IMAGES OF MARRIAGE RITUALS IN
EARLY YIDDISH BOOKS OF CUSTOMS
Collective memory is “transmitted and sustained through the conscious efforts and institutions of the group,” as Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi justly observed.1 Each group chooses certain aspects of its past to preserve and transmit through such cultural forms as rituals, texts, and images, which must be repeatedly produced for memory to be sustained. For this reason, memory is inherently unstable and easily reinvented. As David N. Myers reminds us, people have often “refashioned their past to suit contemporary sensibilities.”2 For example, in times of greater complexity and uncertainty, groups often long for an imagined golden age in the distant past, when life was simpler and more secure.3 David Roskies raises yet another issue by noting
1 Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, Zakhor: Jewish History and Jewish Memory (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1982), xv. I would like to thank Eva Frojmovic, Joel Gereboff, and Pamela Sheingorn for their extremely helpful comments on earlier drafts of this paper. Jean Baumgarten, Racheli Leket-Mor, and Marc Michael Epstein also helped me in innumerable ways. This essay will form part of the book I am currently writing on Picturing Yiddish: Women, Identity, and Memory in the Illustrated Yiddish Books of Renaissance Italy.
2 David N. Myers, “Of Marranos and Memory: Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi and the Writing of Jewish History,” in Jewish History and Jewish Memory: Essays in Honor of Yosef Hayim Yerushalmi, ed. Elisheva Carlebach, John M. Efron, and David N. Myers (Hanover, NH, and London: Brandeis University Press, 1998), 7.
3 Justin D. Cammy, review of David G. Roskies, The Jewish Search for a Usable Past, Midstream 46 (1999): 41–43.