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Collection on Jewish Customs

Identifier: RG 41

Scope and Contents

The Collection on Jewish Customs is a composite collection of materials from the YIVO Archives in Vilna relating to Jewish customs and practices in Europe between the 1830s and 1930s. The collection consists of documents, artifacts, printed material, correspondence, and photographs.

Series I relates to the Jewish life cycle: birth, bris milah, bar mitsvah, marriage, divorce, death and mourning. Materials include birth announcements, invitations to weddings and bar mitsvahs, ketubahs, getn, wills, death notices and eulogies, and gravestone inscriptions. The getn, partiularly those issued by Menachem Mendel Zak, Chief Rabbi of Riga from 1913 until his death in the Holocaust, comprise a significant portion of the collection as a whole. Also present is rabbinic correspondence investigating husbands who abandoned their wives, and chalitzah documents, contracts signed by the brother of a groom agreeing to perform the chalitzah ceremony in the case of the groom's death.

Holiday and Sabbath materials, including printed announcements, holiday-specific songs, prayers, and blessings, and guides to holiday and Sabbath related halakhot, can be found in Series II. Series III topics have to do with everyday Jewish customs, practices, and beliefs, such as daily prayers, amulets, mezuzahs, kosher slaughtering, ritual immersion, and circumcision.

Series IV items are related to Rabbis, some more directly than others. They consist of newspaper clippings, correspondence, generic letters, and cards. The copied manuscript pages of Ohr Samayach and Meshech Chochma, contained in folder 55, may have the same provenance as the getn and other documents of Menachem Mendel Zak in Series I, as Zak published Meshech Chochma following the death of Meir Simcha of Dvinsk.

Series V contains objects, decorative items, and visually significant materials, including New Year’s cards and postcards depicting scenes from Jewish life, calendars, mazalot, and photographs of Judaica.


  • 1817-1941

Language of Materials

The collection is primarily in Hebrew, Yiddish, and German, with some Russian, Polish, English, Dutch, and French.

Conditions Governing Access

The collection has been digitized and is available online without restrictions. The physical collection is closed.

Conditions Governing Use

The images, documents, film footage, audio materials, and texts displayed in any portion of this web site may be copyrighted. Permission to use this web site is given on condition that the user agrees to follow U.S. copyright laws. The user agrees that she or he assumes liability for any copyright violations resulting from unauthorized use of items appearing on this web site and to hold YIVO harmless from any action involving copyright infringement. It is the responsibility of the user to carry out a due diligence search under U.S. copyright laws to determine the copyright status of items displayed on this web site.


2.25 Linear Feet


The collection consists of materials relating to Jewish religious life in Europe from the 1830s to the 1930s. Topics include: marriages, births, divorces, deaths, bar mitzvahs, holidays, the Sabbath, daily customs, ritual slaughter (shehitah), ritual baths, mezuzahs, prayers, rabbis. Items include: marriage contracts, divorce deeds, wedding invitations, birth announcements, bar mitzvah speeches, New Year's cards, correspondence, photographs.


This collection is arranged in the following series:

  1. Life cycle, 1830-1941
  2. Sabbath and holidays, 1862-1937
  3. Customs and rituals, 1874-1937
  4. Rabbis, 1873-1939
  5. Objects and art, 1817-1938

Processing Information

This collection was assembled in the early 1970s, when the materials in the YIVO Archives were redistributed into provenance-based record groups. Items from the Vilna Collections that were not associated with the records of organizations or the papers of individuals were arranged in geographical or thematic collections, such as this one. A collection-level description was prepared in 1973. As part of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections Project, in 2021

Guide to the Collection on Jewish Customs
Materials processed, described, and prepared for digitization by Jessica Podhorcer in 2021.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Processed, conserved and digitized as part of the Edward Blank YIVO Vilna Online Collections project (2015-2022). Earlier work funded by the CJH Holocaust Resource Initiative from the Conference on Jewish Material Claims against Germany (2012).

Repository Details

Part of the YIVO Institute for Jewish Research Repository

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