Glueckel of Hameln
A unique Jewish woman.
The following article should be read in conjunction with the introduction to the theme of Jewish space, and the article on Jewish space in the life (1874-1952) of scientist and statesman, Chaim Weizmann. It is reprinted with permission from A Historical Atlas of the Jewish People edited by Eli Barnavi and published by Schocken Books.
Glueckel of Hameln, a contemporary of Louis XIV, would have liked, no doubt, to adopt, like Weizmann, the same radical solution to what would later be called the “Jewish question." She shared, at least, similar spatial experiences. A simple trader according to some, a proto‑capitalist according to others, she neither traveled the five continents nor crossed the seven seas. Nevertheless, she traveled far and wide. And when on rare occasions she stayed at home, spaces were clearly delineated for her (and for us through her descriptions). Her spatial experience, far more fragmented in certain respects than Weizmann's, was organized in three distinct categories: economy, family, nation.
The seventeenth-century Jewish lady conducted matrimonial alliances for her family in a manner more reminiscent of the high nobility of the Ancien Regime than of Weizmann’s family. Her memoirs elaborate on the negotiations which preceded the signing of each marriage contract. Glueckel herself married at Hameln, one of her brothers married the daughter of a rich dignitary of the Prague community, one of her sisters was matched to a Jew from Emmerich, another to a Jew from Bonn, a son and a daughter in Berlin, another son almost married a daughter of one of the Oppenheimers of Vienna, but finally remained in Hamburg, a third son married in Copenhagen, a fourth in Bamberg, a fifth in Baiserdorf, a third daughter in Altona, and a fourth in Metz. And when Glueckel herself was ready for remarriage: “Matches with the most distinguished men in the whole of Germany had been broached to me.” Economic space and matrimonial space were thus, as we can see, congruent. Within the territory that was destined to become Germany, however, she did not cross a southern line which excluded Stuttgart, Nuremberg, and Munich. It seems as if she could operate only within Lutheran territory.
On the economic level, Glueckel knew one space only: northern and central Europe, "Ashkenaz" in her terminology. She and her husband Chaim regularly frequented the great fairs in Frankfurt‑on‑Main, Leipzig, and Brunswick. But their network extended as far north as Copenhagen, to the northeast as far as Danzig and Stettin ("We sent our son Nathan Segal, who was then about fifteen years old, to Stettin to see how things were, and began to send big parcels of silver. This was soon made up into coin and we were sent Stettiner dritteh, which we could sell immediately on the Bourse. There was a fine profit in this--about two in the hundred"), to the east, as far as Prague ('We had lost 1500 reichstaler through a bankruptcy in Prague"), to the southeast, as far as Vienna, to the west as far as Amsterdam, and they even had plans for business in England.