- Letter to the Editor:
In Anne C. Reitz’s article, A Female Midrash in the Memoirs of Glückel of Hameln (Shofar, Winter 1999), there are a number of statements which need correction.
1. Crucial to the subject is the matter of Glikl’s Hebrew knowledge. On p. 64 Reitz affirms, “despite her inability to read Hebrew” . . . “despite her lack of Hebrew.” Glikl’s firm hold on Hebrew was recognized almost immediately following publication of the manuscript copy in 1896, 1 by Alfred Landau in 1901 2 and others, and has been quantified by Israela Klayman-Cohen. 3 Biblical and Talmudic citations embroider Glikl’s fabric, and Aramaic phraseology peppers her style.
2. Reitz states (p. 63), “Writing without models, Glückel invents her own narrative structure . . .” Glikl did have before her the role model of a female writer whom she knew of and admired. Her sister, Mattie, was married to the son of Dayan Model Ries, of Vienna and later Berlin, and his wife was “the pious Pessele; she had no equal in the world with the exceptions of our Mothers, Sara, Rebeka, Rachel and Leah . . . She left a wonderful will. I cannot write of it, but anyone who wishes to read it can still find it with her children; they would surely not have thrown it away.” 4 Thereby Glikl underscores three points. She has profound respect for who and what Pessele is. This woman, who transmitted an ethical will to her children, made considerable impression upon her. The length and variety to be found in that work we cannot guess, but its significance for Glikl is clear. She communicated to her children that her memoir should be preserved by them. And so it was.
3. Regarding the issues of pestilence and Sabbatai Zevi, Reitz writes (p. 68), “the story of her enforced separation from her child, a separation demanded by her fellow Jews in the community, carries more emotional weight than do the stories of her city’s public health crisis or her people’s false Messiah.” While it is a given that the possibility of the loss of a child would take precedence over public matters, the above situation needs to be put in context. Glikl and Chaim’s daughter was not taken from them by their community. She was quarantined by the small, insecure group in Hanover who, in the [End Page x] year of the plague, 1664, were not yet permitted a cemetery to bury their dead, let alone a synagogue or rabbi. 5 Their real fear was that they would be blamed by the duke for bringing the epidemic from Hamburg, via Glikl’s child. In her great anger, Glikl calls them, not fellow Jews or relatives, but Hanoverians. On the health crisis in Hamburg, Glikl could hardly comment in detail, since she and her children escaped from there and did not return for six months! Such action was typical for well-off and well connected people through the centuries, in response to disease—get out of town and stay there until the all-clear signal is given. Glikl’s comments on Sabbatai Zevi reflect the disparities in his meteoric rise and bitter fall. Her description, the best we have in the historical record, of the euphoria which permeated Portuguese and Ashkenazi Jews, in the port city, lives and breathes the excitement of the day. Her pithy, earthy swipe at his infamous denouement remains choice (K-80, A-45).
4. Reitz claims that (p. 69) “women’s special knowledge is a theme which Glückel addresses.” Glikl judges women the same way she judges men, by their actions, by their learning, and by their class. A number of examples will suffice to prove this point. She speaks of the women in Hanover as “cowards” (K-87, A-48). They were factors in calling for the Polish-Jewish woman healer to diagnose her daughter. Glikl views the healer with disgust, since she knew her daughter to be healthy (K-87, A-48). When on a miserable night Glikl insisted on sending the Shabbos goya out on foot to go a distance to purchase some medlars, her mother repeatedly objected to what...