Das Feld un das Keywermessen - S. Weissenberg
Updated: Feb 10
This is a translation of the first half of a 1906 German study of Feld (cemetery) and Keywer (grave - from the Hebrew and Yiddish קבֿר) measuring by Russian Jewish anthropologist S. Weissenberg. I don't actually speak German so I've translated this using a mixture of translation technology and Yiddish (which allows me to understand a lot of German) and I'm still working on the second half.
The original German article can be found here https://www.jstor.org/stable/41462433.
This is the most comprehensive account of the practice I've found, and also shows that it was still being practised at the beginning of the twentieth century. I've included two photos taken from the original article, showing women engaged in feld and keyver mestn in South Russia presumably around the time the article was written.
In South Russia, the rare custom of measuring the 'feld' (Friedhot - graveyard) and the Kejwer (grave) of close relatives and friends has survived to the present day. This measurement usually takes place on a Monday or Thursday in the month of Elul, but it can also be carried out daily after the first Selichah. During this time, there are always some older women in the graveyards who know how to measure and who carry the necessary cotton thread wrapped in balls with them.
At least two, but usually three, women are used for field measurements, depending on the length, thickness and number of candles that the measuring woman intends to make, the wicks of which the threads are used for. The measurement begins at the entrance to the cemetery and goes from right to left. One of the three women takes the balls of thread in one hand. The other two tear out some grass or take any suitable object from the Cemetery floor with one hand, in the other they take the thread-ends from the balls that the first woman holds. They move all three around the cemetery, keeping close to the inside of the cemetery fence, namely the woman holding the balls in the middle and the other two to her side, while the woman who ordered [the measurement] follows them behind performing her mostly Jewish-German (Yiddish), prayers (tkhines). The measurement goes like so, the middle woman unwinds the ball, while the other let the threads fall on the objects they hold in the left hand, rolling up the thread with the right.
The Kejwermessen (Keyvermestn / grave measuring), which only requires one woman, is also done with a thread. The measurer leads it several times around the grave house with the following words:
טײַערער פֿאָטער (מוטער און ד.ג), דײַנע טאָכטער (נאָמען) האָט זיך מטריח געװען צו קומען צו דיר און דײַן קבֿר צו מעסטן, זײַ־זשע זיך מטריח פֿאַר איר און איר מאַן און אירע קינדער פֿאַר גאָט צו בעטן. דערמוטיקן זיך אין דײַן פֿריערדיקער ליבשאַפֿט און העלף איר. (א.א.װ)
tayerer foter (muter un dos glaykh), dayne tokhter (nomen) hot zikh matriekh geven tsu kumen tsu dir un dayn keyver tsu mestn, zay-zhe zikh matriekh far ir un ir man un ire kinder far got tsu betn. dermutikn zikh in dayn frierdiker libshaft un helf ir (un azoy vayter.)
Dearest father (mother/friend/sibling etc – relationship to the deceased), your daughter (friend/sibling etc) (name) has taken the trouble to come to you and to measure your grave, take the trouble to pray to God for her and her husband and her children. Muster in yourself earlier love, and help her. (etc.)
The woman for whom the measuring is being carried out stands nearby and reads the corresponding prayers here.
S. Weissenberg, 'Das Feld- und das Kejwermessen'
Source: Mitteilungen zur jüdischen Volkskunde, Neue Folge, 2. Jahrg., H. 1 (17). (1906), pp.39-45