to establish new Jewish traditions after the destruction of Jersualem’s Holy Temple.
It is also a story of love. Hisdadukh is presented with two of her father’s best students and, when asked which one she will marry, she replies “both” to everyone’s surprise. But most interestingly, this is a story about ancient Jewish magic, a little-known piece of Jewish history where real-life sorceresses used incantations in their everyday lives.
“Sorcery was originally not even in my mind when I first decided to write [this book], but then I discovered all the incantation bowls and magic and demons, sorcery and sorceresses in particular—the Talmud has a lot to say about them and I ended up [becoming] very knowledgeable about ancient Jewish magic,” Anton said.
As she began writing, she realized that Rav Hisda’s daughter was not referred to by name in the Talmud, and it was on her search for accurate Jewish women’s names from this time period that she discovered incantation bowls, pottery bowls with inscriptions inside whose purpose was to protect the people under whose home they were buried—thousands of which have been unearthed in what is now Iraq, dated back to the 4th to 6th centuries.
As she delved into the subject, Anton realized that her protagonist was a sorceress and her book took off in a whole different direction.“Magic and sorcery was not some hidden esoteric part of Judaism that mainstream Judaism didn’t have anything to do with…it was everywhere; it was under every house,” she said.
To learn more about the book, visit www.ravhisdasdaughter.com.
Catch Maggie Anton Oct. 22 at 7 p.m. at Congregation Kneseth Israel in Elgin, Oct. 23 at 7 p.m. at Congregation Beth Judea in Long Grove, Oct. 24 at 7 p.m. at Congregation B’nai Torah in Highland Park, Oct. 26 at 10 a.m. at West Suburban Temple Har Zion in River Forest, and Oct. 27 at 1:30 p.m. at B’nai Yehudah Beth Sholom in Homewood.