Shvartze Khasene: Black weddings among Polish Jews

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On September 1, 1892, Gazeta Lubelska described two weddings that had taken place a day earlier in Lublin's Jewish cemetery. The ceremonies sparked interest not only because of their morbid location, but also because they included a mysterious ritual: four young women were harnessed to a plough and made to plough around the town limits on the Biskupice side.1 These activities were intended to halt the typhus epidemic that was raging in the vicinity.2 Additional strange rituals were undertaken by local Lublin Jews. The water from the local pond was secretly (and illegally) released, and the chains of the ponds' barrier were buried at the cemetery.3 That same year, a similar wedding was held in a cemetery in Opatów. 4 In addition to the ceremony itself, the feast and celebration, including the dancing, took place in the town's cemetery. According to local lore, the epidemic subsided a few days later. Similar cemetery weddings from that period are mentioned in the Memorial Book (Yizkor Bukh) of the Ryki Community.5. © 2011 by Wayne State University Press, Detroit, Michigan 48201. All rights reserved.

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The article portrays a narrow segment of the popular culture of Polish Jews of the end of the 19th and early 20th century, concerning the conviction about the existence of a specific parasitic disease afflicting small children and causing symptoms referred to by the general term "suchoty" (suchote, dur). A description of the condition can be found in Regina Liliental's treatise Dziecko żydowskie [The Jewish Child], as well as in a number of original health guides in Yiddish and Hebrew (e.g. Rafael ha-malach, Taamej haminhagim, Mifalot Elokim et al.). The author of the article explains what the disease consisted in and how its symptoms, etiology and methods of treatment were explained. He also demonstrates that similar phenomena could be found among the customs practices by the Christian population. He looks for the origin of these similarities not only in cross-influences but also in the common roots of views about health, recorded in Central Europe since the beginning of the modem era. At the same time, he seeks to trace back the literary route by which popular 16th century beliefs reached Jewish readers at the threshold of the 20th century, and to identify convergences between medical discourse of yore and popular Jewish literature.
"Hannah Rochel Verbermacher, a Hasidic holy woman known as the Maiden of Ludmir, was born in early-nineteenth-century Russia and became famous as the only woman in the three-hundred-year history of Hasidism to function as a rebbe-or charismatic leader-in her own right. Nathaniel Deutsch follows the traces left by the Maiden in both history and legend to fully explore her fascinating story for the first time. The Maiden of Ludmir offers powerful insights into the Jewish mystical tradition, into the Maiden's place within it, and into the remarkable Jewish community of Ludmir. Her biography ultimately becomes a provocative meditation on the complex relationships between history and memory, Judaism and modernity. History first finds the Maiden in the eastern European town of Ludmir, venerated by her followers as a master of the Kabbalah, teacher, and visionary, and accused by her detractors of being possessed by a dybbuk, or evil spirit. Deutsch traces the Maiden's steps from Ludmir to Ottoman Palestine, where she eventually immigrated and re-established herself as a holy woman. While the Maiden's story-including her adamant refusal to marry-recalls the lives of holy women in other traditions, it also brings to light the largely unwritten history of early-modern Jewish women. To this day, her transgressive behavior, a challenge to traditional Jewish views of gender and sexuality, continues to inspire debate and, sometimes, censorship within the Jewish community."
Hasidism, a kabbalah-inspired movement founded by Israel Ba'al Shem Tov (c1700-1760), transformed Jewish communities across Eastern and East Central Europe. This book illuminates Hasidism's dramatic ascendancy in the region of Central Poland during the early 19th century, presenting Hasidism as a socioreligious phenomenon that was shaped in crucial ways by its Polish context. Despite their folksy image, the movement's charismatic leaders are revealed as astute populists who proved remarkably adept at securing elite patronage, neutralizing powerful opponents, and methodically co-opting Jewish institutions. The book also reveals the full spectrum of Hasidic devotees, from humble shtetl dwellers to influential Warsaw entrepreneurs. The Hasidic concept of "worship through corporeality" ( avodah be-gashmiyut ), a notion that holiness may be derived from even mundane endeavors, enabled Hasidic leaders and adherents to immerse themselves in politics, business, and popular culture, and yet effectively remain mystics. Hasidism's transformation into a mass movement is thus attributable to a convergence of sociopolitical and theological innovations.
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