Rashi’s Daughters


What kind of medieval woman ghostwrites for Rashi? His daughter, of course. The great 11th-century rabbi and commentator had 4 daughters (1 died young) and no sons. Miriam, Yocheved, and Rachel are among the few women known by name from this period of Jewish history.

Thanks to their erudite father, these ladies were probably better educated than their peers. Rumor even has it that they observed rituals that weren’t obligatory for women, like wrapping tefillin—though no real evidence remains. Miriam and Yocheved, the 2 oldest, married Rashi’s students and raised (male) Torah luminaries. The youngest, Rachel, married briefly but divorced. She spent most of her life in her father’s house, where she may or may not have taken legal dictation from him. Two versions of that responsum indicate different scribes: “my daughter” or “son of my daughter.” The debate continues.

Beyond their marriages and children, we don’t know much for sure about these women. (A trilogy of novels, Rashi’s Daughters, takes the liberty of filling the gaps). But 1000 years later, their mystery still informs and inspires discussions about women’s observance of Jewish law.

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