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History in Pictures: Black Wedding

Wedding or funeral? A wedding in a cemetery.
By Lenny Ben-David
First Publish: 5/22/2014, 11:33 PM

Proposed law: Weddings only from age 18
Proposed law: Weddings only from age 18
Flash 90

Mt. of Olives Cemetery 110 years ago. Not a funeral, but a picture of a wedding! (Library of Congress, 1903) The LoC caption reads: Jewish gathering at Tomb of Zacharieh, Kidron Valley

In 2011, we matched up two photos in the vast Library of Congress archives of 22,000 vintage pictures from American Colony collection.  The pictures showed crowds of Jews walking between Jerusalem's Old City and the ancient Mt. of Olives cemetery, presumably for a funeral. 

(The Library of Congress captions now read: May be related to LC-M32-A-346 which has 4343 on negative. (Source: L. Ben-David, Israel's History - A Picture a Day website, August 19, 2011)

Now it's time to match a third photo to the group.  Thanks to a new exhibit at the Tower of David Museum in Jerusalem, we can assume that all three pictures show the crowds attending a "Shvartze Hasuna," a "Black Wedding" in the cemetery. 

Indeed, upon enlargement, the two other pictures show many women and children, an apparent anomaly for a hareidi funeral 110 years ago. Women are still not allowed in some Jerusalem hareidi funerals. .
 

Jewish funeral procession to Mt. of Olives.
Absalom's Pillar is in the center

Jewish procession from Jerusalem's Old City to Absalom's Pillar on Mt. of Olives.
 

The Tower of David Museum exhibit on medical history in Jerusalem shows the picture at the top of this post.

What is a "Black Wedding?" The ceremony was performed at times of epidemics A museum guide told Ha'aretz' Ilene Prusher, “The Ashkenazi belief at the time was that if you marry two orphans you can stop the epidemic [cholera] or prevent the next one.”  As a result of such a good community deed, it was believed, the souls of the deceased would intercede with God to stop the epidemic.


Upon enlarging the Library of Congress picture, a black marriage canopy - a chuppa -- is apparent.


The dark chuppa in the Mt. of Olives cemetery held aloft with four poles

The YIVO Institute for Jewish Research reports "Shvartze Chanesas" took place in the eastern European towns of Opatow (Apt) and Chelm.  Another account by Marjorie Gottlieb Wolfe tells of such weddings in the towns of Pinsk and Ropshitz.

View a painting and recollections of a Black Wedding by Meyer Kirshenblatt here.  
 

Enlargement showing crowd on the way to Mt. of Olives

Jewish women on the path from Mt. of Olives

Click on the pictures to enlarge.