This Is How You Stop an Epidemic? East European Jews’ Magic Ritual of the Cholera Wedding
As we reflect on our experience with COVID and the behaviors and rituals that emerged, this talk provides an opportunity to learn how previous generations responded to such crises. To stop an epidemic, East European Jewish communities in the 19th century would marry their most vulnerable and marginalized members—orphans, beggars, and the disabled—to each other in a wedding held in the cemetery. Drawing on social and cultural history, anthropology, folklore, and cultural studies, Meir explains why this ritual held such lasting appeal to ordinary Jews in Eastern Europe, to the extent that it spread to Ottoman Palestine and endured into the period of the Holocaust.
Natan M. Meir is the Lorry I. Lokey Professor of Judaic Studies at Portland State University. A scholar of the social, cultural, and religious history of East European Jewry, he is the author of Kiev, Jewish Metropolis: A History, 1859-1914 (2010) and Stepchildren of the Shtetl: The Destitute, Disabled, and Mad of Jewish Eastern Europe, 1800-1939 (2020). He lectures widely on Jewish history and culture in Ukraine, Russia, Poland, and the Baltics; Jewish folklore and magic; and Jewish disability history. He also serves as a museum consultant and leads study tours of Eastern Europe.
Cosponsors: Department of Cultural Studies & Comparative Literature and Department of History