The Fruit of Her Hands
The Story of Shira of Ashkenaz
Based on the life of the author’s thirteenth-century ancestor, Meir ben Baruch of Rothenberg, a renowed Jewish scholar of medieval Europe, this is the richly dramatic fictional story of Rabbi Meir’s wife, Shira, a devout but rebellious woman who preserves her religious traditions as she and her family witness the rise of anti-Semitism in Europe.
Raised 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. When Shira’s father is arrested by the local baron intent on enforcing the Catholic Church’s strictures against heresy, Shira fights for his release and encounters two men who will influence her life profoundly—an inspiring Catholic priest and Meir ben Baruch, a brilliant scholar. In Meir, Shira finds her soulmate.
Married 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 witnessing the burning of every copy of the Talmud in Paris, Shira and her family seek refuge in Germany. Yet even there they experience bloody pogroms and intensifying anti-Semitism. With no safe place for Jews in Europe, they set out for Israel only to see Meir captured and imprisoned by Rudolph I of Hapsburg. 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.
Vividly bringing to life a period rarely covered in historical fiction, this multi-generational novel will appeal to readers who enjoy Maggie Anton’s Rashi’s Daughters, Brenda Rickman Vantrease’s The Illuminator, and Geraldine Brooks’s People of the Book.
With a powerful immediacy, Cameron's meticulously researched historical is told by Shira, an anomalous 13th-century woman raised (and educated) like a son by her widowed father. After falling in love with and marrying the legendary Rabbi Meir ben Baruch, one of her father's most promising students, Shira's beauty and education attract the attention of a French scholar, Nicholas Donin, whose demented vendetta against Judaism threatens the lives of Jews across Europe. Shira and Meir must defend their faith and their marriage from Donin, and take a stand against the anti-Semitism choking Europe, but Shira is a passive, if touching, heroine. Shira is easy to identify with, but not very interesting. Still, readers will drink in the historical detail and be quick to forgive Shira's weaknesses for the sake of other rich characters like Donin and Baruch.