JHOM - Personalities - Gluckel - Memoirs

Glückel began the Memoirs just after Haim's death, expressing her hope that writing them would help to dispel her grief. She also intended to tell her children about their family background. She completed the seventh and final book in 1719, five years before she died on September 19, 1724, at the age of seventy-eight. The Memoirs come to us through two copies of her manuscript made by members of her family. From these two manuscripts, we learn from scholar Natalie Z. Davis, a Yiddish edition, with notes, index and introduction was assembled and published by David Kaufmann in 1896. It was used for translations to German, Hebrew and English. The American edition has been in print since 1932.

Glückel biography

About Glückel's name

Glückel as businesswoman

Glückel's early marriage

Glückel's view of her suffering

The Memoirs (analysis and selections):

The story of the father bird and the baby birds

The death of a child; the birth of another

Glückel mourns the death of Chaim of Hameln

Glückel rescues her ne'er do well son Loeb from debt

Appearance of self-proclaimed messiah Sabbetai Zevi

Dangerous travels to the Leipzig fair

A match and a wedding

There are some interesting contrasts between the sources of Christian and Jewish autobiography that help us understand Glikl's mixing of genres — that is, her blend of memoir and story. Christian life history was often a spinoff from an account book and/or from a record of births, marriages, and deaths penned into a book of hours, Bible, religious calendar, or other devotional text....

Jewish life history [meanwhile] was fostered especially by the centuries-old "ethical will," an exposition of moral lessons and personal wisdom passed on to one's children along with instructions for one's burial and the disposition of one's goods. These were texts that had some circulation and reputation. In her manuscript, Glikl speaks of the will of her sister's mother-in-law, "the pious Pessele, [who] had no equal in the world with the exception of our Mothers — Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel, and Leah.... It is a wonder to read the testament that she made, may she rest in peace. I cannot write of it, but anyone who wishes to read it can still find it with her children; they would surely not have thrown it away." ...When the autobiography took over from the will, the impulse to moralizing still remained strong: one could make the life itself exemplary; one could add religious poetry and lament ... one could tell stories, as did Glikl.

There is a confessional strain in both Jewish and Christian autobiography, but it operates quite differently within the two traditions. For the Christians, the major model was still Augustinian confession with a definitive conversion.... With Jewish confessional autobiography of the seventeenth century, the model is not a personal trajectory but the history of Yahweh's chosen people, the individual life repeating and recombining the rhythm of Torah, sinning and the sufferings of exile.[1]

Glikl bas Judah Leib's autobiography fits within this general Jewish frame, but has original features connected with her gender and her learning. . . . Glikl respected [Jewish] learning and sent two of her sons who "studied well" to Talmudic schools in Poland and Frankfurt. But her own culture was of another kind, characteristic of the most bookish of the Ashkenazic merchant women. She had attended cheder, the Jewish primary school: "my father educated his children, son and daughters both, in things heavenly and worldly." In subsequent years, she had acquired numerous books in Yiddish — that is, in what she called "Taytsh" and what some Jewish contemporaries referred to as "the language of the Ashkenaz." This literature, always written in Hebrew characters, comprised several genres. There were ethical tracts and manuals, there were Yiddish books on the religious and household duties of women, there were women's books of prayers, especially the tkhines * (prayers published in booklets for a woman's individual devotion and recited according to the rhythm of the Jewish holy days, as well as the rhythm of her own life, body, and family affairs).[2]


[1] Yosef H. Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1982), chs. 1-2. Davis, "Fame and Secrecy." [back]

[2] Natalie Zemon Davis. Women on the Margins. Copyright © 1995 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Pp. 29-30. [back]

excerpted Barnes & Noble linkNatalie Zemon Davis. Women on the Margins. Copyright © 1995 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College (Cambridge: Harvard University Press), pp. 20-23. Reprinted by permission of the author.
excerpted In this feature article we have used the name Glückel which is the German version of the Yiddish name Glikl (meaning "luck"). Where we include excerpts from Natalie Zemon Davis' book, we do not alter her use of the Yiddish name Glikl.



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