Jun 19 2013 4:00pm

Old Vey!: Jewish Characters in Historical Romance

A Bed of Spices by Barbara SamuelWhere are all the Jewish characters in historical romance? Old Testament retellings of Biblical stories are readily found in inspirational romance, but isn’t there more? The history of Jewish people in England, for example, goes back to the time of William the Conqueror, and the first documented Jewish immigrants set foot in the American colonies in 1649. With a rich culture, both religious and secular, and traditions that stretch back thousands of years and across the globe, there’s an endless supply of interesting characters with stories ready to be told. Readers looking for a Jewish hero or heroine in English or American historical romance may have to do some digging, but oh, the gems that can be found. Where to look?

Medieval lovers might consider Barbara Samuel’s classic A Bed of Spices, which pulls no punches regarding the difficulties faced by interfaith lovers Rica and Solomon as the Black Death spreads across Europe, while anti-Semitism points an accusing finger at the Jews. Solomon, a physician in training, wants nothing more than to heal, and though he never expected to find his soulmate in Catholic Rica, he admires her intellect as well as her passion. To say that both families do not react well to this pairing is an understatement. At one point, Solomon’s father gets physical with his son to keep him from bringing danger to both families, and yet it is Solomon’s faith and traditions that form the backbone of his character, and indeed provide a way for the couple to be together at last.

A Question of Honor by Nita AbramRegency readers who want something different in their favorite era won’t want to miss Nita Abrams’s award-winning five-book series, The Couriers, about a family of Anglo-Jewish spies who serve as couriers for Wellington. Starting with A Question of Honor, Abrams addresses a part of English history not often touched upon in romance fiction.

Inspirational author Ruth Axtell Morren draws upon her on Sephardic roots to deliver Winter Is Past, also set in the Regency era. Jewish MP Simon Aguilar made a nominal conversion to Christianity in order to further his political career, and his attraction to Methodist nurse Althea Breton only further unsettles his spirit. While this is a Christian inspirational, Simon’s Jewish faith is in no way belittled or devalued, and he and Althea must both overcome spiritual questioning to forge their future together.

Crooked Hearts by Patricia GaffneyMoving across the pond and a few decades forward, the American west was open to people from all walks of life, so shouldn’t we be seeing more Jewish characters there as well? In Patricia Gaffney’s Crooked Hearts, her con man hero, Reuben, born in the Ukraine, meets his match in Grace, a con woman who’s dressed as a nun when they first meet, setting the tone for a rollicking adventure with more than a few surprises.

In Lady X’s Cowboy by Zoe Archer, English lady Olivia and American cowboy Will find that their language of love is actually Yiddish, thanks to Olivia’s grandmother and the miner who raised orphaned Will.

While most of the above examples deal with interfaith or intercultural couples, how about a historical romance where both partners share Jewish heritage? Jewish history has had some very dark times, to be sure, but what always endures is the love, the strong sense of family and community, essential parts of any romance.


Anna C. Bowling considers writing historical romance the best way to travel through time and make the voices in her head pay rent. She welcomes visitors to her blog, Typing with Wet Nails and to follow her at Twitter.

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Jennifer Wilck
1. Jennifer Wilck
I find the same problem in contemporary romance (if you exclude Chick Lit), which is why I wrote a contemporary around the holiday of Purim. But I'd love to see Jewish characters in historicals too, and will add the above to my reading list.
Jennifer Wilck
2. Linda Hart
Francine Rivers's Mark of the Lion series comes to mind with Jewish slave, Hadassah, and her Roman aristocratic love interest, Marcus.
Anna Bowling
3. AnnaBowling
@Jennifer Wilk, I would love to see a romance centered around Purim; a holiday with a legendary romance at its core is a natural for romance fiction. Outside of a couple of Hannukah themed novellas, I haven't seen many Jewish H/h in contemporaries, either. Time for that to change.

@Linda Hart, Marcus and Hadassah's story is one of my favorites, and Marcus' interest in Hadassah's Jewish heritage as well as the new Christian faith shapes his character's arc deeply.
Jennifer Wilck
4. Lindsay S
I believe there's a recurring Jewish family in the Skye O'Malley books by Bertrice Small. They are allies and business partners but never really more than that. That inclusion is also not helping a stereotype tho. Good post. The lack of diversity in historicals includes religion(s) too.
Jennifer Wilck
5. Mo
Barbara Samuel's A Bed of Spices is currrently free for Kindle. I hadn't even looked at it before, but this inspired me to pick it up.

I remember many years ago reading a fictional retelling of the story of Purim and I have been looking for the book every since.
Anna Bowling
6. AnnaBowling
@Lindsay S, the Kira family are recurring supporting characters in Bertrice Small's Leslie and O'Malley novels and have been mentioned in her new Silk Merchant's Daughters books. Wouldn't it be fabulous to see a Kira as one of the leads? I bet she could do something wonderful with such characters.

@Mo, A Bed of Spices is an amazing book. Lucky you reading it for the first time! If you find your fictional retelling of the Purim story, I'd love to know the title. Such rich source material!
Jennifer Wilck
7. Suzanna
I can recommend "Miss Jacobson's journey" by Carola Dunn. Regency era, although mostly set in Europe. The heroine is Jewish, as is one of the two heroes (the other one is an English aristocrat).
8. Kareni
It's not historical, but I believe the heroine in Fallen From Grace by Laura Leone is Jewish.
Jennifer Wilck
9. LoriA
FYI, it's Sephardic, not Shephardic (I'm guessing that's a typo -- please don't tell me that the author got it wrong). Sephardic Jews are descended from those who settled in Spain; it also refers to some different practices/traditions.

One series that deals with Medieval Jews is the historical mystery series by Sharan Newman, set in France, about a young woman named Catherine LeVendeur. The introduction of Jews to the story might be a bit slow, as in the first book, the protagonist is studying at a convent (Heloise's convent). But it has romantic elements, too. The heroine's father is a merchant, and the author is a medieval historian.

There was a Jewish character who was introduced early on, and became a bit more prominent going forward. (I don't remember exactly where he was introduced.) But there's quite a bit about the Jews' precarious status at different times.

I haven't read the latest books, but I really enjoyed the series, and how it was developing. (I need to reread before I pick up the series again.)

The first book is Death Comes as Epiphany.
Victoria Janssen
10. VictoriaJanssen
I love the Nita Abrams books! And A BED OF SPICES has been in my TBR sounds great.
Jennifer Wilck
13. Dahlia Adler
This is so great, thank you! I don't recall ever seeing a romance with Jewish characters before, other than actual retellings of biblical stories. I don't think it'd be classified as a romance, per se, but THE FRUIT OF HER HANDS by Michelle Cameron is one of my favorite Histfic novels - totally Jewish!
Heather Long
14. HeatherLong
You know I had the same question and decided to answer it myself. In Candle for a Marine, a book due out this holiday season, both the protagonists are Jewish and they are reconnecting during Hanukkah :) Thanks so much for writing this blog, I couldn't agree more.
Heather Waters
15. HeatherWaters
These are both contemporary YA titles, but Allyson in Gayle Forman's Just One Day and both Laurel and David in Jennifer Castle's The Beginning of After are Jewish. Really, really enjoyed both of those books. Beautiful writing.
Anna Bowling
16. AnnaBowling
@Suzanna. Miss Jacobson's Journey sounds really interesting. Jewish protagonists and a love triangle? I'm there.

@Kareni, thanks for the recommendation. I'll have a look at Fallen From Grace. What an intriguing title.

@LoriA, thanks for spotting the typo, and thanks @MFrampton for fixing it. Death Comes as an Epiphany sounds really good.

@VictoriaJanssen, I'd love to know how you like A Bed of Spices; I think you'll find it delicious.

@jamieloganbrenner, this post was my pleasure. Glad you liked!

@Dahlia Adler, I think romance could use more Jewish characters. Adding The Fruit of Her Hands to my TBR list.

@Heather Long, keep us updated on A Candle for a Marine. I'd love to see a Hannukah story. Sounds wonderful.
17. Janga
They are contemporary, but Judith Arnold's Blooming All Over and Love in Bloom's feature Jewish characters, as do many of her other books dating back to some of her category romances.
Anna Bowling
18. AnnaBowling
@Janga, Judith Arnold is definitely worth checking out. Thanks for the reminder!
Jennifer Wilck
19. Shelly Bell
In Elizabeth Hoyt's series, Maiden Lane, she introduced a young Jewish girl as a minor character.
Jennifer Wilck
20. Suzanna
Just remembered another good one - "Lady Barbara's dilemma" by Marjorie Farrell. The heroine has a good friend who is Jewish, but her fiance isn't happy about that. Regency again, reflecting contemporary attitudes. (All About Romance has a detailed review)
Anna Bowling
21. AnnaBowling
@Shelly Bell, I think I need to get current on the Maiden Lane books. I love Elizabeth Hoyt's writing.

@Suzanna, I'm off to check out the AAR review. Thanks for the tip.
Jennifer Wilck
22. LoriS
I can definitely second the rec for Miss Jacobson's Journey. It's also a road trip book. Win-win!
Jennifer Wilck
23. Flol77
My first thought reading this post was for Ivanhoe. Rebecca is a striking heroine.
Anna Bowling
24. AnnaBowling
@redline_, thanks for the recommendations. I don't think I've ever read any Jewish YA. Must fix that.
@LoriS, definitely win-win on Jewish heroine in a road trip story. I'm looking forward to tagging along on Miss Jacobson's Journey.

@Flol77, I do know there are a lot of Ivanhoe fans who would have preferred to see Rebecca as his heroine. Think I'm going to have to read and find out for myself. She sounds wonderful.
Heather Long
25. HeatherLong
Anna, I wanted to drop in and let you know that A Candle for a Marine (my Hanukkah book) has released! You can find links for it on my website at
Barbara Wilmot
26. miadevlin
I loved "Miss Jacobson's Journey" too. I can also recommend a Mills & Boon story from their "Medieval Lords & Ladies Collection - "Honeyed Lies" by Claire Delacroix.
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