This is as much a book about medieval Jewish scholarship as it is about Rashi's family; his family members seem to circle the Talmud, supporting characters to its central theme(s).
This is not to say that it wasn't incredibly fascinating to read regardless! I learned so much about Ashkenazi Jewry as well as general life in France during the High Middle Ages. Some of the rituals and tradtions presented I actually remembered from reading a more contemporary story (The Ritual Bath
) - it's amazing that these things remain virtually the same over hundreds of years.
My favorite tale included in the narrative is a Hanukkah one, taking place during a time when the Greeks controlled life in Israel around 165 BCE:
... a virgin about to married was required to first submit to the king. So when the high priest's daughter was betrothed, the Greek monarch demanded that she lie with him. She went to the king, fed him cheese until he was thirsty, and then gave him enough wine to make him drunk. Once he'd fallen asleep, she severed his head and brought it back to her father in Jerusalem. When the enemy general saw that his king was dead, he and his army fled.
What a badass. She wasn't named in this novel, but Google tells me she was Judith, daughter of Yochanan Cohen Gadol. In honor of the deeds of their foremother, women refrain from work while the menorah lamp is lit.
Also, they used moss as toilet paper.