Talking Jewish magic with author Maggie Anton

Magic Anton image

Jewish magic.  These are surely two words I would have never put together. However, after getting to know Maggie Anton, and her writing, the connection is much clearer.  

Maggie Anton had a secular, socialist upbringing and reached adulthood without any knowledge of her Jewish religion. It wasn't until she met her husband that she found her passion for Judaism and Talmud. Together, the two started a new life of Jewish education, synagogue involvement, and ritual observance. In 1992, she began studying Talmud, which would eventually become the inspiration for her novel series, Rashi's Daughters and Rav
Hisda's Daughter
.  

In addition to writing, Maggie continues to study Talmud and lectures throughout North America and Israel about the history behind her novels with the goal of inspiring women to explore Jewish learning. Anton, who speaks at Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership on Sunday, Oct. 26, recently sat down for a phone interview with JUF News to talk about her latest book, Enchantress.

JUF News: What was the inspiration for Enchantress?

Maggie Anton: The piece of Talmud in Bava Batra 12b where Rav Hisda calls up his two best students and asks his young daughter which one she wants to marry. When she replies "both of them" and the Talmud says that is what eventually happened, I knew I wanted to tell the story of this audacious girl. What is Jewish Magic?

Scholars have written entire books on this subject. The short answer: Jewish magic is Jews using the supernatural to do their bidding. The majority of this in 4th-century Babylonia, when Enchantress takes place, consists of healing spells to protect people from the demons, curses, and Evil Eye that cause illness and other misfortunes.

Who is Rav Hisda's Daughter?  How is she unique and different from all the other Jewish females you've written?

Rav Hisda's daughter is the woman most mentioned in the Talmud, and always in a positive light. She had two husbands, both rabbis, the last of whom, Rava, was the most powerful and influential sage in the Talmud. She was uniquely involved in the acceptance and spread of rabbinic teachings throughout Babylonia, and ultimately in the entire Jewish community.

How do you balance the integration of historical text with a fictional story where anything can happen?

I do an enormous amount of research to make sure what I write is as accurate as possible, keeping in mind that I'm writing fiction where plot, conflict, and my characters' arcs are paramount. 

In what ways can women in 2014 related to Rav Hisda's Daughter?  

Just as in the 4th century, knowledge and education gives women power. 

In what ways do you feel your strong feel characters can influence women of all religious backgrounds?

I hope my characters can be role models on how to achieve power and make changes that improve women's lives while working within the religious system.

Over the past several months there has been a lot in the news about observant Jewish women wanting to take on mitzvoth traditionally reserved for men.  Why do you think observant Jewish women have taken a greater interest in participating in these mitzvoth?

As women become more educated and attain more powerful and equitable roles in the secular society, they want these kinds of roles in their religious lives. As for taking on "men's" mitzvoth, as early as the 11th-century Rashi's grandson Rabbenu Tam ruled that women may not only perform these mitzvoth if they wish, but that they must say the blessing if they do so. 

To receive free tickets to hear Maggie Anton speak at Spertus on Oct. 26, visit www.jotformpro.com/Spertus/maggie-anton-rsvp.

Spertus Institute for Jewish Learning and Leadership is a partner in serving our community, supported by the JUF/Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Chicago.

Tracey Meyers is a freelance writer living in Chicago.




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