THE WITCH OF COLOGNE

Tobsha Learner

In Tobsha Learner’s The Witch of Cologne, 17th century heroine Ruth bas Elazer Saul is first introduced to the Zohar by her mother, and then by her nurse, Rosa, after her mother’s passing. Ruth employs this sacred knowledge in her career as a midwife, using revolu­tionary methods of childbirth and healing that lead to accusations of witchcraft, imprisonment, and a forbidden love affair with Detlef Von Tennen: a Catholic vice-bishop of the Dome.

Set in the medieval cities of Cologne and Amsterdam during the time of the Inquisition, The Witch of Cologne is the story of the complex relationship between German Jewry and their Christian neighbors.

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In Tobsha Learner’s The Witch of Cologne, 17th century heroine Ruth bas Elazer Saul is first introduced to the Zohar by her mother, and then by her nurse, Rosa, after her mother’s passing. Ruth employs this sacred knowledge in her career as a midwife, using revolu­tionary methods of childbirth and healing that lead to accusations of witchcraft, imprisonment, and a forbidden love affair with Detlef Von Tennen: a Catholic vice-bishop of the Dome.

Set in the medieval cities of Cologne and Amsterdam during the time of the Inquisition, The Witch of Cologne is the story of the complex relationship between German Jewry and their Christian neighbors. It con­tains a fascinating mix of fictional and actual characters, such as human­ist philosopher Benedict Spinoza, and an exploration of many of their philosophical notions. The Witch of Cologne examines the nature of love and personal beliefs, as well as the political, religious and social ideas of the time, inspiring pause for reflection today.

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  • Forge
  • Paperback
  • 2005
  • 480 Pages
  • 9780765314307

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$14.95

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About Tobsha Learner

Tobsha Learner was born and raised in England and now divides her time among the US, the UK, and Australia. She is a renowned playwright and short story writer and has written for television and film in Australia and the US. Her collection of erotic short fiction, Quiver, has sold more than 150,000 copies around the world. The Witch of Cologne is her first historical novel.

Praise

“In the tradition of books about strong Jewish women, including The Red Tent and Sarah . . . this is the kind of all-consuming novel that readers hate to see end.”—Booklist

Discussion Questions

What was the prevalence of Kabbalah in 17th century midwifery?

In 2004, France banned students from wearing religious symbols such as headscarves, yarmulkes, and large crosses in public schools. What paral­lels can be drawn between this action and the restrictions imposed on the Jewish community in Germany in the 1660s and the 1930s?

Many people believe in ancient superstitions. “Touching wood” wards off evil and spilling salt is unlucky. Some use talismans or light candles to protect themselves or their families. How can these beliefs co-exist with a scientific view of the universe?

The Witch of Cologne is set during the early years of what came to be known as the Age of Enlightenment. However, this was also a time of superstition and hypocrisy. How does this tension play out in the novel?

Ruth bas Elazar Saul has been described as “a woman before her time” and “a potent mix of the old and the new.” How does her character explore these ideas?

What kind of power was available to women in the 17th century? Dis­cuss how Ruth uses power within and outside the system of her time and faith.

During the dawn of the Age of Enlightenment, the relative values of religion and science were shifting within European culture. Some sug­gest that the beginning of the Twenty-First Century is seeing another significant alteration in the roles of scien

The Witch of Cologne is written in the present tense. Does the choice of tense affect the relationship between the reader and the text?

Religious law prohibits Jewish men from bearing arms. How did this affect relationships between the Jewish community and the larger world during the time of The Witch of Cologne? Do you think this restriction generated the sometimes widely-held belief that Jews were cowards? Did this restriction affect Jewish response to attacks in the Twentieth Century, like the pogroms in Russia or the Holocast? When should people ignore a religious proscription?