After penning six Jewish historical novels in ten years, I was outlining my seventh when I unexpectedly detoured into nonfiction last spring. Winding up an intense six-month (127 speaking gigs in 17 states) book tour promoting my latest tale, Enchantress, I was speaking to a New Jersey Hadassah chapter. As I like doing when no men are attending, I shared some racy pieces of Talmud I’d studied. The women were chuckling and enjoying my talk when one called out, “You should write Fifty Shades of Talmud.”
The room erupted in laughter, but I starting thinking I could really do this. And it would be fun. I imagined a short, witty book describing fifty sections of Talmud that dealt with various sexual matters, translated into modern English with a feminist bent. I knew it wouldn’t take long to research, not compared to the years my novels took.
That was because readers of the first volume of my Rashi’s Daughters trilogy bombarded me with emails demanding where I got my information. Unfortunately, I couldn’t recall exactly because it never occurred to me to keep detailed notes during my seven years of research. After that debacle I started a Word document describing every page of Talmud I studied. It now runs forty-five pages, single-spaced.
There are many references to sexual relations because I’d decided that, Rashi’s daughters being actual women, I wasn’t going to close doors on them, especially not the bedroom door. I also resolved that I’d never show them violating Jewish Law. Thus I needed to write halachic sex scenes, which necessitated studying what our Sages said about the subject. And they said a lot.
I had no trouble choosing fifty areas of discussion from over 100 I’d studied. A beta-reader judged an early draft too scholarly and suggested adding jokes and pithy quotes. Now the research really got fun, as I had to find those that best illustrated what the Talmud said about sex without being obscene. To make it even more entertaining, I put in some New Yorker style cartoons.
However, Fifty Shades of Talmud is not all fun and games. I begin with a succinct introduction that defines Talmud while explaining its history and importance. And I end with a list of my Torah and Talmud sources so enquiring minds will know where to study them in more depth. My goal, like all my books, is to provide an engaging read along with Jewish learning.
I wrote all my books, and especially this most recent one, with the goal of encouraging and intriguing women and non-Orthodox Jews to study Talmud. Was I successful? If not, what would it take to get you to study Talmud?
About Maggie Anton
Maggie Anton is a Talmud scholar and the award-winning author of the historical fiction trilogy Rashi’s Daughters and new series Rav Hisda’s Daughter. The first volume, Apprentice, was a National Jewish Book Award finalist. A Los Angeles native, Maggie worked for 33 years as a clinical chemist for Kaiser Permanente before becoming an author. Her newest work is the nonfiction Fifty Shades of Talmud: What the First Rabbis Had to Say about You-Know-What.