Glückel of Hamelin
(b. 1646-d. 1724)
seventeenth and early eighteenth century Europe was a place where enlightenment
thought began to once again question whether women were intellectually and
morally equal to men. In Germany, a Jewish woman, Glückel of Hamelin, emerged to
become a model wife, mother, and merchant in an era where Jews were constantly
being expelled due to anti-Semitic beliefs. She began writing a diary at the age
of forty-four and would forever be known as of the best and earliest female
Jewish writers. Her account of her life would not only shed light about the
history of herself, it would be a recollection of events that shaped the towns
and Jewish communities she lived in as well as Europe during her seventy-eight
In German, Glückel can be translated into “little piece of luck,” but luck could not account for the life of this extraordinary woman. Her success was due to hard work, commitment and a desire to produce a better life for her children. She was born in Hamburg in 1646 as one of five children to a prominent merchant and figure in Jewish society. At the age of two, Gluckel’s family was forced to move to Altona, also in Germany but under the jurisdiction of the Danish king, due to Jews being expelled and not being allowed in the Hamburg after dark. After an eight year stay in Altona, Glückel’s family returned to Hamburg after the restriction of Jews was removed.
At the age of twelve after receiving a modest education, Glückel was arranged to be married to Chaim of Hamelin, or Chaim Segal. He was a merchant and they were married when she was fourteen. She immediately moved to Hamelin and lived with her new family, but after a year returned to Hamelin and began to start a family and engage in business as a partner with her husband. She became pregnant thirteen times and twelve of her children survived to live into adulthood, an astonishing figure in a time where the infant-mortality rate was much higher due to lack of knowledge about germs and sterilization.
The business the couple ran dealt with the trading of gems and metals, stretching across Europe from Poland to the Netherlands. While she was busy raising her twelve children, she managed to be active in the business by handling contracts, keeping track of accounts and through making joint decisions with her husband. As their prestige grew, she used it to arrange for the marriages of most of her children, ensuring that they would not live in poverty.
In 1689, after nearly thirty years of marriage, Chaim died after being injured while traveling on business. Immediately following his death she began to write an account of her life at the age of forty-four, which would eventually turn into The Memoirs of Glückel of Hamelin, which was originally intended to be viewed by her family for advice and an account of her family’s past, but would emerge into a famous piece of literature providing a first hand account of Jewish life at this time. For the next ten years after her husband’s death, she strenuously ran her business with some aid from her sons and was able to pay off the debts that they occurred as well as making profits by opening new shops and lending out money.
In 1700, at the age of fifty-four, Glückel still adhered to her wish never to be dependent on her children and was married for a second time to Hirsch Levy, a prominent financier who had accrued a vast amount of wealth in Metz, France. After two years in France the couple fell on hard times as they became bankrupt due to Hirsch’s financial dealings with creditors. In 1712, Hirsch died and she was once again a widow. Financially stressed, she engaged in business for three more years before agreeing to move in with one of her daughters in Metz.
In 1724, Glückel passed away at the age of seventy-eight. Her extraordinary life saw her become a model wife, mother, and merchant, running a successful business long after her husband died in an era where women’s role was primarily in the home. Her Memoirs are regarded as one of the best and earliest of female Jewish literature and still today gives readers a glimpse into the daily aspects she faced in her life.
Anonymous. “Glückel of Hamelin.” Jewish Heritage Online Magazine.
Available from <http://www.jhom.com/personalities/gluckel/index.htm>
( accessed 1 Nov 2005).
The article begins by giving an excerpt from her book, Memoirs of Glückel of Hamelin, then follows with a brief description of her life, mostly on her family and business. The article also includes an interactive timeline where the viewer can pick a date and see what was going on in Glückel’s life in that particular year. The author of the article is unknown but one source is listed, Robert Rosen, Introduction: The Memoirs of Glückel of Hamelin. Martin Lowenthal, tr., ed. New York: Schocken Books, 1977. I recommend this article to all readers and those interested in the life of Glückel of Hamelin should use the interactive timeline to chronologically follow major events in her life
Anonymous. “Glückel von Hameln/Glueckel/Glikl bas Judah Leib (1646-1724).” Oct 10 2005. available from <http://home.infionline.net/~ddisse/gluckel.html> (accessed 3 Nov 2005).
This article gives a very accurate account about Gluckel’s life, focusing mainly on her family and marriages. The site is very valuable since it gives the reader more sources on Glückel to further their research. It breaks down the sources by category into essays, primary sources and secondary sources by additional authors. There are also excerpts for the reader from her book, The Memoirs of Glückel of Hamelin. The site is very useful to students researching Glückel of Hamelin. The site is maintained by Dorothy Disse, a retired college professor, and provides numerous additional women's links.
Anonymous “Gluckl of Hamelin.” Available from <http://www.elexi.de/en/g/gl/gluckl_of_hamelin.html.> Accessed 3 Nov 2005
This site provides a short biography on the life of Glückel of Hamelin. It discusses mainly about her book, Memoirs of Glückel of Hamelin, stating that the intent of the narrative was originally for her children. The site also describes how her book provides an accurate description of Jewish life in Germany during the late-17th early 18th century period. Most of the site is written in German, but the biography is written in English. The site is suitable for someone wanting to know the basics on Glückel of Hamelin.
Brawer, Rebettzin. “Glückel of Hamelin (1646-1724).” Mattot-Massey 21 July 2001. available from <http://www.hgss.org.uk/home/5761/Mattot-Massey.htm> (accessed 1 Nov 2005).
Brawer’s article gives a brief description about the life of Glückel of Hamelin. The focus of the writing details how Glückel’s writing provided commentary on how hard life was for all people in her time, particularly Jews. It provides an excerpt from her book, Memoirs of Glückel of Hamelin, when members of her family were preparing a pilgrimage to the holy land due to the belief that the Messiah had returned. Viewers of the site can find many articles dealing Judaism, such as famous figures and current events. Brawer is affiliated with the Northwood United Synagogue, London, UK.
Davis, Natalie Zemon. Women on the Margins: Three 17th Century Lives. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1995.
Davis’s book chronicles the lives and works of three women who lived in the late seventeenth century: Glückel of Hamelin, Marie de l’Incarnation, and Sibylla Merian. Glückel of Hamelin lived in present day Germany, while the other two women lived in North and South America, respectively. Her main point is that these women were not noblewomen or royalty, but from their average background and through their writings and artistic achievements, have left behind ways that allow the viewer to get a better sense of what life was like in the areas where each lived in the seventeenth century. The book is a valuable resource for those researching any of the three women. Davis is a professor of history at Princeton University and is an accomplished author writing other books concerning the same time period.
Greenberg, Reesa. “Jews, Museums, and National Identities.” Ethnologies Vol 24 2002 pp.125-137 available from <http://www.yorku.ca/reerden/jews_museums.html> (accessed 28 Oct 2005).
Reesa Greenberg’s article describes specific museum across Europe where one can go and learn about the history of tolerance by Jews and towards Jews from specific periods and places in history. The article focuses on Glückel of Hamelin by describing an exhibit at the Jewish Museum in Berlin. At the museum, Greenberg states that the exhibit shows how Glückel portrayed mother, wife, and businesswoman and further documents also show a glimpse into life of Jewish women of that era. The article is a great asset for those seeking more information on Jewish women and specific museums dedicated to Jewish history. Greenberg is an adjunct professor at Concordia, Montreal and York Universities in Toronto.
Honig, Elizabeth Alice. “Desire and Domestic Economy.” Art Bulletin Jun 2001. 83:2 p.294 available from Academic Search Premier (accessed 3 Nov 2005).
Honig’s work focuses on art and how it was used to describe women’s role in commerce mainly in 17th Century Netherlands. The article is valuable to the researcher by describing what life was like in markets during this era, mainly in Amsterdam, and how the markets impacted the life of the towns and the women in them. Honig’s work can be used while researching Glückel of Hamelin by describing the conditions of the Dutch markets, where Glückel conducted some of her business. It is a very well written article and I recommend it to researchers wanting information on the role of women in the Dutch marketplace in the 1600’s. Elizabeth Honig is a professor of art history at the University of California-Berkley.
Lowenthal, Marvin., trans. The Memoirs of Glückel of Hamelin. New York: Schocken Books, 1977.
Lowenthal’s translation allows the reader to examine the writings of Glückel of Hamelin. She began writing her thoughts into a diary immediately following the death of her husband and would turn into one of the finest writings of late seventeenth and early eighteenth Jewish literature. Her writing describes many aspects of her life as well as that of her family. She also uses the writings as a guide so that her descendants will know their roots as well as valuable morals that she includes. Many historians and sociologists use the book as a primary source for further insight into that specific time period. I recommend the book to all readers and those doing research on Glückel of Hamelin. The book also contains a valuable introduction by Robert Rosen on Glückel of Hamelin, giving a short but adequate biography of Glückel of Hamelin.
Niger, Shmuel “Yiddish Literature and the Female Reader.” In Women of the Word: Jewish Women and Jewish Writing. ed. Judith R. Baskin. pp. 70-86. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1994.
Niger’s essay is one of many in Baskin’s compilation of works about Jewish women and their writing. His article describes what the normal audience of Old Yiddish literature is as well as its contents and style when written by women. He then adds that he considers Glückel of Hamelin to be “the best and best known.” He then gives a short background on Glückel and proceeds to discuss her memoirs. Niger was a literary critic from the Minsk Region in Russia who wrote for a Yiddish daily Der Tog. Baskin describes him as the foremost Yiddish literary critic of the twentieth century. He died in 1955.
Rabb, Theodore K. Renaissance Lives: Portraits of an Age. New York: Pantheon Books, 1993.
Rabb’s book is a series of short biographies on extraordinary people who lived during the Renaissance, including figures such as Glückel of Hamelin, Galileo Galilei and Catherine de’ Medici. He features Glückel of Hamelin in a chapter titled “Pragmatist in Changing Times” and gives a very vivid account of the life the Glückel led. He describes her life and then in the process inserts passages from her book to show her exact writing on that era of her life. I highly recommend the book to all readers, due to the plain language and quality of work that was put into the book. Theodore K. Rabb is a professor of history at Princeton University, teaching Renaissance and early modern European history since 1967. He also has served as an advisor to the PBS television series, Renaissance.
Random House Publishing. “Memoirs of Glückel of Hamelin.” Available from <http://www.randomhouse.ca/catalog/display.pperl?isbn=9780805205725&view=p rint> (accessed 1 Nov 2005).
This site, provided by Random House Publishing, provides a description of The Memoirs of Glückel of Hamelin. The site discusses what the book is about, highlighting some of the topics that is covered in the book, such as the hysteria of the false messiah Sabbtai Zevi. The site is useful if you want to know more about what is contained in her memoirs, but it will not help a researcher wanting insight into her life. The author of the article at the Random House site is unknown.
Roberts, Ted. “Glückel of Hamelin: A Mother For All Ages.” 12 May 2002. available from <http://www.aish.com/family/heart/Gluckel_of_Hamelin_A_Mother_for_the_Age%20s.asp> (accessed 14 Nov 2005).
Roberts article appeared on aish.com, near Mother’s Day, 2002, and focused on how Glückel treated her children and how she taught morality through tales she created. The author demonstrates that Glückel was a very good mother and that people today can learn from her ways to communicate with their children. Roberts does not go into great detail about who Glückel was, but the moral about the eagle in the article gives a brief glimpse into the wisdom that Glückel possessed. Ted Roberts is a writer for aish.com.
Zinberg, Israel. A History of Jewish Literature: Volume Five, trans.& ed. Bernard Martin. Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1974.
The fifth volume of Zinberg’s work chronicles the literary achievements of Sephardic Jews living in Turkey, many of whom had to flee the Spain due to the Inquisition in 1492. It is a very complex, scholarly work that should only be read by persons with a strong background in Jewish studies. Zinberg briefly mentions Glückel of Hamelin, but uses her Memoirs to describe the frenzy that was occurring due to the false belief that the Messiah had returned. Glückel’s work that is contained in Zinberg’s book is seen as a very accurate account of how many families reacted at the time of Sabbtai Zevi. Israel Zinberg was a famous historian of Jewish Literature during his life that spanned from 1873-1938. He was born in Russia and studied in Germany and Austria.
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