JHOM - Personalities - Gluckel - Suffering

Natalie Zemon Davis observes that the long-suffering Glückel frequently views herself as a sinful woman; Glückel may have believed on some level that her complaints, laments and anxiety signaled a lack of trust in God. [1] Below, Davis discusses the ways in which Glückel invokes God in order to atone for this sinfulness.

God is repeatedly invoked in her autobiography, and not just in the closing of each book or in formulaic ejaculatory phrases, but in short tkhines prayers[2] and in recollections of earlier prayers "My husband — may the memory of the saintly be a blessing — stood weeping in one corner of the room and I in the other, imploring God's mercy," she says of the time one of their children was thought seriously ill, positioning herself and Haim in corners as rabbinical commentary had positioned Rebecca and Isaac when they were begging the Lord that Rebecca should conceive.[3]

In the second place, Glikl refers to herself often as a sinner and ordinarily uses her sins, in traditional Jewish fashion, to account for the worst blows of the Lord. This explanation for human suffering was being challenged in her day by the dualism of the Lurianic Kabbalah, which attributed evil in human life to the action of an eternal demonic power — the "Anti-Adam of Belial" — and not just to human sins.[4]

Glückel biography

About Glückel's name

Glückel's early marriage

Glückel as businesswoman

The Memoirs (analysis and selections)

Glikl had access to Kabbalah only in the watered-down version of Horowitz's Yesh Nochalin, but she had certainly read about spirit possession in her Mayse Bukh and about demons in her Brantshpigl, not to mention what her mother and grandmother would have told her. In her autobiography, she advises her children that giving alms during life will protect the soul at death against the "troop of angels (or demons) of destruction, the malakhe habbalah — God forbid — who are in the air between heaven and earth." (She does not mention the amulets widely used to ward off evil spirits, but her repeated "God forbid" is both a plea to the Lord and a deflection of the malakhe habbalah.) Still, this familiar host of demons was no match for the Lord's power, as was the new Anti-Adam of Belial. Glikl held to the older view that "everything comes from the Lord," and her usual formulation was that "if we are sometimes punished, it is because of our own misdeeds." Haim Hamel was taken away "because of my sins"; "as it is said, because of the wicked, the saint is taken away." "My sins are too heavy to bear . . . Every day, every hour, every minute-full of sins."


[1] Natalie Zemon Davis. Women on the Margins. Copyright © 1995 by the President and Fellows of Harvard College. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. P. 53. [back]

[2] 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) [back]

[3] Midrashic commentary on Genesis 25:21 ("And Isaac entreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren") noted that the Hebrew phrase "for his wife" could also mean "facing his wife" and that Isaac and Rebecca were thus praying to God in different parts of the room (Midrash Rabbah, Genesis 63 [5]). Rashi's commentary on the text: "He stood in one corner and prayed, whilst she stood in another corner and prayed" (Chumash with Targum Onkelos, Haphtaroth and Rashi's Commentary, trans. A. M. Silberman and M. Rosenbaum [Jerusalem: Silbermann Family, 1985], p. 114, n.21). [back]

[4] Joseph Dan, "'No Evil Descends from Heaven': Sixteenth-Century Jewish Concepts of Evil," in Bernard Dov Cooperman, ed., Jewish Thought in the Sixteenth Century (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983), pp. 89-105; idem, "Manasseh ben Israel's Nishmat Hayyim and the Concept of Evil in Jewish Thought in the Seventeenth-Century ," in Isidore Twersky and Bernard Septimus, eds., Jewish Thought in the Seventeenth Century (Cambridge, Mass: Harvard University Press, 1987), pp. 63-75. [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. 50-51. Reprinted by permission of the author.
excerpted Glückel mourns the death of her husband



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