Circumcision Knife

What can we see?

We can see a knife with an amber handle and silver detailing. We can see an image of the Binding of Isaac on the handle. At the bottom of the handle of the knife, we can see inscriptions in Hebrew.

Look closely, what can you see?

What do you know?

This is a knife used for circumcision. The circumcision is a physical symbol of the relationship between God and the Jewish people.

Look closely at the handle of the knife, and you can see an image of the Binding of Isaac (known in Hebrew as the Akedah). In order to test Abraham’s faith, God ordered him to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah. At the last minute, God sent an angel to stop Abraham, who sacrificed a ram instead. God had tested Abraham, but Abraham had proven the strength of his faith and, importantly, the strength of the covenant between God and the Jewish people.

The  Hebrew inscriptions at the bottom of the handle of the knife read ‘Covenant of Abraham’, ‘Binding of Isaac’, and the number ‘5496’. This is the year 1736 written in the Jewish calendar. This might be the date when the knife was made.

What do you wonder?

We might wonder where this was used? We might wonder how heavy it is?

What do you wonder?

Object File

Object Number: JM 497

Name: Circumcision Knife

Description: An amber handled circumcision knife.

Materials: Silver, gold, amber

Date: Early 18th Century

Artist (if known): Unknown, South Germany

Size (cm): 16.2cm

The tradition of circumcision began with Abraham. When he was 99 years old, Abraham was commanded by God to be circumcised as a sign of the covenant between them. The Hebrew word for circumcision is brit milah, which means ‘the covenant of circumcision’. The covenant between God and Abraham was the beginning of the special relationship between God and the Jewish people. If Jewish people worshipped God and obeyed his commandments, then in return God would bless and protect them.

Circumcision is traditionally performed at the synagogue on the eighth day from when the child was born. During the ceremony, the child is placed on the Chair of Elijah and held by the sandek, a person often chosen for their piety. The father of the child hands a sharp circumcision knife to the mohel, who performs the circumcision. Blessings are recited and the child is given his Jewish name.

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