Circumcision Set of the Torres Family

Unknown Artist/Maker1827 and 1866

The Jewish Museum, New York

The Jewish Museum, New York

The importance of circumcision in Jewish life, its significance as the ceremony by which a male joins the covenant binding the House of Israel, led men to specialize in this type of surgery and to train in the Jewish laws governing its execution. At the very least, the specialist, known as a mohel (circumciser), owned a knife used exclusively for the ceremony. He often had accessories as well: a shield, scissors, vials for unguents, and shallow bowls. Sometimes the mohel commissioned illuminated manuscripts to contain the necessary prayers and to serve as a register.
This set of instruments and their box was commissioned by members of the Torres family during the 19th century. One of the two earliest pieces, the shield, bears a name and date in Hebrew: "Jacob Nehemias Torrcs, [5]587" (=1826/7) and a coat of arms. The family crest is repeated on the lyre-shaped shield, which must have been made at the same time. Some four decades later, in 1866, the elaborate filigree box, its rack, and the remaining instruments were fashioned, probably for another member of the family who had inherited Jacob Torres' shield and vial, as well as his occupation.
Dutch silversmiths often utilized filigree for small works such as decorative, miniature household objects. Therefore, use of this technique was appropriate for the circumcision utensils. However, the extensive filigree of the larger box is unusual and lends a sense of delicacy and preciosity to the work. The fineness of the materials and excellent craftsmanship demonstrates the importance placed on circumcision by the Torres family and by the Jewish community in general.

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  • Title: Circumcision Set of the Torres Family
  • Creator: Unknown Artist/Maker
  • Date Created: 1827 and 1866
  • Location: Netherlands, Europe
  • Physical Dimensions: Box: 9 1/2 × 7 3/8 × 4 1/8 in. (24.1 × 18.7 × 10.5 cm)
  • Type: Ceremonial Art
  • Rights: https://thejewishmuseum.org/about-this-site#terms-conditions
  • External Link: View this object at thejewishmuseum.org
  • Medium: Box: silver: filigree, cast and hammered; inlaid with semiprecious stones Utensils: silver: cast, filigree, and hammered; carved mother-of-pearl