Abstract

Allocation of new grounds for a cemetery is part of a rich fabric of rituals performed in cemeteries in Judaism, as well as in other cultures. Such an activity would seem to be a routine event, no cause for concern, as natural population growth demands occasional expansion. However, in times of plague, when the death rate increased quickly, the need to expand a cemetery grew pressing, and the allocation of new grounds was associated with communal distress. This paper discusses a ceremony of inaugurating a new cemetery or an expansion of an old cemetery, which was performed in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century Eastern European Jewish communities. This ritual was perceived to be hasidic in origin, and in some areas was performed only by hasidic leaders. The paper begins by presenting the precepts of the ritual, some of its possible contexts, sources and functions, and continues with a discussion of some of its channels of reception and dissemination and a case-study of its performance. The discussion then turns to the significance of the performance of this ritual by hasidic tsaddiks. The role of this performance within the social fabric of Jewish communities in Eastern Europe will be presented, followed by a discussion of some public and performative aspects of this ritual. By investigating an unexplored particular ritual, this paper also seeks to learn about nineteenth-century Hasidism in general.

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