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Extract from Salomon Maimon's lebnsgeshichte

Updated: Feb 13

18th century Lithuanian Jewish philosopher, Salomon Maimon, mentions the practice of feldmestn in his memoirs written in 1792-3. In an ongoing feud with his mother in law, he tricks her into thinking she is being haunted by pretending to be the ghost of his own mother. Visiting his mother’s grave to ask for forgiveness, his mother in law employs the feldmesterin to measure the cemetery and make a candle with the wick. This is my translation of an excerpt of a 1927 Yiddish translation of his memoirs, originally written in German, describing this occurrence. It doesn’t go into any detail about the process of feldmestn, but the fact it is mentioned so casually suggests that the practice of employing a feldmesterin was not remarkable but relatively common in the part of 18th Century Lithuania, now Belarus, where they lived. It also shows that feldmestn was used to ask for forgiveness from angry spirits, which supports my belief that this practice was both about forging a connection with the dead, and about asking for their help to enforce the boundary that separates us from them. The original Yiddish can be found here pp. 75-56

The following morning my mother in law arose in a state of great agitation and fear, and told my wife that my mother had come to her in a dream, filling her with horror and pinching her for her bad treatment of me. And, as sign that her dream had been true, my mother in law showed her daughter the blue marks on her arms. Coming home from shul (synagogue) I didn’t see my mother in law at home and found my wife in tears. I asked her why she was crying, but she didn’t want to tell me anything. My mother in law then returned with tearful eyes and looking dejected. As I later discovered, she had gone to the cemetery where she threw herself on my mother’s grave and begged her to forgive her sin. After that, she had the cemetery measured and a wax candle made, long as the scope of the cemetery, to light in shul. She also fasted the whole day, and acted towards me with great affection.

Maimon, Salomon, Goldshmidt, A.Y, 'Shelomoh Maymons Lebensgeshikhte' (Tomor, Vilne, 1927) pp.75-76

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