Glueckel of Hameln

A unique Jewish woman.

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But the notion of “space” is misleading, for it suggests a continuity that is absent in the picture evoked by Glueckel’s memoirs. What was “Home” to Gluckel? In order to answer this question, let us follow the family to Cleves, where the eldest daughter was to be married. They took a boat from Altona to Amsterdam, where they lodged with a Jewish associate and conducted business. After the ceremony, Glueckel went to pay her respects to her sister’s grave in Emmerich, and then the whole family began the voyage back. They spent fifteen days in Amsterdam, again on business. Arriving at Delftzil on the eve of Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year), they stayed with a Jew from Hamburg. In Emden, they lodged with Chaim’s cousin. In Wangerooge, they spend Yom Kippur [Jewish Day of Atonement] with another of Chaim’s cousins. From there to Hanover, where Chaim’s parents lived; but there they were seized by anguish for there were no more relatives to visit nor business to conduct. Clearly, then, it was not a matter of proper “space,” but rather of scattered points here and there, and between these points were blank spaces in which there was nothing to do. In other words, Glueckel did not know Germany, nor did she actually “see” it. The only places that really existed for her where those where she could find business, relatives, or coreligionists.

Three places, however, held special significance for Glueckel: Metz, Poland, and the Land of Israel. Each of these places was an “elsewhere” which defined her spaces--matrimonial, economic, cultural, or emotional. In Metz, she conducted negotiations for the marriage of one of her daughters, revealing even then a profound lack of cultural comprehension. When she herself remarried, she settled in Metz and spent the remaining years of her life there. The two last chapters of her Life, full of bitterness, convey a feeling of displacement: in Metz men wore wigs in a style imported form Paris; stranger still, the Jews there brought their commercial disputes before a non-Jewish tribunal! The French-German frontier was thus also the edge of her universe.

The same applied in the east. Glueckel’s space was defined by geopolitical conditions but her borders were also Judaized and flexible. With the Jews of Poland one concluded neither marriages nor business. Poland was a land of disaster: two of Glueckel’s brothers-in-law were ruined by the pogroms of 1648. But above all, it was a land of knowledge: more than once Glueckel mentions members of her family who either traveled to a yeshiva in Poland or were instructed in Germany by a polish Jewish teacher. Yet the sages of Poland shared the norms of their country. One of Glueckel’s sons became a hostage of his Rabbi in Lissa (Leszno), and in his letter to his mother he writes: “It is Poland and if this befalls me, it will cost me ten times as much. So dear, beloved mother, do not forsake your child because of a little money and see that I am not delivered into their hands, for from them it will be hard to be freed.”

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Eli Barnavi is the Director of the Morris Curiel Center for International Studies and a Professor of Jewish History at Tel Aviv University