Jewish Women On The Road - Glikl Bas Judah
Glikl bas Judah, of Hameln was born in 1646 or 1647 in Hamburg Germany. At a time when many women never left the towns in which they were born, Glikl's travels for both business and personal purposes led her throughout Germany, France, Holland and Denmark. Glikl took over her husband Haim's business after his death in 1689, but it is clear that she was already very involved in the enterprise. Haim named no executors or guardians. In her memoir, Glikl recounted that on his deathbed her husband declared "My wife knows about everything."
Glikl set up a shop in Hamburg for manufacturing stockings and sold them near and far; she bought pearls from every Jew in town, sorted them, and sold them by size to various buyers. She imported wares from Holland and traded them in her store along with local goods; she attended the fairs of Braunschweig, Leipzig, and other towns; she lent money and honored bills of exchange across Europe. She never lost an opportunity to conduct business. Among German Jews, traveling to fairs did not detract from a woman's reputation, especially when she made as much money as Glikl did. If anything, it brought additional marriage proposals. She put to good use the many trips she took to negotiate marriages or to attend their weddings: for her children also brought profits: selling precious stones after a daughter's wedding in Amsterdam, selling her wares in a fair in Naumburg after a betrothal agreement. She loaned her children's dowry money at interest until it had to be paid.
Much of Glikl's extensive travel, both before and after her husband's death, was devoted to making good matches for her children. Before Haim's death, two sons had been married in Hamburg, a daughter in Hannover, and the oldest daughter, Zipporah, in Amsterdam. The pattern continued during her widowhood when she arranged marriages for the eight children who were still at home. Glikl's matchmaking placed Esther in Metz, and other children in Berlin, Bamberg, Baiersdorf, and Copenhagen, Denmark, with only her daughter Freudchen settling for a time in Hamburg.
Glikl bas Judah had vastly more varied experiences and a much broader perspective than most of her contemporaries, male and female, but the most unusual thing about her was that she wrote a memoir. In an effort to alleviate her grief over her husband's death and to convey their family's stories to the next generation, she recorded the stories of her family, business, and travels. Written at a time when women's lives were rarely documented, her memoir offers a unique window on the lives of Jews in seventeenth-century Europe.
Sources and excerpts for this page were drawn from Women on the Margins; Three Seventeenth Century Lives by Natalie Zemon Davis (Harvard University Press, 1995) and the Jewish Women's Archive's Women of Valor poster series, 1997.