On Tuesday, June 27 at 5 pm, we will have a Casual Conversation, sponsored by the Jewish Culture group, with Rachel L. Greenblatt, Ph.D., Senior Lecturer in Jewish Studies at Dartmouth and Judaica Librarian at Brandeis University.  Dr. Greenblatt comes highly recommended by her colleague, and a former guest for a Casual Conversation, Dartmouth Professor Susannah Heschel.  Dr. Greenblatt’s participation is due to Bruce Alpert’s diligent efforts.  Bruce is Chair of the Jewish Culture Group.

In lieu of her of her full cv, I offer her precis of her current scholarly interests and background:

Rachel L. Greenblatt serves as Senior Lecturer in Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College and as the Judaica Librarian at Brandeis University and. Her historical work focuses on the cultural history of Jews in early modern Europe. Rachel earned her Bachelor's degree in History at Cornell University and her Ph.D. in Jewish history at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. In additional to Dartmouth, she has taught at Harvard, Wesleyan, Brandeis, and St. Anselm College in Manchester, NH and has held fellowships at the University of Pennsylvania Katz Center for Advanced Judaic Studies and at the University of Connecticut Humanities Institute. She also enjoys delivering public lectures and teaching in adult and community education programs. She is the author of To Tell Their Children: Jewish Communal Memory in Early Modern Prague.

The range and depth of Dr. Greenblatt’s work is, and should be, of interest to us (and not just those of us who are Jewish) for several reasons.  First, while she focuses in her book on the Jewish community’s experiences in Prague during the 1600s C.E., with excursions in centuries both before and after, the methodology and purpose of her research and the discoveries arising from her inquiries, have general value.  We have had a Casual Conversation on personal genealogy: whom did we come from?  She asks, and answers to the best of what can be discovered and analyzed, what was the nature of the communities in which our ancestors lived?  What mattered to these people, and how did they seek to be remembered and for what qualities?  What did they value, and why?  And through what means did they effect their intents?

Imagine the possibilities of further developing the histories of your own ancestors by examining the faith, geographic, or other communities in which they lived.   I, for one, learned about community and family Purim days, occasions when the community or the family is delivered from mortal danger and then emerged safely.   On June 19, the day I am writing this, the United States celebrates Juneteenth, a federal holiday, that commemorates a day of deliverance of a people from slavery through the publication and enforcement in Texas of Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.  Henceforth, I will sponsor a Kiddush on the Hebrew anniversary date, Lyar 2, of my mother-in-law’s liberation from Bergen Belsen by British troops.  Surely there must be days particular to your family that you can celebrate as “Purim days,” whether you call them that or not.  (The Book of Esther is canonical for both Christians—the Old Testament--and Jews—the Hebrew Bible.)  And then there is the tradition of women measuring a grave with string and using the string to make wicks for candles to light for Yom Kippur.

Those are but two examples of what I discovered in reading Dr. Greenblatt’s book.  She also explores the process of examining gravestones, and of autobiographical introductions, a class of egodocuments, to works written which expound on important religious topics, including books of the Hebrew Bible.  How she looked is as important, at least to most of us interested in our past, as what she found.

But this is not all.  She also specializes in the telling of stories by women of Early Modern Prague, including examining the most famous female egodocument of the period, the memoirs of Glinkl, born in Hamburg in 1645 C.E. and died in Metz in 1724.  She was engaged at 12, married at 14, gave birth to 14 children, was widowed, remarried, and widowed again.  She started writing her work at age 45.  It has finally been given a faithful translation by Chava Turniasky (Brandeis University Press 2019).

Here is what Dr. Greenblatt had to say about Glickl’s work for a three-session course she taught:

Mother of fourteen (twelve of whom lived to adulthood) savvy businesswoman, story-teller, bereaved widow—in 1691, Glikl bas Judah Leib put paper to pen to pour out her grieving heart and to set down for her children “what kind of people you come from.” Her early Yiddish memoirs, among the first full-length autobiographical works by a Jew, have recently been rendered into an engaging, clear, accurate new translation based on a pathbreaking modern Hebrew edition. We’ll meet in three sessions, giving participants a chance to read at a relaxed pace, to hear from this astounding woman about the household and business she managed, the wealthy Jews she encountered, her sometimes hair-raising travels and modes of understanding the Jewish tradition that formed the very fabric of her life. Join us for this intellectual book club!

And from a review of the new translation where Dr. Greenblatt was quoted:

“Glikl provides us with an unparalleled historical source, opening a window on the daily life, anxieties, petty rivalries and stories of folk wisdom occupying the mental world of a woman who bore 14 children … while partnering with her husband in a business that grew from trade in second-hand gemstones run by two newlywed teenagers to international money lending, exchange of credit and the margins of mercantile Court Jew society,” Greenblatt told [the Jewish Telegraphic Agency].

Glikl began writing her memoir about two years after the death of her husband in 1689, initially as a way to console herself through sleepless nights. She was 44 at the time and had eight unmarried children living with her along with a family business to manage.

“Glikl wrote resilience,” Greenblatt said. “She turned to the pen for comfort and self-therapy.”

Finally,  here is an example provided by Dr. Greenblatt of an additional early modern (late medieval) Jewish woman writer: https://research.library.fordham.edu/emw/emw2011/emw2011/10 .

To participate in this Casual Conversation, reading Glickl’s memoirs is not required.  All you need to bring is your curiosity, and open mind, and perhaps a few questions.  (I know my first: what is your favorite Glickl story?) All the rest will come from Dr. Greenblatt.

Usual rules apply:  email me if you want to attend at arthur.fergenson@ansalaw.com.  Of course, although this is sponsored by the Jewish Culture Group all are welcomed, of any faith or none.  Please let me know by the end of Sunday, June 25.

Arthur Fergenson


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