The Fruit of Her Hands
Pocket, Sep 8 2009, $25.00
Her widower father Rabbi Ashkenaz raises her with his Christian housekeeper as if Shira is a boy as he educates her. When her father is arrested as a heretic, she and one of his students Rabbi Meir ben Baruch saves his life. Shira and Meir fall in love and marry. They relocate to Paris where French scholar Nicholas Donin obsesses over the beautiful intelligent Jewess. Ironically as he fixates on Shira, he continues his angry harangue that Jews are Lucifer’s supporters. Meir believes they must counter his anti-Semitic tirade while Shira is more passive about what they should do. However, she understands Donin also threatens her marriage, which she concludes is a microcosm of the Jewish situation in Europe since the assault by Donin began in earnest. So she agrees with her spouse they must take a stand before a continent wide ethnic cleansing purge begins.
This is an intriguing thirteenth century biographical fiction novel starring a somewhat sedate heroine and the two livelier passionate men in her life. The irony of this engaging historical is that the volatile Donin and the courageous Baruch are much more fascinating than the somewhat flaccid lead character whose goal like many Jewish moms is keeping her family together safely. With a deep look at the Jewish lifestyle in peril in medieval France, readers will enjoy the “story of Shira Ashkenaz”, wife of a renowned Jewish thirteenth century scholar.