Enchantress: A Novel of Rav Hisda's Daughter

Enchantress: A Novel of Rav Hisda's Daughter

by Maggie Anton


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Fantastic tales of demons and the Evil Eye, magical incantations, and powerful attractions abound in Enchantress, a novel that weaves together Talmudic lore, ancient Jewish magic, and a timeless love story set in fourth-century Babylonia.  
One of the most powerful practitioner of these mysterious arts is Rav Hisda’s daughter, whose innate awareness allows her to possess the skills men lack. With her husband, Rava—whose arcane knowledge of the secret Torah enables him to create a “man” out of earth and to resurrect another rabbi from death—the two brave an evil sorceress, Ashmedai the Demon King, and even the Angel of Death in their quest to safeguard their people, even while putting their romance at risk. 

The author of the acclaimed Rashi’s Daughters series and the award-winning Rav Hisda’s Daughter: Apprentice has conjured literary magic in the land where “abracadabra” originated. Based on five years of research and populated with characters from the Talmud, Enchantress brings a pivotal era of Jewish and Christian history to life from the perspective of a courageous and passionate woman.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780452298224
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 09/02/2014
Pages: 400
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.40(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

About the Author

Maggie Anton was born Margaret Antonofsky in Los Angeles, California. Raised in a secular, socialist household, she reached adulthood with little knowledge of her Jewish religion. All that changed when David Parkhurst, who was to become her husband, entered her life, and they both discovered Judaism as adults. In the early 1990's, Anton began studying Talmud in a class for women taught by Rachel Adler, now a professor at Hebrew Union College in Los Angeles. She became intrigued with the idea that Rashi, one of the greatest Jewish scholars ever, had no sons, only three daughters. Slowly but surely, she began to research the family and the time in which they lived. Legend has it that Rashi's daughters were learned in a time when women were traditionally forbidden to study the sacred texts. These forgotten women seemed ripe for rediscovery, and the idea of a book about them was born.

Read an Excerpt

***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected proof***

Copyright © 2014 Maggie Anton



• 299 CE •

on the Euphrates River south of Pumbedita, Babylonia

“Don’t stand up, mistress.” My slave Leuton put a cautionary hand on my shoulder. She had rarely strayed from my side since I was widowed. “That man who brought you back from Eretz Israel, Abba bar Joseph or Rava or whatever he calls himself now, just came aboard.”

I slumped down in my seat. “Can he see us?”

“Not from where he is.”

Heart pounding, I made my way to where Rava was sitting with his scar-faced slave, Tobia. Wiry to begin with, Rava looked wan and thinner than when we’d parted a few months before. His big eyes were closed, and he was mumbling softly—undoubtedly some Mishna, Baraita, or other rabbinic teaching he didn’t want to forget.

“Shalom aleichem, Rava. It’s good to see you again.”

As I feared, he jumped up and took a step toward the loading ramp, only to halt when he saw it pulled up and the distance from the dock lengthening.

“Hisdadukh,” he said sourly. “Fate seems to have conspired to bring you into my life sooner than I anticipated.”

All hopes for a quick reconciliation evaporated. “Whatever has passed between us, I am still the daughter of your teacher Rav Hisda.” I straightened up and looked him in the eye. “And for his sake, I deserve a proper greeting.”

He stared back and intoned in his deepest, most serious voice, “Aleichem shalom to you, Rav Hisda’s daughter. Did you have a good New Year?”

There was something rich and resonant about Rava’s voice that made people listen when he talked.

“I had a very good New Year, and I am exceedingly grateful to you for making it possible.”

When Rava said nothing, I expanded my gratitude. “I cannot express the joy I felt at seeing my son again.” I paused when tears of happiness filled my eyes. “And at hearing how well his Mishna studies are coming— he and Abaye’s son Bibi have become study partners. If that weren’t enough, there has been more demand for mykasa d ’charasha and amulets than I can supply . . . despite my previous misfortunes.”

I rambled on, until Rava interrupted just as I finished saying, “Imagine my surprise when I saw Achti with a baby in her arms.”

“I thought your sister was barren.”

“She still is. Ukva took her maidservant as his concubine, and the little girl is theirs.”

“Considering your indignant refusal to become my second wife, I would have thought your sister shared your sentiments.”

Rava knew our situation was different, that his first wife was barren while I was the fertile one. But I said only, “Achti’s not happy about it, but she prefers a slave-concubine as her rival rather than another, younger wife.” I paused and added, “It gives her children in the house again.”

“So Ukva has finally fulfilled the mitzvah of procreation.”

The bitter longing in Rava’s voice was so strong I flinched and hurriedly changed the subject to his favorite, Torah study. “While my father certainly missed me and worried about me during those five years I was in Eretz Israel, the hundreds of Baraitot I brought back more than repaid his anxiety,” I said proudly.

Rava gazed at me hungrily. “Teach me what you taught him,” he demanded. “We have hours until we reach Pumbedita.”

I shook my head. “I cannot pour Baraitot from my memory like a grain merchant spills out wheat from a sack. I need a Mishna or Torah verse to remind me of it first.”

He sat down and stroked his beard in thought. “Considering the sea- son, Rav Hisda probably taught about the fall holidays. Can you recall any teachings about them?”

Heaven rescued me, and I recalled a Baraita appropriate for the situation. “In a discussion on forgiveness, Father quoted from Vayikra: ‘You shall not take vengeance and you shall not bear a grudge.’ ”

Rava looked at me with disdain. “Every schoolboy knows that.”

“But do they all know the Baraita that teaches ‘what is taking vengeance and what is bearing a grudge?’ ” I asked. “Revenge is when one man asks another to lend him a sickle and the second refuses, then when the second man asks the first to lend him a shovel, the first one says, ‘Just as you wouldn’t lend me your sickle, so I will not lend you my shovel.’ This is taking vengeance.”

“Go on,” he said. This Baraita was clearly new to him.

“A grudge is when one man asks another to lend him a sickle and the second refuses, then when the second man asks the first to lend him a shovel, the first one says, ‘Here it is. I am not like you who did not lend me your sickle.’ This is bearing a grudge.”

“Is that the end of it?”

I shook my head. “In both cases, the first man should seek forgiveness from the second at Yom Kippur, for a Mishna in Tractate Yoma teaches that Yom Kippur does not atone for sins between a man and his fellow until he appeases his fellow.”

“That is well for property cases,” Rava said. “But what about personal suffering?”

Was he blaming me for his suffering? Thankfully, I thought of a pertinent Baraita. “Those who suffer insult but do not insult in return, who hear themselves disgraced but do not reply in kind, who perform Elohim’s mitzvot out of love and accept their suffering, they shall be as it is written (in Judges): ‘Those who love Him shall be as the sun rising in might.’ ”

Rava nodded thoughtfully, but to my disappointment he remained silent.

His pause made me think of some Baraitot about the world being created on Rosh Hashana. “Seven things were created before the world and they are Torah, repentance, Gan Eden, Gehenna, Elohim’s throne of glory, the Holy Temple, and the name of the Messiah.”

I followed with the miraculous events Elohim created on the eve of the sixth day, and continued in this vein until my voice grew hoarse, and we had to sit quite close for him to hear me over the noise of the flapping sails. “I’m sorry, but I’m not used to giving such lengthy speeches,” I whispered. “On the subject of Rosh Hashana, perhaps you could talk now. Did you have a good New Year?”

“No, I did not.” His eyes narrowed in pain. “I returned to Machoza to find that Romans had pillaged my home and vineyards when they sacked Ctesiphon. My wife moved what little she could salvage to her father’s house in Nehar Panya. She then accused me of neglecting my marital duty by going to Eretz Israel without her permission, so her ketuba payment has increased substantially. Add that to the cost of rebuilding my home, and I’ve had to mortgage my lands.” He took a deep breath. “To make matters worse, my father is very ill and unlikely to recover.”

“I am so sorry.” I could no longer pretend to be an uncaring acquaintance. “Please let me help you.”

“I don’t want any help, especially not yours.”

“Let me supply the extra ketuba payment. After all, you were delayed returning home because you stayed to save my life.” The Rabbis stipulated that when a man divorced his wife, he had to pay her an agreed-upon sum to live on afterward. The amount was written in her marriage contract, her ketuba.

“I did that for my own reasons, not because I expected a reward.”

“Even so, it would be ungrateful of me to let you suffer on my account.”

Rava stopped to think, and I congratulated myself on my foresight in secretly arranging to become his lender. Sure that he’d be too proud to accept my assistance, I had turned to my brothers Mari and Tachlifa, who managed my property. Both had in-laws in Machoza who were willing to act as my agents in acquiring whatever land Rava needed to mortgage.

“Speaking of suffering, do you recall what your father taught about the Holy One’s afflictions of love?” he asked.

Yes,” I said slowly, curious and afraid of where Rava was leading. “If a man sees that afflictions are befalling him, he should look to his deeds to determine if he needs to repent for some sin. If not, he should attribute his sufferings to neglect of Torah study. If he finds neither of these, he should accept them as Elohim’s afflictions of love.”

“That is what I remember,” he replied. “By accepting his suffering in this world, the pious man receives a greater reward in the next world than his merits would otherwise justify.”

“You are the last man one could accuse of neglecting Torah study.” I paused to choose my words carefully. “But couldn’t there be some sin, perhaps one you’ve committed inadvertently, that you need to atone for?”

“Heaven knows that I have thoroughly repented for all my sins.” His voice was weary, not arrogant. “Rav Huna taught that those the Holy One loves, He slams with sufferings. As the prophet Isaiah said: ‘Though he had done no injustice, Adonai chose to crush him with sickness.’ ”

“But . . . ,” I began, my exasperation growing. Isaiah said the crushed man’s reward was in this world, where “he will see offspring and have long life,” not in the next world. Surely Rava knew that. Why would he want to justify suffering?

Before I could say more, he added, “You might think this happens even if he does not accept his sufferings with love. Therefore the verse continues, ‘if his soul acknowledges,’ which means that these afflictions come only with his consent.”

I could no longer restrain myself. “If you want afflictions, then you are welcome to them.” I was assaulted by bitter memories of Rami’s death, less than four years after our wedding, and my little girl’s death from a kashafa’s Evil Eye only last year. “I’ve had enough suffering in this life already,” I said. “As Rabbi Yohanan answered when asked if his afflictions were dear to him, ‘Neither they nor their reward.’ ” Immediately I regretted my harsh tone. Why did Rava make me so angry?

“If Elohim chooses to afflict me with poverty and childlessness, I accept them, but the sufferings my yetzer hara has inflicted . . .” Rava’s voice trailed off.

Ah, the yetzer hara—the evil impulse. That’s what the Rabbis called man’s drive for pleasure or gain.

Now was the time to apologize for my own evil impulse. “I know Yom Kippur has passed, but I must ask your forgiveness for angering you just before you left Sura.” I hoped I sounded as sorry as I felt. “Please don’t hold a grudge against me for such a momentary lapse.”

He sighed deeply but refused to meet my gaze. “Of course I forgive you.” He kept watching the moving water. “I too had much to contemplate at Yom Kippur. After many discussions with my teacher, I have concluded that you bear no responsibility for the many years of misery I’ve endured on your account.”

He no longer sounded angry. Was he attempting to reconcile? “I don’t understand,” I said.

“You were merely a child when you said you wanted to marry both Rami and me. I should not have let my desire become focused on you just because of a few childish words spoken when you were a girl.” Rava’s tone became wistful. “I should have recognized much earlier that my yetzer hara was tormenting me to interfere with my studies.”

“But it has failed,” I protested. “You are an excellent Torah scholar.”

“If I was, I would be able to conquer my yetzer hara instead of fighting a continual losing battle.”

“No man is that great a scholar.”

“That will be my challenge this year,” Rava said. “Rav Oshaiya says that if I can subdue my yetzer hara despite living in Em’s house while you’re studying with her there, it will be a great achievement.”

“Rav Oshaiya? I thought you were studying with Rav Yosef.”

“Rav Oshaiya is teaching me the secret Torah.”

That was a relief. I would have the entire year, until Jewish Law forced him to divorce his childless wife, to make him see why his yetzer hara was so attracted to me.

It was because we were fated to marry.

“It will be a challenging year for both of us,” I said.

“Yes, your new charasheta studies will be quite demanding,” he said, evidently misunderstanding me. “But I have every confidence that you will master them.”

I was gathering the courage to tell Rava how I felt about him, when suddenly the wind began to weaken.

“Oh no,” Rava muttered as the sails grew slack and our boat’s progress slowed.

I watched with dismay as the boatmen grabbed paddles and frantically attempted to take us to shore before the current started sweeping us back downstream. “What will happen now?” I asked. All I knew was that we were somewhere south of Pumbedita, but surely Rava was familiar with the river’s many moods.

“We will have to wait until the wind picks up again or they find some donkeys to pull us along the towpath.”

I was gazing helplessly at the motionless sails when my skin began to tingle as I sensed the presence of magic.

Rava was pacing the deck with impatience, and I could see that he was not the source of what I felt. The awareness grew stronger, and I turned to clandestinely examine the other passengers. There was one other woman on the boat, accompanied by a small retinue of slaves. Her eyes were closed, but her hands and lips were moving.

I shivered as a slight breeze caressed my skin. The woman’s hands continued their motions, and the breeze strengthened until the sails billowed and filled with air. Only when the boat started moving again at a brisk speed did her mouth close and her fingers return to her spinning. At the same time the feeling of supernatural power ceased.

There was no doubt in my mind that I had just witnessed a charasheta, an enchantress, at work.

We reached Pumbedita several hours later. My hometown of Sura was old enough for the prophet Ezekiel to be buried there, but most of the city had been built much later. Pumbedita, however, a major stop on trading routes between East and West since the time of Abraham, was truly ancient. Now that I was here, gazing up from the bustling dock to the massive city walls like a provincial simpleton, I began to doubt I was worthy of having someone as illustrious as Em for my teacher.

Em and Abaye were glad to have us arrive together. She clasped me to her ample bosom, while he threw his arm around Rava’s shoulders. Abaye’s wife and daughter were already asleep, so extensive greetings would have to wait. But I had to tell Em about the enchantress on the boat, which I did as we walked up the winding stone staircase to my room.

“What did the woman look like?” Em asked when Leuton began unpacking my things.

“Her hair was covered, so I couldn’t tell its color, but she appeared to be around thirty,” I said. “In truth, she seemed rather average in everything—neither tall nor short, fat nor thin, beautiful nor ugly, no distinguishing features—yet I’m certain I’d know her if I saw her again.”

“She doesn’t sound like anyone I know.” Em scratched her head in thought. “Though a charasheta powerful enough to control the wind might have ways of making herself less noticeable.”

“Do you think she’ll call on you?”

Em shrugged. “If she is only visiting and does not intend to perform enchantments, then probably not.”

I gave a slight sigh of disappointment. “I see.”

Em seemed in no hurry to leave until I was completely settled, so I inquired about my schedule and studies.

“For several months, until I’m confident you understand everything, you’ll only observe me as I work.” Her tone was firm, and I thought I heard a warning as well.

“I wouldn’t dream of doing anything without your express permission.”

Em cleared her throat. “Abaye’s first wife also studied with me. She was eager to learn recipes for curing illnesses, which I promptly taught her . . . to my regret.” She paused to wipe a tear from her eye.

“What happened?” I asked gently.

“I knew she suffered from headaches, but I never imagined she would try the remedy on herself without telling me.” Her face was etched with sadness. “I don’t know whether she made the potion too strong or took more when the first batch didn’t help, but we found her unconscious one morning, and she died that same day.”

I shuddered. “How awful.”

She hurriedly changed the subject. “You will continue to inscribe amulets and kasa d ’charasha when you’re not dashtana. We don’t want your skills to languish through disuse.”

“But where will I find clients?” I asked with surprise.

“I will arrange that.”

“I need to become familiar with the streets of Pumbedita,” I declared. The terror of getting lost as a child in the twisting alleys of Kafri had never left me.

“I will arrange that as well.” Em glanced over at Leuton, who was standing patiently next to our now prepared beds. “But first you must get some rest.”

Em was shorter than I, so I had to lean down to kiss her fleshy cheek. “Thank you so much for your hospitality, and for agreeing to train another student.”

I woke before dawn. I knew Rava was an early riser, but I was taken aback when he stepped out into the hallway just as I did. We were facing each other so closely I could see a few drops of wash water still clinging to his beard. His surprise at almost bumping into me was too genuine for the encounter to have been planned.

We had no choice but to walk downstairs together. I turned to Rava. “Where does everyone usually sit?”

“Em sits here, closest to the hearth.” He then pointed out a table that was lower than the five others. “Abaye’s daughter and wife sit over there, so the little girl is as far away from the fire as possible.”

I moved one of three remaining tables next to Em’s, pleased that Rava would have a good view of me. A kitchen slave brought us bread, bowls of porridge, and some dried fruit, and I waited as Rava blessed the bread.

I had just replied “Amen” when there was a clatter of small feet on the stairs. I looked up to see a little girl halt abruptly at the sight of me, a stranger.

Immediately her nursemaid came into view. “Don’t be shy, Elisheva,” the slave encouraged her. Elisheva looked to be about the age my daughter would have been if she were still alive. I gulped. With her dark braids and big eyes, Abaye’s daughter couldn’t help but remind me of Yehudit.

“Elisheva has my permission to be as shy as she likes,” I said gently. “Once she gets used to me living here, we can be friends.” At least I hoped we would be.

Elisheva remained rooted to her spot until Em came down and led her to the table. Slow, weighty treads on the stairs announced Abaye and, leaning heavily on his arm, his very pregnant wife.

“Babata,” he said to her, “this is Hisdadukh, Mother’s new student.” Abaye gestured toward me.

If not for her full breasts and belly, I might have taken Babata for a child.

“What cases will we be judging today?” Rava asked Abaye once they were seated.

“A divorce, a widow’s maintenance, and some property disputes,” Abaye replied.

“I am confident Rav Yosef will have something to teach about each of them.”

After Rava and Abaye left for court, Em asked if I wanted to attend synagogue.

“I am happy to accompany you,” I equivocated, “but just as willing to pray here if that is your custom.”

She took a handful of raisins and stirred them into her porridge. “Walking is not as easy for me as it used to be, but I still prefer to pray with a congregation. So I go on the days when they read Torah. You, however, should go as often as you like.”

“Today would be fine,” I said. “If anyone at synagogue needs an amulet, second hour on Fourth Day will be a propitious time for writing them.”

“Not sooner?”

“Today’s date is inauspicious. And of course, amulets and kasa d ’cha­
rasha are never inscribed on Third Day—” I stopped in alarm. Had I just insulted Em by suggesting she didn’t know something so elementary as Third Day being ruled by Samael, the Angel of Death?

“Except for curses,” Em finished my sentence.

I knew exactly when curse bowls were to be written, but that was not what I had intended to say. I had only seen one curse bowl prepared and had no intention of inscribing any myself.

“While the second hour on Fourth Day is particularly auspicious, the date makes the entire day favorable.” I downed my cup of beer and held it up for a slave to refill. “There are at most seven days a month like that.”

“I gave up writing amulets years ago,” Em muttered. “You must tell me about the best times in advance so we can be sure you utilize them fully.”

“I will.” Rava had told me that Em was famous for her healing potions and spells, but it was only now that I realized she didn’t inscribe her incantations. So everything she’d be teaching me would be new.

“We’ll see who needs your services at synagogue.” She finished the last of her porridge and lifted an arm for a slave to help her up. “We should make ready to leave soon.”


What People are Saying About This

From the Publisher

Praise for Rav Hisda's Daughter: Book I

“A lushly detailed look into a fascinatingly unknown time and culture—a tale of Talmud, sorcery, and a most engaging heroine!” —Diana Gabaldon, author of the bestselling Outlander series

Anton, the author of the acclaimed “Rashi’s Daughters” trilogy, has penned her best book to date. Using her extensive knowledge of the Talmud and other historical Jewish writings, she immersed herself in the tractates to uncover a marvelous heroine for this historical novel… Complex discussions of Jewish law and tradition as well as detailed description of the culture and customs of the times enhance truly wonderful storytelling. VERDICT This absorbing novel should be on everyone’s historical fiction reading list." —Library Journal (starred review)

“Fascinating reading await those who dive into the vividly depicted world of Babylonian Jewry … Anton succeeds brilliantly in drawing us into the formative period leading up to the Talmud … what we have is the work of a master craftswoman set upon repairing a major gap in Jewish literature —Philadelphia Jewish Voice
“Rav Hisda’s Daughter provides a wealth of historical detail about Jewish life in Babylon and Israel in the 3rd century CE. It depicts the daily life and coming of age of a prominent rabbi’s daughter rather than propelling its reader through a traditional arc of action with a crisis and resolution. Its interest lies in its portrayal of the sorcery, incantations, and women’s customs in this exotic, faraway period of time and place, sometimes against the backdrop of war.”  —Historical Novel Society

Praise for the Rashi's Daughters trilogy:
“Anton delivers a tour de force . . . [Readers] will fly through the pages and come away wishing for more.” –Library Journal (starred review)

“A compelling combination of drama, suspense, and romance.” –Lilith magazine

Reading Group Guide


Fantastic tales of demons and the Evil Eye, magical incantations, and powerful attractions abound in Enchantress, a novel that weaves together Talmudic lore, ancient Jewish magic, and a timeless love story set in fourth-century Babylonia.  

One of the most powerful practitioner of these mysterious arts is Rav Hisda’s daughter, whose innate awareness allows her to possess the skills men lack. With her husband, Rava--whose arcane knowledge of the secret Torah enables him to create a “man” out of earth and to resurrect another rabbi from death--the two brave an evil sorceress, Ashmedai the Demon King, and even the Angel of Death in their quest to safeguard their people, even while putting their romance at risk. 

The author of the acclaimed Rashi’s Daughters series and the award-winning Rav Hisda’s Daughter: Apprentice has conjured literary magic in the land where “abracadabra” originated.  Based on five years of research and populated with characters from the Talmud, Enchantress brings a pivotal era of Jewish and Christian history to life from the perspective of a courageous and passionate woman.


Maggie Anton is a writer and scholar of the Talmud and ancient texts. She lives in Los Angeles.


1. Many of the characters in the novel, including Hisdadukh, are historical figures. What drew you to her story? How much did you know about her before you began writing Rav Hisda’s Daughter: Apprentice and Enchantress?

The Talmud passage where her father calls up Rami and Rava, asks her who she wanted to marry, and she replies “Both of them” astounded me, especially since that is what eventually happened. I had to know more about her. When I started my research, I knew very little about her, or the Babylonian rabbinic community. I knew Rav Hisda was a wealthy brewer, that he was one of the rabbis creating the Talmud in the 3rd-4th centuries, and that Babylonia was the same place as modern Iraq.

2. Stories of ancient Jewish magic and teachings from the Talmud are threaded throughout the novel. What challenges did you face in creating an atmosphere grounded in historical fact but also infused with the supernatural?

In my Rashi’s Daughters trilogy, which takes place in medieval France, characters accept that illness came from foul air or bad food, but might also be the result of demon attacks or divine punishment. Precautions against these include actions we would call superstitions, such as wearing amulets or avoiding certain activities on “unlucky” days. I detailed many of these “magical” practices, but left it up to the reader whether they actually worked. I wrote Apprentice and Enchantress from the heroine’s first person POV, which meant that I, the purported author, believed just like everyone else that misfortunes such as disease, miscarriage and premature death were caused by demons, sorcerers’ curses, and the Evil Eye. She/I also believed that these problems could be cured or prevented by spells inscribed by skilled healers on amulets and incantation bowls. In Apprentice, my heroine trains to become one of these healers. Though the techniques she learns would certainly be considered magic today, I tried to stay on the historical fiction side rather than cross into fantasy. My heroine sensed, not saw, the angels who made her incantations work. With Enchantress, rather than pussyfooting at the border, I charged fully into fantasy. My hero consults with ghosts, creates a golem, and resurrects another rabbi – all as described in the Talmud. My heroine conjures Ashmedai the Demon King, uses a magic ring to speak with animals, and creates food from nothing – again, magic described in the Talmud. I knew this might take Enchantress out of my readers’ comfort zone for historical figures, but I couldn’t leave out their supernatural actions and be true to their story.

3. You write in the afterword that you hope this novel will inspire readers to learn from the Talmud text itself. How important is it to you that your writing opens new doors for your readers, and pushes them to learn more? Is that something you think about regularly while you’re working on a novel?

It is important to me, but not something I consciously think about when I’m writing. I hope that what they learn while reading my novels will whet their appetites to study more.

  1. Hisdadukh and her contemporaries accept magic -- curses, demons, and spells -- as a normal part of everyday life. Did this surprise you? Why do you think magic is such an integral part of their lives?
  2. Em tells Hisdadukh that “the longer a man has desired a thing, the harder he works for it, the more worried, perhaps even frightened, he becomes as his goal comes within reach.” Do you agree with her? What ultimately allows Rava and Hisdadukh to reconcile and wed?
  3. Rava often remarks that he struggles with his yetzer hara. But later on in the novel, Rav Oshaiya tells him that “God wants us to love Him with both our yetzer tov and our yetzer hara.” What does he mean by this? Does Rava eventually succeed in using his yetzer hara in this way?
  4. Why are Em, Rava and Abaye so dismayed by the dream interpretations they receive from Bar Hedaya?
  5. The author weaves many teachings from the Talmud throughout her text. What purpose does this serve?
  6. There are many restrictions placed on women living in fourth-century Babylonia. What are some of the challenges Hisdadukh, Homa, and others face because of these rules? Alternatively, were there some ways in which the lives of women were better than you might have expected them to be?
  7. How does Hisdadukh manage to endear herself to both Em and Yalta? What does she learn from each woman?
  8. What is Rava’s relationship with his son, Joseph, like? Why does he treat him differently than he does his younger sons? Do you think Rava struggles with the same sense of resentment that Rav Hisda admitted to feeling when his first son was born?
  9. Hisdadukh tells Homa that a charasheta must be favored by the angels in order for her incantations to work. Hisdadukh and Rava are blessed by these angels, but not all of their friends and family are. Is there any discernible reason why some are more favored than others? Is it possible for a person to change their luck?
  10. Why is seeing Ashmedai in Rami’s form so upsetting to Rava? What eventually allows him to forgive Hisdadukh?
  11. When Rav Hamnuna dies, Rava inherits King Solomon’s ring and a sheaf of papers with a spell written in them. As Rava and Hisdadukh examine the pages, Hisdadukh comes to a realization: “Rabbi’s spells were self-serving, while those of charasheta were to protect and help others.” Does the novel make a judgment as to which kind of magic is superior?
  12. What is Hisdadukh’s relationship with Chama like? How does it change over the course of the book?
  13. How is Hisdadukh affected by the deaths of her parents? Does she react differently to the death of her father than she did of her mother? How so?
  14. Consider Hisdadukh’s interactions with Ashmedai. How does he try to control her? Would she have been able to bend him to her will without Solomon’s ring?
  15. Why is it so important to Hisdadukh that she defeat Zafnat herself? Could she have succeeded without Rava and Chama’s assistance and learning?
  16. What role does forgiveness play in the novel?

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