Like all good mothers, Gluckel of Hameln wanted nothing but to provide for her children and teach them lifelong lessons. She began to write her book after her beloved husband passed away, leaving her with their twelve children and his prospering business as a merchant to manage. Distraught, Gluckel wrote at night when she couldn’t sleep, with hopes that her words would stay with her children throughout their lives.
Over the years, Gluckel wrote when she felt it necessary, collecting seven short books within her autobiography, each conveying its own concept.The book as a whole, however, is based on three main lessons Gluckel wanted to instill into her children: there is no point in questioning God’s actions, the only solution to a man’s misery is to trust God, and living a pious life is of utmost importance. Gluckel’s autobiography portrays the hardships faced by widowed Jewish women in the predominately Christian society of Germany from a personal, as well as from a public, perspective. Jewish merchants were faced with discrimination during their travels throughout Europe, Gluckel being one of the many merchants who embarked on their journeys at the height of such intolerance.Gluckel was the daughter of Beile and Yehuda Leib, a prosperous merchant of the area. Unlike many Jewish women during this time, she was fortunate enough to have been educated on both secular and religious topics as a child, which prepared her for the future. She met Chaim at the age of twelve, marrying him two years later when she was fourteen.
Together, they raised twelve kids during which his job as a merchant prospered. After the death of her husband, Gluckel was left with Chaim’s job as well as the responsibility of their children.On nights when she couldn’t sleep, she began writing down her thoughts addressed to her children. In her writings, Gluckel provides them with her family’s history as well as guidance for their future. After many years, Gluckel married a wealthy merchant who eventually lost both his and her money, leaving Gluckel widowed, ill, and in poor financial standing.
She finished the majority of her book in 1715 adding to it until 1719. As described in her autobiography, Jews everywhere were experiencing many acts of hate.Constant threats permeated her everyday life, adding to the stress that comes with running a successful business. She wrote about her fearful experience in Hamburg mentioning, “From time to time we enjoyed peace, and again we were hunted forth; and so it has been to this day and I fear, will continue in like fashion as long as the burghers rule” (p 74).
As a Jew living in Hamburg, fear ruled her life. Gluckel was born in 1646 and died in 1724, a time period in which Jews were beginning to ascend in the corporate world. This caused unrest among other business owners, leading to violence and discrimination.Traveling throughout the prominently Christian Europe as a merchant was a fearful job in which she prayed for the safety of her family everyday. Gluckel became hopeful for a better future for her children.
She recalls the condition of her life during this time in her memoir. A loving bond between Gluckel and her children was important to her because she knew how unforgiving the world was during this time of such blatant discrimination. She wanted them to be able to take criticism and learn to thrive even under such hateful conditions.
The hateful environment that Gluckel and her family lived in helped make her stronger and provide her family with a sense of safety. It inspired her to remain hopeful and to continue to put her life in Gods hands. Although she was struggling to maintain optimistic at times, she did her best to provide her children with all that she could. Like Gluckel portrayed in her book, Jewish women were treated differently than others during this time. Unlike Christian German women, the idea of Jewish women in the workforce was generally accepted by society.Jewish businesswomen were commended for having jobs that allowed them to travel Europe, and sell their valuables. In Hamburg during the 17th and 18th century, a very small amount of the population of Christian women helped with their husband’s job until their sons were old enough to take over. With that said, a job such as Gluckel’s husband’s would not have been taken over by his wife if their family was Christian.
Christians believed that integrating women in the workplace might interfere with church attendance and childcare. (Davis 14).However, because of her extensive education as a child and her identification with the Jewish community, Gluckel was able to take over her late husband’s job. In her memoir, Gluckel states that “[her] business prospered. I procured my wares from Holland, I bought nicely in Hamburg as well, and disposed of the goods in a store of my own. I never spared myself, summer and winter I was out on my travels, and I ran about the city the livelong day” (p 179). Many Jewish women merchants during this time “achieved literacy and financial skills, which allowed them to run their households and economic affairs effectively” (Baskin 232).Though being a single, working mother was uncommon in the 17th century, Gluckel managed to succeed, and pass the knowledge of her success down to her kin.
Gluckel refused to lose sight of God’s values, and never let her dedication to His judgment falter. Though Gluckel was constantly faced with adversity and hardships, she still had the mentality that it was useless to question God’s actions. Throughout her life, she experienced traumas such as the death of her two husbands and two children. Despite deadly epidemics of the plague sweeping Europe, Gluckel was blessed with the health of herself as well as that of the majority of her children.
However, disease was virtually inevitable in an area so prominently infiltrated with the sickness, infecting a few of her offspring. Gluckel lived longer than several of her children, however she believed in the power that God held and, therefore, never questioned their deaths or any of His other actions. Gluckel writes, “it is known that many pious people live sad and lonely lives, suffering hardship and misery in this passing world while, in contrast, rogues enjoy much honour and great comforts.
They and theirs have riches while, on the other hand, it fares badly with the righteous and their children.We ponder: How is it that Almighty God, who is just, permits this? But this also, I think is vanity, for it is impossible to penetrate God’s actions and discover their meaning,” (1). Though this kind of material fulfillment was appealing to many, religion remained of the utmost importance to Gluckel. Although faced with multiple troubles, she never once questioned God’s intentions for herself and her family. She instilled these qualities in her children, who witnessed first-hand how a deep-rooted faith in God will aid in overcoming all struggles in one’s life.Obstacles such as coordinating marriages, providing food and education for her children, and of course undertaking the job of her first husband, Chaim, were among the most difficult in Gluckel’s life to overcome. In addition, Gluckel found it important to pass along lessons regarding the menace of sins to her children. She makes it clear that she is not exempt from the temptations of sin.
However, through a strong connection with God and the Torah, you can still live under God’s word.Without God and the belief that his rope is the connection to prosperity, one cannot be forgiven for the sins they have committed. As it is only nature to sin, repenting for one’s wrongdoings and performing good deeds leads to God’s protection. Gluckel viewed these sins as distractions from the word of God, emphasizing instead a moral compass interlaced with distinct religious values. Discrimination stemmed not only from occupational discrepancies, but from differing opinions regarding residency for Jews.
Jews during this lacked the right to residency in Hamburg.Many Jewish families were living there illegally, or through temporary residency granted by the Town Council based on the demands of one’s occupation. Jews lived in constant fear of being uprooted from their homes, and forced to leave by the government. Suddenly, in 1687, a Christian man was believed to have murdered a Jewish man, uprooting the entire community. Rebecca, a Jewish woman during this time, took it upon herself to find the truth.
“An energetic soul, the wife of Reb Lipmann swore she would give herself neither rest or peace till she brought the matter to light.But her husband answered her, ‘Foolish woman, even if it were true, what could be done? ’ This is Hamburg, and we dare not breathe a syllable about it’” (p 187). Though authorities reluctantly agreed to search the Christian man’s house, Rebecca soon learned that her attempts to shed light on the growing problem of Jewish discrimination were greatly frowned upon by the rest of the community. Gluckel experienced her share of hate throughout her years in Hamburg, which further influenced her to write about it in her book for her children to learn from.The hatred that Gluckel as well as all the Jews during this time experienced caused Gluckel to stay strong during the struggle and use her life as an example for her children. Her novel depicts how Jewish women were disrespected because of their religion. Gluckel of Hameln began writing her memoir as a way to mourn her late husband, and relay her ideals to her children. Not only did it help with her sleepless nights spent grieving, it also taught her children the importance of prioritizing values, conserving family relationships and remaining close to God all under the constraints of a being a Jew in the 17th century.
Furthermore, when her family decided to publish the novel, it gave the world a glimpse into the life of a Jewish woman during the 17th century. Gluckel was not famous during her lifetime, however her autobiography has been regarded as one of the most important books for European Jews, and has been translated in multiple languages. Gluckel’s autobiography remains a fundamental portrayal of the importance of incorporating Jewish principles into everyday life, while facing the hardships prevalent among Jewish women in 17th century Germany.