CAJS Rare Ms. 493: A Historical Record and Eyewitness Account from 18th-Century Jewish Alsace

May 23, 2019
Louis Meiselman

In 2018 Penn Libraries acquired a Pinkas manuscript, a historical record that most often served as a community-owned ledger, as part of the Moldovan Family Collection of Judaica. Meant to document histories and community members, Pinkasim can be especially valuable because they reflect eyewitness accounts of events observed by the author. CAJS Rare Ms. 493 is an excellent example, as a ledger that belonged to Avraham Freimann, a mohel (ritual circumcisor).

Freimann recorded each circumcision ceremony, providing the name of the family and child, the place, date, and often even the time of day. He detailed prominent audience members and whether another event was taking place. From Freimann's records, we can see that he visited many towns and some cities to perform his work, including Botwiller, Mundolsheim, Ittenheim, Haguenau, and Osthoffen; some travels across the Rhine into German lands include mention of ceremonies in Shopfloch, Dresden, Friesenhausen, and Reishaufen. The information provided in the Pinkas is very valuable in showing the spread of Jewish life across Alsacian towns in the Strasbourg area.

He also records two ceremonies performed in the presence of a famous philanthropist and member of the courts of Louis XVI of France, Herz Cerfbeer von Mendelsheim (Mendelsheim? ca. 1730–Strasbourg 1793) and notes his prominence in the entries. Cerfbeer was a supporter of a yeshivah in Bischheim as well.

Entry describing a ceremony in the presence of Herz Cerfbeer von Mendelsheim.

In one instance, Friemann noted that he had to hurry a procedure due to an expected invasion of the synagogue by armed mercenaries from neighboring La Wantzenau, though he also wrote that “God foiled their evil plot.” The full cataloging note appears with the original, expanded version of this post on Penn's Special Collections blog.



About the Author

Louis Meiselman

Louis Meiselman

Read more