Jewish Circumision at Rome in 1645

The Times (London), 15 January 2003.

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John Evelyn (1620-1706) was an English diarist. He travelled abroad for four years, and in 1645, he visited cities in Italy.* This is his account of a Jewish circumcision, which he witnessed at Rome in that year.

Court & Social

January 15, 2003 Daily Life - January 15, 1645 John Evelyn's diary has been overshadowed by Pepys's but it has its own encyclopaedic fascination, such as this description of a circumcision in Rome's Jewish ghettowitnessed during a four-year European tour

BY & by came an old man who had prepar'd & layd in order divers Instruments brought by a little child of about 7 yeares old in a box, These the man layd in a silver bason: The Knife was much like a short Razor . . . a small Instrument of silver cleft in the midst, at one end to take up the prepuce withall, clowtes of fine linnen wrap'd up &c: These all in order the Women from out of another Chamber brought the Infant swadl'd, and deliver'd it to the Rabbie, who caried, and presented it before an Altar or Cuppord dress'd up, on which lay the 5 bookes of Moses, and the Commandments a little unrowled: Before this with profound reverence, and mumbling a few Words he waved the Child to and froo a while; then he delivered it to another Rabbie who sate all this time upon a Table . . . whilest the other Jew unbound the blankets that were about it to come at the flesh: at this action all the company fell a singing of an hebrew hymn, and in as barbarous a tone, waving themselves to and fro, a ceremony they observe in all their devotions: The Infant now strip'd from the belly downewards, the Jew tooke the yard of the child and Chaf'd it within his fingers till it became a little stiff, then with the silver Instrument before describ'd . . . tooke up as much of the Praeputium as he could possibly gather, and so with the Razor, did rather Saw, then cutt it off; at which the miserable babe cry'd extreamely, whiles the rest continu'd their odd tone, rather like howling then singing: then the Rabby lifting the belly of the child to his face, & taking the yard all blody into his mouth he suck'd it a pretty while, having before taken a little Vinegar, all which together with the blood he spit out into a glasse of red-wine of the Colour of french wine: This don he stipp'd downe the remainder of the fore-skin as farr and neere to the belly as he could, so as it appeared to be all raw, then he strew'd read powder on it to staunch the bleeding and coverd it with a paper-hood, & upon all a Clowte, and so swathed up the Child as before: All this while they continue the Psalme: Then two of the women, and two men, viz, he who held the Child, and the Rabbin who Circumcis'd it dranke some of the Wine mingl'd with the Vinegar, blood & spitle.

* The Encyclopædia Britannica, 14th ed., s.v. "Evelyn, John".


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