Thursday, March 25, 2010

Gluckel of Hameln: The Original Blogging Jewess

Gluckel of Hameln, a late-17th century and early-18th century businesswoman and diarist in Germany, wrote her life's story down in a memoir, providing for historians and Jews the world over a glimpse at the everyday life and dealings of a simple woman going about her business. I read this book during my undergraduate career (circa April 2004; wow I'm old) and wrote a short paper on it, highlighting how focused this woman was on proper etiquette in business dealings, privacy in internal family affairs, living justly and rightly in order to obtain a place in the world to come, and other lessons on life. She wrote her memoires largely for her descendants, but what it provides us with today is an intimate look into what I'd like to call the Original Blogging Jewess.

Of course, she wasn't blogging, but reading what she has written is amusing from the perspective of a modern-day woman blogger. Here's this woman, with a bounty of children that she's worried about marrying off, talking about the people who run the synagogue, her business dealings, rabbis and how excellent they are, the internal strife of her family that must be kept private, and more. Obviously when Gluckel was writing her memoires, she never envisioned them being publicized to an audience as widely as they are today. You can hop over to Amazon and buy a copy and read the laundry list of names she provides her reader with. However, much like me, she only includes names when the topics to which they are connected are positive and praiseworthy.

It's extremely fascinating for me, especially being in an environment as a frum Orthodox woman blogger that has certain expectations and understandings of modesty and privacy, to watch Gluckel say something like the following, in regards to those battling over the spot of what essentially was synagogue president.
The community prospered during the presidency of my father ... I do recall, however, while I was yet a child, certain scoundrels rose against my father and his fellow officials, and sought to insure the community. ... Now that they are dead and stand in judgment before the Most High, I will not name them, but everyone in our community well knows who they were.
Now, if someone was blogging this today, they might suspect that no one in their community even reads their blog. The point, then, is without problem. But for those who do read the blog, they would know who she's talking about and might find it offensive or, on the other hand, amusing. Those reading the blog with no connection to the community would be completely uninformed and she's saved face by not naming them! I recall writing something like this on many occasions, such as when I wrote about a synagogue in Chicago (of the Reform slant) that was X, Y, Z. People in Chicago who had been to the shul were well aware of what shul it was. But was I crass enough to talk about the shul by name? No. I mean, come on. Privacy and respect folks!

I really think that if Gluckel were alive today, she'd be rocking a blog like myself and @hsabomilner. Talking about the tough issues of being a frum woman, talking about all the ridiculous situations we get ourselves into, raising kids and husbands (har har). She was a woman outside her age, I think.

At any rate, if you have a free moment, it's a really quick read and it will blow your mind how modern some of the situations are. There's even an incident in which the author's son, Joseph, sends his mother a letter requesting money (despite having been told by the rosh yeshiva that no money was required). At first read, it reminds me of those sneaky phishing schemes that started on phone and have advanced to emails (even Joseph Telushkin's account got hacked, and an email was sent out to the masses of his mailbox saying "help! I'm stuck in London without funds!").

Peace and good books!