Jewish Historical Fiction
Tombs of Meir of Rothenburg and Alexander ben Salomon Wimpfen in the
Jewish cemetery in Worms, Germany
Moses Maimonides, also
known as Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon,
medieval Jewish philosopher and one of the greatest Torah scholars of
the Middle Ages.
Although his copious
works on Jewish law and ethics were initially met with opposition
during his lifetime, he was posthumously acknowledged to be one of the
foremost rabbinical arbiters and philosophers in Jewish history. Today,
his works and his views are considered a cornerstone of Jewish thought
Book Reviews !
Things Medieval !
The Fruit of Her
The Story of Shira of Ashkenaz
The voice of a rabbi's wife in the
the daughter of widowed thirteenth century rabbi and Talmudic scholar
Shmuel ben Solomon, Shira's early childhood seems charmed. A
father's love for his daughter brings her into the classroom where she
has the privilege of learning not usually available to women.
Although her family maidservant Jeanne and Shira do not share the same
religion, Shira adores Jeanne and the warmth she brings. Not
until Jeanne leaves and marries does Shira begin to see the uneasy
relationship between Judaism and Christianity in the world outside her
home. Shira forms a connection with Nicholas Donin, a student in
her father's school, a connection that will change over time as his
position changes. As Shira marries Rabbi Meir ben Baruch, a man
who will become widely known for his responsa to Talmudic questions,
has children and ages, her life moves from Normandy to Paris, England
and Germany. As she seeks to raise her family, Shira witnesses
the growing hatred and pogroms against European Jews. Amid the
hardships she experiences, she is a woman devoted to her family and to
the spirit of her religion.
In her first person narrative of the
life of Shira of Ashkenaz, Michelle Cameron illuminates a lesser known
corner of Medieval history yet a period known as the silver age of
Jewish scholarship through the eyes of a woman who might have lived in
this time. Combining meticulous historical research with
fictional imagination, Michell Cameron gives voice to the struggles and
hopes of Jewish women whose stories we do not know through historical
records. Most of the male figures from Shira's father, husband
and Nicholas Donin are real historical figures whereas, as mentioned in
the author's notes, Shira's life is wholly imagined. The concept
of b'shert, predestined soul mates, informs Shira's life as well as the
emotional imagery within the novel. Shira is intellectually
astute, compassionate towards others, devoted to her religion not only
in terms of her actions but also in her heart. Though she may
fear some of the tasks before her, she is a woman who stands strong in
the face of adversity and unthinkable horrors. Her
internalization of the psalms and other religious texts inspires.
Michelle Cameron does an excellent job at detailing the sacred respect
for Jewish texts and scholarship while also allowing the reader to
experience medieval Judaism on an everyday practical and emotional
THE FRUIT OF HER HANDS unfolds with
suspenseful atmosphere as one feels trouble brewing and alongside Shira
hopes somehow the threats facing her will somehow dissolve. I
find it easy to identify with her emotionally despite many
differences. I simply could not put this book down and eagerly
awaited the moments when I could pick it up again. Readers
fascinated with the medieval period will appreciate Michelle Cameron's
attention to detail not only to the history but also in her
incorporation of medieval literature into the plot. Most of all,
Medieval enthusiasts will relish the opportunity to view medieval
history through a new lens. As a modern reader, later history
cannot help but inform one's reading of THE FRUIT OF HER HANDS, giving
it even more power and meaning. While clearly placing her story
within a specific thoroughly researched historical moment of time,
Michelle Cameron also captures timeless themes that makes THE FRUIT OF
HER HANDS resonate with modern readers. Whether your interest is
in the time period itself, Jewish history, or the spirituality of
women, THE FRUIT OF HER HANDS is a treasure.
Publisher: Pocket (September 2009)
Review courtesy of Amazon Vine
a richly textured, absorbing novel based on the life of her ancestor,
renowned thirteenth-century Jewish scholar Meir ben Baruch of
Rothenberg, Michelle Cameron paints a page-turning and deeply personal
portrait of Judaism in medieval France and Germany. Imagined through
the eyes of Rabbi Meir's wife, Shira, this opulent drama reveals a
devout but independent woman who struggles to preserve her religious
traditions while remaining true to herself as she and her family
witness the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.
by her widowed rabbi father and a Christian nursemaid in Normandy,
Shira is a free-spirited, inquisitive girl whose love of learning
shocks the community. But in Meir ben Baruch, a brilliant scholar, she
finds her soul mate and a window on the world of Talmudic scholarship
that fascinates her.
to Meir in Paris, Shira blossoms as a wife and mother, savoring the
intellectual and social challenges that come with being the wife of a
prominent scholar. After every copy of the Talmud in Paris is
confiscated and burned, Shira and her family seek refuge in Germany.
Yet even there they experience bloody pogroms and intensifying hatred.
As Shira weathers heartbreak and works to find a middle ground between
two warring religions, she shows her children and grandchildren how to
embrace the joys of life, both secular and religious.
multigenerational novel that captures a hitherto little-known part of
history with deep emotion and riveting authenticity -- and includes an
illuminating author's note and a Hebrew glossary -- The Fruit of Her
Hands is a powerful novel about the enduring spirit of the Jewish