Glueckel of Hameln

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GLUECKEL OF HAMELN (1646/47–1724), merchant, wife, mother, and Yiddish memoirist. David Kauffman, who edited her Yiddish text, was the first to call her "Glueckel von Hameln"; she signed herself as "Glikl bas Judah Leib." Glikl was born in Hamburg to the merchant Judah Leib and the businesswoman Beila Melrich. Judah Leib, one of the original Ashkenazim to settle in Hamburg, never had the status of that city's great Sephardi financiers; he became a prosperous trader and a notable of the German-Jewish community based in the adjacent town of Altona. At 14, Glikl married Ḥayyim ben Joseph, a native of Hameln. After briefly boarding with their families, Glikl and Ḥayyim established their own household in the Ashkenazi section of Hamburg. The couple had 14 children; 12 lived long enough to marry and all but one had children of their own. Using as his public names either Hamel or Goldschmidt, Ḥayyim traded successfully in gold, silver, pearls, and money, attended the German fairs, and arranged sales from Moscow to London. Glikl helped with the account books, local pledges, and contracts. In 1689, Ḥayyim died from a fall, leaving Glikl with eight children still at home. After marrying off some children nearby and others in distant cities, such as Berlin and Metz, she continued Ḥayyim's business with much success.

In 1699, Glikl married Hirsch Levy, a wealthy widower, provisioner to the armies of Louis xiv, and a leader of the Metz Jewish community. Less than two years later, Levy went bankrupt and the couple had to live in straitened circumstances. After Hirsch's death in 1712, Glikl moved in with her daughter Esther and her banker son-in-law Moses Schwabe and watched her grandchildren grow up until her own death in 1724.

Glikl began to record her reflections and incidents from her life in the "melancholy" period following Ḥayyim's death and gave her writings final form several years after the death of her second husband. This carefully crafted text, interspersed with relevant folk tales, is the first surviving extensive written document by a Jewish woman. However, Glikl was drawing from an established practice of self-description, by women as well as men, in ethical wills and personal narratives. She also drew upon her wide reading in Yiddish printed books, such as women's prayers, moral teachings, extracts from the Bible, and story collections, and from sermons heard from the women's section of the synagogue. Through her book, she could tell her children about their past and also reflect on the ups and downs in her life, her sins and strengths, and the meaning of suffering. Her autobiography, a woman's presentation of family life, the relations between generations, religious sensibility, business activities and values, and the messianic hopes of the 17th century, is an invaluable source for Yiddish language and literature and for early modern Jewish history.

It is important to point out that all of the translations of Glikl's memoirs, in German, French, Hebrew, and English omit as much as two-thirds of the actual text, based on various editorial principles shaped by the translator's approach to the material at hand. This has meant that the genre and the significance of Glikl's writings for her time and audience are still far from adequately understood. Although some of the core issues of the problem have been discussed by C. Turniansky, much room remains for further research, analysis, and full translation.


D. Kaufmann (ed.), Zikhronot Marat Glikl Hamil mi-Shnat t"z [!] ad ta"t (1896); Die Memoiren der Glueckel von Hameln, tr. B. Pappenheim (1994); The Life of Glückel of Hameln, 1646–1724, Written by Herself, tr. and ed. B.Z. Abrahams (1963). N.B. Minkoff, Glikl Hamil (Yid., 1952); D. Bilik, "The Memoirs of Glikl of Hameln: The Archeology of the Text," in: Yiddish, 8 (1992), 5–22; C. Turniansky, "Vegn di Literatur-Mekoyrim in Glikl Hamels Zikhroynes," in: I. Bartal, et al. (eds.), Keminhag Ashkenaz ve-Polin: Sefer Yovel le-Khone Shmeruk, Studies in Honour of Chone Shmeruk (Yid., 1993), 153–77; idem, "Tsu voser literarishn zshaner gehert Glikls shafung," in: Proceedings of the Eleventh World Congress of Jewish Studies, vol. 3 (1994), 283–90; N.Z. Davis, Women on the Margins: Three Seventeenth-Century Lives (1995), 5–62; G. Jancke, "Die Sichronot der juedischen Kauffrau Glueckel von Hameln zwischen Autobiographie, Geschichtsschreibung und religiösem Lehrtext," in: M. Heuser (ed.), Autobiographien von Frauen (1996), 93–133; M. Richarz (ed.), Die Hamburger Kauffrau Glikl. Juedische Existenz in der Fruehen Neuzeit (2001).

[Natalie Zemon Davis (2nd ed.)]