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Dulcea of Worms

DULCEA OF WORMS (d. 1196), wife of R. *Eleazar ben Judah of Worms. Dulcea came from medieval German Jewry's elite leadership class. Married to a leading figure in the *Ḥasidei Ashkenaz, the German-Jewish pietist movement, she was the economic support for an extensive household, including children, students, and teachers. A capable businesswoman, she was apparently entrusted with the funds of neighbors which she pooled and lent out at profitable rates of interest on which she received commissions. Among R. Eleazar ben Judah's surviving writings are two Hebrew accounts, one in prose and one in poetry, recounting the murders of Dulcea, and their daughters, Bellette and Hannah, by intruders in November 1196. Both documents are important sources of information about medieval Jewish women's activities. Although many scholars have assumed the attackers were Crusaders, there were no massed Crusader forces in Germany at this time. While the two miscreants may have worn Crusader markings, they appear to have attacked the family out of criminal motives, probably prompted by Dulcea's business reputation. These assaults did not go unpunished; the local authorities, in accordance with the German emperor's mandate of protecting the Jews of his realm, quickly captured and executed at least one of the men. R. Eleazar's elegy, an expanded alphabetic acrostic, links numerous details of Dulcea's domestic, religious, and communal endeavors with the praise of the "woman of valor" in Proverbs 31. R. Eleazar designates Dulcea as ḥasidah (pious or saintly) and ẓadeket (righteous); in addition to noting her domestic management and business finesse, he praises her needlework, recounting that she prepared thread and gut to sew together books, Torah scrolls, and other religious objects. Unusually learned for a woman of her milieu, Dulcea is said to have taught other women and led them in prayer. As a respected investment broker, Dulcea may have been involved in arranging matches and negotiating the financial arrangements which accompanied them. She is also said to have bathed the dead and to have sewn their shrouds, meritorious endeavors in Jewish tradition. More than anything, R. Eleazar reveres his wife for facilitating the spiritual activities of the men of her household; the reward he invokes for Dulcea at the conclusion of his lament is to be wrapped in the eternal life of Paradise, a tribute to her deeds, on which so many depended.


J.R. Baskin, "Dolce of Worms: The Lives and Deaths of an Exemplary Medieval Jewish Woman and Her Daughters," in: L. Fine (ed.), Judaism in Practice: From the Middle Ages through the Early Modern Period (2001), 429–37; idem, "Women Saints in Judaism: Dolce of Worms," in: A. Sharma (ed.), Women Saints in World Religions (2000), 39–69; I.G. Marcus, "Mothers, Martyrs, and Moneymakers: Some Jewish Women in Medieval Europe," in: Conservative Judaism, 38:3 (Spring 1986), 34–45.

Sources: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2007 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.