Short Biography: Gluckel of Hameln

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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...
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