Some New Facts About the Portsmouth Jewish Community

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MY attention was drawn to the Portsmouth Circumcision Register (1762-1807) by Mr. Cecil Roth, who, in a lecture on "The Portsmouth Community and its Historical Background," said, "I have made a full abstract of this curious docu? ment and I trust that the opportunity of publishing it will not be long delayed."2 I consulted Mr. Roth and he encouraged me to publish it. I have left the text of the manuscript unaltered, as the author, Reb Leib Aleph (1723-1814), left it. However, I have translated it into English and have written an introduction in order to make its contents accessible to those who are unfamiliar with Hebrew, the language in which it was originally written.

This Circumcision Register3 is the oldest historical record, apart from the Congre? gational Seal (1747) and three Ketuboth of 1754, 1758 and 1761, of the Portsmouth Jewish Community. It starts on the 8th Tammuz, 1762, whereas the oldest Minute Book dates from 1765. The first Minute Book could not be traced even in 1765.4 This is unfortunate for it must have contained most valuable historical material concerning the first Jewish settlers in Portsmouth. The Circumcision Register records one hundred and thirteen entries, all numbered with one exception, and covers a period of about forty-five years. The entries are precise, with only an occasional slip or inconsistency. The handwriting at first is firm and legible, but as the years pass it becomes irregular and almost illegible. It is in Rabbinic Hebrew, but occasionally there is a phrase or two in Judaeo-German. In his old age, Reb Leib Aleph revised the manuscript and added a few words here and there. These additions are obvious. Notable among them are his own date of birth,5 the statement regarding the poverty of one of his clients6 and the statement regarding the "destruction" of the New Synagogue.7 The form of the entry is throughout identical, date, name of child and his father, occasionally even grandfather, and rarely, the occupation of the father. From Entry 75, Reb Leib Aleph adds a traditional formula : "May the Almighty enable his (the child's) father and mother to rear him in the Law, for Nuptial Canopy and for Good Deeds."

Reb Judah Leib, son of Reb Isaac, was born on 8th Shebat 583-1723, at Aub, near W?rzburg, in Germany. He qualified as a mohel8 in his native country, where he performed a circumcision for the first time in his nephew9 on the 6th Tebeth 1762. Shortly afterwards he came to Portsmouth where he had two brothers-in-law10 and, on the 8th Tammuz 1762, performed the first circumcision there, on his nephew, whose

1 Paper read before the Jewish Historical Society of England on 13 June, 1951.

2 Trans. Jew. Hist. Soc. of Eng., vol. XIII. p. 172, n. 42.

3 In the notes to this essay the letters C.R.E. denote Circumcision Register Entry, and M.B. Minute Book.

4 M.B. ii, p. 9b.

5 CR. p. 1.

6 CR. E. 19

7 C.R.E. 21.

8 A person qualified to perform ritual circumcisions.

9 C.R.E. 1.

10 Judah, son of

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