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  • Amersfoort circumcision books from the 18th and 19th century

    At the auction at Christie’s on the 11th of 1988 in Amsterdam, the Dutch Jewish Community of Amersfoort obtained a circumcision book of Abraham Mozes Levits (1773-1838) and his son Mozes Abraham (1802-1875), of the years 1812-1873 (Flehite, 19:53,1988)
    The manuscript is -as customary- bound together with a printed version of David Ben Arjeh Leib’s book ‘Sod Hasjeem’, from which the front cover and the introduction are missing.
    From the register are missing the notes 23 until 36, of the years 1819-1822. They where written on the front and back of the same page. The remaining register consists of 19 pages.
    It is written in ink on paper in two Hebrew handwritings, each in both Ashkenazi cursive and printing characters (Christie 1988).
    In total there are records of 183 circumcisions, which found place in; Amersfoort, Amsterdam, Baarn, Beusichem, Buren, Culemborg, Deventer, Doorn, Weesp, Hilversum, Leerdam, Maarssen, Nijkerk, Rhenen, Tricht, Utrecht, Wijk bij Duurstede, Veenendaal en IJsselstijn. Each registration states the Jewish and (in Latin letters) regular date, the location of circumcision, the Hebrew name of the boy and his father and the blessing ‘may he grow up to (the study of) the Torah, to getting married and (the performance of )good deeds’. Usually also family names and (Yiddish) forenames are added. In a few rare cases it was noted that the boy was a relative or a guest and in two cases it was stated that the circumcision take place in the synagogue of Amersfoort.
    As requested by the Jewish Community Amersfoort the whole Mohel book was translated into Dutch. Then, as many registrations as possible were compared with the concerning birth certificates of the Civil Registry ( burgelijke stand)., as from 1811. This provided proof of the family name, kept or chosen, the Civil Dutch forenames of the child and the father, the names of the mother, the occupation of the father, (usually) the age of both parents and two local witnesses of the registration. So a kind of lexicon was formed, that can act as a go-between between the names in the older registers of the Jewish community and the civil names in later acts of the authorities.
    A short summary of the importance of this circumcision book was given during the workshop on genealogy and tombstone-documentation held on the 21st of November 1988 in Amsterdam, as part of the Fifth International Symposium on the history of Dutch Jewry.
    In the State archives in Utrecht one can find , authorized by the Parnassiem of the Jewish Community of Amersfoort, “Copy Translations” of four Amersfoort’s circumcision registers , those of Isaac Auerbach, Wolf Cohen, Avraham Jacob van Gelder en Isaac Weijl, who’s circumcisions respectively found place in 1753-1792, 1789-1811, 1791-1808 en 1808-1811. Together with the currently obtained Moheel-book they form a continuous series from 1753 until 1873, a total period of 120 years. Also earlier, before the year 1753, circumcisions took place in Amersfoort, proof of this are a circumcision curtain and circumcision chair, which have been donated in respectively 1728 and 1750 to the in the year 1727 initiated synagogue (both portrayed in J.Zwarts 1927).
    Although the original versions of the circumcision books mentioned above were assumed to be lost, I found to my greatest joy (I found) Abraham Jacob van Gelder’s register in the municipal archive of Amsterdam. Comparison shows that it is not complete, the ‘Copy Translation’ gives evidence that numbers 50 up to 68 (1800-1808) are missing. But the original manuscript had more data than the ‘Copy Translation’. For example the ‘Copy Translation’ states as the seventh registration: “Friday the first of June 1792- Marcus son of Hartog of Amsterdam” and in the Hebrew manuscript” No.7 Amsterdam, The 1st of June 1792 Lemazal tov I have entered in the holy covenant at the New Schul of the Ashkenazim on Friday 11 Siewan 5652 the son of my brother, Mordechai named Gimpel, son of Naphtalie Hisch, at the age of 8 days.” The circumcision register of Abraham van Gelder was attached to the book “Sod Hasjeem”, from which incidentally the front-page does exist, giving S. Proops, Amsterdam 5505 (1745) as the edition published.
    According to the registration of Jews, who got civil rights in Amersfoort (1661-1805)(attachment II of J.J.Herks 1967; see civil books of the municipal archives of Amersfoort), the register of names adoptions (the Jewish Family Archive), the authorized ‘Copy Translation’ of the Register of the Living (1759-1811), the register of Marriages (1759-1810), the register of Birth and Naming of the Children of female descent (1749-1811) of the Israelite Community of Amersfoort ( in the State archives of Utrecht), the census of 1830 and 1840 (municipal archive of Amersfoort), the register of Marriages before the Court of Amersfoort (1720-1810), the cemetery register of the Jewish cemeteries at the Soesterweg in Amersfoort and the Civil Registry (burgelijke stand) (from 1811 up to today), it should be possible to make an almost complete reconstruction of the Jewish population of Amersfoort, one of the oldest kehillot in Holland from the beginning of the 17th century until today and the genealogical and demographical analyses based on that information. The described moheel-books of Van Gelder and Levits can be crucial in researches of this kind. Da Silva Rosa (1931) rendered proof of the importance of the old moheel-books.

    1700 initiation of cemetery, 1722 initiation of synagogue

    1728 circumcision curtain, approx. 1750 circumcision chair

    Links to the databases of the Moheel-books (including a register of the naming of girls):